Summary: After the loss of Hoss and Joe’s wife, Alice, the Cartwright family is facing yet another tragedy.
Rating: T Word Count: 10476
Through Fiery Trials A Pathway Lies
“Would you like some company?”
“Thanks, but I think I’ll venture out on my own today, if you don’t mind.”
Jamie had tried to sound hopeful, but was not surprised with his father’s response. “Sure, Pa. I understand. When do you think you’ll be home?”
“Please let Hop Sing know not to plan on me for dinner, but I’ll be back this evening. Sound all right?”
“Yeah, sure.” Jamie forced a weak smile. “Have a nice day.”
Ben’s tired eyes flickered for a moment. “Thanks, son. You, too.”
Jamie stood in the yard and watched as his father mounted up and walked his horse around the barn. Even the big buckskin seemed to sense the sadness of his master. Though Ben had not said where he was headed, Jamie assumed that his father would end up at Lake Tahoe to visit the graves of Hoss and Marie. It was likely he would also stop on his way in the lush meadow where Alice was buried. The young man scanned the ground and kicked at a rock. He turned one way, then another, lost as how to help his father and struggling with his own grief and the unfairness of life.
Joe had been gone for three weeks tracking Alice’s killers. Ben had tried to hide it, but he was suffering at the possibility losing another son who was on a mission of vengeance. FInally, Candy could no longer stand the tension and idleness. He had been gone a week in search of Joe. and thus far, there had been no word.
All of this weighed heavily on Jamie as he sat eating his supper in the kitchen while Hop Sing puttered about. Later, the young man tried to read by the hearth, but as the evening slipped away and his father still had not returned, Jamie gave up, climbed the stairs, and went to bed. Though he wanted to fall asleep, his ears strained to hear the front door open and the familiar tread on the stairs. Sleep finally came for Jamie despite not hearing those comforting footsteps. The following morning, he rose at first light. Accustomed to Ben’s morning movements and routine, Jamie dressed quickly and trotted downstairs only to find his father’s regular place at the table empty. The boy entered the kitchen and saw Hop Sing preparing his breakfast. No words were exchanged, just a glance and a sad shake of the Chinaman’s head confirming that Ben had not returned.
It had taken months to get a letter to Adam telling him about Hoss’ death and another month for the eldest Cartwright son to beat back his guilt and head for home. But it was the letters that he never got, and never would, that would have given him some warning for what he would find when he finally reached the Ponderosa.
Adam had never seen Joe look as gaunt and drawn as he did that day at the depot in Virginia CIty. The fact that Joe wasn’t spoiling for a fight or baiting him to argue and spoke with so little emotion in his voice made Adam uneasy for what was to come.
In spite of his older brother’s dislike for displays of affection, Joe pulled Adam into a loose embrace. “It’s good to see you.”
To Joe’s surprise, Adam dropped his bag and leaned in, returning the hug. “Good to see you, too, Joe.”
“This all you’ve got?” Joe looked down at the leather case beside his brother.
“Yes, for now. I traveled light.”
Joe nodded and Adam picked up his bag. The younger pointed the way to the waiting buggy. Adam tossed his bag in the back and the brothers climbed in.
Joe held the reins in his hands for a moment. “I’ve just got one stop to make unless there’s something you need.”
“No. Thanks. Anything I need, I can get later.”
With that Joe slapped the reins and headed for the general store. “Pa must have ordered something before everything — happened — unless you want to come in.”
“Wait a minute. What do you mean everything?”
Joe’s shoulders slumped. “Oh, yeah, I wasn’t thinking. Some of the news probably never caught up to you. This will only take a couple of minutes, then I’ll get you caught up. It’s been a long haul and will take some explaining.”
Adam gave Joe a hard look that barely registered a reaction before turning and entering the store. A few minutes later he returned with a small package wrapped in brown paper. Joe handed it to his brother and climbed into the buggy.
The town has changed a lot since –”
“Yeah — lots has changed.” Joe reached out and took the reins again.
Adam weighed the package in his hands. “Feels like a book.”
“Might as well open it since Pa –” Joe winced.
Adam’s jaw clenched. “If it’s bad news, you should just tell me.”
“There has been little good news of late, until you wired and said you were coming home. Why don’t you open that. We have plenty of time to get you up to speed before we get to the ranch.”
Adam looked at his brother skeptically and then untied the string and pulled back the paper on the parcel. “Looks like a book of hymns. You know anything about this?”
“Not really. I mean, Pa’s always liked music, but he didn’t say anything to me. Maybe Jamie knows.”
WIth the mention of Jamie, Adam’s brows went up. “So tell me about my youngest brother. Pa’s letter said he was an orphan of a traveling rainmaker and that he showed up a couple of years ago during a drought.”
“Yeah. He’d been having a pretty rough time. All the kid knew was traveling around in a wagon from town to town with his pa.”
Adam offered Joe a wry smile. “Sounds vaguely familiar.”
Joe chuckled softly, grateful that certain things still felt natural with his brother. “Yeah, I guess you would know something about that, wouldn’t you. Well, anyway, Jamie has lived with us from that time on. Pa tried to find his family. And wouldn’t you know that just the time that Pa was ready to make everything legal, Jamie’s grandpa showed up here and wanted to haul him back to Boston.”
“Yeah, things got a bit tense because Jamie wanted none of it. But as luck would have it, the old man wrecked the buckboard and got a broken leg as he and Jamie were driving to the train. Things changed after that. Jamie showed him that he was really already part of our family. Callahan, that’s his grandpa’s name, had a change of heart and that was that. Jamie Hunter became Jamie Cartwright.”
“The idea of it is taking some getting used to, and yet Pa is Pa, and it makes perfect sense.”
“Well, it wasn’t just Pa. Hoss –” Joe paused and looked over at his brother, “and me wanted Jamie to be part of the family every bit as much as Pa did.”
“Just give him some time. He had a lot of rough edges when he first showed up. The boy has grown up a lot over the time he’s been with us. I think you’ll like him.”
Adam scanned the terrain and sighed deeply. “That covers Jamie. I need to know the rest — Hoss — Pa — please Joe I would appreciate it if you just tell me.”
“Things went south not long after Jamie’s adoption. There’s not much to say about Hoss except that we all feel like we’re not whole anymore. Hoss was Hoss. I miss his laugh and goofy grin. Remember how we used to make fun of him, running from one lost cause to another? I just never thought it would cost him his life.”
Adam kept his eyes forward, unable to look at Joe. Emotion strangled his words. Joe reached over and rested his gloved hand on Adam’s sleeve.
“It’s alright. I get it.”
