Summary: Including Ben Cartwright
Word Count: 4500
Adam watched from where he waited beneath the large shade tree in front of the school as his youngest brother emerged from the building. Adam was sure that something was amiss. Little Joe walked more slowly, the boy’s head was bent lower and he ignored the boy walking next to him who finally gave up trying to get Joe’s attention. He wondered if the boy might be in trouble again with the teacher and only briefly wondered what the lad had done this time. It was no secret that Joe Cartwright was better known to family and friends as Little Joe, the trouble magnet, for trouble always seemed to be lurking nearby as far as the youngest Cartwright was concerned.
“Hey Buddy,” Adam greeted the ten year old.
“Hey Adam,” muttered Joe, barely looking up at his older brother. Instead, Little Joe gathered his pony’s reins and swung up into the saddle, waiting for Adam to mount up so that they could ride home.
Adam and Joe rode in silence for sometime before Adam turned and pulled his stead to a standstill. “Joe…wait up a minute,” he called out as Joe had continued on his way.
Reluctantly, the boy stopped and turned back, facing his brother. Adam gently moved his horse along side his brother’s. “What’s wrong, Joe?”
Joe glanced away briefly and then turned back to look up at his brother. “Nuthin’,” he muttered.
“I know better’n that, buddy…there’s something troubling you…”
“No there ain’t…”
“Did you have a bad day at school…do you have a note for Pa from Miss Jones?” Adam certainly hoped not; it hadn’t been a full week yet since the last note came home with the boy and Joe was forced to endure one their father’s ‘necessary little talks’.
“No…well…I mean…yes…but not the kind you think it is…” stammered Joe, looking with sad, dull eyes at Adam.
“I don’t understand, pal; if you’re not in trouble, why the note?” Adam pressed.
“I’m not the only one what got a note…all the kids did…”
“Well, can I see it?” Adam said, not realizing he had let out a long sigh of relief. It just got next to his heart when his kid brother was in trouble and their father forced to take drastic action to curb the intolerance on Little Joe’s behalf.
“It ain’t for you…it’s for…for…our…” Joe’s chin began to quiver and he looked away, lest his brother see the tears that had suddenly blurred his vision.
Adam tried not to look, but the tears his brother tried so hard to hide, slipped over the rims and rolled mutely down the cherubic, finely chiseled face of the youngest Cartwright.
“Our Pa, Little Joe?” Adam asked softly.
Little Joe shook his head but refused to look up.
“Joe,” Adam said a bit more sternly. “Look at me.” Again, Little Joe shook his head. “Joe, I want you to look at me, please,” Adam forcefully requested.
Little Joe turned slowly to look into the compassionate eyes of his older brother. Adam saw the quivering chin and the flood of tears. His heart softened. “What has made you so sad…and if the note isn’t for our Pa…then for whom was it meant?” he asked tenderly.
Joe’s lips were pressed tightly together as he reached into his pocket and pulled out the neatly folded note. For a long second, he stared at it and then held the paper out to his brother. “It’s for our…mother…”
Adam, his fingers already wrapped around the paper, stopped suddenly and stared into the unhappy face. He wasn’t sure he’d heard the boy correctly. “Our…mother?” he repeated.
Little Joe nodded his head. Without another word, Adam opened the note and read the neatly written words:
For All Mothers:
You are cordially invited to attend a formal Mother’s Day dinner with your student/students, compliments of the Virginia City School Board, this Saturday night at 7:00 P.M., in the dining room of the Palace Hotel. Please wear your Sunday- go-to-meeting clothing.
Miss Abigail Jones
Quietly, Adam folded the note, holding it a moment longer in his hand before handing it back to Little Joe. Little Joe made a sniffling sound through his nose as he tucked the note safely into his jacket pocket. Pitifully, he looked at his brother. “I suppose you’re gonna tell, Pa?” he said meekly.
“Why should I…it’s up to you to give the note to him,” Adam said.
“But it ain’t for him…”
“Joe,” Adam said, interrupting, “Pa’s been father and mother to us most all our lives; he’s got a right to see the note…”
“But the dinner’s for mothers, not fathers…” Joe stammered, trying to explain himself. “And since I ain’t got no mother, I don’t see any reason to give this darn note to Pa…’sides, it’d only remind him that he ain’t no wife…”
Adam thought a moment on his brother’s words but then shook his head. “I suppose that does, in a way, make sense, but Joe…don’t you reckon Pa would want to know about the dinner?”
