A Night of Reflection (by DebbieB)

Summary:  With a snowstorm coming and his sons late in getting home, Ben reflects back on his life and the three wives that bore him, his sons.

Rated: G (6,000 words)

 

 

                     A Night of Reflection

 

Ben backed up as close as he dared to the fireplace, warming his backside.  His hands were folded together behind him, the palms turned outward toward the fire, as he felt his body shiver. Burr…he thought, the weather sure had changed quickly and he worried that his sons might not make it back from the outer pastures before the snowfall began.

Giving himself several minutes to knock the chill from his body, Ben walked slowly to the front door and opened it, peeking out into the darkness in hopes of seeing his sons come riding into the yard.  With his lips pinched tightly closed, Ben shut the door and glanced up at the old grandfather clock, eight p.m. it chimed, just as Ben’s eyes looked at the face of the old time piece.  Worry began to seep into every pore in his body; he could not understand why his sons were this late.  It was much later than he had even expected, for he had judged that all three would have made it home at least by six, but apparently that didn’t seem to be the case.  At least it hadn’t started to snow yet, with any luck they could still make it before the dreaded snow started to cover the frozen ground.  Ben knew that once it began, it would cling to the ice crystals that had already started to form from the rain that had fallen earlier in the day, leaving the ground wet, and then as the temperature dropped, the dampness had begun to freeze.

Ben sighed deeply, glanced once more at the clock and returned to the fire, where he grabbed the poker and jabbed at the already blazing fire.  Bored with that, Ben leaned into the warmth thereof, and rubbed his hands together once again.  Ben could not help but smile to himself; he was as bad as an old mother hen he snickered softly.  Here he was worrying after his three grown sons as if they were still small boys, and Ben laughed again, this time in earnest.

The elder Cartwright moved from the hearth to his favorite red leather chair and lowered his weary body into the soft comforts crossing his legs as he settled in.  Ben reached for his pipe and his Virginia Blend pipe tobacco and began preparing for his smoke, giving another quick glance at the face of the clock, eight-forty five.  Where were those boys, he wondered.

Ben finished his pipe and set it aside, making sure that the tiny flame that burned was out and allowed his head to loll back against the headrest of the leather chair.  The room had grown warm, and slowly, unaware even to Ben, his eyelids gradually began to droop.  Within minutes the patriarch of the Ponderosa was sleeping soundly.

“Papa…Papa!”

Ben bolted from his slumber and jumped from his bed, grabbing his robe as he headed for the door.  He managed to slip his arm into the last sleeve as he pushed opened the heavy door to his youngest son’s room.  Quickly he raised the wick in the lamp that had been left burning low, and brought more light into the dim room.

Little Joe was tossing and turning on the bed, he had nearly scooted himself to the edge and Ben reached out to grab him as Joe twisted once again, almost falling.

“Papa…Papa,” cried the little six year old as his father gathered him lovingly into his strong arms.

“Shh…sweetheart, your papa’s got you now.  What’s wrong darling?  Were you dreaming again?” soothed Ben, wiping the huge tears from his tiny son’s face and cradling the boy close to his chest.

Joe nodded his head up and down and then swiped the back of his hand across the front of this face.  “Uh hm,” he muttered.  “When’s my mama comin’ home, Papa?” he asked and then looked into his father’s face.

Ben took a deep breath and seeing the sad expression in his youngest son’s eyes, sighed deeply, “Son, I thought that you already understood why your mama wouldn’t be coming home.  Don’t you remember precious, what I told you about what happens when someone dies?”

“Yes sir, but…well, I thought if Mama, loved me enough, she’d wanna come back here, and be wif me and you and Hoss and Adam.  Don’t her love us anymore, Papa?” cried Little Joe as he buried his tiny cherub like face into the front of his father’s dressing gown.