“I don’t know what to say. Sorry seems so inadequate.” Adam’s voice was flat as he choked back the grief that was rising in his throat.
“It’s been tough”, was all Joe could manage for a time. “Things got a whole lot better for a while when I met Alice.”
Adam smiled. “You’re married. That’s great, Joe. I’m truly happy for you. I can’t wait –”
Joe held up his hand to stop Adam from continuing. “So you didn’t get my letter?”
“No.” Adam suddenly felt as if a lead weight had been dropped on his chest.
“She was the best thing that ever happened in my life.” Joe then slapped the reins with a force that took Adam by surprise. “She had a worthless brother who got himself tangled up with the wrong men. Owed them lots of money. They came here looking for her brother. Burned our house down with Alice and –”
“God, no, Joe!”
“Our baby. She was expecting.”
Adam’s hand came up and covered his eyes that were blinded with tears. After the worst passed, he gripped Joe’s shoulder. The two sat in silence comforted by the monotony as they listened to sounds of the horse’s hooves and the crunch of the wheels of the buggy.
“Don’t remember a lot of what happened for a while after that. I went after them. Damien and his thug are dead. The other two are in prison.” Joe’s chest rose and fell. “I’ve never felt so much hate. It drove me. I couldn’t stop. Thank God Candy came after me. Helped keep me sane.”
Ugly memories from years ago suddenly rose up in Adam’s mind. He understood well the insatiable desire for revenge from his time with Kane. He could not imagine coupling that with the loss of his wife and child. He shook his head instinctively trying to dispel the disturbing memories. “Candy?”
“Our foreman. A good guy. You’ll like him. A bit of a smart ass, but other than family, there’s not another man I’d want backin’ me up in a fight. He’s a military brat. Has the wanderlust, but seems to have found a home with us. Knows horses and gets along with the hands. Can handle the responsibilities of the ranch.”
“Glad that’s worked out — especially with all that’s happened.”
Eventually, Joe went on. “I’ve kind of come to terms with things because I know Alice wouldn’t want me to live with hate in my heart. Hate truly does make you a slave, and I don’t want to live like that, especially now.” Joe sucked in a breath. “But every once in a while, there’s a day when I feel like somebody sliced me open head to toe and it’s all fresh like the day it happened.”
“Wish there was something I could say other than sorry.”
“It’s ok. There’s nothing anyone can say. I’m sure Pa would say that time is the best healer and he’s probably right.”
Adam nodded. “That leaves, Pa, right?”
“Yeah, Pa.” Joe’s chest rose and fell. “When Candy and I got back, we found out from Jamie that Pa had gone into a sort of melancholia, kind of like he did years ago. I guess the stress of losing Hoss, Alice and his grandchild must have taken a terrible toll on him. I was so wrapped up in my own grief, nobody else’s really even registered. Jamie said that one morning Pa went out on his own. Said he’d be back by evening. Never showed up. Jamie and Hop Sing found him the next day not far from Marie and Hoss’ graves. Doc Martin — oh yeah, you wouldn’t know. Joshua Martin is the doctor here now. Funny thing. He’s a cousin to Paul.”
“He’s gone. Roy’s gone.” Joe released a heavy sigh.
Adam shook his head in response to the news. “Good men. Rock solid.”
“Yes they were. Well, the doc calls Pa’s condition apoplexy. Must have happened the day he rode out cause it looked like Pa had laid out in the open all night. No fire. No blanket. Nothing. Jamie said the look on Pa’s face scared him worse than anything he’d ever seen.”
Adam grimaced, trying to make sense of all that his brother was saying. “Apoplexy?”
“Yeah. Doc said a blood vessel in the brain breaks open and leaks. It’s kind of like getting a head injury only it’s all inside Pa’s head. The bleeding interferes with the body’s normal functions. There’s nothing that can be done. Doc’s been stopping by once a week to check on Pa. He tries to be hopeful and encourages Pa to do as much as possible, but in private he doesn’t offer much hope. He says medicine just doesn’t have a lot of answers right now. He believes one day things will be different, but that time is a ways off.”
Adam rubbed the back of his neck attempting to relax the muscles that were growing increasingly tight.
“Pa’s right side is very weak — including his face. He needs help with — everything.” Joe paused and looked at his brother and let his words sink in before continuing. “His speech is — well, it’s hard to believe that I’ve never seen Pa drunk, but I get the feeling this is what it would have looked like, only worse.”
Adam quickly shut the door on memories that were surfacing and nodded his understanding of the gravity of the situation.
“He feeds himself with his left hand. Fortunately he can swallow, but it’s slow going. Hop Sing’s been making lots of hearty soup, but honestly, Adam –” Joe’s voice trailed away.
Adam exhaled a deep, heavy breath. “He’s not going to pull out of this, is he?”
“Doc said that when Pa starts wheezing or getting raspy, pneumonia has set in, and it will only be a matter of days.” Joe gave his brother an intent look. “He used the word ‘when’ not ‘if’.”
Tears filled Joe’s eyes. “God, Adam. Haven’t we had enough? I’ve been praying every day that Pa will get better — but — he just seems to be wasting away. He needs a reason to try. Laying around in bed is no good for any man. Shoot, he was up working on the roof of my house a couple of months ago. I could never have imagined this.”
Feeling selfish and greedy for living out his whims and desires, Adam brought his boot up to the front of the buggy. He rested his elbow on his knee and dropped his head into his open palm. “I’m so sorry, Joe. I should have been here sooner. I –”
Joe cocked his head to the side. “I can appreciate that, but I’m not sure it would have made any difference.” His expression offered some measure of reassurance. “Would you have kept Hoss from going into that river? I doubt it. Would you have stopped Damien from burning my house down. Doubt that, either. There’s more than enough regret to go around. We can second guess ourselves to death. The important thing is that your here now.”
“The years do change things, don’t they?” Adam mused, trying to come to grips with all Joe had told him.
“Yeah, they sure do.”
“How is Jamie taking what’s happened with Pa? Seems like a lot for a young kid to deal with.”
“You know, Adam, I give the kid a lot of credit. He wants his bad news straight up. He knows everything I’ve told you about Pa’s condition. At sixteen, he really seems to understand how much Pa put himself out for him. Jamie’s been solid as a rock. Done everything I asked and more. Helps with Pa, even with the tough stuff. It’s like he understands the time is short to pay back a debt of gratitude. He may not be Cartwright by blood, but he’s definitely Cartwright in spirit.”
Adam was struggling with all the ways in which his absence had been filled by others, and yet it also brought some comfort to know that someone was standing in the gap.