Joe shook his head no. “Ain’t no reason to; he can’t go…Adam, the invitation is for mothers, not fathers…Pa can’t go…he’d be laughed at…I’d be laughed at. Nope…I ain’t even gonna tell him about the note…” Joe looked hard at his brother. “And you’d better not either!”
Ben closed the door softly and turned back into the room. He had been watching Little Joe as the boy made his way slowly from the house to the barn, walking as if he carried the weight of the world on his young, slender shoulders. Slowly, the concerned father made his way to the center of great room where Adam sat reading. Hoss was at the dining room table studying the newest catalog. “Adam, Hoss,” he said.
When Adam looked up from his book, he instantly noted the worried expression on his father’s face. “Yeah, Pa?” he answered, setting aside his book.
“Something’s bothering your brother…”
Adam glanced over at Hoss.
“Not Hoss, Joseph…he’s been moping around here for the last several days. Do either of you have any ideay what’s going on with that boy? I’ve asked him but he insists that there’s nothing wrong…”
“I ain’t got no ideay, Pa…he ain’t said nuthin’ to me,” Hoss said, returning to his catalog.
Ben moved to his chair and sat down, glancing at Adam and noting the deep sigh his son made. He watched as his eldest closed the book in his hands and set it on the table next to the chair he occupied. “Adam…do you know something?”
Adam took a deep breath, expelling the air from his lungs. “I think so…though I kind of promised I wouldn’t say anything,” he explained.
“Well now, if it pertains to your younger brother…I ought to know. Is he in some sort of trouble again at school?” Ben asked.
“No,” responded Adam, shaking his head. “Nothing that simple,” he muttered under his breath. He’d already figured that the main thing that troubled his younger brother was the fact that he had no mother to accompany him to the upcoming Mother’s Day dinner given in honor of all Virginia City mother’s and their school-age children.
“What is that suppose to mean?” snapped Ben, rising and standing before Adam.
Adam made a muted snickering sound and stood up. “Sorry, you weren’t meant to hear that.”
“Well, I did hear it, so, just what does that mean? What is going on with Little Joe that you are not telling me?” Ben demanded. He felt his heart rate increase as a since of dread washed over him. He knew almost immediately that his youngest son had something on his mind; Joe had been too quiet, too pre-occupied the last couple of days.
“He asked me not to mention it to you…”
“Adam!” growled the young man’s father.
“There’s going to be a Mother’s Day dinner for mothers and the students at school. Miss Jones sent home an invitation with all her students on Monday inviting them and their mothers…Joe didn’t give you the note because…because…well, for obvious reasons,” Adam explained with a twinge of sadness in his voice.
Ben had been expecting something different than what Adam had just told him, though he wasn’t exactly sure what that ‘something’ was. He took a deep breath and sat back down on the edge of his chair.
“Poor little thing,” muttered Hoss who had discarded his mail order catalog to join his family in the great room. “I bet he’s about the only kid in school what ain’t got no mama…”
“Probably,” Ben said in a wee voice. He glanced from Hoss to Adam. When’s this Mother’s Day dinner suppose to be…and where?” he asked Adam.
“Tonight at 7:00 in the dining room of the Palace Hotel. I reckon it’s a fancy dinner…you know, Sunday-go-to-meeting type of dress,” Adam explained.
For several moments, the room was quiet; Adam, Hoss nor Ben uttered a word. It was obvious to both younger men that their father was deep in thought. Adam wondered what Ben might be considering. Little did he know right then that he was certainly in for a surprise…and so was his younger brother.
“Well,” Ben sighed as he pushed himself up from his chair. He smiled at both Adam and Hoss. “I suppose I’d better see if I can get Hop Sing to press my suit and find Joseph something decent to wear.”
Ben headed for the stairs leaving Hoss and Adam staring at one another with puzzled expressions on their faces.
“Pa…what’cha aimin’ on doin’?” Hoss called.
Ben paused at the bottom of the stairs and turned around. His eyes were bright and seemed to glow with a certain kind of happy twinkle. “What do you think? I’m taking my youngest son to the Mother’s Day dinner…”
Ben marched up the stairs, leaving his older two boys in somewhat of a stunned trance. At the top, Ben turned again. “Hoss, will you fetch Joseph, tell him I’d like a word with him, please…oh, don’t mention the dinner…not one word!”
