Word Count: 3330
It certainly has been a long day and I’m bushed. My brothers and I have mended fences since sunup this morning and unless you’ve ever ridden along with us, you have no idea just how much fencing it takes to keep Ponderosa cattle from straying. They’re stubborn critters to be sure, and they hate to be fenced in, it’s like they believe that old saying about the grass being greener on the other side!
Whew…I couldn’t count the number of bovines I had to chase back through that broken fence, and then once there, I had to make sure they stayed there until Hoss and Adam could mend that section of the fence. Then we moved down the line a ways and found another section that needed fixing, so Adam and I took care of that break. Hoss volunteered to round up what steers had wandered through to that ‘greener’ pasture. By the time we finished both of those sections, we were beat and it was getting near suppertime. Adam said we might as well call it a day and head on back home.
Hoss was purely overjoyed with that suggestion. He didn’t have to be prompted twice, as always, he was complaining of being hungry…course he’s always hungry! Me and Adam like to tease the big man about his appetite…though when I’m hungry I can eat almost as much as Hoss; so can Adam, but we try not too…one man the size of that giant in our family is enough. I know Pa sometimes wishes he had fathered three dainty little girls rather than three rough necked, always hungry, growing boys! At least his grocery bill might have been a might smaller! I suspect that Mr. Cass over at the mercantile ain’t complaining though.
Sometimes I wonder just how on earth Pa ever managed to keep his sanity, raising the three of us. For sure we have given him more than one headache in our time. Me especially, though I never mean too. Things just happen and for some unexplainable reason, I always seem to get caught up in them. I usually wind up in some sort of a jam from which Adam or Hoss, or both, have to save my hide, or I end up in trouble and have to endure one of Pa’s lectures. Guess they don’t call me the trouble magnet for nothing!
Hahaha…I remember when I was a kid, I’d get sent to my room to wait. That was the worst, the waiting. I never knew from one time to the next what Pa might do to me. Sometimes, when I was younger, I’d get a good walloping, other times I’d get a good talking to, but almost every time, I’d get restricted to the house or yard. I hated that too, I’d rather take the licking as to be confined…and I think Pa knew that and that’s why he’d add the restriction on the punishment…to make me think twice before doing ‘it’ again, whatever the ‘it’ would be a the moment.
Aw…Pa. He sure is the best. I’m a lucky fellow, both me and my brothers that is, to have a father like Pa. He’s the most understanding, compassionate man I know. I owe him so much…not in dollars and cents, but for the things he’s taught me. For the way he raised me and my brothers…for the sacrifices he’s made for us. You can’t put a dollar sign on that…a father’s love has no price…it’s priceless!
I can’t put into words how I feel at times. I can remember being scared a lot as a kid; shoot, I can remember being afraid as a man too, and not so long ago either. But Pa has always told me that it’s alright to be afraid…he said even a grown-up is afraid at times.
And he told me that it’s alright to cry too. Image that, a grown man crying…but I’ve done it. When something reaches down inside of you and grabs you around the heart, and your emotions boil up so high, you have to have a release. Pa’s saying is, ‘that crying is good for your soul; it purges the spirit and cleanses away the unhappiness or the grief that you’re feeling at the time’. He said, ‘it makes the day seem less wretched and the morrow a bit brighter and easier to face. The darkest hour is always just before dawn’, I heard him say one time…and he said, ‘Joy cometh in the morning’…so I guess even a man needs hope for a brighter tomorrow and if crying gives him that, then why not?
I can remember only once when I’ve seen my Pa break down and cry. I mean really cry. Actually, he sobbed, and that was when my Mama died. I was so scared then. Pa was stricken so with grief that I feared he would die as well, and then I’d have no one, other than my older brothers. If it hadn’t been for Adam taking care of me and Hoss, I don’t know what would have happened to us back then. But finally, Pa was able to put aside his grief and go on with life. I don’t think he ever really did get over my Mama’s death; he seemed different after that. He was quieter, more reserved and it seemed to me that he’d never smile again, but he did eventually, saying that ‘life is for the living…and we had to go on’, and that’s what we did, the four of us, together.
Pa’s taught me a lot about living. He says that family is all a man really needs, and that family is everything. If you have a family to love you, you’ve got the whole world whether you’ve got a lot of money or practically none at all.
I always knew that Pa loved me, sometimes I wondered about my brothers…though deep down I knew they did, there were just other times that it seemed as if there might be some doubt. But then something would happen, I’d get in one of those jams I was talking about, or I’d get hurt and what do you think? Adam and Hoss were right there to help me…never failed. Like the time Adam accidentally shot me when we were hunting that wolf. That was an especially difficult time for my brother. Adam felt responsible, see, ’cause it was his bullet that hit me in the shoulder, and then that dang wolf attacked me. I was in pretty bad shape, but Adam was determined to get me home and all the way, he’d whispered to me, ‘hang on buddy, don’t you dare die on me, Little Joe’… or ‘I’m sorry, kid…I’m so sorry’.
