Word Count: 2015
I can’t help but smile to myself. I wonder briefly what my father would say if he could see me just now. Here I stand in the yard of the Ponderosa ranch house. I am truly amazed; it really is as large as it looks on the television set those nights when Dad and I would sit with my two brothers and watch Bonanza.
Dad had always been so funny, saying that we were the modern day Cartwright family. It was a joke with my friends, our last name really being Cartwright, but even funnier to them when they asked me my name for the first time and I had to tell them Joseph. Everyone would burst into laughter and shout, “hey everyone, here’s Joe Cartwright.” God how that used to embarrass me, but when they found out I had two older brothers whose names just happened to have been Adam and Eric, well needless to say, both of my brothers and I took a lot of ribbing back in those early days.
I suddenly feel all alone standing here and secretly I wish that my father could have been with me or perhaps one of my brothers. Mom died years ago, when I was just five, but Dad had only been dead about a year now. My middle brother Eric, he died as a young man. His death had been so sudden and unexpected, leaving a huge empty hole in our lives that it left my father and I often wondering whether or not life was worth living.
Adam, my oldest brother had left home years ago, just as the Adam Cartwright of the Bonanza days had done. My oldest brother had always wanted to live back east, where as Dad, Eric and I had always loved living in the west. There was such a vast, wide-opened space where the wind seemed to always be calling our names, urging us to settle and become one with the countryside. We finally did and it had been a great life, until Eric had become ill and died so needlessly. Everything seemed to change after that. Dad was head over heels in debt; the medical expenses from Eric’s illness had just about broken the bank so to speak. Things just got worse and worse and before long, Dad and I found our selves having to sell the ranch that we loved and had worked so long to build up.
Then tragedy struck again, word came from Boston Metro, and on the same day we signed the closing on our ranch I might add, that Adam had been killed in a shipping accident, he had been a captain on an ocean vessel at that time. That had been the final straw for my father. The very next month he died of a heart attack, so the doctors said, but I believe he died of a broken heart. Poor Dad, he had lost everything, except for me.
I realized that losing Eric and Adam had been hard on him, I watched him grieve although I knew he loved me, hell, both of my brothers had always accused him of favoring me over them, but they really didn’t get mad about it. They spoiled me as much as Dad always did and they were always trying to take care of me themselves, just like the TV characters, Adam and Hoss, used to do to Little Joe. I remember Little Joe often getting mad at his brothers about the way in which they treated him and I could more often than not, relate to his situation.
Now, here I stand in the one place my father had always longed to be, on the Ponderosa. Dad had always wished he had had the time and money to make this trip. You see, our ranch was way down in south Texas and there just never seemed to be enough time to get here.
I remember Dad saying, “One day Little Joe, that’s what he would call me, me, you and your brothers are going to go see that Ponderosa ranch.” I wish Dad could have gotten to realize his dream. I think he would have loved it for it truly is a beautiful place. Somehow as I stand here, I distinctively feel as if I have always belonged.
Well, I might as well get on with the tour; I have to be back to the bus station soon to catch the last bus heading to Texas. As I walk across this old porch I realize how much I love the sound of my boots clicking on the wide boards and how for some reason it sounds familiar to me.
I pause at the rocker that had, for every episode that I remember watching, had often sat empty on the porch. I can’t stop my hand from brushing across the striped Indian blanket that had always been a prop used to cover the rocker. I halt my steps and gently tap the bell that hangs on the post. You remember the bell? It was used only to signal the family when there were emergencies.
I stop suddenly as my hand touches the door handle. I swear I just heard my father call for me. If I didn’t know any better, I’d think Dad was yelling at me for being late again. He had this thing about my always being late to dinner. Dad’s voice had sounded so much like the real Ben Cartwright’s that it was scary. Did I mention that my father’s name was also Ben? I know what you’re thinking; everyone always thought the same thing about my family too, so don’t feel bad about it.
There, there it is again, listen…
“JOSEPH! Is that you?”
I just had to open the door and peek inside.
“Welcome home young man. And just where have you been?” asked Ben Cartwright.
The man was the spitting image of my father. Even the scowl across his face matched the one my father used to wear when he was uptight about something, usually me. And the way he was standing, hands on hips, legs slightly parted, God the similarities was startling.
