Summary: Part 2 of a three-part series: Frogs, Onions, and Rocky Mountain Oysters
Word Count: 3400
“Good morning, Little Joe, how are you doing this morning?”
Joe stepped up onto the steps of the mercantile, sending a nod towards the shopkeeper. “I’m doing pretty good, Mr. Jenkins; it’s a hot one out there today.” Using his hat as a fan, Joe took a quick glance around the room. “I’m here to pick up supplies for the ranch, but I was wondering if that order for the onions has arrived yet.”
The portly man briskly nodded his head as he followed Joe into the store. “You know, the onions arrived on yesterday’s shipment. Got it here in the back with the rest of your supplies, if you want to get it.” As he wiped his hands on his apron, the shopkeeper pushed the door open into the storeroom. “Tell Hop Sing to be careful with these onions. The guy who I ordered them from said that they are guaranteed to make a grown man weep, even if he ain’t weeped when cutting onions before.”
Quickly hiding a grin, Joe followed the older man to the back of the store. Jenkins pointed over to the opposite wall where two wooden bushels of onions sitting on the floor. Bending down, Joe picked up one of the wooden bushels, grunting slightly from the weight from it. He felt a grab on his arm and turned to see Jenkins shaking his head. “Not that one Joe, it’s the other bushel. If I sold them onions to my customers, they’d never buy from me again!”
Joe put the other bushel down, then grabbed the one Jenkins indicated, propping it up against his shoulder, carrying through the store back to where he had parked the buckboard. Carefully he put the bushel down, when a movement at his feet caught his attention. A small frog peeked out from under the boardwalk before it went slipping back into the darker shadows under the boardwalk. Suddenly an image of his brother Hoss earlier in the week with all those frogs in his shirt came rushing into his memories. He shook his head as laughter spilled out. It took him a moment to catch his breath. Pushing away from the buckboard, he strode back up the steps to get the rest of the supplies from the store.
“Hop Sing, you know what would taste really good?” Joe sat on the edge of the chopping block, and reached over to grab another cookie from the plate on the table across from him. Knowing that Hoss had been the one to request these cookies he was eating, he couldn’t resist making his own request. “Know what would taste good, Hop Sing?” Joe queried with a gleam in his eye. “One of your good chocolate cakes.”
Hop Sing, who had spent more than enough time in the kitchen, was already in a foul mood. It seemed like everything was going wrong. The food that Joe brought back was wrong, and now being presented with yet another request from one of the Cartwright men sent Hop Sing spiraling into his native language. Mixing it with English, he started chopping and pounding on the meat in front of him. “Make this, make that, why can’t boys make his own.”
Hop Sing paused and pointed his knife at Joe. “One boy say make cookie, another boy say make cake. Next boy who tell me to make will help Hop Sing make!”
Watching the knife wave through the air towards him, Joe jumped down from the block to get away from the cook’s fussing. Quickly he grabbed another cookie then quickly ran out of the kitchen, as far away from Hop Sing as possible. With the cookie in hand, he took a bite as he walked into the living room when he saw his brother Adam settled on the settee reading a newspaper. He paused, then cantered over to where his brother sat.
“Afternoon, Adam. Finish up with the branding schedule?”
Briefly Adam glanced up at Joe, watching as his brother stuffed half a cookie in his mouth. “Yeah, done for the day. Is that one of the cookies that Hoss asked Hop Sing for?”
“Yup,” nodded Joe as he wiped his mouth, freeing it from crumbs. “They sure are good. Hop Sing must be in a good mood today; everything he’s making tastes great.” Settling his feet on the edge of the coffee table as he sat on the arm of the settee, he finished with his conversation. “Oh, and by the way, while in town picking up the supplies, I picked up a bushel of onions. Made me wonder when Hop Sing made onion rings last. Can you remember?”
Just hearing the mention of onion rings made Adam’s mouth salivate. He laid the paper he was reading down and turned to Joe. “We have onions? Fresh?”
