Summary: When I read that Mr. Roberts watches Bonanza to “see old friends”, I couldn’t get the phrase out of my head. Hence, the inspiration for this story.
Word Count: 1900
As he sat on the bench, he noticed how his hips seemed to hurt more often these days. The years of hard physical labor had taken their toll. Out of all the acreage on the Ponderosa, Adam Cartwright loved this spot most of all. He looked out through the spaces between the stones to see the brilliant blue of the Lake. It was an early Fall afternoon and the sun’s warmth made him sleepy. Better not, he thought, too much to do.
Riding home, Adam was a man whose mind struggled with conflicting thoughts and feelings. His discontent transferred itself to his horse and Sport’s behavior was reflected in restlessness. If he were honest with himself, Adam would have to admit that his mind and his heart took turns pushing him away and than pulling him back to the life he had known for so long. His need to see and experience new things, to meet new people, loomed forever on his mind but somehow, his heart always brought him home.
Caught up in his own conflict, Adam didn’t realize he was in front of the barn doors until Sport stopped. He smiled to himself and dismounted, giving Sport a pat of apology on his long, sleek neck. His wasn’t surprised when he walked in and saw his middle brother fussing with his own mount.
“Wondered if you was comin’ home, brother. You missed a good dinner.” Hoss smiled over the stall divider.
“I planned on being here but I stopped up by the lake. Guess time got away from me,” Adam replied, returning the smile.
“Time don’t usually get away from you unless you got somethin’ on your mind. Feel like talkin’?” Hoss kept brushing Chubb, waiting patiently for Adam to decide whether he was ready to share what was bothering him.
Adam walked out of Sport’s stall. He went to the feed bin and retrieved a measure of oats. As he poured them into a bucket and placed them within the hungry horse’s reach, he was rewarded with a soft whicker. He retreated and sat on a pile of grain sacks. Without looking up, he said,” I’m thinking about going away for awhile.”
Hoss hesitated for a moment as he brushed Chubb’s shinny coat, than resumed the rhythmic strokes. He already knew the answer to the question he was about to ask, but he wanted to be wrong. “You thinkin’ about takin’ a trip to San Francisco?”
Adam looked into his brother’s soft blue eyes. He felt as if a fist was squeezing his chest. He shook his head and said softly, “No, Hoss, not San Francisco.”
The two men talked for a long time, neither afraid to share their thoughts. Their bond had been forged by the pain of loss and the joy of new beginnings and there was nothing they couldn’t say to each other. “Well Adam, if this is somethin’ you got to do, then you should go ahead and do it. Can’t say as I understand but that don’t matter. Just promise me that you’ll come home someday.”
Adam knew that no matter how much longer he stayed at the Ponderosa, he and Hoss had just said goodbye. They started for the house, walking a little closer to each other.
The sun was already in the mid-morning sky when Adam awoke. He got up and readied himself for the day. As he came down the stairs, he was surprised to see his father still sitting at the table.
Ben looked up from his coffee and paper and said, “Good morning son — did you sleep well?”
“Yeah, I guess a little too well. Why didn’t you wake me?” Adam poured himself some coffee and sat at his father’s right side.
“You’ve been working long hours lately and you seemed especially tired last night. Thought I’d let you sleep some this morning.” Ben knew something was bothering his eldest son and he hoped Adam would take this opportunity to open up.
Adam gave his father a shy, half-grin and said, “Thanks, Pa. Think I’ll join Joe out in the east meadow this morning. I’m sure he can use some help with those fences.”
“Alright, son; I’ll see you tonight.” Ben watched as Adam disappeared up the stairs once more. He knew whatever it was that Adam was wrestling with would come out eventually. He tried to dismiss the feeling of dread that rose up and threatened to choke him.
Adam took a minute to watch his youngest brother at work. No longer a boy, Joe had taken his place in the running of the ranch. He tightened his legs and Sport moved forward.
Joe lowered the mall that he was about to swing and flashed a smile when he saw Adam riding toward him. “About time, brother; thought you were gonna sleep all day.”
“I think I almost did! I can’t believe Pa let me get away with that,” Adam answered. He took off his gun than unbuttoned his shirt and put on his heavy work gloves. “You wanna pound or hold?”
“I’ve been pounding all morning. It’s your turn.” Joe retrieved his canteen and poured a good measure over his head. His thick, wavy mane separated into soft curls. It reminded Adam of what Joe’s hair looked like when he was a baby.