Ben placed a loving hand against the side of Joe’s head, forcing the curly headed boy’s firmly against his heart.  “Of course she loves you, she loved all of us sweetheart.  You must always remember that, son.  And you must always remember that she didn’t leave us because she wanted too.  She had an accident, a terrible, terrible accident that took her from us.  Things like that happen son, we don’t always know why, nor do we ever understand why someone as loving and caring as your mama, has to be taken from those that love her, but it happens son.  Death is part of living, and to live, one must one day die.  It’s the way that God planned things, so that He could have people like your mama, up in heaven with Him.  It makes those of us left behind, more willing to be what God wants us to be, so that we can see our loved ones again some day,” Ben explained to the small child who had suddenly grown quiet.

“Papa, will I see my mama again someday?  Do ya promise me?” asked Little Joe, glancing up into his father’s slightly whiskered face.

“I promise you, Little Joe, you be a good boy and yes, someday you will see your sweet mama again, we all will, of that I am sure,” smiled Ben and then leaned down and placed a kiss on top of the curly mass of dark, soft curls.

“Papa?”

“What is it precious?” asked Ben.

“Sometimes, I can’t remember what my mama looks like,” Joe began to sniff his nose.  “What will happen when I die and go to heaven and can’t remember which angel is my mama?”

“Oh Joseph, please don’t worry, your mama will know you.  She will watch over you everyday of your life until your time comes to go to heaven, and she will know, have no fear of that,” smiled Ben, fighting to hold back his own tears.

Ben stretched his arm out to the night table next to Little Joe’s bed and took the tiny-framed cameo picture into his hand.

“You hold this son, it’s your mama’s picture.  That way you will always have her close by and when you get frightened about forgetting what she looked like, you just carry this with you, next to your heart, and then you will always remember.”

Ben placed the miniature frame into his son’s equally tiny hand and folded his strong fingers about his son’s, both of them clinging to the image of the woman whom they had loved and adored.

Joe nestled deeply into his father’s chest, the steady thumping sound of Ben’s heart soothing the boy until at last, Joe had fallen back to sleep.  Ben held the wee boy within the folds of his arms for a long time before rising carefully and placing the sleeping child back into his bed, taking the small framed picture and placing it back on the table.  Ben gazed lovingly into the face that smiled back at him from the portrait and returned the smile.

Tenderly, Ben pulled the covers up around his son, tucking them securely about the petite form, and leaned down, placed a kiss on the still, tear-dampened cheek and walked to the window.  Ben pulled back the curtain and gazed out into the darkness.  The sky was clear, the stars twinkled and Ben smiled when he spied the shooting star that blazed its fiery trail across the heavens.

“Good night, Marie, my love,” he whispered, allowing the heavy winter drapes to fall back into place before moving to the door and glancing one last time at the little one who had found his thumb and who seemed contented at last.

The old grandfather clock chimed, it’s tone ringing loudly within the hollow walls of the empty house and jarring Ben from his slumber.  Ben raised his head and gazed at the face of on the clock, noting the late hour.  Ten, much too late for his sons to still be out, thought the concerned father as he pulled himself from his chair and hurried to the door.

When the door was pulled opened, a blast of cold air blew about Ben’s legs and feet, making him to shiver suddenly and quickly he closed the door.  There was not even a lamp burning low in the barn, which only meant that his sons had not yet returned.  It had begun to snow lightly and Ben feared that the coming storm would hit hard, forcing the boys to have to find shelter until the storm passed.  Ben shrugged his shoulders and shook his head back and forth.  He had been against Adam’s idea that they go traipsing off so late in the afternoon, just to check on a few strays.  His son had known as well as he that the storm was brewing, that it was very likely that the full force would be down on their heads before they all had half a chance to get back home safely.

What was it about his oldest that always drove him so, that always seemed to push the boy into doing things his own way?  Adam was stubborn, bullheaded, once setting his mind to something; he was near impossible to change.  Ben smothered a laugh, others had always commented on how much Adam reminded them of him, when he was younger, and so surmised the father, it must rightly be so.

Ben stoked his fire once again and returned to his chair.  He picked up his Bible that he had left lying on the wide boarded table in front of the settee and flipped through the pages.  His fingers found the middle section where all the births and deaths of loved ones had been recorded and stopped to stare at the pages.  The births made his heart to smile; the deaths seemed to wipe away part of the joy that the births of his sons had rendered to his heart.  But Ben understood that had it not been for each of this three young wives, there would have never been an Adam, Hoss or Little Joe.