My knees all of a sudden feel weak, my head is spinning and I feel myself without warning falling to the floor. I can hear the voices and the concerns of the men who have gathered around me as I experience my body being carefully lifted from the carpet.
“Joseph? Can you hear me son?” Ben murmured into my ear.
I can hear the anxiety in his voice as I struggle to shake the cobwebs from my mind.
I know I am now lying on the settee. I have seen it many times before on the tube, but as I look around at the faces that hover above me, I instantly feel frightened. I’m not sure what just happened, but this Ben Cartwright is not my Ben Cartwright. Nor are the other two young men my brothers, I don’t think. No…I know, it can’t be…but then somehow…
I hear myself mumble and then see the funny looks that the three men exchange between themselves.
I close my eyes and will myself to stay calm, trying hard not to chew on my lower lip. I can hear them buzzing around but cannot draw up enough courage to open my eyes to see what they are doing.
I flinch slightly as I feel the cool cloth that they place on my forehead but can’t stop the tiny smile that I know appears on my face while I listen to the soft ramblings of the Chinese manservant who I recognize instantly as Hop Sing.
I cannot stand it any longer so I open my eyes, not yet accepting what has just happened but knowing that it feels good to be loved again. I know these men love me for I can feel the love itself flowing from them just as sure as I know my own name. I laugh and then giggle my strange sounding giggle when I see the bewildered expressions on their faces.
“Son? Are you okay? What happened?”
Ben questions me as he places the back of his hand to my forehead to check for fever.
“Yeah, Short Shanks, ya sure ‘nough gave us a scare.”
The largest of the three, the one I know to be Hoss, makes this comment and I hear the quiver in his voice as he speaks to me.
“Want me to get Doc Martin, Pa?”
Brother Adam inquires this of the older man as he stands at my head looking down into my face, a troubled expression on his own face.
I never really noticed until that moment when I was looking up at him, what a handsome man Adam Cartwright really is. No wonder all the ladies are always flirting with him and trying so hard to get his attention. As my father would say, ‘he is one fine example of the male gender’. I have to agree with my father, Adam is all right.
I slowly raise myself up from the couch and look around. Yep, I am most certainly inside the Ponderosa ranch house, and sure enough, these three Cartwrights think I am their son and brother, Little Joe. I look down at myself and am somewhat taken back by what I see. I am no longer the forty year old man who had moments ago been standing in the front yard, but I am now eighteen year old Joseph Francis Cartwright, son of Ben Cartwright and younger brother to Adam and Hoss Cartwright. I know this for I am now wearing a green jacket and on my left side I have strapped to my hip a pearl handle revolver.
I feel myself shiver and am not the least bit surprised when Adam tosses the blanket from the stair railing around my shoulders. I look into his eyes and something seems to have clicked between us. I feel as if I am looking into the eyes of my own brother. I chance a glance into Hoss’ eyes and feel the same bond as well. But when I look into the eyes of Ben Cartwright, I feel my own eyes that vary in color from green to hazel unexpectedly filling with tears. Here was my father, the man I most admired and respected and yes, loved, more than any other person on earth. I’m not sure what transpired just then, but when I felt his arms slip around my shoulders, I buried my face against his chest and began to cry. He lets me cry for some time before gathering me into his arms and carries me up the stairs where he places me in the bed that I recognize as Little Joe’s. He covers me with the homemade quilts that graces the bedding and together with Adam and Hoss, he slips out of the room, closing the door gently behind them but not before I hear him order Adam to ride into town and fetch the doctor.
I shut my eyes, God I am so tired. I am confused as well, but shoot, I am somehow more content than I have ever been. It has been a long lonely year; I have no one left, not Dad, not either of my brothers, no one. I am now completely alone, and that is a frightening feeling, more so than the impressive sentiment I have here with this family who I sense loves me and whom I thought was forever and ever lost to me. Here, I have somehow managed to have everything back that I had thought was lost, my dad, my brothers Adam and Eric, and they seem not to know that I am anyone other than who they believe me to be, and that’s their brother, and his son, Little Joe Cartwright.
If I’m dreaming, don’t wake me. I think I will stay for a while and see what happens…