“Yeah, just picked them up in town with the rest of the supplies,” Joe answered as he swung his foot off the coffee table. “As for fresh, I’m guessing they are, being as Jenkins just got them in yesterday.”
Adam sat for a moment then glanced towards the kitchen. “Hop Sing still in there?”
“Uh huh,” Joe replied. “By the way, I’m going to go out and join Pa; I think he’s out working with some of the hands somewhere out back in the pasture.”
Joe wiped his hands on his trousers, brushing his hands free of cookie crumbs, and watched as Adam disappeared into the confines of the hot kitchen. He couldn’t help but smile as he walked over to the front door, closing the large door behind him.
Striding into the kitchen, Adam could already smell the aroma of the freshly baked cookies. Not seeing Hop Sing anywhere in the kitchen, he walked over to a bowl on the table and peered in. Chocolate cake batter. Mmmm, Adam thought as he stuck his finger in. This tastes good. As he glanced around the room, he saw the bushel of onions next to the side door where Joe must have left them. It wasn’t until he heard a noise behind him that he realized Hop Sing was standing behind him.
“Brother number one in kitchen. What you want?”
Walking over to the bushel, Adam picked up an onion and held it aloft in his hand as he asked, “Hop Sing, wouldn’t onion rings taste good for supper?”
To Adam’s shock, Hop Sing suddenly turned red in the face and began shouting in Chinese. Standing there wordless, Adam opened and then shut his mouth trying to figure out what was going on. Before a word could come out, Hop Sing grabbed the onion out of Adam’s hand and switched over to English.
“I tell Leetle Joe. Next one who want something they help make. You want onion ring. You help Hop Sing.” Brandishing a knife from the chopping block, he shoved it and the onion towards Adam. “Take onions, go cut outside.”
Eager to back away from the knife-wielding cook, Adam carefully grabbed the knife and onion from Hop Sing’s outstretched hand and he took a few steps backward. Suddenly he felt his feet stumble into the bushel of onions. He twisted around, dropping the knife and onion into the bushel, and reached down to grab the wooden container wanting to get away from the upset cook. Pulling the door open, Adam awkwardly squeezed himself outside all the while listening to Hop Sing. Finally having enough, he shot back, “I got the onions Hop Sing! Don’t worry, I’ll do it.” He attempted to shut the door but pulled his hand back in time, just as the little Chinese man slammed it shut.
Muttering an expletive under his breath, Adam had taken several steps away when he heard the door open again. For a moment Adam thought Hop Sing had calmed down, but instead an object came hurling out the door. With just enough time to duck, Adam could vaguely make out the shape of a wooden bowl as it flew through the air. He could do nothing but watch the missile as it rolled to a stop several feet away, followed by the echo of the door as it slammed behind him once again.
Irritated, Adam glared at the bowl on the ground and resisted the urge to kick it as he stepped up onto the porch. Pulling out a chair from the table Adam dropped the bushel on the front porch and was about to sink into it when a loose onion bounced free from the bushel. Hmph! Apparently he had dropped the bushel a little too hard on the on the porch, which allowed one of the loose onions on top to break free. He watched as it rolled away from the bushel and across the porch, Adam threw his hands up in air frustration. Let it roll, Adam muttered.
Instead, Adam turned his attention back to the bushel in front of him, as he reached down and dug through the onions for the knife he had dropped in. He found it lodged near the bottom of the bushel. Once it was retrieved, he picked up the largest onion and began to cut. But then he stopped. The bowl. He looked around to see it lying upturned, just where it had landed moments ago. Adam couldn’t help but let out a sign as he shook his head and moved off the porch to retrieve the bowl, blowing out the dust that collected around the rim. Bringing it back to where he was cutting, he set it on the table, then finally sat down and sighed. This is a lot of onions, he thought as he looked down into the bushel. Grabbing the one he had started to cut into, he picked up his knife to finish the job.