Ben closed the book, holding it firmly in his lap as he permitted his head to return to the back cushion that supported his neck, and closed his eyes.  The clock chimed again, it was now ten thirty.  Ben, though he tried to keep from closing his eyes, could not stop them from shutting, and soon he was sleeping again.

“Mr. Cartwright! Mr. Cartwright!  You better come quickly, the baby, it’s time,” his friend yelled from the doorway of the shop.

Ben’s head bolted upright and he smiled at his customer who stood on the opposite side of the counter from him, a startled look on his confused face.   “My wife’s having a baby,” Ben beamed proudly as he hurried to untie his apron and slip into his coat.

The customer smiled back at the proprietor of the little sailing shop and wished him well as Ben rushed from the building and quickly toward his home.  As he pushed the door opened, Ben could hear the soft mewing sounds coming from the upstairs bedroom and rushed up the stairs, taking them two at a time.

Elizabeth lay buried among the thick pile of blankets.  Ben noted the tiny beads of water that dotted her brow as he lowered himself into the chair next to her bed and reached for her hand.  Elizabeth turned, smiling happily at her handsome husband.

“Hello darling,” she smiled.

“Oh Elizabeth…are you all right?” asked the soon to be father, as he leaned down and placed a kiss tenderly on his true love’s lips.

“I’m fine Benjamin…OH!”

“What…what’s wrong?” Ben nearly shouted as another pain caused his wife to press her lips tightly and closed her eyes to the discomfort.

“Oh silly man…it’s just your son,” Elizabeth forced herself to smile and turned as the doctor entered her room.

The physician took one quick glance at the young woman and ordered both her husband and her father from the room.  “Go ahead, get out of here, this baby isn’t going to wait much longer, now shoo,” he smiled at them and ushered both of the worried men into the hallway, closing the door behind them.

It was several hours later that the physician slowly made his way down the stairs, where Ben and his father-in-law waited anxiously at the foot of the steps.  Ben noted the haggard look on the doctor’s face and cut his eyes over at Capt. Stoddard, who had also noticed the strange look.

“It’s a boy, Mr. Cartwright, and he’s fine,” stated the doctor and then paused, looking from the older man back to the younger.  “Your wife would like to see you now,” he said without much joy in his voice.

“How is she?” stammered Ben, fear beginning to rise into his heart and reaching up to his throat where it threatened to choke him.

The physician shook his head sadly.  “I’m sorry Mr. Cartwright, it was a hard birth, there’s nothing more that I can do for her.”

Ben felt his heart shatter into tiny pieces as he bolted up the stairs.  His beloved wife looked so pale, so young and frightened, but she smiled when she sensed her husband’s presence.  She raised her hand, taking Ben’s into her own and slowly brought her husband’s larger hand to her lips and sweetly kissed the back of his several times.

“Hello papa,” she smiled.  “Have a look at your son, darling.”

Ben returned the kiss and smiled down at the woman to whom he had given his heart.  “I see him, he’s a fine son, darling.  Thank you…but you need to rest now, my dear.”

“Oh Benjamin, please, bring him to me, so that I might hold him, just once,” she whispered.

Ben took his newborn son carefully from the cradle and gently placed the sleeping baby into the folds of its mother’s arms.  “Oh Ben,” Elizabeth cried, the tiny tears seeping into her eyes as she smiled down on her son and then up at her baby’s father.

“Please my darling, take care of him for me, tell him how much I love him, and please my dear…love him with all of your heart and soul, as I have loved both of you.”

Elizabeth’s eyes closed for the last time, she was gone from him, from her newborn child, and Ben dropped his head into his hands and wept.

“Pa!  Why can’t I?  You promised me I could go, and now you’re changing your mind.  It isn’t fair!” shouted the raven hair young man as he paced back and forth in front of the fireplace, hands planted on his hips and glaring angrily at his father.

