Summary: Part 3 of a three-part series: Frogs, Onions and Rocky Mountain Oysters
Word count: 5300
“Hey Joe,” yelled Hoss as he yanked on a calf determined to get away from him. Tightening the rope thrown around its front legs, Hoss grabbed the calf by the tail and tossed it to the ground. Usually a job that took two men, Hoss prided himself in being able to do it alone. With his knee resting on the calf’s neck and the rope firmly in his hand holding the back legs, he nodded that he was ready.
With a branding iron welded in the shape of a Ponderosa pine in his hand, Joe advanced towards the calf. His mind at his task at hand, Joe ignored the bawling of the calf and quickly pushed down the glowing-red iron. Listening to the skin sizzle as it struck its mark, Joe moved quickly away, dropping the iron back into the fire. Turning, he then watched Adam perform the effortless job of castrating the calf. Dropping the testicle into a pail, Adam nodded towards Hoss who in a fluid motion released the rope from the calf’s legs and moved away. Within seconds, the calf went bawling for his mother.
“Good job, Hoss,” Adam remarked as he stood to his feet. Feeling the sweat drip down his face, he reached up and wiped his forehead with the back of his hand. Reaching down with his other hand, he helped Hoss up as the big man stood to his feet, then looked around the corral. Locating his younger brother stirring up coals in the fire, Adam called out to him, “Say Joe, is that the last of them?”
Nodding, Joe answered with a deep sigh, “Yeah, that’s it. You know, I’m tired and hungry enough to eat an entire steer.” Yawning broadly, Joe rolled his shoulders then stretched his arms above his shoulders while looking around for Ben. His pa wasn’t too hard to locate. Surrounded by the hands that had been helping them during the day, Ben was perched on the top of the corral fence as he spoke with them. Rubbing a sore place on his arm, Joe shook his head before turning his attention back to the fire.
“It’s been a long day,” Adam spoke as he rubbed a spot on his shoulder. Taking a quick glance at the pail sitting at Hoss’ feet, Adam took a step closer to where Joe was tending to the fire. “Need any help with these?”
“You? You mean you’re asking to help me?”
Tossing his hands up in the air, frustration tinged his voice as Adam replied, “Well, if you don’t need any help, forget I asked.”
“Hold on, I didn’t say I didn’t need help,” retorted Joe. “Just, I didn’t expect you to volunteer to help me after all the branding we did today.”
“I’m in a good mood. In fact, I’m thinking of fixing us something special this evening as a celebration that we have finished our branding.”
“Some food that I think you’d like.”
Shrugging his shoulders, Joe grinned. “Whatever.” Walking over towards the irons that stuck out from the fire, Joe grabbed two of them then pressed them down in the dirt hoping to cool off the ends. Handing them over to Adam, Joe turned his attention back towards the fire and began the process of putting it out.
With the branding irons in hand, Adam walked back over to where Hoss was standing. “You ready, Hoss?”
Watching his brother nod, Adam motioned to the pail that stood near Hoss’ feet, “Do you mind getting the pail?”
“I sure don’t,” Hoss answered with a grin. Leaning down he grabbed the pail and followed his older brother as they both headed in the direction of the house.
The sound echoed in the kitchen where Hoss stood statuesque, looking up towards the shelving in time to see a shower of flour come cascading down around him. Afraid to move, he waited until the flour settled down around him before trying to brush it off. When he had reached up to grab the canister of flour, he hadn’t expected the container to be so heavy. Then somehow he knocked off the lid and the first layer of flour flew out and filtered down around him. Hearing laughter behind him, Hoss narrowed his eyes at Adam, who just entered the kitchen.
“You look like a springtime snowman,” Adam choked out in the midst of his laughter. He couldn’t help but laugh just looking at his brother. No matter how much flour Hoss removed, swipes of it ended up everywhere he touched. Even his eyebrows and eyelashes were coated in the white stuff.
“If you want me to help you, big brother,” Hoss muttered as he brushed off the excess flour, “stop that laughing.”
Grinning, Adam walked over to his brother, and with a sweep of his hand, shook his hand through his brother’s hair. With some of the flour landing on his black pants, Adam could hear Hoss snickering. “Ok, so now I’m floured. Let’s get to work.” Turning to face Hoss, Adam asked, “Where did you put the pail?”