“Your mother loved playing with your hair. She was always brushing and combing those curls.” Adam smiled at the memory.
Joe laughed and said, “Bet that made Pa happy.”
Adam joined Joe’s laughter then said, “Well, even Pa knew he’d never win that battle. Your mother could be formidable when she wanted something.”
Joe was quiet for a moment. “Did you really like her—my mother?”
It was easy for Adam to answer with no hesitation. “Yes, I really did like Marie.” He let the mall head fall to the ground and he leaned against the handle. “I’m not saying it wasn’t hard at first. I couldn’t quite understand why Pa wanted to upset our masculine household but in time I learned to love all the things your mother brought to us— and to me.”
Joe smiled as his brother reminisced about his mother. Adam didn’t often open up about his growing up years but Joe learned something new each time he did.
“She used to tell me stories about New Orleans and all the different kinds of people who visited there. And she’s the one who encouraged me to continue with my education back East.” Adam picked up the mall again. “After she died, Pa remembered how much Marie wanted me to go to college and he kept his word to her. I’m endlessly grateful to her.”
Joe picked up a post and lowered it into the hole that he had dug. Steadying it, he watched as Adam swung the heavy mall downward over the post head, driving it further into the earth. “Now that ought to last awhile,” Joe remarked.
When his brother didn’t answer, Joe said, “You ignoring me again, brother?”
“Hmm—no, I was just thinking about how real Marie made all her stories sound.” Adam cleared his throat. “Joe, there’s something I have to talk with you about.”
Joe’s body automatically tensed. His brother looked anxious and rarely did Adam ever look anxious, even if he was. “What is it?”
“I’ve decided to see all the places Marie and I talked about. Places I studied about in college.” Adam waited, not knowing how Joe would react.
“I don’t want you to go.” Joe’s voice was harsh with the sudden rush of emotion that grabbed at his breath.
“I know you don’t, Joe, but if I don’t go now, I’ll never go. I can’t spend the rest of my life with ‘what ifs’.” Adam stepped toward his brother. “I can’t promise when, but I promise I’ll be back.”
The two men sat beneath a towering pine, sometimes talking, sometimes in silence. And when they had finished, Joe said, “Have you talked to Pa yet?”
“No, not yet but soon.” Adam smiled at Joe and said, “Would you care to help me with that?” He stood up.
“Not likely, brother.” Joe hesitated than asked, “Will you really come home?”
Adam reached out his hand to help Joe up. “I promise.”
Ben thought that dinner had been quieter than usual. The boys all seemed to be subdued and thoughtful. He decided to wait. He knew that sooner or later one of them would come to him. But of the three, he thought it least likely to be his eldest. Known for keeping his own counsel, it surprised Ben when Adam asked if he could speak to him later that evening.
Both Hoss and Joe had retired, leaving Ben and Adam reading quietly by the sparse light of the fireplace. “Guess I’d better light some lamps if you and I are going to keep reading.”
Ben got up but before he could reach a lantern, Adam said, “Can we talk for a minute, Pa?”
Ben sat back down. “Certainly, son. What’s on your mind?”
Suddenly, Adam felt like a little boy again. How to make his father understand? “Do you remember how you felt when you left Boston all those years ago? How you kept on, no matter the hardship, because it was your dream to build the Ponderosa?”
“Yes, son, I remember it well.” Ben lit his pipe and waited for Adam to continue.
“I’m going away, Pa. It’s time to find my own dream.” Adam’s voice was strained but as soon as he said it, he began to relax.
“I wondered how long it would be,” Ben answered. A look of confusion crossed his son’s face. “I knew in my heart I’d never keep you forever but I hoped…” In a voice taunt with emotion, Ben asked, “When?”
“I’m not exactly sure. There are things to arrange.” Silence fell between the two men and for the first time in their lives it seemed there was nothing more to say.
Adam broke the stillness. “I made Hoss and Joe a promise. I told them I’d be back. I wanted you to know that.” Adam watched as his father rose from his chair and walked toward him. Ben pulled him into an embrace. Everything father and son had shared through the years seemed pressed between them.
Adam felt his head drop and he pulled himself up with a jerk. He’d told himself he didn’t have time to fall asleep. He looked out once more to see the sun’s light sparkle on the deep blue water. His eyes came to rest on the stone tablets in front of him. He remembered all those years ago and the promise that he had made to come home again. And he had kept that promise. Now his greatest comfort came when he visited here each day. He had come home to the dream.