“Adam, calm down son.  I didn’t change my mind, I only said that it isn’t a good time for you to be leaving the ranch.  I need you here, not a million miles away, at some big high for looting college where you don’t know anyone, and you’ll be all alone and….” Ben ranted.

“Oh come on Pa, is that the best reason’s you have for not letting me go? I’ve work hard on this ranch you know I have, I’ve given it my entire life, just like you.  Why can’t you just hire someone to do my part of the work, just until I come back!” Adam shouted back.

“Hire someone?  I’d like for you to tell me, with what?  How am I supposed to pay a man?  I can barely feed my own family, much less send you off to school and then you tell me to HIRE SOMEONE!!” roared Ben.

This wasn’t the first time that Ben and Adam had had this same argument, it had been going on for a year now; Adam wanting to go away, his father, reluctant about allowing his son to do as he wished.  Oh, Ben knew that eventually he would have to grant the boy his permission, he would give Adam his blessings and then fight the fear that invaded his heart each and every time he thought about his first born son being separated from him.  They had spent so much time together, perhaps too much reasoned Ben, so much so that even now, when Adam was nearly eighteen, he could barely face the fact that his son was grown and had a deep seeded desire to strike out on his own.  Ben knew that it was just a matter of time before he could no longer make his feeble arguments and reasoned that it would be best for both of them, if he gave in now to his son’s request.  If he waited much longer before letting the boy leave before being forced into it, he knew he would then be taking a chance of losing the boy altogether, and there was no way he could ever let that happen.

“Take care of yourself son,” Ben smiled and gathered his oldest son into his arms, holding him long enough to feel Adam’s body begin to stiffen slightly.  Ben released his hold and stepped back, forcing the smile to remain on his face.  “You write as often as you can, we’ll be anxious to hear all about what you’re doing back there in Boston.”

Adam nodded his head and shook his father’s hand.  “I will Pa.  I promise, I’ll make you proud of me.”

Ben looked long into the dark eyes that had suddenly seemed to look a mite unsure.

“Adam, you don’t have to make me proud of you, I already am, I’m very proud of you.  I always have been,” smiled Ben and then quickly gave his son one last parting hug before the boy turned at the call of the driver for all passengers to board.

“God bless you, Adam,” called Ben as the stage pulled away from the station.  Ben waved his hand in the air in return to Adam’s own waving hand.

“I love you, all of you,” shouted Adam, just before the stage rounded the corner taking him from the view of his family.

From somewhere in the dark resources of his befuddled mind, Ben heard the chiming of the clock.  He tossed his head and tried to force open his eyes, but they seemed glued shut.  As he listened, his mind closed to the gentle ticking sound, once again lost among his memories.

Ben held his infant son snugly in his arms as he stooped to place the flowers on his wife’s grave.  After arranging them to suit him self, Ben dusted the small particles of dirt from the top of the headstone that bore Elizabeth’s name and stood to his feet.

“We’ll be leaving in the morning, my love.  I wanted to come by and tell you how much I love you before we go.  I hope you know just how much I do love you, how very much you mean to me and how deeply you will be missed by both myself and the boy, here.  Oh darling, Adam is such a good baby, you would be so very proud of him.  Thank you my dear for giving him to me, I only wish…I wish that…you could be here, with us, to go west…but I know that can never be, and for that I am sad,” said Ben softly.

“We must go now, I love you Elizabeth, I always will.  And I will always make sure that young Adam knows all there is to know about his wonderful, beautiful mother who gave her life to bring him into the world.  Farewell…Elizabeth, my love.”

“Mis’ta Cart’light, Mis’ta Ben,” Hop Sing gently shook his boss’ shoulder.  “Wake up,” he sputtered in his broken English.

Ben’s eyes at last opened and he jumped with a start at seeing his housekeeper staring into his face so closely.  “Oh, Hop Sing, you startled me, is something wrong?” Ben asked as he pulled himself upright.

Seeing the Bible still setting in his lap, he carefully placed the old worn book onto the table in front of him and stood to his feet stretching.