“Guess you always wondered when I’d finally grow up. Life has a way of doing that, like it or not.” Joe took a moment to fully examine his older brother. “Hope you know we missed you. I don’t say that to make you feel guilty. It’s just a fact.”
“Thanks, Joe. Think I’ve been kidding myself and didn’t realize just how much I missed all of you and the Ponderosa until we headed out of town.”
Joe grinned, hoping to alleviate some of the heaviness of the conversation for his brother. “Missed us like a hole in the head, didn’t ya?”
Adam smacked Joe on the arm and smirked. “Some things haven’t changed. Yeah, like a hole in the head, you asshole!”
Joe’s giggle actually brought Adam some relief. They enjoyed a time of quiet as the buggy rolled along toward home. A while later when they reached the ranch house, Joe pulled the buggy to a stop near the porch.
Stepping down from the rig, Adam commented. “Looks the same.” He filled his lungs with air. “Smells the same.” He grabbed his bag from the back and stood staring at the front door.
A weak smile passed Joe’s lips. “I can put the horse up later. Let’s go in.” He turned for the door and then realized Adam was still standing beside the buggy. “Adam? You coming?”
Jarred from his fearful thoughts, Adam followed Joe into the house. He stood by the credenza holding his bag amazed that the house seemed exactly as he remembered.
“Looks the same, doesn’t it?”
“Yes. I don’t know what I was expecting, but it’s as if nothing has changed.” The tension in Adam’s shoulders eased slightly.
He turned abruptly when a red-headed young man entered from the kitchen. Jamie walked up to his eldest brother and offered his hand.
“You must be Adam.” A shy smile played around his mouth. “Nice to meet you.”
Adam took the boy’s hand and gave it a firm shake. “And you, as well.”
The brothers stood around looking at each other. Sensing Adam’s tentativeness, Jamie put his hands on his hips and declared, “Funny, you look human enough. To hear Joe tell it, you can walk on water!” Jamie side-eyed Joe and smirked watching Adam for a reaction.
Adam stared at the boy in disbelief and then a laugh spluttered from his mouth. He turned to Joe with an arched brow. “I thought you said it was Candy that had a smart mouth.”
Joe reached out and slapped Jamie with his hat. “Guess he’s rubbin’ off on Jamie, here. Got your stuff moved into the spare room?”
“Yeah, all moved.” Jamie glanced at Adam. “You’ve got your old room back.”
“That’s really not necessary. The spare room will be fine.”
“Nope. Nothin’ doin’! Besides, that wouldn’t be much of a welcome home, now would it?”
Joe had been right. Adam was liking Jamie’s straight forward manner and sarcasm, a good fit for the Cartwright family. He gave the boy a genuine smile. “Thank you.”
“How’s Pa?” Joe inquired.
“Hop Sing and I got him cleaned up and ready for you.” Jamie gave his brother a satisfied nod.
Joe pointed toward the stairway. “Sounds good. You ready, Adam, or do you want to wash up first?”
“I’ll put your bag in your room.” Jamie picked up Adam’s bag and trotted up the stairs. He paused at the top of the stairs when Adam did not follow.
“Sorry. Yes. I’m ready. Just trying to get myself prepared.” Adam unbuttoned his jacket and removed it feeling a sudden uncomfortable warmth.
Jamie nodded and disappeared down the hallway. Joe led the way upstairs. Gently, he opened the door to his father’s room. Clothed in a fresh nightshirt, Ben sat propped up with pillows in his bed. He looked to be dozing and did not move when Joe and Adam entered. Hop Sing rose from the chair that sat beside the bed.
The Chinaman’s dark eyes grew bright. He held out his hand. “Mistah Adam! So good you come home!”
“Thank you, Hop Sing. It’s good to be home and wonderful to see you, my friend.”
“Come sit with father.” Hop Sing motioned for Adam to take the chair.
Hearing their voices, Ben’s head came up. Uncertainty filled his brown eyes, but then a there was a spark of understanding. It was then that Adam could see the debilitation in his father’s asymmetrical features.
The right side of Ben’s mouth drooped making it difficult for him to speak. “A –da!” Ben choked out, unable to get his lips to cooperate so he could say his son’s name properly. “A — da!” He reached out with a shaky left arm.
With tears now running down his face, Adam laid his jacket over the chair and slipped onto the edge of the bed under his father’s extended arm. He drew Ben into a loving embrace.
“I’m home, Pa. I’m home.” Adam whispered into his father’s ear.
He lingered uncharacteristically in the makeshift hug until he felt Ben growing tired of the awkward position. Carefully he brought his father’s arm down and patted his large hand. When Adam moved to sit in the chair, Ben reached out and pulled on his shirt sleeve to stay where he was.
Joe flung an arm around Jamie’s shoulders as they stood at the end of the bed with tear-filled eyes. Ben looked up at his younger sons and placed his hand on the comforter as an invitation. Joe sat opposite of Adam and Jamie slid onto the foot of the bed.
“Like old times, huh, Pa?” Joe grinned through his tears.
Ben’s sunken, weathered cheeks glistened as his tears flowed. “Al — mosh.”
Joe squeezed his father’s hand acknowledging Hoss’ absence. “He’s here, Pa. I can feel him.” Ben grabbed hold of Joe’s hand in agreement.
“Must be standin’ or we’d all be on the floor!” Jamie winked at his father.
There were chuckles all around the bed, though Ben’s sounded more like a deep croak.
His eyes honed in on Adam. “Good — to — haf — you — ho.”
Adam felt as though his heart would break seeing how his father struggled to speak. “It’s good to be home, Pa. Really good.” He placed his hand on Ben’s shoulder. He could feel just how much of his father’s bulk was no longer present.
Ben reached over and touched the salt and pepper sideburns of his oldest son. “Look — mo–like–Pw — Pwa.”
Adam’s hand came up and gripped his father’s. He closed his eyes, and tears leaked out and fell onto the front of his shirt. “Looking more like you every day.”
“That makes two of us, brother.” Joe pointed to his graying locks. “Hey, it’s going to be time for supper soon. How about we bring up food for all of us? Sound good to you Pa?”
Ben leaned back and closed his eyes. His almost imperceptible nod affirmed his approval.
Adam attempted to move from the bed into the chair.
“No! Don go!” Ben grabbed at Adam’s shirt sleeve.
“I’m not leaving, Pa. I promise. You seem like you’re getting tired.”
“Pleesh shtay. Don go!”
Jamie turned away unable to watch his father’s pitiful pleadings.
“How about I read to you while we wait for dinner? How does that sound?” Adam tried his best to sound reassuring.
Ben relaxed and nodded. Adam moved to the chair when Joe and Jamie left and went downstairs.