“Over there by the door.”
Nodding, Adam walked over to where Hop Sing kept the supplies as he spoke, “If you would, get the pail and wash the stuff. Then get a knife and slice them lengthwise.” Hearing Hoss’ footsteps across the floor, Adam dug around in the pantry and retrieved the items that he needed. “Salt, pepper, cornmeal, garlic… hmmm, what else do I need,” Adam muttered to himself. “Buttermilk is on the counter…”
Trying not to listen to Adam’s mumbling, Hoss went over to where he had dropped the bucket and brought it over to the sink. Pouring water in the container he vigorously swished the water from one side to the other while trying to plug his nose from the smell that arose from it. “This stuff stinks, Adam!” Hoss complained as he tried to cover his nose by burying his face in his shoulder. Taking a deep breath, he plunged his hands down into the water and grabbed a piece of meat from the pail, feeling the sensation of slime between his fingers. Ignoring the various thoughts that came to mind as his fingers grasped hold of a firmer piece of the slime, Hoss quickly rinsed the piece in his hand. Putting it on the counter behind him, he quickly went through the rest of the pail treating each one the same. Grabbing a knife from the other side of the kitchen, he slowly made his way back over to the counter, and without further thought, began slicing the pieces into the oblong slices. Without anything else to focus on other than what he was doing at hand, Hoss began to have some concern at their special meal for Joe. Chewing on the bottom of his lip, Hoss turned around to face Adam, “Adam, I don’t know if we should really be doing this.”
“Why not, Hoss?” Adam answered. Briskly mixing the ingredients, he grabbed a bottle of red wine and carefully poured some into the batter. “Don’t tell me you have already forgotten the frogs that Joe had you carry out of the house. From the way Joe described it, I’m guessing you had to have had at least one hundred frogs bulging and rubbing up against you in your shirt.”
“Doggone it, Adam,” Hoss grumbled as he swallowed hard. A look of disgust carried over his features as he relieved the moment. “You’re right. But at least I didn’t end up crying like a baby over some piddly onions.”
Raising his eyebrows, Adam was about to make a retort but decided against it. If he had his choices, he would have preferred the frogs inside his shirt. Actually, Adam thought, Joe knew I wouldn’t have fallen for that ruse. Pushing the thought away, he put a few more pieces of wood into the stove. “Do you have those washed, Hoss? If so, bring them over here so I can dip them in the batter.”
Straightening up, Adam watched Hoss as he brought over the platter filled with several pieces of oblong meat. For a moment, Adam had a brief feeling of queasiness when he thought of eating the stuff.
Thinking back to the last trip he had made to San Francisco, he remembered overhearing some cowboys from the southwest talking about this delicacy. He hadn’t thought much of it until their waiter brought out their dish and the knowledge what those cowboys were eating made him queasy. So why do it to his brother? Adam grinned to himself at the answer to that question. If Joe hadn’t played those tricks on Hoss and himself, he would have thought twice about doing this. Unfortunately, he had to live with the knowledge that their ranch hands had seen him crying on the front porch and fortunately Hoss still had the frog incident in his mind, so he wasn’t hard to convince to help him out with this. However Adam had to admit, the more he thought about the meal they were preparing, the less sure he was of his decision.
Pulling the opened bottle of red wine towards him, Adam took a big swig then handed it over to Hoss. “Take some, Hoss; it will make this process less distasteful.”
Grabbing the bottle from Adam’s outstretched hand, Hoss sniffed at it before taking a swig. Leaning against the counter, he watched as Adam picked up a piece of meat then dipped it into buttermilk before slinging it down into the batter. Then with the batter dripping from the meat Adam turned and put it into the skillet that was already hot and dancing with grease. Listening to the sizzling sounds of grease when the batter hit it, both men froze when they heard the back door open. Fear coursed through their bodies as one thought went through their minds — Joe. Without a second thought, both men grabbed the platter of meat then dumped it into the bowl of batter not paying attention as it sent splatter marks onto them and the counter surrounding them.
“Mr. Hoss. Mr. Adam,” announced their cook as he walked into the kitchen. “I go to Virginia City with Mr. Ben.” Walking over to where the two men stood nervously near the stove, Hop Sing glanced into the skillet. “You make calf fries, good for you.” Picking up a basket near the door, the little man didn’t look back as he took a step outside and closed the door.
