Summary: As told to Little Joe Cartwright by his father.
Word Count: 1833
Ben sat back and watched as his sons put the final touches on the big Christmas tree that Adam and Hoss had cut down and dragged into the house earlier that afternoon. It was easy to spot the decorations that his youngest son, Little Joe, had placed on the tree. Ben stifled a giggle; all of Little Joe’s ornaments hung on the lowest branches and seemed to all be clustered in one or two spots directly in the front. It was all right though, decided Ben; the boy was doing his best and his efforts seemed to make him happy.
Ben was glad to see the shine returned to his son’s eyes and to hear the sounds of his laughter, for it had been a long time, or so it would seem, that he had seen his youngest son this happy…this joyful and in such high spirits. The boy’s mother had died earlier in the year from an accident and her death had left a big hole in all of their hearts, especially Little Joe’s. It was only until recently that the boy had stopped crying himself to sleep each night. His nightmares however lingered still, though they were becoming less and less and Ben knew deep in his heart that one day they would disappear for good. He longed for that day for his son…Little Joe had, up until the time of his mother’s untimely death, been a happy energetic little fellow, always discovering something new that on most occasions would lead him into trouble. He was a loving, sweet little boy who had come into their lives after much sadness and had in his own way, renewed their faith in God and man. Joseph had been to his mother, the perfect son…to his father, he had been and still was the joy in his life that kept him young at heart and who had given him more reasons to live than he could have dreamed. To his two older brothers he was some times a nuisance, but always their little buddy. His mama would be proud of her son, Ben’s thoughts whispered.
“How’s that, Pa?” Little Joe said as he scurried over to his father and crawled into his lap.
“I don’t think I’ve ever seen a more perfect Christmas tree, son,” Ben answered as he hugged the boy to him. “Have you, Adam?”
Adam stepped back to admire the tall pine that glistened with an array of colors.
“No…I don’t think I have either, Pa…Little Joe…you did a fine job!” he laughed as he tousled the boy’s thick curls.
“Ya sure did,” echoed Hoss as he backed up to admire the tree. “Why, I don’t think Mama could have…”
Hoss suddenly realized what he was saying and quickly hushed. He glanced over at his father, hoping that his little brother had not picked up on his statement. Little Joe was watching him intently.
“It’s okay, Hoss…I don’t mind you talking about Mama…I like talking about her…don’t you, Pa?” Little Joe asked and then turned to look into his father’s face.
Ben swallowed. It was still painful for him to speak of his dead wife, but many times in recent months, he’d had to push aside his own hurts in order to share special moments with Marie’s son. In the beginning, Joe had refused to even mention his mother’s name, but then, as time began its healing process, Joe became more vocal and then it was all anyone could do to put a cap on his chattering, not that they tried. Doc Martin, an old friend of the family’s had told Ben and Adam and Hoss that it was good for the little one to talk freely about his mother; it was a normal part of the healing. So, despite their own sadness the three older Cartwrights had listened with open hearts to Little Joe rattle on and on about his mother. It was only after months that each one began to realize that not only was Joe coming to terms with his mother’s death, but they were as well. It was as if God had deemed it only fitting that a child should lead them out of their darkness and back into the light of life once more.
“Pa…” Little Joe said again as he placed his little hand on his father’s cheek and turned Ben’s head so that he could see into his eyes. “Don’t ya like talking about Mama?”
Ben took a deep breath and forced a smile. It was supposed to be the happiest season of the year…but in his heart, this first year without his beloved wife, would be his absolute hardest. Ben determined to mask his grief so that his son would not lose the joy he saw burning in his bright hazel eyes.
“Of course I do Little Joe…and what I think Hoss was going to say, was that your Mama couldn’t have made the Christmas tree any prettier than what you and Hoss and Adam have done…isn’t that right, Hoss?” Ben smiled.
“Yep…that’s exactly what I was goin’ say…” Hoss agreed as he quickly wiped away the dampness that threatened to spoil the happy expression he wore.
Joe’s smile broadened across his pudgy little face. “Pa…I remember last year…Mama told me that Christmas was Jesus’ birthday…”
“That’s right, Little Joe…but do you really remember last Christmas?” Ben asked doubtfully. He grinned and glanced around at Adam and Hoss who had both taken a seat on the settee.
“Sure…I ‘member…Mama told me how Jesus was born in a stable ’cause there weren’t no room at the hotel…”
“Inn,” Adam corrected.