Spying a book on the nightstand, Adam retrieved it and commented. “Paradise Lost? Seems like you’ve read that one a few times.”
“Good book.” Ben replied, eyes still closed.
“Yes, it is. One of the great ones.”
Adam opened to the marker and began to read. It was not long until Ben’s slow, steady breathing told Adam that his father was asleep. He placed the book back in its regular spot, and then leaned forward resting his head in his hands. Despite Joe’s generous words about not dwelling on regrets, Adam’s mind began to churn, his thoughts in a downward spiral.
You’re a goddamn selfish idiot. This was not how things were supposed to work. You were supposed to come home and find Pa sitting on the porch like a chieftain with his grandchildren at his knee. Hell, you should have brought some of those children with you, but no! No wife. No kids. You’ve got money, boat loads of money and land. You’ve slept in exquisite hotels and drunk expensive wine. A lot of good that does you when your brother’s gone and your father’s not long for this world! Nine years was too long, way too long!
Adam was grateful when Joe and Jamie returned carrying trays of food. Joe roused Ben, tucked a napkin into the neck of his nightshirt, set the coffee cup on the side table, and put the tray on a flattened pillow in his father’s lap.
“There you go, Pa. All set?” Joe queried.
Ben nodded his thanks. Adam reached out and took the tray that Jamie offered him.
“Thanks. You’re coming up to join us, right?”
“Yeah, be back in a few minutes.” Jamie replied.
After Joe and Jamie left the room, Adam looked at his food and then over at his father’s tray. Hop Sing had gone to great lengths to make it possible for Ben to eat by cutting and mashing the food. Though the food tasted delicious, Adam found it difficult to eat as he observed his father’s slow, halting movements to get his food into his mouth. Ben chewed each mouthful at length and then swallowed it down with a concerted effort. Adam took a few bites of his food and then set down his fork, his appetite was blunted by the tedious nature of his father’s now routine pattern of eating.
“Hop Sing still knows how to prepare a good meal.” Adam tried to fill the void with light conversation.
Once Ben’s mouth was empty, he was able to respond. “Woo bed-her clea wur pwade o he wilwa ged mwad.”
Adam chuckled at the admonition. “Been a long time since someone told me to clean my plate, but I don’t want Hop Sing upset with me from the get go.”
Ben’s eyes twinkled and then grew soft with emotion. “He bee beh-wy good to mwe. Nod eashy.”
Adam nodded. “A faithful friend for many years.”
Hesitant at first, Adam took the corner of Ben’s napkin and wiped some food from the side of his father’s mouth. There was obvious sorrow in Ben’s expression. His left shoulder went up and down in a shrug of sorts, and then he went back to methodical eating. Adam forced himself to take a few more bites, but was relieved when Joe and Jamie returned to join them. They pulled up chairs to sit close to the bed.
Joe spoke about ranch related issues and some news from town. He asked Adam about his most recent business ventures. Adam was reluctant to give a lot of details, but did share that his businesses in Australia were doing well and that he had left them in good hands. Jamie showed great interest in the land so far from Nevada. After they finished eating and Ben’s tray and pillow were removed, he leaned back and closed his eyes.
“You ready to call it a day, Pa?” Jamie asked.
Ben opened his eyes and nodded. Jamie went and collected a small pail by the chamber pot. He looked at Adam’s questioning expression.
“You can stay and see how we do things or step out. Whatever you want.” Jamie stated, matter of fact.
Joe gave his older brother a look of ‘I told you so’, and moved to help his father get on his feet.
“I’ll observe from the side for now. Thanks.” Adam replied with more confidence than he was feeling.
Ben could not bring himself to look at his oldest son and proceeded to scoot his backside such that he could swing his left leg over the side of the bed. Joe helped put Ben’s right leg down so that both feet were on the floor. Then with Joe on his weak right side and Jamie on his left, they helped their father to his feet with the bulk of Ben’s weight resting on his good leg. Jamie hoisted Ben’s nightshirt with one hand and untied the drawstring of his drawers which fell to the floor with the other. The boy positioned the pail in front of his father. From the side, Adam watched his father close his eyes and appear to be focusing his mental energy on the task at hand. It took a few moments, but then there was the telltale sound of a stream hitting in the pail. Adam looked away as he internalized the humiliation his father must be feeling with this most basic act of the human existence. Jamie set the pail aside and pulled up Ben’s drawers, checking the small towel that had been inserted as a precaution. Noting that all was in good order, Jamie tied the drawstring and let the nightshirt fall back into place. After helping Joe get his father back into bed, Jamie went to empty the pail into the chamber pot, rinsed it with water from the pitcher and then washed his hands in the basin.
“Right side tonight.” Jamie called.
Joe helped roll his father onto his right side and prop pillows behind his back. Jamie brought the bell and placed it where Ben could reach it if he needed assistance during the night. With blankets, comforter and pillows in place, Joe and Jamie bid their father goodnight and allowed Adam a few minutes alone with Ben.
Witnessing the whole ordeal was almost more than Adam could bear. Ben had been a hale and hardy man of fifty-six when he left the Ponderosa nine years ago. At sixty-five, Adam did not believe his father would live to see his sixty-sixth birthday seven months from now, nor was he certain that Ben would want that given his present condition.
Noticing that Adam appeared to be preoccupied with his thoughts, Ben asked, “Woo ti-wed?”
“Tired?” Ben blinked his eyes. “Yes, a little.” Adam could see the corner of his father’s mouth twitch with humor. “OK, maybe more than a little.”
There was a faint rumble in Ben’s chest.
“Do you have a Bible up here or is it downstairs?”
Ben pointed to the bookcase in the far corner of the room. Adam rose and found the large tome.
“Do you have a preference?”
Ben thought for a moment and then replied. “Psal twen – eighd”
“Psalm twenty-eight.” Adam turned several pages before locating his father’s request.
“‘To you, Lord, I call; you are my Rock, do not turn a deaf ear to me. For if you remain silent, I will be like those who go down to the pit. Hear my cry for mercy as I call to you for help, as I lift up my hands toward your Most Holy Place….’”
Adam read that psalm and continued on to the next and the next until he was certain that his father was asleep. Then he closed the book and carried it back to the bookcase. He returned to the bedside and made sure that the bedding was as it should be before turning down the lamp and walking toward the door. He paused in the doorway contemplating the countless times his father had checked on him at night throughout the years. Tears welled up in Adam’s eyes. There had been times in the past when Adam had sat vigil over his father, but this felt much different.
“Goodnight, Pa”, he whispered. “I pray you have sweet dreams.”
