SUMMARY: Sheriff Roy Coffee played Santa for a benefit and noticed the Cartwrights weren’t there. When he found out why and went to the ranch, he found out how important a role Santa can play in giving a gift of his wisdom.
Rating = PG Word count = 2740
Christmas Eve and Sheriff Roy Coffee had expected he would be having a relaxing evening at home. He spent the afternoon at the orphanage dressed up in red clothing acting the part of Santa Claus and giving out gifts. Although he was certain none of the children were fooled, they enjoyed the masquerade almost as much as he did. There had been extra food donated as even the most miserly wealthy folks seemed willing to open their coffers for Christmas. Of course, the Cartwrights had led the way with donations as they usually did. It had surprised him that none of them had shown up for the party though. Usually Adam was there with his guitar to lead some singing, and Hoss and Joe were good to help with the games. Frequently Ben would read the Christmas story to the youngest ones. At least in a typical year, that happened.
When he got to his office, he had a message that let him know why this was not a typical year. There had been an accident and Doctor Paul Martin had gone out to the ranch. One of them was seriously injured. Without changing clothes, Roy got his horse and headed out to see if he could do anything to help his friends.
At the ranch, Hoss answered the door and Roy could see how worried he was. “Glad to see you, Sheriff. We got plenty of food ifn you’re hungry. None of us feel much like eatin’ right now.”
“I understand. How’s your father?”
“Takin’ it pretty hard. He’s upstairs. He had to bring up some more ice and some coffee for Doc Martin. He’s sittin’ with him. We’re waitin’ on him to wake up.”
“Where’s your other brother?”
“In the kitchen, broodin’ on it most likely. Cain’t see as how that’s gonna help. He’s got a hard time lookin’ us in the eye right now though so maybe it’s best he sit there.”
At that point, Ben came to the top of the stairs. “Hoss, we need your help up here. Paul wants to change the bedding and we have to lift him to do it. Hello, Roy. I’ll be down soon.”
“You do what you have to do, Ben. I’ll get myself a cup of coffee and see about the other one.”
“Thank you, Roy. I’ve been so busy up here, I haven’t had time to deal with how he must feel.”
In the kitchen, Hop Sing was bustling about trying to get everything done that needed to be done. He had tried to talk to the youngest son but had made no progress. He smiled at the sheriff especially seeing him dressed as Santa. Maybe that would break through to the ten-year-old who sat silent and with his head down at the table.
“Little Joe, could you get me a coffee cup. Hoss and your father offered me some coffee, and it’s been a long cold ride out here.”
“You’re not gonna arrest me, are you?”
“Arrest you? Now why would I do that?”
“Cause it’s my fault that Adam got hurt.”
“Your fault? I thought he got hurt by a horse.”
“He did, but I was the one who scared the horse. I didn’t mean to. Honest, I didn’t.”
“Why did you then?”
“I didn’t even know I would scare him.”
Trying a different tactic then, Roy changed the questioning. “Would you like to tell me the whole story right from the beginning?”
“I don’t know. I’m so stupid sometimes. I wish I could be smarter like Hoss and Adam.”
When he said Adam’s name, his voice began to quiver. It was clear too from his eyes and face that he had been crying. Roy didn’t want that to happen again or at least not until he had heard what happened.
“I got an idea about that and I’ll tell you about it if you tell me what happened. To me, all three of you are smart but you get there in different ways. Is that a deal?”
His curiosity piqued, Little Joe forgot for a moment how guilty and upset he was. “It’s a deal.” Then he had to figure out how to tell the story though. For him, the truth of it went back months though. He wasn’t sure if the sheriff wanted to hear all of that, but he decided to try. “When Adam came back from school a couple of months ago, I was real happy about it. But then, he started to tell me what to do like he was the boss of me. I didn’t like that part of things at all. Pa said I had to listen to him too.”
Roy would have liked to talk about that some but was afraid it would stop Little Joe from talking. He knew he would have his chance later. As it turned out, he didn’t need to talk about it much anyway.