Letting out a deep breath, both men leaned against the countertop. Running his fingers through his hair Adam couldn’t help but shake his head. “That was a close one, Hoss.”
“You think Hop Sing will tell Joe?”
Pushing away from the counter, Adam moved quickly over to the kitchen window and peered out the curtains. Grinning, he turned back around to Hoss. “Nope, Hop Sing just climbed onto the buckboard with Pa and they are on their way out of the yard right now.” Turning back towards the window, he kept his eye on the buckboard letting out a nervous sigh as his pa and Hop Sing disappeared from sight. “They’re gone.”
Glancing over to the stove, both men could hear the popping of grease and batter in the frying pan. Walking back over to their main dish, the smell of the buttermilk in the batter sent Hoss’ stomach growling. “That smells good Adam.” Hoss said, as he leaned over the frying pan.
Grinning, Adam grabbed a fork from the table behind him and carefully brought out the first piece of meat and placed it on a plate. Brown and crispy, he handed both the fork and plate to his brother. “You want to have the first taste, Hoss?”
Taking the plate from Adam, the wine in Hoss nearly relaxed him enough to say yes, but he had enough senses within him to wave it away from him. Making a face, he shook his head, “Uh no. I think I’ll just save these for Joe. It’s his special dinner and all.” Looking around the kitchen he spotted some potatoes in a basket next to the wall. “Why don’t I make some mashed potatoes to go with our main course?”
“Sounds good,” Adam replied as he turned to grab some more meat to cover with batter. Stopping a moment he turned to look at Hoss. “Why don’t you check and see if Joe is around first?”
Quickly dusting off the remnants of flour from his clothing, Hoss tiptoed as quietly as he could from the kitchen. Poking his head around the corner into the dining room, he peered into the dining room and let out a sigh. No sign of Joe. Taking a deep breath, he quickly took a glance into his pa’s study. Silence. Humming a tune under his breath, Hoss turned and walked back towards the kitchen, disappearing into Hop Sing’s hallowed territory just as he heard the bells on the grandfather clock start its ringing.
Joe quickly slid into his arms into his shirt and buttoned it up then tucked it into his pants just as he heard the chime of the sixth bell toll from the clock downstairs. Grabbing his towel, he quickly rubbed his hair one more time to make sure that any excess water was free from it. Tossing the towel to the floor, he left his room and approached the staircase; he could smell food wafting through the air. Smelled like something being fried. Stifling a yawn as he walked down the steps, Joe could hear the clatter of pots and pans being knocked around in the kitchen. Hearing an expletive echo from the interior region of the kitchen, on a split second decision Joe decided that avoiding that area probably would be the wisest decision at the moment. Besides, he had already done a day’s worth of work, and having already taken a bath, he didn’t want to get dirty all over again. Sounded like pretty good reason to him, Joe thought. Basically, he admitted to himself, he didn’t want to be put to work in the kitchen. Walking over to the settee, he sank down into the cushions and grinned. He deserved a break. Leaning his head back against the settee, he remembered that Ben was running into town this evening to meet up with Sheriff Coffee. Probably to play a game of checkers and shoot the breeze for a while, Joe thought as a wave of drowsiness overtook him. Closing his eyes for a moment, he was fast asleep in minutes.
Nearly half an hour later, all the portions of the calf fries were cooked, along with a generous dose of mashed potatoes. Wiping the grease off his hands, Hoss grabbed a bowl of green beans Adam had decided to make at the last moment then followed his brother out to the dining room table. Setting the dish down, a sound from the living room caught his attention.
“Hey Adam,” Hoss motioned towards the living room. “There’s Joe. Think he heard us?”
Putting down a bowl of food on the table, Adam walked over to where his brother slept, sprawled out on the settee. With his feet propped up on the edge of the settee, his right arm was flung over his face blocking out the last remnants of sunlight that was bearing into the room. Shaking his head, Adam replied, “No, I don’t think he did. I think the option of helping us in the kitchen was far outweighed by his desire to sleep. My guess is that he didn’t want to go into the kitchen, afraid that we would put him to work.”
