Summary: Grief intrudes on what should be a festive time.
Rating: G 1,120 words
Joe finished bedding down the horses and gave the barn one final check, as usual his eyes lingering a few seconds longer over the empty stall where Chubb had previously stood.
Turning his collar up he raced back towards the house across the yard. The sky was dark but clear and littered with stars but Joe didn’t stop to admire them, the air being too bitterly cold for stargazing. Besides, it was Christmas Eve and he was needed to help decorate the Christmas tree.
Getting the tree that year had almost been forgotten. It was the first Christmas since they’d lost Hoss and he’d lost Alice and his unborn child, and somehow the suggestion of getting the tree hadn’t come up.
Finding and bringing back the Christmas Tree had always been a tradition for the Cartwright brothers, ever since they’d been old enough to go into the forest without Pa and bring back the tree alone.
But this year no one had mentioned the tree.
The night before Joe, catching Jamie looking wistfully at the place next to the fire hearth where the tree would have stood, suddenly realised what had been forgotten. Guiltily aware that respect for his feelings was probably the reason for the oversight, he cleared his throat.
“Y’know it’s Christmas Eve tomorrow.”
Pa looked over the top of the newspaper at him and Jamie twisted round on the low table, where he was perched, a slightly hopeful look on his face.
“Yes?” Ben prompted when Joe didn’t say anymore.
“Well, don’t you think it’s time we went an’ got the tree?”
“You mean it?” Jamie grinned.
“It’s a family tradition ain’t it? We’ll go tomorrow morning, you and me,” Joe suddenly looked at Ben, “unless, you wanna come too Pa?”
“Oh no, no,” Ben told them flinging up his hands and chuckling, “my days of chopping down Christmas trees are long gone. Besides, you boys have always done it by yourselves.”
So now a fine tree was proudly standing in the living area waiting to be decorated.
Joe had left Pa, Jamie and Candy to bring down the decorations whilst he settled in the livestock but, by now, he knew they’d have them all ready and waiting for him.
As he took off his coat Joe became aware of the slight ruckus in the room. His Pa, Jamie and Candy seemed to be turning out every box.
“Check that box again Jamie, it must be here somewhere.”
Joe heard the hint of desperation in his father’s voice and caught the look from Jamie which clearly said, Help!
“What’s up?” he asked.
“We can’t find the star,” Jamie explained.
Joe’s face fell … the star.
Memories of last Christmas came flooding back. The Angel that had adorned the top of the tree for over thirty years had finally broken. Everyone had been upset as it had been bought by his mother her first Christmas on the Ponderosa and had been a link to her every Christmas since. Hoss had saved the day by carving a Christmas Star and presenting it Pa.
It was a beautiful piece of carving and Hoss had been very pleased with it.
“It’s the best thing I ever whittled,” he’ told them, “but someint jest seemed to tell me I needed to make it special.”
Joe remembered how Pa had run his hands over the wood feeling it fine shape, lines and curves, so impressed and proud of his son for carving such a fitting replacement for the angel. Hoss cleverly made a piece of spiral wire which attached to it so it sat over the top branch, handsomely adorning their tree.
It can’t be gone too!
“I’ll go check in the attic. Don’t worry Pa, I’m sure it’s just fallen out of the box,” Joe assured them.
After turning the lamp up high, to give himself enough light, Joe began to check around the area where the boxes of Christmas decorations had stood. Finding nothing a sense of panic began to take hold and dropping to his hands and knees Joe began closely searching the floor.
As he moved around becoming more frantic, his feet pushed and nudged a large chest, suddenly he stopped and let out a sigh of relieve. The movement had revealed the tip of one of the points of the star from where it had been hidden by the trunk.
“So that’s where you’ve been hiding,” he muttered with satisfaction as he shuffled, still on his hands and knees, to it. To his annoyance when he reached for the star rather than catching hold he only succeeded in pushing it further under the chest.
Kneeling up Joe suddenly realised that the container in front of him held the other decorations they used for parties and was filled with Chinese lanterns and ribbons. The last time they’d used them had been on his wedding day. Joe was hit with the sensation that he didn’t care if he never saw those lanterns again.
Still kneeling he put his hands to the heavy chest and gave it a firm shove. It moved smoothly over the wooden floor revealing the star and … Joe dropped back on his heels staring stunned, at the small book which laying touching the star.
The last time he’d seen it had also been on his wedding day, it was Alice’s book of verse that she’d had since she was a child. She’d carried it all that day and he remembered how upset she had been when she couldn’t find it afterwards.
Picking it up with a shaking hand he softly caressed every bump and crack in the soft brown leather with his thumb.
Everything he’d had of his beloved Alice had been lost to him in that terrible fire which had burnt their home, dreams and future to ash, leaving him with nothing of hers. Nothing to hold, nothing to cherish, nothing … and now here was this most treasure possession.
Joe’s eyes fell again to the star and a feeling of overwhelming certainty and love washed over him, Hoss’s star had led him to Alice’s book.
His fingers tightened around both precious objects and he clutched them to his chest, head bent as tears began to brim in his eyes.
“Thank you, Hoss,” he murmured, “thank you for my gift.”
Perhaps it was only a shift in the air and the whisper of the wind in the rafters but in that moment Joe felt that familiar hand on his shoulder and the soft voice in his ear, “Merry Christmas, Punkin.”
Releasing his breath the moment was gone.
Getting up Joe headed down the stairs calling joyfully, “It’s alright Pa, I found it, I found the star!”
Click here for 2018 Advent Calendar – Day 7 – Pennsylvania by Hart4Ben
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