“Sure, Pa…not one word,” Hoss stammered as he glanced first at Adam and then headed out the door in search of his younger brother.
“Joseph, please don’t shout…and for heaven’s sake, stop that pacing!” ordered Ben who was perched on the edge of the bed in his youngest son’s room.
“I’m sorry…but Pa…please…we can’t go…we just can’t!” Little Joe begged.
“And why not?” Ben inquired.
Joe groaned. “BECAUSE YOU’RE NOT MY MOTHER!” ranted the boy at the top of his lungs. “And because the fellas will…will…laugh at me.”
Little Joe was close to tears and it was all he could to keep from crying. His father must be out of his mind insisting that they go to the Mother’s Day dinner together. Joe spun around, facing the window.
“Joseph, come here, please.”
Joe refused to move. His body was rigid and taunt; his arms were folded tightly across his chest.
“Son, please…do as I ask.”
The lad swallowed down his dread and turning slowly, made his way across the room to stand before his father.
Ben patted the edge of the bed next to him. “Sit down, Joseph…I want to tell you something.” He waited until Joe was seated and then, clearing his throat, he continued.
“Now, please, I want you to remain quiet until I’ve said what I’ve got to say. Then, if you have anything to say about what I want to tell you, we’ll discuss it then. Agreed?”
Joe nodded his head.
“Son…first let me say, I know I’m not your mother. Nor am I Hoss or Adam’s mother…not in the sense that a mother, in most every sense of the word, is a woman. But it takes more to be a mother than just being a woman. A woman gives birth to a child sure, but it takes a man to help that woman make that child. But a mother means more than just bringing a child into the world. It’s what a mother does for her young once that child is born. She cooks and cleans and sees after that child, tends to her offspring’s every need when that child is a baby. Then she’s there to help that child take his or her first steps…she teaches her baby to talk and teaches them to feed themselves. Later on she helps with homework and all the while she takes care of the other members of her family. Why, there’s dirty clothes to wash, and meals to cook, a garden to harvest and baking to be done…her job is never-ending.”
Ben smiled down at the boy beside him, relieved to see that some of the gloominess he’d seen before on his son’s face had slowly began to dissipate. He hurried on.
“Mothers usually are the ones who get up at night when her baby or child needs her because they’re hungry or in need of a clean diaper. Maybe the child had a nightmare…and mama is always there to hold and cuddle her little one until he or she feels safe again and is sound asleep before she places him back in bed. Many nights when her child is sick, she’ll stay by the bedside all night if necessary, just to be sure that her little one gets the rest they need, regardless of the fact that she might be worn completely out…she refuses to leave. A mother does all of that…and much, much more, son, because she loves you. But Joe…son…a mother isn’t the only person who can do those things…and do them for all the same reasons…mostly for love…”
“I know that, Pa…but…but…”
“What son?” Ben asked, gently slipping his arm about the slender frame as Joe scooted over closer to his father.
The lad looked into his father’s eyes. The tears had disappeared. “I remember my mama doing all those things…but after she…died…I remember that it was you what did them…”
It was as if a light had gone on in the boy’s head. Suddenly, Little Joe smiled. And then just as quickly the smile faded. “I…understand now, Pa…”
“Are you sure you understand, Little Joe?”
Joe nodded. “Yes sir…sometimes when a kid ain’t got no mama…like me and Hoss and Adam…a father has to be both mama and papa. That’s what you’ve been to Adam, and me and Hoss, ain’t it? You been both a mother and a father to us,” beamed Little Joe.
Ben felt a tug on his heartstrings as he cupped the angelic face in the palm of his hand and smiled warmly. “I’ve tried son…and not just because I had to, but because I wanted to…because I love you…and your brothers.”
Joe pulled away just for a second, just long enough to wrap his arms about his father’s waist and squeeze. “I reckon if any father ever deserved to attend his son’s Mother’s Day dinner, it’s you, Pa. And if’n ya really want to go…then…” Little Joe smiled up at Ben. “Then I reckon it’s alright with me!”
Ben returned the hug and stood to his feet, bring Little Joe up into his arms along with him. “I’m glad you understand, son…now,” he said as he stood Joe on the edge of the bed. “What’s say you and I get all dolled up? I’ll have Hoss hitch up the surrey and you and I will just go to the Mother’s Day dinner?”