Jamie and Joe were playing a game of checkers when Adam came down the stairs. His chest clenched and he felt the color drain from his face. The scene looked all wrong to him, but there was nothing to be said or done that would not be hurtful to Jamie. Though it felt to Adam as though Hoss would come walking out of the kitchen at any moment with a huge sandwich in his large paws, his brother was gone and never coming back.
Joe did a double take when he saw the look on Adam’s face. “You ok?”
“Uh yeah.” Adam lied.
Though not convinced, Joe went on. “Pa all tucked in for the night?”
“Yes, sound asleep.” Adam stood with one hand resting on the blue chair and the other in his back pocket emotionally trying to get his bearings. “Does he usually sleep through the night?”
“Usually. Sometimes he ends up on his back and can’t roll over without help. Jamie and I leave our doors open so we can hear the bell.”
“That makes sense.” It surprised Adam how much Joe and Jamie had already become accustomed to this new way of life with Pa. “Think I’ll get some coffee. Anyone else want a cup?”
“No thanks.” Jamie replied. “Would take a cookie.”
“Cookie, no coffee for me, too.” Joe added.
“Tall order, but I think I can manage three cookies and a cup of coffee.” Adam replied on his way to the kitchen.
Minutes later the three brothers were munching on cookies and in Adam’s case sipping coffee.
“Just curious. Has Pa tried writing with his left hand? Speaking seems to wear him out.”
Joe paused from making his move on the checkerboard. “No, but that’s a good idea. You and I have done that with our opposite hands when we were injured. Wouldn’t win any contests for penmanship, but got the job done. Just might work for Pa.”
Jamie snapped his fingers. “Hey, I’ve got a slate and some chalk that he can use.”
Adam drained his cup and set it on the coffee table. “Sounds good. I was thinking, how about if I cover for you in the morning, Joe.”
“Hop Sing and I take care of Pa in morning.” Jamie interjected.
“It gives me time to get a few things done and Hop Sing is up early anyway.” Joe added.
“Then I’ll discuss it with Hop Sing. I’m sure he has plenty to do and I’m going to need to start pulling my weight around here.”
Jamie looked at his oldest brother thoughtfully and then nodded in understanding.
Adam took note of Jamie’s apparent approval. “So what happened to that hymn book we picked up today?”
“It’s over there.” Joe pointed to the credenza.
Adam walked over and picked up the book and sat back down in the blue chair. “Do you know anything about this, Jamie?”
“A hymn book? Pa never mentioned it to me.”
“Then I’ll ask him about it tomorrow. Wish I had my guitar with me.”
“You can borrow mine.” Jamie offered without hesitation.
“Pick around a little. Don’t read music or anything.”
“Don’t be fooled, Adam. Jamie’s pretty good on the guitar, not as good as you, but pretty good.”
“Thanks!” Jamie gave Joe a smile of satisfaction.
Adam paged through the hymn book. “I can help you with reading music if you want to learn.”
“That would be great since all I do is pick around until I figure out a song.”
“It’s not hard. I’m sure you’ll get the hang of it.”
“I’d like that.” Jamie jumped the last of Joe’s checkers. “That would be game.” The boy got up and headed for the stairs. “I’ll run up and get the guitar for you and leave the slate beside Pa’s door, that way you’ll have it for tomorrow.”
“Thanks.” Adam called to the rapidly disappearing young man. “Kid moves pretty fast. Reminds me of you quite a few years ago.”
“You sayin’ I’m old, ‘cause if you are, you know what that means.”
Adam snorted. “Guess you’ve got me there.”
Jamie came back shortly carrying his guitar and handed it to his brother.
Adam strummed a few chords. “You keep it in tune. I like that. Looks and sounds like a good instrument. Where’d you get it?”
“Pa gave it to me for my birthday. I think he got it in Sacramento.”
Adam gave Jamie a warm smile. “I promise to take good care of it.”
“You seem trustworthy enough”, he replied with a smug smirk.
Joe cackled. “That’s because you haven’t known him for very long.”
“Thank you for your vote of confidence, LITTLE Joe.” Adam stated with emphasis.
Jamie laughed at the face Joe gave Adam. “Sounds like it’s a good time for me to head to bed. Night all.”
Adam and Joe bid him goodnight and the boy trotted up the stairs. A Spanish tune soon filled the living room. Joe moved to stretch out on the settee with his arms behind his head as he watched his brother’s nimble fingers deftly moving across the strings. Upstairs, Jamie smiled hearing the pleasant, mellow sounds coming from his guitar. It was a welcome and needed respite for them all.
Despite his fitful sleep, Adam woke at first light. He got up and threw on some clothes when he heard movement in the hallway. He saw Jamie’s slate by the door to Ben’s room and picked it up. As he entered, Adam saw his youngest brother and Hop Sing already busy getting things ready. His father was lying on his back watching the activity and looked toward the door when Adam came in.
“Good morning, everybody.” Adam laid the slate on his father’s dresser.
Jamie and Hop Sing gave him their greetings.
Ben’s eyes lit up. “Mo-nin.”
“Hop Sing, I’m ready and able to be Jamie’s assistant today. I’m certain you’ve got other things that need your attention.”
The Chinaman turned to look at the ‘number one son’. “If you’re sure, Mistah Adam?”
“It’s ok, Hop Sing. We talked about it last night. I’ll make sure he does a good job with Pa.” Jamie responded.
Hop Sing’s eyes sparkled with humor. Adam touched the small man’s brown sleeve as he walked past him and gave him a wink. This brought a faint smile to the cook’s lips.
“I bring breakfast up lickety split.” Hop Sing winked back at Adam.
Adam rubbed his hands together. “All right, time to rise and shine, Pa!”
Jamie’s eyes went wide and he glanced at his father. “So much for a nice quiet morning, huh, Pa?”
Ben tried his best to force a scowl, but it just made him look comical.
“That the best you got for your new taskmaster, Pa? So tell me how this is going to go, little brother.”
Jamie grinned. He could stand being called little since he was the one in charge. “Up to do his business, then he washes himself. We help with what he can’t get.”
Adam was wishing in the worst way that Hoss was still with them. The big man would have just picked up their father and carried him to the washroom. As he thought on it more, whether in a tub or by hand, it was all an invasion of his father’s privacy.
“Ok then, Pa, scoot your ass. Oops!” Adam paused and bit his lip in mock contrition. “I mean your backside, over here.”
Ben just shook his head while Jamie chuckled and went to get the pail. The brothers helped their father to get on his feet who then seemed to be having difficulty making things work. Adam sensed that Ben was more embarrassed than usual since it was his first time helping with the process.
“Just imagine that I’m a tree and nail it!” Adam cocked his right hand into a pistol.