No one ever knew he said those things, but I heard him…and I clung to those words, wanting desperately to tell him that I didn’t blame him for what happened, that it was my fault. I should have listened to him when he said we needed to head on back home. But I didn’t…and I got hurt because of my stubbornness.
It was a scary time for Adam. It’s hard for me to picture him being afraid, but he was; I could see it in his eyes and I heard it in his voice when he talked to me. After that, I never doubted his love for me. He was going to go away, he told me, but then he didn’t…his heart and soul belonged to us, to this ranch…but I’ll never forget how frightened he’d been or how afraid I was that he’d leave, all because of a silly accident.
I remember one particular time I was afraid. It was the same year my ma died, right before in fact. Adam was teaching me how to ride a horse; he’s about the best horseman around, you know. Anyway, he had me on my pony, Mama and Pa were sitting on the side porch watching me, bragging about how well I was doing and then all of a sudden, I fell off. I never did understand how I’d managed to do it, but fall I did. I started to cry ’cause I’d bonked my head and my mother jumped up from her chair and started to run to me, but Pa grabbed her arm and stopped her. He just called out to me to get back on the pony. I didn’t want to ‘cause I was scared; after all, I was only a little kid and to fall that far seemed like a great big fall to me when you’re sitting on the back of a horse. Anyway, I didn’t want to do it, but Pa kept encouraging me to do so…he said not to be afraid, everything would be alright.
I wanted to run to my mama and get a hug, but I could see that Pa was waiting for me to do as he told, so I swallowed the sick feeling I had in the pit of my stomach, and, knowing I could always trust my Pa, I let Adam help me back up. Old Paint stood perfectly still while I remounted, like he knew he had caused me to fall and hurt myself. I thought his huge, sad eyes were telling me that he was sorry. After I was on, he trotted around the yard real slow like, letting me get the feel of things again. After a while, I wasn’t scared anymore, and since that day, I’ve never been afraid to ride any horse.
That’s not to say I never took a tumble off one again, ’cause I sure have. And the next time I did, I wasn’t the one who got scared; it was Pa. You see, what happened was, I came riding into the yard…probably faster than I should, considering I was only about seven years old at the time. Anyway, Old Paint stepped in a hole, neither one of us saw it, and when he stumbled, I went flying over his head. I don’t remember much after that; I landed with a thud and everything went black. The next thing I do remember was two hours later, waking up and seeing Pa leaning down over me. There were tears in his eyes but I couldn’t figure out why my Pa would be crying…I was still alive, but then he pulled me up into his arms and crushed me to him in the tightest hug I’d ever had. He began sobbing and it scared the fire outta me. Adam explained it to me later that it was because Pa was afraid I might have been killed. It was only a couple of years after my mother died, and Adam reminded me that she had been killed from a fall off her horse in much the same way, and seeing me fall like I done, made Pa feel as if he were reliving her death all over again. I understood then…and now as a young man, I think back to that time and realize just how frightened my Pa must have been and why his emotions had reached down deep inside of him and wrapped around his heart…it was a time when a man could cry and still be called a man.
But it was the time that I learned that it takes more than knowing how to rope and ride, brand cattle, muck stalls and shoot a gun, to be a man. Sure, a man had to know all those things, and Pa and my brothers taught them to me…they taught me everything I know really…but Pa says that a man also has to know many other things too, like when to fight and when to walk away.
Turning the other cheek never has come easy for me…my temper is too quick…which is why I get in trouble so much! Hoss teases me by saying it’s because of me that Pa’s hair is the color it is…but I can’t believe that all of that silver should be credited to me…regardless of what people think, Adam and Hoss are no angels! They’ve gotten themselves into some tight spots that Pa has had to come to their rescue as well as mine.
One thing Pa said to remember, and that’s to always do your best. I remember when I was still in school, and…well, it was no secret, school wasn’t my favorite place to be. I never did get much out of it, I’d rather be at home with Pa and Adam and Hoss, working on the ranch, especially working with the horses. But Pa would explain it to me as such: ‘You can’t be a good horseman…a good cattleman or a good rancher unless you have a good education’. Took me until I was about grown to fully understand the meaning of that, but it dawned on me eventually. ‘Always strive to be the best you can be’, that’s what Pa preached to me.
