Summary: Twelve-year-old Little Joe Cartwright looks at his big brothers and is impatient to be as tall as they are and wants so much to break horses, but then he asks that most important question and gets an answer he definitely didn’t expect. It’s another of those tall tales his brother can tell so well.
Word Count: 1301
Twelve-year-old Little Joe Cartwright was moping in the stable working with Hoss at mucking out the stalls. Once again that morning, his father had told him that he couldn’t break horses with Adam until he was taller. He knew he was short but didn’t think it should matter so much. He grumbled and mumbled under his breath so much that Hoss finally had to ask what the problem was that was making him so ornery and making him take so long with the chores.
“Dadburnit, I’m hungry and we got to get these chores done so we kin go get us some a them flapjacks ole Hop Sing was makin’ this morning. I could smell ’em up in my room. Done woke me up. Now, what’s got you so all fired grumpy and all?”
“Where’s Adam? He’s supposed to be helping us.”
“He’ll be right along. Pa sent him to do a little errand and then he’ll be here, but don’t go changing the subject. I asked a question and want an answer.”
“It isn’t anything you can answer anyway.”
“Well, give me a try, would ya? Unless you’re gonna tell me I’m too dumb to know.”
“Hoss, you’re not dumb.”
“Well, then ask your question.”
“Hoss, will I ever get any taller? Pa says I can’t break horses with Adam until I get taller, but I’ve been measuring every day for months now, and I haven’t grown any at all.”
“Well, see, um, growth don’t rightly happen like it happens with horses and cows. Pa called it something with me, let me think on it. Oh yeah, he called ’em growth spurs. He said every time I had one of them there growth spurts, he had to spend a passel of money and get me some new clothes.”
“Spurts. Growth spurts.” Adam arrived in the stable in time to hear Hoss’ response to Little Joe. “If we’re talking about you growing, you still are, but now it’s out to the side. I couldn’t believe how tall you were when I got back from college.”
“Yeah, I had me some of them growth spurts while you was gone. Nah, we was talking ’bout Little Joe. He’s worried about not growing.”
“Hoss, that was between you and me.”
“Well Adam knows about that kind of stuff, dontcha, Adam?”
“What’s the question?”
Rolling his eyes, Little Joe asked him what he had asked Hoss. Adam grabbed a rake and began mucking out Sport’s stall. He acted as if he was deep in thought for a moment, but anyone who could have seen his eyes would have seen that twinkle. Hoss saw it for a moment when Adam turned to them. He only had to wonder a short time about what it could mean because Adam started in with an elaborate story almost immediately with Hoss as his willing if silent partner.
“It all depends.”
That got Little Joe’s attention. “On what?”
“On whether you do anything to get any more tannings from Pa.”
“What does that have to do with anything?”
“Well you see how tall Hoss is?” Little Joe nodded. “He was such a good kid, I don’t think he ever got a tanning from Pa. He got to grow with nothing impeding the growth spurts.”
Little Joe looked at Hoss who pulled himself up to his full height. He wasn’t sure what impeding meant, but like he did quite often with Adam, he guessed from the context of the conversation. Then Little Joe turned to Adam who was of course several inches shorter than Hoss and quite a bit leaner. “What about you?”
“Well, I, ah, had a few run-ins with Pa over some disagreements over how I should, shall we say, conduct myself during my leisure time which caused a few unpleasant encounters of that variety. That started when I was rather young. Eventually I learned to do a better job at not letting him find out what I was doing, and then of course being at college, I avoided that altogether.”
“You got taller while you were at college?”
“Oh, I think I gained an inch or two. I’m taller than Pa now.” Looking very seriously at Little Joe then, Adam leaned in and asked a question that was seemingly at the heart of the matter. “Have you done anything in the last months that got you a tanning from Pa?”
Little Joe got a bit red in the face, and that was all the answer the brothers needed. Adam nodded and looked over at Hoss. Hoss scrunched up his lips and face in a show of sympathy because if he didn’t, he was going to start laughing.
“That’s it, then, Little Joe. You have to behave yourself from now on or you won’t grow. Things like tannings interrupt the growth spurts, and once you lose them, they don’t ever seem to come back. You have to wait for the next one. The ones you lose are lost forever.”
“Is that why I’m so short?”
Saying nothing but looking as sympathetic as they could, Adam and Hoss stood silently letting Little Joe remember the numerous times that he had a spanking or a tanning for serious infractions at home or at school. The look on Little Joe’s face told the story. He had bought the whole tale. At his age, things his big brothers told him were like gospel. He took them to heart, and in his mind he was already making resolutions about his behavior even as he dreamed of being as tall as Adam or even taller. His small feet and hands as well as his narrow build argued against that, but he was optimistic to the core. He was going with the theory they had given him and began to work with an enthusiasm that had been missing for months.
A few months later, Ben leaned on the corral fence next to Hoss to watch Adam break a horse. When Adam sauntered over after dismounting, Ben congratulated him on his ride.
“I want to thank you too for letting Joe help you with some of the training. I know it will be years before he can do any of the horsebreaking but letting him help with the training has been a big boost to him. He’s really been showing that he’s growing up lately. He’s followed the rules here and at school.”
Unable to keep the small smiles from slipping out, Adam and Hoss found that those smiles quickly faded with their father’s next comment.
“That little tale about the growth spurts is going to come back and haunt you one day, you know that, don’t you? That youngster loves pranks, but he doesn’t like being on the receiving end. Just remember that when he finds out.”
Holding back his own grin temporarily as he turned and walked away, Ben was pleased. He had Little Joe behaving because of the tale his brothers had spun, and now he had gotten one on his other two sons with what he had overheard in the stable several months earlier. They were going to be worrying about that for quite some time, and he was going to remind them often enough to make sure of it. It would be a while before they wondered how their father had known, and then why he had made them worry so much.