Jamie howled and Ben coughed out a guffaw. Within moments, a stream hit the pail.
Adam’s dimple twitched with his father’s success. “Always helps to have something to aim for, right Pa?”
Ben wagged his head making his oldest son chuckle with satisfaction. After pulling up his fresh drawers, they sat Ben on the bed and stripped him out of his nightshirt. Adam hid his shock at seeing how thin his father had become. Jamie handed Ben a soapy washcloth and he worked to wash his face and upper body with his left hand. Adam offered to get his father’s back and legs. In short order, Ben was scrubbed, dried, and clothed in a clean nightshirt.
Soon Jamie left to get his breakfast and do his outdoor chores. Food was delivered up to the bedroom. Once Ben was finished eating, Adam set their trays aside and brought the slate and chalk to the bed.
“Pa, I was wondering if you’d give something a try for me.” Adam placed the slate on Ben’s lap and held the chalk over his left hand. “It seems like speaking gets tiresome pretty quickly for you. I was thinking that writing, in short, even incomplete sentences, might be easier. Shall we give it a try?”
Adam positioned Ben’s weakened right hand to hold the slate and placed the piece of chalk in his left. “Write it instead.”
Ben took the chalk and awkwardly scribbled, “Sure.”
Adam turned his chair around and pushed it up against the bed so that he was parallel with Ben and could see the slate.
“Sure. Got it.” Adam grinned.
Underneath Ben wrote, “Wouldn’t get A+.”
Adam laughed. “Not worried about that. Let me get a towel to erase the slate.”
Adam returned from the washstand and handed a towel to his father who was then able to smear away most of the chalk and wrote, “Thanks.”
“You’re welcome. So I have a question for you. Yesterday, Joe picked up a hymn book that you ordered. Is there a certain song you were interested in hearing?”
After considerable scratching, Adam read the words, ‘How Firm A Foundation’. “The book is in my room. I’ll be right back.”
He returned carrying Jamie’s guitar and the book. Locating the song, Adam began reading the stanzas. Suddenly, he looked up at Ben. “Oh Pa.”
Ben’s eyes were filled with tears. He paused as he wrote to swipe them away with the sleeve of his nightshirt. He wrote, “Our story with eternal hope.”
Adam reached over and placed his hand on top of Ben’s, “Yes, it’s perfection.”
Again Ben took the towel and erased his words. He then wrote, “Sing it for me?”
“Of course. It may be a bit rough this go around, but I’ll work on it.”
Ben nodded his thanks and Adam began picking through the melody. After running through it a few times, he sang the verses for his father. When Adam finished, he had an overwhelming sense of freedom and contentment even though he had the distinct feeling that the hymn would be significant to Ben’s departure from this world. Father and son looked intently into each others eyes as the tears ran down their cheeks.
The precious moment passed and Ben began writing once again, “Thank you for coming home.”
Gripped with emotion, Adam flexed his jaw, “There is nowhere else I’d rather be.”
Over the next two weeks, the brothers established a new routine that incorporated Adam. One morning it happened that they were all sitting together at the breakfast table while Hop Sing was upstairs cleaning Ben’s room. Adam was feeling confident that Ben’s needs were being met.
“Things have been going pretty well lately”, Adam commented. Jamie and Joe nodded between bites. “In fact, I was thinking that we could probably work things out so you could go back to school.” Adam looked in Jamie’s direction.
“That’s ok. I told Ms. Griggs I’d be gone for a while.”
“But if we can make it work, you wouldn’t have to worry about getting behind.”
Joe gave Adam a look that said he needed to drop this line of discussion.
“School can wait for now. We’re just getting into the swing of things.” Jamie noted.
Adam pressed on. “Yes, but I really think it’s possible –”
Jamie slapped down his fork and hissed, not wanting to yell for fear it would reach Ben’s ears. “Look, I said it’s fine. Pa and I talked this over. Just because you’re a lot older than me doesn’t mean you can overrule Pa!”
“Whoa, now.” Adam responded with wide eyes.
“Don’t you whoa me.” Jamie jumped to his feet. “It took years for you to figure out what’s important. For some of us, it doesn’t take that long!” Jamie slammed his chair against the table and stormed out the door.
“Just hold up there, young man!” Adam shouted.
Joe held a finger to his lips. “Jamie’s right. Don’t get Pa upset. He doesn’t need that. You poked the bear and got growled at. Can’t blame the boy for that.”
“I wasn’t being unreasonable, just practical, but he is being insolent! Where the hell did that come from?”
“Well, you should know that he’s been getting his assignments and doing them when he can. Once he settled in and put his mind to it, Jamie’s done pretty well in school, way better than Hoss and I know better than me.”
Adam blew out a long breath. He gulped the rest of his coffee and headed for the door.
Joe shook his head and called over his shoulder. “You might want to give him a few minutes. Once he gets up a head of steam, it takes a while for him to calm down.”
“Sounds like a true Cartwright to me!” Adam stated before closing the door.
He found Jamie in the tack room throwing things around the work table.
Jamie glanced over his shoulder when he heard the door. “Don’t have anything else to say!”
“Well I do.”
Jamie picked up a tack hammer and banged it into the table.
“Though I don’t appreciate your attitude, I came to apologize.”
Jamie spun around and gave Adam a hard look.
“That’s right. I didn’t know you’ve been working on your studies from home.”
“You didn’t ask!”
“You’re right. I made assumptions.”
“Pa and I discussed it. He said it was up to me. He needed someone to take care of him and I was happy to do it!”
Adam nodded. “For what it’s worth, I am grateful for all you’re doing for Pa.”
The boy shrugged, his anger beginning to dissipate. “After Pa got sick, we wrote to you. He knew that. All he wanted was to hear from you! God almighty, he loves you! And then finally, we got the telegram saying you were coming. That was the happiest I’d seen him since the day Joe told him that Alice was going to have a baby!”
Adam turned away.
“And then you came home, and everything was great. Pa was so happy and relieved that you were here. But that’s just it. You’re here. Don’t you see? He’s giving up because you told him you’re staying put. A man like Pa doesn’t want to be a burden. Soon he won’t get out of bed. I know from my birth Pa how that works. It won’t be long and Pa will be gone!”
Suddenly it all became perfectly clear. Jamie’s seemingly unwarranted explosion had nothing to do with school and everything to do with fear. Time was growing ever so short, and it had taken the brutal, unvarnished honesty of a sixteen year-old boy for Adam to see what he had been trying to avoid. Their father was giving up. With a sense that everything was now in place, he would refuse to allow himself to be a burden to his family much longer when there truly was no hope for recovery.