“Yeah…inn…” Joe said, casting a small frown at his older brother. “But she told me more’n that…she told me why Jesus was better’n Santa…”
Ben’s brows rose noticeably. “Oh…she did?”
“Yep…but I can’t ‘member it all,” Joe said as the smile faded and he snuggled close against his father’s chest. He fingered the soft leather of the vest that Ben wore. “Mama said that I should never forget the real meaning of Christmas…that it wasn’t all just about Santa and gettin’ presents and such…”
Joe’s voice had grown soft. His little hand swiped at his nose. It was then that Ben heard Joe make a sniffling sound. He raised the boy’s head slightly and studied his son’s face. Joe had tears in his eyes and looked about ready to cry.
“Joseph…what’s wrong son?” he asked.
Joe made another sniffling sound as a tiny bead of water rolled down one side of his face. Adam, concerned, quickly moved from the settee to sit in front of his father and baby brother. He placed a hand on the boy’s knee. “Why are you crying, buddy?” he questioned.
“I can’t remember what Mama said…” whimpered Little Joe. “And she said I shouldn’t never forget…and I…forgot…”
Ben hugged the boy tightly. “Oh…that’s alright Little Joe…I think I know what your mother told you…I’ll help you remember…”
“So will I,” volunteered Adam. “Mama told me the same things…”
“And I’ll help, Punkin…I know what she wanted you to remember…in fact, she wanted all of us to remember…didn’t she, Pa?” Hoss said as he moved to sit beside Adam on the wide table.
“Yes she did…I’ll start…Adam…you help me out…Hoss you too…”
“Sure…well, Little Joe…Santa lives at the North Pole …”
“JESUS is everywhere,” Ben explained.
It was Hoss’ turn. “Santa rides in a sleigh …Little Joe…”
“But JESUS rides on the wind and walks on the water,” Ben continued.
“Santa comes but once a year …”
”JESUS is an ever-present help.”
“Santa fills your stockings with goodies …” Adam smiled.
”JESUS supplies all your needs.”
Hoss puffed out his chest and laughed, “Ho, Ho, Ho…Santa comes down your chimney uninvited…”
Ben’s expression was serious as he stated, “JESUS stands at your door and knocks, and then enters your heart when invited.”
“You have to wait in line to see Santa …”
”JESUS is as close as the mention of His name.”
“Santa lets you sit on his lap …”
”JESUS lets you rest in His arms.”
“Santa doesn’t know your name; all he can say is ‘Hi little boy or girl, what’s your name?’ …”
“JESUS knew our names before we were born. Not only does He know our name, He knows our where we live too. He knows our history and future and He even knows how many hairs are on our heads.”
Little Joe’s eyes had dried as he listened intently while his father and brother’s continued. He giggled when Hoss patted his belly.
“Santa has a belly like a bowl full of jelly …”
”JESUS has a heart full of love!”
“All Santa can offer is HO HO HO …”
“JESUS offers health, help and hope.”
“Santa says ‘You better not cry’ …” Adam said as he pretended to wipe the tears from Little Joe’s cheeks.
”JESUS says, ‘Cast all your cares on me, for I care for you’.”
“Santa’s little helpers make toys …”
”JESUS makes new life, mends wounded hearts, repairs broken homes and builds mansions.”
“Santa may make you chuckle but …” Adam smiled and glanced at his father, leaving the statement unfinished. Ben picked up the rest.
”JESUS gives you joy that is your strength,” he said in his rich, deep voice.
“While Santa puts gifts under your tree …”
”JESUS became our gift and died on a tree…. The cross,” Ben said as he smiled at all three of his sons.
His heart felt God’s surge of peace flowing though it. The lesson his wife had taught to his sons was not only a reminder of her love, but of God’s love as well. Joe snuggled deeper if possible, against his father. Ben’s arms wrapped about the boy. Adam placed his arm around Hoss’ broad shoulders…no one said a word…each was lost in their own thoughts…and memories…all had found comfort in the renewed knowledge that despite their loss, their sadness and grief…they still had reason to celebrate the season.
And so do we! But first, we need to put Christ back in CHRISTmas, Jesus is still the reason for the season, He is the reason to celebrate.
May each and everyone of you, have a very Merry Christmas, and a wonderful New Year…and my prayers for each of you is that God will bless you…that He will become real in your lives and because of that, you will find the true meaning of the season.
For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life. John 3:16
I love you all!!