Summary: It’s Christmas and Jamie is reminiscing about his time with the Cartwrights. A challenge piece for Bonanza Trail Riders.
Rating: K WC: 1113
Jamie sat staring into the fire that was blazing in the great stone hearth. His thoughts floated back to his arrival at the Ponderosa. He had showed up in the area two summers ago during a drought, an orphan in possession of his father’s rainmaking cookbook. As good luck or Providence would have it, the promised rain did finally come, but not without significant harassment from naysayers. Ben Cartwright had stood with him through that difficult time and then invited him to stay on.
Adjusting to life with a family had had its ups and downs, but as the first few months passed, Jamie began to feel more settled. Even school was going better in spite of the fact that Ben Cartwright had “forced” him to attend. But then, in the weeks leading up to Christmas, the other kids began discussing their holiday plans, and that got under his skin. Christmas had always been a bit of an afterthought for Jamie’s father. They never had a tree or much in the way of presents. Christmas day usually came and went much as any other day. Life for a traveling rainmaker and his son just seemed to work that way.
A fleeting smile crossed Jamie’s lips. He glanced over at his brothers before his mind returned to Christmas Eve past. He remembered having to work hard to keep up with Hoss and Joe while on their excursion to cut a Christmas tree. The Cartwright family’s holiday preparations were all new to him. Hoss and Joe had opened their hearts and included him on their mission to find a twelve foot pine that would fill the space by the stairway at the ranch house.
There had been patchy snow on the ground as they trudged up a grade into a grove of pines. He had not noticed the brothers giving each other furtive glances and then reach down to scoop up some snow in order to pelt him with their snowballs. The conversation that followed played in his mind as if it had just happened.
“Hey! Cut that out!”
Joe giggled. “Consider yourself initiated!”
“Yeah.” The next thing he knew was that he was in a pile of snow as Hoss had easily pushed him over. The biggest Cartwright’s loud guffaw filled the woods, but then Hoss reached out to offer him a hand up. “All in good fun, Jamie. All in good fun!”
“Fun for you two, maybe!” Jamie could feel the indignation, recalling how he had scowled while brushing himself off.
“That was nothing. If you only knew how many times Adam and Hoss sent me head first into a snow drift!”
“Yeah!” Hoss laughed hard finally letting out a deep sigh. “One more for old time’s sake, Shortshanks?” Hoss grabbed the shoulder of Joe’s coat.
Joe’s arm came up quickly before he jumped away. “Not on your life, big brother!”
Jamie almost laughed out loud, remembering that he was thankful to have gotten off easy. His thoughts quickly drifted back.
“Ok, so we have this contest each year. Whoever picks out the right sized tree gets their choice of dessert from Hop Sing.”
“Yeah, no taller ‘an this. Ya go over, ya lose.” Hoss held the saw over his head. “Got it?”
Always up for a game, he had agreed to join in. He remembered the wink Joe had given his brother on the sly. When all was said and done, Hoss’ selection had been too tall, Joe’s was significantly under, but his was within six inches of the end of the saw blade. In his mind’s eye, he could see himself standing with his arms crossed over his chest feeling a bit frustrated.
“I get the idea you two let me win.”
Joe responded with a look of innocence. “Who us?”
“Must be smarter than he looks.” Hoss’ laughter again echoed through the trees.
Curiosity got the best of him. “So who usually wins the contest?”
“Adam. I’d o’ sworn he rode out a few days ahead and marked the ‘xact sized tree.”
“Yeah, except for the year I did just that!” Joe giggled, so pleased with himself.
Hoss released another guffaw. Yeah, older brother was right put out ’bout that.”
“Well, next time, we play it straight, ok?”
The words had come out of Jamie’s mouth before he could stop them. Hoss and Joe had tried to hide their happiness at what the words implied, but Joe had responded by accepting it as a challenge. Yet, at the time, the exchange left Jamie wondering whether there would be a next time. Now a year later, it was Hoss that had won this year’s tree contest. Jamie examined the large pine aglow with red candles burning brightly. There had been a few bumps in the road over the past year, but he was officially a Cartwright: Jamie Hunter Cartwright. Sometimes it still sounded and seemed strange to him, but today it felt good, right, and comforting.
Ben noted that his son was mindlessly running his fingers over the letters “JHC” stamped onto the new saddlebags he had received just minutes ago. Oblivious to their younger brother, Hoss and Joe were chattering about the gifts they had given and received.
Ben decided to break into the young man’s thoughts. “Do they meet with your approval?”
Jamie’s head jerked in his father’s direction. His expression went from mild embarrassment to a genuine smile. He ran his palm over the flap of the bag.
“Oh, yeah, they’re great! Thanks!”
“Good. I’m pleased to hear that.” Ben paused to lean forward in his chair. “You seemed miles away. Anything bothering you?”
“Naw, Pa. I was just thinking on what a difference a year can make.” Jamie’s eyes glistened from a heart filled with emotion. There was more he wanted to say, but it just wouldn’t come.
Ben reached over to place his hand on the boy’s leg. “So true. It is a Merry Christmas though, don’t you think?”
Jamie nodded and grinned broadly.
“This is what family is all about, and we couldn’t be happier that you are part of ours.” Ben gave Jamie’s knee a gentle squeeze before sliding back into the comfort of his chair.
The young man looked around the room at the beautiful decorations and then his father and brothers. His eyes closed in a silent prayer of thanksgiving. After the peaceful moment passed, Jamie rose and moved to join his brothers’ lively banter. He was welcomed into the conversation with a thump on the back by Hoss.