Jamie turned and placed his palms on the table, his body wracked by sobs. Adam came up behind him and placed his hands on the boy’s shoulders to let him know that he understood. Embarrassed by his inability to control his emotions, Jamie pulled loose and ran out of the barn. Adam tried to blink away his tears to no avail.
Moments later Joe entered to find his older brother fixated on a bridle that was lying on the work table.
Adam’s head jerked around. “Between Jamie and me? I think so. How is it that kid seems to understand what’s going on?”
“He’s seen a lot of life already.”
“Hell, Joe, we’ve all seen a lot of life.”
“I don’t know. Maybe we’ve seen too much.”
“Maybe you’re right. Maybe we’ve seen so much that the thought of any more pain makes us blind to the obvious.”
“And that is?”
Adam fingered the bridle and then tossed it aside. “Pa’s giving up. Jamie’s sure of it — and I think he’s probably right.”
Joe nodded though Adam could not see it. He reached out and placed his hand on Adam’s shoulder and then left him to his sober thoughts.
Within days, Jamie’s fears became reality. Ben had little interest in completing his regular morning routine and only picked at his food. Adam waited until Jamie left to do his chores before questioning his father. Ben’s eyes were closed when Adam placed the slate in his lap.
“Pa? What’s going on?”
Ben did not attempt to write anything in response and refused to open his eyes.
“Come on. I know you can hear me. Is there something wrong?”
Ben’s left shoulder rose and fell.
Slowly Ben picked up the chalk and wrote, “Tired of living this way.”
“I understand this is not what you want, but I hope you know that Joe, Jamie, and I aren’t ready to give you up just yet.” Adam gave his father a weak smile.
When Ben made no move to erase his words and continue, Adam took a towel and wiped the slate.
“Time to move on”, Ben scrawled.
“You always told us that life was in God’s hands.” Again Adam cleaned the slate.
With tears in his eyes, Ben wrote, “God took half already.”
Adam took the towel and rubbed away the words. “But thank God, your mind was preserved!”
“Not sure a blessing! Tired.” Ben dropped the chalk and closed his eyes.
“All right, I’ll stop bothering you.” Adam got up to remove the slate, but Ben held up his hand.
He took the towel and erased his last words and wrote, “I’m the bother.”
“Well, you are being a bit cranky today, but you’re not going to get rid of me that easily.” Adam gave his father a knowing smile. He was doing his best to make light of Ben’s comments. However, he was concerned that this truly was the beginning of the end for his father, and he was struggling to accept it. “How about some music?”
Ben haphazardly smeared away his words with the towel and wrote, “OK. Tell H.S. only broth.”
Adam read his words and nodded. He set the slate aside, picked up Jamie’s guitar and began singing some of the folk songs that he loved so well. He watched his father closely while he sang and observed that Ben seemed more placid than earlier. Once Adam was certain Ben was asleep, he went downstairs.
Hop Sing served the brothers their lunch. He offered to take some broth up to Ben and sit with him for a while. Ben allowed his old friend to spoon broth and tea into his mouth. When finished, Ben reached out to touch Hop Sing’s arm. Their dark eyes locked and glistened.
“It has been my honor to serve you and your sons. Hope you find quiet rest with ancestors.” The Chinaman bowed in genuine humility and left Ben’s room.
Meanwhile, at the table downstairs, Adam had little appetite as he felt compelled to speak with Joe and Jamie about his earlier conversation with their father. He picked at his food and then finally set down his fork before speaking.
“I need to tell you what Pa said to me this morning.”
The younger brothers looked up from their plates with concern.
Adam blew out a big breath. “He’s tired and doesn’t want to be here anymore.”
The look that Jamie gave Adam made it clear that this was no surprise to him, and yet there was great sadness in the boy’s eyes.
“It’s time.” Adam looked intently at Joe.
“To say our goodbyes.”
Jamie looked away and Joe stared at his plate.
Adam placed his elbows on the table, his clasped hands momentarily hiding his eyes. “He needs to know we’re going to be all right and that it’s OK for him to leave us.” He paused. “I think tonight after dinner would be best. Are you two all right with that?”
Adam looked first at Joe who nodded and went for the front door, suddenly in need of some fresh air.
“You good with that?” Adam looked at his youngest brother whose eyes were focused out the window behind where Ben sat until the last few months.
“As good as one can be when you’ve been dreading this day.” Jamie left the table to go upstairs. All the boy wanted at the moment was to be near his father.
After finishing their evening meal, the brothers worked with little conversation to get Ben ready for bed, leaving him propped up with pillows in a sitting position. The three brothers then came together at Ben’s bedside.
Adam nervously cleared his throat. “Pa, we’ve all got some things we’d like to say, if that’s ok with you?”
Ben’s weariness gave way to sadness for what he knew was coming. He nodded for them to proceed.
Jamie looked at his brothers. They had not really discussed how things were going to work. Jamie’s voice broke the silence. “Guess, I’ll go first.”
The young man moved to sit on the edge of the bed. He was quiet for a time, and then fell onto his father’s chest and began to sob. Ben’s left hand clutched Jamie’s coarse, wiry red hair and he massaged the boy’s neck while tears streamed down his craggy face. Adam had known this was going to be difficult, but he had not fathomed just how hard. This boy had been made his brother by his father’s generous and giving heart. It was gut-wrenching to witness Jamie’s open and genuine sorrow for the loss of what he had only so recently gained.
Once he had a measure of control, Jamie began. “I know it’s selfish to want to keep you here. Just wish we had more time. You made me feel like I was one of your own. But I don’t want you to worry about me. You taught me well and Adam and Joe will see that I stick by it.” The boy’s chest heaved. “I just want you to know — that if some day in the future — some kid needs a pa, like I did — I’m going to give him a home — and love him — ‘cause you showed me how! Love you, Pa!”
Jamie grabbed hold of Ben’s nightshirt and then pushed away. Joe reached out and wrangled the boy into a hug. Adam gripped his shoulder.
Then Joe released his younger brother and kneeled beside Ben’s bed. He laid his head in his father’s lap. It took a few moments, but then the sobs came. Eventually, Joe gathered himself and responded to his father fingering through his gray-brown waves. “Need a haircut, don’t I Pa?” Ben hiccoughed and they were all thankful for the light moment.
“I know these last months have been really hard for you and that you’re worried about leaving us. I promise you, Pa, we’ll take good care of Jamie. You’ve given us all so much. We’ll take care of the Ponderosa, too.”
Joe stood up and leaned over to take his father’s rough cheeks in his hands and kiss his wrinkled forehead just the way Ben had done for him when he was a child. He looked his pa directly in the eyes. “Love you, Pa. You’ll always be right here.” Joe placed his hand over his heart. He turned and touched Adam’s arm and once more dropped his arm onto Jamie’s shoulders.