Guffawing, Hoss returned to the kitchen and grabbed the rest of the plates and set them on the table. Arranging the utensils and drinking glasses, he brought in the large bowl of mashed potatoes. Dipping his finger in, he brought up a large mass of potato stuck to his finger. Popping it into his mouth, he frowned briefly then smiled. “Not bad, but Hop Sing’s is better.” Following Adam into the kitchen, Hoss grabbed a pitcher of water while Adam picked up their special platter of meat for the day. Holding it away from him, Adam had to admit that they smelled good, but knowing what was hidden under the layers of cooked batter made him sick just thinking about it. Carefully setting it on the table, Adam moved it slightly towards Joe’s plate. “To give Joe an advantage as he grabs for the food,” Adam explained with a grin.
“You mean I have to act like I want to eat that stuff?”
“Hoss,” Adam sighed, “if you don’t, then Joe will know that something is up. Since when are you not reaching for the food?”
“But Adam…” Hoss stuttered then stopped. Looking over towards the settee, he could see movement, indicating that his younger brother was waking up. Catching Adam’s attention, he motioned over to the settee where Joe was lying.
The smell of the buttermilk fried chicken filtered throughout the room tickling Joe’s senses as he woke up. Rubbing his eyes with the back of his hand, he let out a yawn as he leaned forward. Resting his head in his hands, he took a deep breath then slid his feet off the edge of the settee, hearing them clunk to the floor. Lifting his head, he looked over towards the dining room table and saw that supper was already on the table while his two brothers stood at the other end watching him.
“Why are you watching me?” grumbled Joe, his voice still tinged with sleep.
Dropping his eyes, Hoss scurried back into the kitchen leaving Adam to answer Joe’s question. “Nothing, Joe, just was wondering if we should wake you up for supper.”
“Oh,” Joe answered with a shrug. Putting his hands on the cushions, Joe pushed his body up from the settee and strolled over to the dinner table. “Mmmmm, something smells good.” Hearing a noise in the kitchen, he looked up to see Hoss bringing out a basket of rolls.
“Not too sure if these are done right. I looked in the oven earlier and they were as pretty as anything, but now they’re a bit flat.”
Grinning at his brother, Adam couldn’t help but ask. “Did you slam the oven door shut after you looked at them the first time?”
“I dunno,” Hoss answered with a shrug. “I guess I did because that stove handle was dog-gone hot!”
“Well, in the ethics of cooking in the kitchen, the slamming of the door probably made the bread fall.”
“Come on you two,” Joe complained as he settled down into his chair. Pointing towards the food, he suggested, “Let’s eat, then discuss what makes bread fall up or down.” Bowing his head, he waited until Adam said the blessing, then turned his attention towards the spread of food on the table. Across from Hoss sat a bowl brimming over with lumpy mashed potatoes, the butter not quite melted on them, then closer to Adam sat a bowl of green beans. A smile spread across Joe’s face as he realized that the main course was sitting directly in front of him, just out of Hoss’ reach. Watching his brother attempt to grab the plate from the table, Joe leaned forward and grabbed it out of his way. “Sorry brother, you’re getting a little slow in your old age.”
Making a wry smile, Hoss answered, “I need to work on that. But for now, I’m going to dish me up a big pile of these mashed potatoes.” Out of the corner of his eye he watched as Joe stabbed several pieces of meat and brought it over to his plate. Pushing his food around, he looked up to see Adam staring at Joe, his eyes smiling as he accepted the platter of food from Joe. Putting a few pieces on his plate, Adam winked and handed the plate to Hoss. Swallowing hard, Hoss tried not to make a face as he carefully picked up the calf fry and placed it on the edge of his plate. With a gentle knock with his fork, it fell off his plate onto the table.
Glancing quickly at Joe, Hoss used his napkin to cover it and then discreetly put it into his lap. With the despicable piece of food away from his sight, he dug into his food with relish.