“I find boss sitting here, all alone.  It is very very late, and you ask me if some ting wong?  I ask you…some ting wong?” chattered Hop Sing.

Ben smiled and shook his head, glancing at the clock.  “No, no, Hop Sing, I was just waiting on the boys.”  Ben moved to the door but stopped and looked back over his shoulder at the little man.  “Why don’t you just go back to bed, Hop Sing?  I’m fine, really.”

Hop Sing bowed graciously.  “Hop Sing go, too early to rise, too late to sleep, crazy mixed up man no know when to sleep and when to get up.  Hop Sing quit, go back to China,” chanted Hop Sing as he slithered across the wood floor toward the kitchen, where he had a room of his own off to the side.

He could be heard muttering under his breath, words that Ben could not understand.  Ben laughed softly at the little man, whom he admired and respected.  Hop Sing’s idle threat was well known to all of them and Ben knew that it was not the first nor would it be the last time that the little Chinaman would voice the same words.

Ben waited until Hop Sing was gone from the room and then opened the door to peek out.  The night was beautiful and if he had not been so worried about the welfare of his sons, Ben might have enjoyed the splendor.  Gently he closed the door behind him, folded his arms and strolled to the end of the porch.  The wind had died down but he shivered, glanced upward at the sky and then shivered again, hoping that his sons had found shelter from the heavy snow that was now falling.  Ben had to admit that it was a beautiful sight; his eyes sought the high mountain peaks that could barely be made out in the darkness.  He wondered briefly if he could really see them or if in his mind he only thought he could.  He had gazed at the majesty of those peaks; he had stood in awe of God’s creation so many times over the years that he was sure the impression was seared into his memory forever.

‘I need no eyes to see, only a mind to remember, a heart to love,’ he told himself as he turned and retraced his steps into the house.

Ben stood alone, just inside the main room and glanced about him.  The house was still and silent, giving Ben an eerie feeling.  He had built this home with his own hands, he and Adam, working side by side had placed log atop log, had cut and sawed and hammered until their hands had bled.  It was a home built with love, for a family who loved and respected each other, a family who would give their lives for one or all.  It had been a cheerful home, always filled with the sound of little boys, running, screaming, playing, teasing, laughing, always the laughter, thought Ben, the sounds of happiness and joy.  And now it stood empty, and Ben’s heart seemed to stand still at the thought.  Shaking the disturbing feelings free from his senses, Ben returned to his chair and plopped down.

One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten, eleven, twelve, the clocked chimed.  Mid-night sighed Ben, glaring at the clock for reminding him that his sons had not gotten home.  He pushed himself back against the chair, it was no use, his boys would not be home tonight, he would just have to wait until the morning or until the snow stopped before he could rest comfortably knowing how his sons had fared.

Ben yawned, and then tried to stifle the second one.  He felt his head slip backward, his eyes closed and in his dream, he smiled as he entered the barn and found his second-born son, Hoss.  Hoss was bent over a sick mare, his gentle hands was working feverishly as they caressed the long silky neck with cool compresses.  Ben slipped into the barn, smiling at his son as Hoss glanced up at his father, watching as Ben made himself comfortable and ready to keep him company.

“She’s better, Pa,” smiled Hoss over his shoulder and then, turned to speak softly to the downed animal.  “I think she’s gonna make it.”

Ben’s heart smiled; Hoss, was such a gentle, man.  His large oversized frame frightened a lot of folks, but it belied the kind, caring, compassionate man that lived inside.  He had seen Hoss lift a heifer into the air, fight off half a dozen men nearly his own size, all at the same time.  Yet he remembered times that this gentle giant had used those same strong hands, to cradle a small boy in his massive arms with as much tenderness as any loving mother would have embraced     her own child.  Ben had witnessed the emotions that had ripped at the boy’s heart when he had found wounded or mistreated animals; he had seen the big man cry when someone had been abused, or when one of his friends had suffered an injustice at the hands of bullies.  But Ben had seen the hardness and determination that sometimes surfaced and set him apart from other men, especially when some unforeseen danger threatened his loved ones.  He could be as fierce as a wounded grizzly, or as gentle as a lamb. And most men feared him because of it, because his statue demanded respect, his uncommon sensitivity toward man and beast made him stand out as a man who stood for justice, and truth and the right to be and do what a man pleased.  Hoss was respected, revered as a man who cared not that others saw him cry, or that he openly admitted his love for his family, who stood firm in his loyalty to those whom he cherished. Those that knew Hoss Cartwright, knew that they were privileged to know such a man.