Adam knelt and rested his head against his father’s chest. Hearing the slow thump of Ben’s heart, Adam’s mind was transported to another time where a strong, vital man with dark hair swung him up and held him in his arms when he was a tired child. He remembered nestling his ear against Ben’s chest and finding comfort in the steady beat of his father’s heart. Adam’s reverie was broken when Ben began running his fingers through the hair on the back of his head. Several times Adam opened his mouth to speak, but the words would not come. Ben could feel his son’s tears soaking through his nightshirt. As so often in the past, it had been difficult to put their feelings into words.
Finally the words came. “Just remembering our times together when I was young. Those were special times. Bonded us. Remember those times, Pa, and let them carry you. Our memories will comfort us and guide us forward. I pray you will rest easy in that knowledge.” Adam paused and one small sob escaped his lips. “Love you, Pa.”
Receiving the familiar squeeze on the back of his neck, Adam stood and placed a kiss on the top of Ben’s head. Ben held out his hand. Adam clasped it between both of his. Joe and Jamie moved in and each placed a hand on top of the others in a final show of Cartwright unity and strength.
The next day, Ben took only a few spoonsful of broth and tea and had no strength or desire to get out of bed. In the evening, the brothers gathered around their father’s bed and listened as Adam read some of Ben’s favorite scriptures. Ben acknowledged their presence and squeezed each one’s hand. Adam offered to sleep in the chair so his brothers could get some sleep.
After finally dozing off for a time, Adam woke in the very early morning. He had an unexplained sense that something was not right. He turned the lamp up enough to get a good look at his father. Ben did not respond to the noise of Adam’s movements.
Adam reached under the covers and placed his fingers on Ben’s neck. He felt no pulse. Rolling Ben on his back, Adam placed his ear to Ben’s chest. All Adam could hear was his own increasing pulse resounding in his ears. The sobs that would not come two days earlier erupted as Adam knelt with Ben’s hand clasped in both of his. Jamie soon appeared in the doorway and knew immediately that his father was gone. He went and woke Joe. Together on their knees around the bed, the brothers wept over their father’s still body.
Two days later, a large processional consisting of family, friends, and employees made its way to Lake Tahoe for Ben’s funeral. At the close of Reverend Jordan’s message, he invited Adam to step forward and sing the only song that Ben had requested for his funeral. Adam opened the hymnal, looked resolutely at his brothers, and began to sing.
**How firm a foundation, ye saints of the Lord,
is laid for your faith in His excellent Word!
What more can He say than to you He hath said,
who unto the Savior for refuge have fled?
When through the deep waters I call thee to go,
the rivers of sorrow shall not overflow;
for I will be with thee, thy troubles to bless,
and sanctify to thee thy deepest distress.
When through fiery trials thy pathway shall lie,
My grace, all-sufficient, shall be thy supply.
The flame shall not hurt thee; I only design
thy dross to consume, and thy gold to refine.
The soul that on Jesus hath leaned for repose
I will not, I will not desert to his foes;
that soul, though all hell should endeavor to shake,
I’ll never, no never, no never forsake!**
Adam exhaled heavily and closed the book before looking to Reverend Jordan who would offer the final words.
“Thank you Adam for honoring your father with that hymn of truth and great hope.” Reverend Jordan then raised his right hand and extended it toward Ben’s grave. *** “‘Forasmuch as it hath pleased Almighty God of his great mercy to take unto himself the soul of our dear brother, Benjamin, we therefore commit his body to the ground; earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust; in sure and certain hope of the Resurrection to eternal life, through our Lord Jesus Christ; who shall change our vile body, that it may be like unto his glorious body, according to the mighty working, whereby he is able to subdue all things to himself.’*** Amen and amen.”
Ben Cartwright’s sons greeted those who had attended the funeral and watched as they dropped handfuls of dirt onto their father’s casket. When the last person had passed, Reverend Jordan offered his sympathies and left the Cartwrights to say their final goodbyes.
Adam motioned for Jamie to go first. “A couple of years ago, I could never have imagined being part of a family like this. Now I can’t imagine things being any other way, thanks to you. You believed in me, Pa, even when I didn’t know how to believe in myself. You wanted me to be the best man I could possibly be, and I promise I’ll do my best to live up to that. I’ll be forever grateful that you made me a Cartwright. Love you, Pa. The boy grabbed a handful of dirt and let it sift through his fingers.
He stepped aside as Joe moved to the opening in the ground. “Gonna miss you like crazy, Pa. You were my anchor. The one who pulled me in when I drifted and didn’t know where to turn. Always forgave my screw-ups. If people even think I’m half the man you were when my day comes, well, that will really be something.” Joe’s eyes brightened in spite of his tears. Love you, Pa. Joe swiped up a handful of dirt and let it drop into Ben’s grave.
Adam stepped forward, his hat lying atop the hymn book. “From the time I was small, you showed me that dreams can come true even in the face of great sorrow and disappointment. You pointed the way and then allowed me to follow my dreams. You welcomed me back without judgment.” Adam swallowed down the lump in his throat. “I’m thankful for every moment we shared over the last few months and I’m anxiously anticipating that great day when we will all be reunited. Until we meet again. Love you, Pa.” Adam picked up a fistful of dirt and dropped it onto Ben’s casket.
Together the brothers walked to the buckboard that had transported Ben’s body to the shore of Lake Tahoe. Candy and two other ranch hands took care of closing the grave.
Later that evening after dinner, Adam stood staring up at the glittery night sky. Joe and Jamie stepped out and joined him.
“Can you imagine looking at that from the other side?” Adam whispered. “Pa has seen it from both sides now.
“Yeah, pretty amazing when you really stop and think about it.” Jamie craned his neck upward, his hands jammed into his back pockets.
“Does make you wonder what all you see once you’ve crossed over to the other side.” Joe added.
After a period of quiet contemplation, the three Cartwrights turned for the front door. As Joe and Jamie came up on either side of Adam, he reached up and squeezed the backs of their necks. Both his brothers stopped in their tracks and looked at him. Adam pulled his hands away and looked at them as if they belonged to someone else.
Lifting his head skyward, Adam murmured, “Thanks, Pa.”
Subtle nods and smiles of understanding came to the younger Cartwrights. Adam smacked his brothers on the back and encouraged them to enter the house ahead of him. As he bolted the door for the night, his eyes were filled with tears of gratitude mixed with loss for the end of an era.
** Selected verses from How Firm A Foundation, published 1787 by John Rippon.
*** Adapted from the Book of Common Prayer
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