Ring by ring the onions dropped down into the bowl, when he began to notice his eyes. They were beginning to itch. Putting down the knife, he carefully rubbed them. As he picked up the knife again, he began to think of past onion cutting sessions, and grinned. This was one chore he usually didn’t mind, because while his two brother’s ended up crying like babies, he could easily sit there stoic and cut the onions without a tear. But there was something irritating his eyes. Reaching up with the hand free of onion juice, he tried rubbing his eyes but all that seemed to do was milk tears from his tear ducts. Irritated with what was happening, he sat in the mid-afternoon sun feeling like he could sob. Oh God, Adam thought, I hope no one comes. He was a mess, and he knew it. Tears were running down his face, his nose was running and he knew that his eyes had to be red from the irritation. And this from one onion! Grabbing another onion, he quickly began slicing it while he sobbed. Trying to laugh, he couldn’t as the tears continued to pour from his eyes. He wiped his eyes with his arm and was just finishing up with what he considered his last onion of the day when he heard a noise in the distance. Adam froze. Who was that?
The only thought that went rushing through his head was “OH NO!” Tossing the rest of the onion in the bowl, Adam quickly jumped up from the chair, desperate to get out of sight of whoever it was entering the yard. As he jumped up, his black pants caught the edge of a loose wooden slat on the bushel. In such a hurry, it wasn’t until he saw the motion of the bushel as it began tip that he realized what was happening. Without warning onions, went flying all different directions. Across the porch they rolled, into the yard while some disappeared in dark corners under the porch. Staring at the onions in shock, Adam was still standing there when his brothers and pa rode into the yard.
Hearing Joe’s voice, Adam didn’t look up as he waved his hand in an attempt to avoid further conversation. The sound of the men tying up their horses kept Adam’s nerves on alert. He attempted to avoid looking at them by keeping his head down while he picked up the scattered onions.
As the men climbed down off their horses, Ben handed his reins to Hoss as he walked over to where Adam was bent over picking up onions. His son was acting strange. Walking closer, Ben picked up an onion in his path, and as he was eye level with Adam, he took a long look at his son. He gasped when he saw his son. Red puffy eyes, with tears falling freely down Adam’s tanned face.
“Adam!” Ben cried out as he grabbed his son’s arm. “What’s wrong?”
The tears continue to slide down his cheeks but all Adam could do was shake his head. He could feel Ben’s grip on his arms, as he tossed the onions he held back into the bushel. “Pa, I’m fine. It’s just those dang onions I was cutting that made me tear up.”
Puzzled Ben looked at his son then at the onions scattered across the yard. Glancing up, he caught a glimpse of Joe who picked up a wooden bowl from the porch and brought it over to where Adam stood. Holding it an arm’s length away from his body, Joe thrust the bowl towards Adam. “Do you need to put those onions in here?”
A whiff of the freshly cut onion flooded his senses, as his tears again began to fall uncontrollable from his eyes. Desperately Adam tried to wipe them away as he pushed the bowl away; then he looked up to see Joe standing there. “Get those away from me!”
“Huh? Oh these?” Joe questioned innocently.
Adam looked up at his brother and suddenly became suspicious. The innocence his brother tried to portray seemed just a bit too contrived. He stared his brother, and could have sworn he saw a grin. “Do you have to flash those onions in front of my nose?”
“What? Oh yeah, that,” Joe replied. “I guess not, but I wanted to make sure you saw the bowl. You know, in between the tears and all.”
Shooting a glare at him, Adam tried to glare but found it was impossible with him being so close to tears again. He felt a pat on his shoulder; he looked over to hear Ben asking if he was okay. Embarrassed, he turned away and caught the concerned look on Hoss’ face. The only one who showed a lack of concern was Joe, and suddenly everything came together as he watched his younger brother lean against the porch and tried not to look at him, as his body shuddered.
Hop Sing had mentioned something about Joe. Thinking back, the words came back to him, “I tell Leetle Joe. Next one who want something, they help make.” If he hadn’t been in such a rush to get out of the kitchen, he would have noticed Hop Sing’s words. Suddenly everything made sense. The onions Joe had brought from town. He KNEW what he was doing. Joe set him up! Pushing aside Ben’s hands, he threw the onions down and dove towards his brother. In his struggle not to laugh, Joe looked up and saw Adam just as he lunged for him. With a shout, he jumped up onto the porch just as Ben grabbed hold of Adam’s arm.