When I did something wrong…when I made a mistake, I recall him asking me, “Joseph, did you do the best you could?” I’d reply that I had. Then Pa would put his hand on my shoulder and smile down at me, “Then,” he would say, “that’s all I’ve ever asked of you, to do the best you can…that’s all any man can do. But it is when he doesn’t try that he fails…”
I’ve never forgotten those words. Years later, I find myself still striving to do my best…it’s an ongoing job, but one that I hope will make my father and my brothers proud of me.
It’s late now, and I should probably be in bed. We have another long day ahead of us tomorrow. Everyday that you work on a ranch this size is a long day. It takes all four of us working together to keep the Ponderosa running smoothly. Not one of us could manage alone, without the others.
It’s like Pa says, ‘together we cannot be broken, but separate we can break.’ I’ve seen that example put to the test before, like the time I won that lumber contract and thought I could handle things on my own. I found out soon enough, the hard way, that I wasn’t the man I thought I was. I was too prideful to ask my family for help, until things started to go really wrong. I was all ready to give up, and then Pa said to me, ‘we’re here for you, son; all you have to do is ask.’
When I looked him in the eye and studied his face, I knew he meant it. I knew he was speaking from the heart, that he didn’t think I was a failure, but that I had done my best, and because of circumstances beyond MY control, not because of anything I had done, I needed help from a wiser, more experienced source…namely, my family. As always, they were there for me and I was able to finish the project on time, for which my Pa and brothers gave me all the credit. I learned a lot that summer…that a man’s family is everything…and if that’s the case, I have everything!
Pa will be coming up shortly to say good night. He stillpeeks in on us boys, even if we are all grown. It’s an old habit, and Pa says that old habits are hard to break, especially for a father with three sons. But I don’t mind his peeking in to be sure all’s well…it kind of gives me a safe feeling knowing that after all these years, my father cares enough to want to make sure his family is well before he turns in for the night.
Someday, Pa won’t be around to say goodnight to me anymore…and though it’s a simple thing as such, it is one of many things about Pa that I will miss terribly. So, for now, I welcome his saying ‘good night, son…sleep well and God bless.’
I can hear his footsteps on the stairs now. He’s coming down the hall…the soft tap on the door…
Pa gently pushes the door opened and pokes his head in, surprised to see me at my desk rather than sprawled out in the bed. “Not sleepy?” he grins.
“Well, don’t say up to late, son…tomorrow’s another long day.”
“I won’t, Pa. I’m almost finished.”
“Alright then. Good night, Joseph, sleep well…and God bless.”
“Good night, Pa.”
It’s always the same, the last words of the day that he speaks to me have been seared into my mind and heart forever and I shall never forget them. I can imagine myself repeating the same phrases to my own sons and daughters someday, if I’m fortunate enough to get married and have children of my own.
I remember my father telling a man once, when we accidentally got caught up with the Barns family…a nasty bunch to be sure…except for Homer…who we knew as Jed Lolly. Anyway, old man Barns had four sons — two had been hanged, one he shot and killed himself, and the other was Jed…a good friend of ours. Jed had served some time in prison for things he’d done, and once out, had changed his name and set his life on the right road. But that day, when Jed’s twin brother was about to shoot me and old man Barns was about to shoot Pa, Pa told him that ‘the only worthwhile thing a man leaves when he dies are his children, what he was lives on in them.’ And then Pa says, ‘When people look at my sons, I want them to remember me well.’
Needless to say, I have a lot to live up to! Not that I can ever walk the same paths as my father walked, or the same ones as Adam and Hoss…but the roads we travel throughout our lives, all lead in one direction…the end of the road. How we arrive at that point and where we go from there, all depends on how we travel down the paths of our lives. It isn’t easy, living a good decent life; I’ve already learned that, but I have a particular goal in life. I want my father to be proud of me…I want to meet him in heaven one day and hear him say…”Welcome home! I’m proud of you, Joseph!”
I want people to look at me and remember my father well! I was made in his image, I was reared and taught by my father, I want to honor him with my respect and my loyalty…I want others to remember him as a man among men…a man who overcame life’s hardships and sorrows, yet was able to accomplish what all men desire to obtain and that’s the love, loyalty and respect of his sons.
I’m not perfect…I never intend to be so…for man, that’s impossible, but I will strive to be the best I can be. If that’s not enough for anyone else, it’s enough for my father. It’s all he’s asked of me…I can never repay him for what he’s done for me, given to me, taught to me…but I can give him that one thing he’s asked of me and that’s…my “best.”
“Good night, Pa…sleep well…and God Bless.”
Love, Your son,
Joseph F. Cartwright
Our authors appreciate comments on their stories. If you would like to send comments on this story, click on the author’s name at the top of this page.