“Well, I did things my way and not how he told me to do them. I made some pretty big messes that way. He’d get mad sometimes and other times, he’d just clean things up and give me that look, you know, like why couldn’t I just do it the right way. Hoss even asked me why I was being such a doofus. I wasn’t sure what that was but I knew it wasn’t good. I don’t know, but Adam made me mad just by telling me things. I wanted to show him I could do things. I wanted him to be proud of me. It didn’t work though.”
Hop Sing walked over to refill Roy’s coffee cup and stared at Little Joe as if to tell him to hurry up. Little Joe nodded at him.
“Today, I made another one of those messes. I was cleaning it up too, and I saw Adam with some of the hands. They were talking and laughing, and I thought that Adam was telling them what I did and making them laugh at me. He was going to ride one of the last mustangs they had to break. It was a real mean one, but it was getting tired. He had ridden it once and so had two of the other men. They figured one more ride would break him. I watched and waited for him to be done. It worked too. That horse gave up. They came up to help Adam off, and that’s when I jumped down off the corral fence to give him a piece of my mind.”
Unable to help himself, Roy’s mouth dropped open at that point. A wild mustang that they had trouble breaking just after a wild ride would be on edge. Although broken, he would have to be handled gently. Little Joe knew by Roy’s reaction that he understood the situation.
“Yeah, he bucked as Adam was getting off and Adam’s leg got caught and the horse bucked with him swinging sideways. His head hit the corral fence before the men boxed the horse in. There was a lot of blood and he never said anything. He looked dead. I thought I killed him.”
At that point, Roy knew that Little Joe would never be all right if that did happen, and he knew too that the family would be devastated. He put his hand on Little Joe’s arm.
“First of all, it was the horse that hurt him. Maybe we could pray together that Adam wakes up and is all right?”
Nothing could stop the tears then. Once they subsided, they did pray together. Then they sat quietly for a time before Little Joe asked a question.
“Are you still going to talk to me, or am I so rotten you don’t want to any more? You know they weren’t laughing about me. I found out that Adam was laughing with them because he’d ripped his pants on the ride he did just before. He said he might be embarrassed if they ripped any further on this last ride. The hands made some comments about that and they were laughing. I really messed up cause I’m so rotten.”
“You’re not rotten. You made a mistake. The way you learn, it’s likely to happen quite a bit more. Each of you has to know yourself and know what it is about yourself that you need to understand to get along better with others. Now you see, there are three ways to learn, to become wiser and smarter. Take your brother, Adam, for example. He likes to learn by planning and thinking about things. Now that can be good because he can be organized and get things done on time. But sometimes he overthinks things or worries too much because he’s thinking too much about them. There are times, he doesn’t know how to have fun because he’s thinking about everything that needs to be done.”
“Yeah, I know. He’s so serious.”
“He can be. Thinkers tend to be that way. Now Hoss isn’t so much a thinker as a watcher. He pays attention to what others do and learns from them. He lets them show him how to do things. He can have fun because he doesn’t spend his time thinking too much, but sometimes he can be led into things he wouldn’t do if he was thinking about them.”
That part made Little Joe smile. Even at his young age, he had managed to do that already with his older brother, the middle one, not the oldest.
“But Hoss is smart too. He knows a lot of things.”
“Yes, because you can learn a lot watching people and listening to them. There are many smart people in the world and they’re all teachers. Now I see how your face gets all scrunched up hearing that. I didn’t mean like in school. I meant that there are lessons to be learned if you pay attention to what people do. Like, for example, those men who rushed in to help Adam. Did anyone tell them to help?”
Little Joe shook his head vigorously.
“Then how do you suppose they knew to do what they did?”
Almost immediately, Little Joe answered him. “Because that’s what any good hand would do.” He paused then and smiled at Roy who smiled back at him. With a newly found confidence, he looked at Roy. “Should we go up to see how Adam is doing?”
“We might want to wait on that a bit. Your pa ain’t come back down yet with Hoss. They was gonna help the doc change the bedding and such. I know that can be a bit difficult with someone who’s hurting.”
That made Joe hang his head again reminded of what had happened and his role in it. Roy decided it was time to get back to talking. “You interested in how you get to be so smart?”