“What do you think you are doing?”
“It was him, Pa. He set me up!” Angrily pointing his finger at his younger brother, Adam continued, “Those onions would make anyone cry, and I think he knew it” The pressure from Ben’s hand on his arm held him back. Instead Adam glared at Joe, who by now was doubled up from his laughter. Struggling against Ben’s hold on him, he threatened, “Pa, I swear, I’m going to get him.”
Hoss spoke up. “Um, Adam?” He tried hard not to smile as he looked at his brother. “Remember how hard you laughed when you found out what Joe did to me this week? Them frogs down my shirt?”
A roar of laughter came from the porch as all the men glanced over to where Joe stood. At least once stood. He was now sagging down onto the porch, loosing all attempts to remain upright. By now he had sunk down to the ground, rolling over onto his back, as he continued to roar out in laughter. Gasping out, Joe struggled to find his voice as he spoke, “You… you…” Laughter again filled his voice, but quickly that stopped as he felt the strong vise of Adam’s hand wrapped around his neck. “Pa!” Joe was just able to squeak out, as he struggled on the porch in an attempt to get out of Adam’s grasp. He could feel his brother press his knee against his chest, when Joe stopped struggling and looked into the humorless coal black eyes of his brother. Chewing on the side of his mouth, he couldn’t help but snicker when he saw the remnants of the tear drop marks on Adam’s face.
“Adam! Let your brother up,” roared Ben. Tired of this playing around, he knew that Joe was destined for trouble if he didn’t rescue him soon. Waiting for Adam to loosen his grip on his brother, Ben reached down and pulled Joe to his feet as Adam stood to the side glowering. “You two need to stop this, and stop it right now!” Clamping one hand on Adam’s shoulder, and the other on Joe’s, both grimacing in pain at the strong hold their pa had on their shoulders, Ben glared at Joe. “You got away with that frog incident mainly because Hoss took care of it for me. From here on out, this is over. No more paybacks!”
Ben glared at his three grown sons, “Do you understand?” He could feel his youngest squirm under his handhold, and Ben removed it far enough to give him a swat on the britches. “Joe, no more of these games on your brothers; I’ve had enough. And Adam,” as he released his grip, “leave your brother alone.” Turning around, he strode quickly across the porch and entered into the house, slamming the door behind him.
The three brothers stood there almost in a standoff mulling over the words that hung in the air. Making faces in an attempt not to laugh, Joe stood staring at his brother’s, trying his best not to look too much at Adam. The tearstains were gone, leaving behind damp eyelashes that framed the angry eyes. Actually, Adam seemed to have lost some of his steam after hearing the words.
Looking over at Hoss, Adam could tell that he had no problem with what their pa had just said, but then again he was such an easygoing fellow that most things didn’t bother him. Most things, unless it involved frogs down his shirt. Feeling a snicker erupt, he smiled when he thought of the image of Hoss wearing frogs. Having not actually seen it, he had heard of the incident secondhand from Hoss and Joe, and had laughed uproariously. Adam stuck out his hand towards Joe. “We’re even.”
Surprised, Joe stood there, wondering why the smile was on his brother’s face, “That’s it?”
Laughing, Adam nodded as he waved his hand towards Hoss. “I guess I was lucky. I got the onions, although I could have had a belly full of frogs.”
As Adam and Joe laughed, Hoss grimaced. The incident at the time hadn’t been funny, Hoss thought. In fact, the thought of it made him just want to duck his brother into the water trough again, but as he glanced over at Adam then at the onions scattered on the ground, all he could do was smile. Having the frogs was a mite uncomfortable but as least he hadn’t been seen bawling like a baby in the front yard. Grinning, he looked at his brothers then grabbed each of them by the neck and joined them in their laughter.