Not paying any attention to his brother’s actions around him, Joe eagerly cut into the meat. Smelling the delectable odor of the buttermilk batter, the juices in his mouth began to salivate just as he placed the first piece in his mouth. Chewing on the meat, he rolled it around in his mouth, trying to place the taste. Shrugging his shoulders, he took another bite when he had the vague feeling of someone watching him. Looking across the table he met Adam’s eyes only to see amusement in them. Confused as to what was so humorous, Joe chalked it up to his brother’s oddness and continued to dig into his food with relish, mixing his meat with the mashed potatoes. Finished off his first piece of meat, Joe took a breather from his food and looked around the table. Adam sat across from him, pushing his food around, while Hoss sat next to him, his napkin crumpled in his lap and hardly any food touched on his plate.
Suddenly suspicious of his brothers, Joe demanded an answer, “What’s going on?” Glaring at his brothers, he watched as color went across Hoss’ face as his brother stumbled for the right words to say. Ready to drag it out of him, Joe was just getting ready to question him when the sound of the front door being flung open and crashing against the sideboard echoed through the house. Hearing the sound of boots rush across the floor, all three men automatically were put on the defensive until they saw the invader was no one other than their pa.
“Pa,” Adam sighed, “you scared us.” Taking a glance at Ben’s face, Adam wondered what got him all riled up until he watched him walk directly to the table and reach for the platter of meat. Sensing that something wasn’t right, Adam lunged forward and grabbed the plate until he felt a glare from Ben. Releasing the plate Adam sat back down and exchanged a quick glance with Hoss. The joke was over.
With the platter in his hand, Ben looked down into his youngest son’s plate and saw evidence that some of the meat that had already been consumed. Glancing at his other two sons’ plates the untouched food on Adam’s plate made Ben fear the worst. He was hoping what Hop Sing had told him on the way to town was a misunderstanding, but now he feared it was true. Leaning against the table Ben turned his attention towards Joe.
“How much meat have you had?”
Glancing down at his plate, Joe laid his fork down and answered, “This is my second piece.”
Feeling a weakness spread into his knees, Ben sank down in the chair at the end of the table. Shaking his head, the only thing he could mutter was, “I don’t know if I should tell him.”
Hearing Ben’s mumbling, Hop Sing who had entered the room just minutes after Ben, approached the table pointed to the pile of meat. “Adam and Hoss make good calf fries.”
“Calf fries?” Joe inquired as he looked at the cook.
“Also be Rocky Mountain Oysters, same thing.” Hop Sing answered, “Delicacy with cowboys wanting to become men.”
“Oh.” Joe replied with a shrug. “It just tasted like liver to me.”
“No liver, Little Joe,” Hop Sing replied, “Rocky Mountain Oyster be calf testicles.”
Dropping his fork, Joe blanched at the words. Looking at the food on his plate, Joe swallowed hard then looked up and faced Adam with unseeing eyes. Then he slid his glance over towards Hoss and it was his look of guilt that convinced Joe. Swallowing again, he glanced down at the pile of fried meat that was still on the table. “Testicles?”
“Uh yeah, Joe, you know them that Adam was clipping off the calves today? He was savin’ them for…” Stopping mid-sentence, Hoss glanced over towards Adam who was glaring at him. Changing his sentence, he continued, “Look Joe, we were just paying you back for the frogs and the onions.”
Already angry at what his sons had done, it was Hoss’ comment of payback that nearly Ben over the edge. Pounding his fists on the table, Adam and Hoss jumped as he roared, “I TOLD YOU BOYS THAT WAS ENOUGH AFTER THE ONIONS.”
“But Pa,” Hoss complained, “we couldn’t let Joe get away with what he done to us.”
“BUT PA NOTHING!” Ben thundered while his face turned a fusion of color. Fighting to keep his temper under control, he was about to speak again when the sound of a chair being shoved from the table caused him to stop.
Unable to sit still a moment longer Joe bolted from the seat. Hearing the chair slam to the floor in his haste to get away from the table, he didn’t care. Feeling queasy, he put one hand on his stomach then with his other hand he covered his mouth. Pushing past Hop Sing, Joe had no thoughts in his head as he ran away from the dining table. Grabbing the handle to the front door, he flung it open listening as it banged into the sideboard. Hearing the sound, despite his troubled stomach, Joe couldn’t help but cringe when he thought of what pa would have to say. But feeling the turmoil begin in his stomach and push its way up his throat, he didn’t care. Once outside, he had to make a split second decision as to which direction he should go. Running straight for the trees he just made it to the water trough when the gagging reflex began. Unable to go any further, Joe couldn’t help it; the food chugged its way out of his stomach and exited out his mouth. His back towards the water trough, he stood hunched over until there was nothing more to spit up.