Ignoring the less than enthusiastic response, Roy ploughed ahead anyway. “You learn by experience. You do things and find out how things work by what happens. Now like with thinking and with observing, learning by experience has its own kind of problems. You got any idea what that might be?”
Little Joe frowned not at all sure where this conversation was going.
“Mistakes. That’s the issue. You see, when things go well, your experience doesn’t teach you anything because you think you knew it all already. It’s when it goes wrong that you learn. You learn from your mistakes. Now of course, everyone learns from mistakes, but the thinker learns by reading and studying the mistakes others made. People who watch what others do, well he sees the mistakes they make and knows better than to do those things. But those who learn by doing, well, they end up being the ones who make the mistakes. They’re the pioneers, and they can be the ones who get things done, but they’re the ones who make the biggest messes too. But ifn they learn from those messes, then they can be some of the smartest people around.”
“But some of the time, other people get hurt when I make mistakes.”
“Yes, that can happen. That makes it an especially big mess like this one.”
“How do I fix this mess?”
“One thing you have to do is be honest about the messes you make.”
“So I need to tell Adam I’m sorry and explain to him about how I feel and why I was acting so stupid.”
“As long as you don’t try to lay any of the blame on him, yes, I think that would go a long way toward fixing things. Saying it like you did is the right way to go.”
“Thank you. I think you’re a really good Santa. You brought me some Christmas cheer.”
“Me too.” At the door, Ben was standing and looking down at his young son. “Adam is awake. He’d like to see you, Little Joe.”
“Is he mad?”
“Why don’t you go upstairs and find out. And be quiet. He has quite a headache.” After Little Joe left, Ben sat down at the table next to Roy. “I’m sorry we missed the party.”
“I understand. You had more important concerns here. Is Adam going to be all right?”
“I think so. Adam has been staying up late at night lately. Burning the candle at both ends. Paul thinks that’s why it took so long for him to wake. It wasn’t only the head injury. He was exhausted too.”
Hop Sing put cookies on the table as well as some bread and ham when he served coffee to Ben. A short time later, Little Joe was back.
“Doctor Martin said Adam can try eating a cookie and drinking some tea. I’m supposed to bring some up to him. Oh, and Pa, Adam asked if I could please take off my boots before I come back. Is that all right?”
Guessing that the noise from those boots bothered Adam’s headache, Ben agreed, and Little Joe began pulling off his boots.
“Not in the kitchen!”
“Oh, yeah. I suppose I should do it out by the credenza or the stairs.”
“Yes or in your room.” Ben did have one question. “Was Adam angry with you?”
“No, he only wanted to know why I jumped down into the corral, so I told him why and told him I was real sorry. I said some real nice things about him and got him to smile a little.”
“That’s good. Now go ahead. You wouldn’t want to keep them waiting.”
Hop Sing had cookies for all of them as well as for Adam and a cup of tea. Little Joe said he would be back as soon as he got rid of his boots. He was and carefully took the tray and headed out on his mission with the admonition from his father to be careful.
A short time later, the next visitor to the kitchen was Doctor Martin who had a small smile as he arrived. He looked over at Roy as he sat down. “I’m not sure what you’ve been telling Little Joe, but he’s all set to amuse Adam for a while. He said he had a story about the thinkingest, watchingest, and mistakenest ways of learning to be smart and how there’s one of each in this family. Little Joe said he heard the story from Santa Roy and it was a Christmas gift. He wanted to share it with Adam. Hoss said he wanted to hear it too. It would have been entertaining to stay and listen, but it seemed like a good brothers moment with the three of them there. Perhaps you could tell us the tale?”
Roy did, and it was entertaining especially as Ben and Paul imagined how Little Joe would be telling each part of the story. Little Joe’s version did work to heal the relationship between Little Joe and Adam as they understood each other much better after that. That Christmas spirit lasted all through the years because even as they had disputes, they knew that underneath, each cared very much for the other.
Tags: Ben Cartwright, Joe / Little Joe Cartwright, Paul Martin, Roy Coffee
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