Ben continued to watch with affection as his son labored over the horse.  His thoughts slipped into the past and he reflected back to another time, another place.  The fog began to clear and there, a beautiful young woman smiled up into his face, Inger, his heart cried.

“Soon the colt will come, Benjamin,” the bright eyed woman smiled at him.  “It will not be long now.”

“I hope not, my dear, we must be on our way soon,” Ben explained.  “The folks are getting anxious to be moving on.”

Inger laughed softly, her sky blue eyes dancing with amusement, “they will wait, my darling.  This is a new life, soon to be entering this world.  One cannot rush such things, my love.”

Ben stooped down and gently pulled his wife into his arms.  “I am well aware of that, Mrs. Cartwright, for your own time draws near, does it not?”

“Oh yes Benjamin, soon our son will be born,” Inger laughed as she slipped her arms about Ben’s neck and kissed the underneath, where soft whiskers tickled her lips.

Ben placed his lips against Inger’s neck and kissed her lightly.  “Please love, don’t over do things, be careful, promise me?”

“Do not worry so, I am fine.  Oh, look Benjamin, it is time, the colt comes now.”  Inger pulled away from her husband’s arms and returned to the mare.

“Looky Pa, she’s trying to get up!” Hoss called out and stood back as the mare struggled to her feet.  “That’s it girl, keep tryin’.”

Ben felt the sting of tears as he stood silently over the opened grave.  Adam clung tightly to his hand, in the other arm, Ben held his young son, Hoss.  Hoss whimpered; Ben knew the baby was getting hungry, but he had to remain where he was.  Someone was praying, and then someone began singing, but though he tried, Ben could not recall the song.  He was aware that he had heard it before, but his heart and mind had been torn, ripped from him and he did not even try to put a name to the tune.  He didn’t seem to care.  His life was over; it ended yesterday when an arrow had found it’s way into the body of his beloved wife.  Inger had died trying to help him, trying to protect her son, his son, their sons, and the cost had been astronomical to his own life.  The love he had found, the life he had shared with this wonderful woman who had restored new hope to his heart and soul, who had helped him to complete his family, to be a mother to his son and who had bore him a second son, would never be the same. Ben’s heart ached with misery for his loss.

Adam tugged at his father’s arm, drawing Ben’s attention to his son.  “We gotta go now Pa, everyone’s leavin’,” whispered Adam.

Ben glanced around him at the small group of mourners who were moving away from the graveside.  It was as if he were seeing them for the very first time and he seemed surprised.

“Yes, I see them, Adam.”

A man stepped up to Ben and placed a hand on his shoulder.  “We best be movin’ on Mr. Cartwright, afore it gets too late.”

Ben nodded his head.  “Thank you, we’ll be right there,” Ben said as the man moved away.

“I’ll take the baby for you, Mr. Cartwright, until you say your goodbye, if’n ya like,” asked a woman who had befriended the Cartwrights while they had been traveling together on the trail.

Ben smiled weakly and handed over Hoss, placing the chubby little boy into the woman’s out stretched arms.  “Thank you.”

Ben and Adam stood side by side.  Adam suddenly released his hold on his father’s hand and stooped down, grabbing a fist full of dirt and tossed it into the open grave mimicking what he had seen the others do.

“Bye mama,” whispered the boy who fought so hard not to cry.  “I love you.”

Ben’s heart lurched as he watched his son fighting to control the tears that had pooled in his large iridescent eyes.  The father felt his own eyes begin to tear as he stooped and gathered a handful of the red earth.  Fingering the soft dirt gently in his hands for several seconds before tossing the soil inside to mix with the rest, Ben set his lips firmly.