Joe slung his arms about his father’s neck, giving Ben a big wet kiss on the cheek. Ben giggled.
“Alright Pa, do I gotta wear a tie?”
“Well, if I gotta wear that corsage Miss Jones sent out a little while ago, I guess you have’ta wear a tie…” Ben laughed along with his son and then lovingly swatted Joe’s little bottom. “Now hurry it up and start getting ready! I’ll be back to check on you as soon as I’m dressed.”
“Alright Pa,” laughed Little Joe as he jumped down from the bed and watched his father heading for the door. “Pa!” he called, stopping Ben before he closed the door. “I…love ya!”
Ben swallowed the knot in his throat and forced a smile to push back the sudden onslaught of tears that threatened. “I love you to, Little Joe,” he responded, closing the door gently.
Later that night, Joe stood with his father in front of the Palace Hotel. Several of his classmates and their mothers passed them by, each one giving him and his father strange, confused glances, but no one made a comment.
“You ready to go in now, son? It’s almost time,” Ben said, feeling just a bit nervous himself. He saw Joe swallow hard and knew that when the boy looked at him, his son’s smile was forced.
“I am if you are,” mutter Little Joe.
“Then, let’s do it,” Ben said as he opened the door, permitting Joe to enter in front of him.
The big dining room was buzzing with mothers, sons and daughters. Laughter was light and merry and when they entered the room, a hush fell upon the room’s inhabitants. All heads turned as if each were on a swivel to stare in awe at the young boy and the tall silver headed man who stood next to him. It was an awkward couple of minutes for all until Miss Abigail sudden appeared from the crowd and made her way to the front of the room to greet and welcome Joseph and his mother…ere…father to the Mother’s Day dinner.
“Why, Mr. Cartwright, what a…pleasant surprise,” greeted Miss Jones. She placed her hand into Ben’s and smiled. “I’m so pleased that…you…came tonight…I wasn’t sure if young Joseph could talk you into it or not,” she babbled.
Ben’s smile was warm as he pulled his hand free from the teacher’s.
“I believe it was the other way around…” Ben started to explain.
“What? I’m not sure I understand,” Miss Jones said with a look of confusion on her face.
Ben, still smiling and ever the gentleman, leaned closer and spoke in a low tone. “I had to talk Little Joe into coming with me tonight.”
Miss Jones looked down at Joe and studied his face.
“He was afraid that some of the kids would laugh at…me,” Ben quickly stated.
“Well, poppy-cock…not even the kids would laugh at anything Ben Cartwright did!” Miss Jones, somewhat flustered, exclaimed. “You come right in and…enjoy yourself…my goodness, everyone in town knows you’ve been both father AND mother to your boys!”
“Thank you, Miss Jones. I knew you would understand,” Ben answered.
“Joseph…please, find your seats, and you and your father sit down. It’s about time for the waiters to begin serving,” Miss Jones instructed.
“Yes ma’am,” smiled Little Joe. He glanced up at his father who happened to be smiling down at him. “Come on, Pa…I think our places are over here.”
The evening passed quickly for the father-son combo. Once one or two of the older boys made snickering comments about Little Joe Cartwright being at the Mother’s Day dinner with his father, but as soon as their own mothers heard what was being said, the remarks were quickly silenced.
Before long, Miss Jones stood before her students and their mothers…and Joe’s father. The waiters had hurried to clear away the dirtied dishes and to bring fresh coffee to the mothers who desired a cup. Abigail cleared her throat; a silence washed over the room as everyone strained to hear what the schoolmarm was about to say.
“First off, I’d like to thank all of you mothers…er…and Mr. Cartwright for being here tonight in honor of our mothers. I’m sure most of you had to make special arrangements with the other members of your family and I want each of you to know how very much I appreciate your efforts…as do your children. Isn’t that right children?” Miss Jones stated.
Shouts went up immediately and continued until the teacher had to clap her hands to regain their attention.
“Thank you,” she said. “Secondly, I personally, would like to wish each of you mo…parents, a very happy Mother’s Day.”
“And,” she continued, “I like to read a little something from an excerpt that I happened across quite by accident. When I found it, I thought how beautiful, how true, and I felt led to share it with each of you.”
