Summary: In this prequel, Little Joe’s prank leads to anger and harsh words, but the consequences don’t end there.
Word Count: 1182
“Think like a man not a boy!”
Those words still stung hours after they had been said. Little Joe could remember the scene very well. He had laughed so loud at first with his prank, but then no one else was laughing. He had greased up the handle of the sledgehammer so that when Hoss went to pick it up, it slipped from his hands and landed square on his foot making him start jumping around on one foot and grabbing at the other. Adam had rushed to Hoss’ side to help him to a bench and then turned angrily to Little Joe as if he knew right then what had happened. He did, of course, but he didn’t have to always be right.
Darn him, it was a pain in the butt to have him be right so much.
That’s when Adam had made it so much worse and had blurted out those hurtful words before turning his back on his youngest brother like he didn’t matter at all. The laughs had frozen in Little Joe’s throat then with all the fun taken from the moment by his oldest brother’s anger. It seemed to him that no one could ever have any fun when Adam was around. He was feeling mighty sorry for himself and decided to get away from all that negative influence and headed toward the lake to be by himself. His thoughts centered on Adam quite a lot and the anger that flowed from those thoughts.
Why does Adam have to insult me all the time? Sure he’s been to college and he’s a lot older and he knows a lot more things, but that doesn’t give him a right to lord it over everyone. How was I to know that someone would get hurt over a harmless little joke? All I wanted to do was break things up a bit. I mean, it’s get pretty boring around here now. It’ll be months before we get to do anything fun.
Focused on what had happened, Little Joe walked and thought more angry thoughts. He hardly noticed the fall colors around him. When he did, he finally smiled for he thought the Ponderosa was the most beautiful place in the world. Of course, he hadn’t seen the rest of the world, but that didn’t matter because he was sure that no place could match this. Gradually it dawned on Little Joe that he was walking uphill through the trees. He realized that was wrong because he had been headed to the lake and that was downhill. He wondered when he had gotten turned around and looked back the way he had come. Nothing looked familiar. In his furious thinking, he had forgotten about looking where he was going. Almost in a panic, he forced himself to stop and think about what to do. Taking time to analyze things and planning what to do next weren’t among his strengths.
Reacting and moving are what I do best. Stopping to think through a problem is my oldest brother’s style.
Little Joe grimaced at that idea, but he knew it was what he had to do no matter how distasteful it was at that moment. Looking back, he could see that his tracks were faintly etched into the dirt among the rocks and debris on the forest floor. He knew that if he was careful and retraced those intermittent footprints, he could find his way back.
Backtracking is hard work. I never knew looking at the ground and walking could be so exhausting. I guess there are a lot of things like that which I don’t know. Dang, that makes me think about Adam again. Why’d he have to say that to me? Of course, he did say ‘think like a man’. Now I couldn’t do that unless I was a man. Pa says I’m not. He says fourteen is not a man. But Adam said ‘think like a man’ so he must think I am one. Hey, you know, it was kinda like a kid to grease up that handle so Hoss dropped it on his foot. I suppose I ought to apologize to him for that. I guess that’s thinking like a man. You know, Adam kind of complimented me there. He said I was a man.
Gradually the terrain became more and more familiar, and Little Joe found he was greatly relieved.
All right, and now I think I found the way back. I’m all right now. I can get home again.
A walk to the lake for the young man had become a long walk to nowhere except Joe didn’t see it that way any more. He had left the yard as an angry boy with angry thoughts aimed at others. He walked back in feeling more a young man. Adam was working at the forge and looked up only briefly to see his youngest brother sauntering in with a smile. That caused Adam to frown especially in light of what had happened earlier, but what came next changed all of that.
“Hey, Adam, thanks for what you said this morning. You were right.”
Then Little Joe walked to the house as Adam stood dumbfounded by those words. Little Joe wanted to apologize to his big brother and make amends. He guessed that doing Hoss’ chores for a week would be his father’s punishment for what he had done so he decided that he would volunteer to do Hoss’ chores for two weeks. It was what a young man thought was the right thing to do.
“Hoss, I don’t have the words to tell you how sorry I am for what I did. I hope you can forgive me. I promise I will never do anything like that again. It was a stupid kid thing to do and not what a man ought to be doing. I promise to try to think like a man from now on. I know that’s going to be hard for me, but I don’t ever want to hurt you again.”
Still in pain, Hoss had to smile and accepted the apology. Ben was impressed with the sincerity of his youngest son’s words.
“Pa, I want to do Hoss’ chores for the next two weeks. I’m responsible for him being hurt, so it’s the right thing to do. I hope that it shows both of you that I meant that apology. I figure I’m a man now and I ought to set my punishment for doing wrong. I figured one week for being sorry and another week for doing wrong. I hope you both think that’s fair.”
As he walked back out of the house to take care of his horse and do chores, he left his father and Hoss as shocked as Adam. Little Joe thought maybe he was a little taller as he walked to the stable.