“Good bye…Inger, my love.”

“Looky Pa, she made it!” shouted Hoss, as he stroked the mare’s neck.  “I knew she could do it, she’ll be all right now Pa.”

Ben snapped from his reflections, jumped to his feet and moved to stand behind his son, smiling at the happy face that beamed back at him.  “I knew if anyone could pull her through, it would be you, son.  You did a great job.”  Ben slapped Hoss on the back in a loving manner.

“Aw shucks Pa, tweren’t nuthin’, she just needed ta know that someone cared, that’s all,” Hoss shyly stated and then blushed.

“You certainly have a way with animals son.  I don’t know how you do it, but they just seem to understand you,” Ben grinned, his pride for his son, showing in his dark eyes.  “You are so much like your mother,” he added.

The door opened loudly, banging against the credenza as the three young men burst into the house, laughing and dusting the snow from their clothes.

“Hey, look, Pa’s asleep in the chair…ya don’t reckon he…” laughed Little Joe.

“Yeah, I bet he has.  And he claims that he never worries about us anymore,” Adam moaned in a mock surprised voice that caused all three brothers to burst into laughter.

“Hey Pa!” shouted Hoss good naturally and bringing Ben from his slumber.

Ben rubbed his eyes, and tried to pull himself up straight in the chair.  “Heh?  What?  Oh, hi boys!”

Adam swapped looks with his siblings and sat down on the coffee table in front of his father.  Joe joined him on one side and Hoss on the other.

“What?” asked Ben, studying the faces of each.

“Pa, please tell us that you didn’t wait up all night for us, alone in this chair?” teased Little Joe, a mischievous smile tugging at the corners of his mouth.

Ben was silent for several minutes as he searched each individual face of his three sons.

“Pa?  Are ya all right?” asked Hoss becoming concerned at the expression on Ben’s face and the length of time that he took to respond to his brother’s question.

Ben smiled at his middle son.  “I couldn’t be better,” he proclaimed.

He turned to Joe, “And to answer your question Joseph, no, I was not alone.  I had lots of company.”

Joe’s expression was one of puzzlement as he glanced at Hoss and then Adam.  “But we thought you sat here all night, waiting for us.  We know how you worry,” he added with a grin on his handsome face.

Ben laughed and stood to his feet, not really wanting his boys to know the truth, he had worried, but yet, somehow he had been comforted as well.

“Joseph, I think you assume too much.”  Ben turned to his older two sons.  “And so do the two of you.  I think I will have some breakfast, care to join me?”

Ben turned his back from his sons as he made his way to the table, they could not see the smile that graced his face, nor could they hear his silent prayer of thanks that he offered for the safe return of his children.  But he could feel the strange looks that passed from brother to brother as they sat in awe of their father, together lined up along the wide boarded table in the center of their home.

“Well, I’ll be,” Ben heard Hoss whisper to his siblings.

“I thought for sure he waited up on us,” Little Joe whispered in return.

“Sure could have fooled me,” sighed Adam, slipping his arms about both brothers shoulders.  “Come on, let’s eat, I’m hungry.”

THE END
Thanksgiving Day, 2002

Thank you, God, for everything—
The big things and the small,
For every good gift comes from God
The giver of them all—
And all too often we accept
Without any thanks of praise
The gifts God sends as blessings
Each day in many ways,
And so at this THANKSGIVING TIME
We offer up a prayer
To thank you, God for giving us
A lot more than our share…
First, thank you for the little things
That often come our way,
The things we take for granted
But don’t mention when we pray,
The unexpected courtesy,
The thoughtful, kindly deed,
A hand reached out to help us
In the time of sudden need…
Oh, make us more aware, dear God,
Of little daily graces
That come to us with ‘sweet surprise’
From never-dreamed-of places—
Then, thank you for the ‘MIRACLES
We are much too blind to see,
And give us new awareness
Of our many gifts from Thee,
And help us to remember
That the KEY to LIFE and LIVING
Is to make each prayer a PRAYER of THANKS
And every day THANKSGIVING.

Helen Steiner Rice

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