This is for the mothers who have sat up all night with sick toddlers in their arms, cooing, “It’s alright, mama’s here.”
It is for those who have sat in rocking chairs for hours on end soothing crying babies who can’t be comforted.
This for all the mothers who work through the next day with spit-up in their hair and milk stains on the blouses.
For all the mothers who clean and make cookies and sew dresses and shirts, and for all the mothers who DON’T.
This for the mothers who gave birth to babies they’ll never see grow because they were taken too soon.
This is for the mothers who gave up their children through the selfless act of adoption, and to the mothers who took those babies and gave them homes.
This for the mothers whose priceless art collections are hanging on every wall in every room.
And for all the mothers who sat through recitals, and watched their sons ride for the first time and then shout to them, “Did you see me, Mama”; they could say, “Of course, I wouldn’t have missed it for the world,” and mean it.
This is for all the mothers who yell at their kids for not doing their homework or pinch them for squirming in their seats on Sunday mornings or swat them in despair when they stomp their feet and scream for sweets before dinner. And for all the mothers who count to ten instead, but realize how child abuse happens.
This is for all the mothers who sat down with their children and explained all about making babies. And for the grandmothers who wanted to, but just couldn’t find the words.
This is for all the mothers who go hungry, so their children can eat.
For all the mothers who read the same bedtime story twice a night for a year and read it again, “Just one more time.”
This for all the mothers who taught their children to wash behind their ears and then checked for cleanliness, only to tell them to try again.
This is for all the mothers who teach their sons to cook and then stand and watch as their daughters learn to rope and ride.
This is for every mother whose head turns automatically when a little voice calls, “Mama?” in a crowd, even though they know their own offspring are at home…or married with children of their own.
This is for all the mothers who sent their kids to school with stomach aches, assuring them they’d be just FINE once they got there, only to get a message an hour later asking them to please pick them up right away.
This is for mothers whose children have gone astray, who can’t find the words to reach them.
For all the mothers who bite their lips until they bleed when their 12-year old daughters discover that boys aren’t so yucky after all.
For all the mothers of the victims of shootings, and the mothers of those who did the shooting.
For the mothers of the survivors, and the mothers who sat through their child’s murder trials.
This for all the mothers who taught their children to be peaceful, and now pray they come home safely from a war.
For all the mother’s who taught their children to love God and for the mothers of those who have turned from their faith.
What makes a good Mother anyway?
Is it patience? Compassion? Broad hips?
The ability to nurse a baby, cook dinner and sew a button on a shirt, all at the same time?
Or is it in her heart?
Is it the ache you feel when you watch your son or daughter disappear down the road, walking to school alone for the very first time?
The jolt that takes you from sleep to dread, from bed to crib at 2 A.M. to put your hand on the back of a sleeping baby?
The panic, years later, that comes again at 2 A.M. when you just want to hear the front door open ad close and know they are safe again in your home?
Or the need to flee from wherever you are and hug your child when you hear news of a fire, an accident, a child dying?
The emotions of motherhood are universal and so our thoughts are for young mothers stumbling through diaper changes and sleep deprivation…
And mature mothers learning to let go. For working mothers and stay-at-home mothers. Single mothers and married mothers.
Mothers with money, mothers without.
This is for you all. For all of us. Stay strong, never give up. In the end, we can only do the best we can.
Tell them everyday that you love them!
A strange, unexplainable silence fell over the crowd of mothers and children. The only sound heard was the rustling of the paper in Miss Jones hands as she folded the paper and slipped it into her pocket.
Ben looked down as he felt his son’s fingers, under the table and out of sight, entwine with his own and squeeze gently. His heart thumped rapidly deep within his broad chest. He knew it hadn’t been easy…being both father and mother to his three sons, but he’d done it and for all the reasons Miss Jones had just spoke aloud. Those thoughts would be embedded in his heart, and glancing again at his young son, he knew that the same thoughts would embed themselves in the heart of a young boy struggling on the edge of manhood. Ben returned the squeeze to Joe’s fingers. Joe looked up at his father and returned the smile but whispered lowly so that only his father could hear:
“Happy Mother’s Day…Pa.”
“Thank you, Joe…”
“No…thank you…for everything…for being father and mother to me…I want ya to know, Pa…I understand now and…I love ya more’n anybody else in the whole wide world!”