Standing across the yard, Hoss, Adam and Ben stood silently on the porch. It had been the sound of the front door slamming open against the sideboard that had put them into motion. Running out the front door, it was hearing the agonizing sound of their brother retching that made Hoss and Adam ashamed at what they had done. Unsure as to what to do, they turned to face Ben who was still angry at their deception.
“Pa, we’re sorry,” Adam spoke. “At the time it sounded like a good idea.”
Face of stone, Ben shook his head. “What you did was completely uncalled for in light of the jokes he has played on you two. I think what I’m most surprised at is you, Hoss, going along with this scheme.” Glaring at his middle son, Ben could tell his words were affecting both him and his older brother. “So if you want to apologize, don’t apologize to me. You need to make your apologies towards your brother.” Taking a step towards where his youngest son stood heaving, he felt a hand placed on his arm.
“Pa,” spoke Adam, shaking his head, “if you don’t mind, let Hoss and I go over there and check on him.” Without waiting to hear Ben’s answer, both brothers walked towards where Joe stood weaving next to the water trough.
Hearing voices behind him, Joe didn’t even have enough energy to turn and see who was talking. He felt sweaty and weak all at the same time, so it was with relief that he felt his legs bend as he sagged to his knees. Wiping his mouth he rested his head on the top of the water trough and could feel his body shaking. Weakly grabbing the side of the water trough, he lifted his head then dipped his hands into the water, splashing the water onto his face. Feeling the cooling temperature against his skin, he rested his head on the side of the wood when he heard the footsteps of someone approaching.
Hearing Hoss’ voice, Joe didn’t want to do anything. Ignoring him, he held his hand on his stomach trying to ignore the rumblings his stomach made. Having retched as much as he could, he was still hungry, but the thought of eating anything made him queasy all over again. Grimacing slightly, he took a deep breath.
“Buddy, we’re sorry,” Hoss spoke again, remorse lacing his words. “It was a joke to pay back for them onions and frogs you done to us.” Concerned from the lack of response from their brother, Hoss turned to Adam for help.
Moving over to where Joe was leaning, Adam rested his hand on Joe’s shoulder easily feeling the tremors that raced through his body. “Joe, this is my fault and I’m sorry.” Bending down, Adam rested on one knee as he looked into his brother’s face. Joe’s face was glistening with sweat and the eyelashes framing his closed eyes were equally wet from the sweat that dripped down onto them.
Grabbing a handkerchief from his pocket, Adam dropped it into the water then began to squeeze the excess water from the cloth. Dabbing the cool cloth against Joe’s skin, Adam began to feel really bad for what he had done to Joe. If Joe had done this to him, he wasn’t sure as to how well he would have taken it. Taking the cloth from Joe’s face, Adam saw that his brother’s eyes were open and looking up towards the sky. “You know, Joe, I think you are handling this a lot better than I ever would have. I nearly puked when I saw some cowboys from Texas eating this very dish.” Seeing the slight wavering of the eyes, Adam felt relief when he saw Joe’s green eyes turn and look into his own eyes. Tapping him on the shoulder, Adam continued, “I’ll tell you a secret about these Rocky Mountain Oysters; they are supposed to make you a virile young man.”
Grinning slightly, Joe shifted in his position on the ground and rested his back against the water trough. Already feeling a little better, he took in Adam comments. “Virile, eh?”
“Yeah,” Adam nodded with a smile on his face. “But Joe, really we’re sorry for tricking you like we did.”
Hoss, hearing that Joe was up to speaking, chimed in, “Yeah Joe, I’m really sorry.”
Joe sighed. Having thought of the frogs and onions for his brothers took some creativity, but this one took the cake. Remembering the sound of Ben roaring when they were inside, Joe knew any thoughts of payback were out of the question. Besides he already had his fun with seeing Hoss with the frogs and Adam crying his heart out over onions. Glancing up into Hoss’ blue eyes and the brown eye’s of Adam, Joe gave a half smile. Lifting his hand out and holding it towards his brothers. he spoke one word.
Hoss and Adam looked at one another then looked back towards Joe. Nodding, they spoke in unison,