Summary: It’s not exactly the twelve days of Christmas, but this present was the best of all.
Rating: G 1,180 words
Hens and Chickens or Wrench
Three French Hens
Ben and Jamie pulled cherished ornaments from a wooden box and hung them on the tree. Without Hoss’s height, they had to use a ladder to place ornaments on the upper branches and set the yellow-haired angel on top.
Jamie removed an ornament from the box that was three pewter chickens dangling from a bar. He touched the middle one, making the three birds swing and clink against each other.
“Why chickens?” asked Jamie.
Ben paused for a moment and craned his neck to look at the swaying hens. A smile briefly played upon his lips. “It belonged to Marie, Joe’s mother. She was an orphan, raised in the Ursuline convent after her parents died from the fever. None of her relatives wanted another mouth to feed but the nuns always had room for one more.” He wiped the corner of his eye with his forefinger, as if removing an eyelash or piece of grit. “The three French hens represent the tenets drilled into theorphans by the nuns—faith, hope, and love. Marie said the nuns taught, ‘We must put our faith in the Lord and His plan for us, hope for life eternal upon our death, and love others as we love God.’ Her first Christmas here she told me, when she put that ornament up, that despite the nuns’ teachings she’d long ago lost her spiritual way and decided there was no larger divine plan for her. But, she put her faith in me and finally had hope for a better life away from New Orleans when I married her and brought her out here. She said Adam and Hoss taught her love could be offered and given without conditions.” Ben paused for a moment in his story-telling as he picked out a spot for another ornament.
“Did Joe know? I mean, did he know his ma had grown up without a family?”
“All my sons knew. What was important was we were her family. She loved Adam and Hoss as if they’d been her own. Joe might as well have hung the moon and stars just for her when he was born.”
“Did you ever lose your faith or hope, Mr. Cartwright?”
Ben studied Jamie’s face as he reached for another ornament. He noted the boy looked expectant, as if he could take some reassurance that other people had been affected by circumstances beyond their control and come out the other side without being lost.
Setting the ornament back in the box, Ben walked over to Jamie and rested his hands upon the boy’s thin shoulders. “When Adam’s mother died, I had a small child and a determination to go West. I thought God was a vengeful creator to take my wife from me and her baby. It took Hoss’s mother, Inger, to restore my faith and give me hope for a better future. When Inger died, I kept my faith but lost hope that I would see my dream of the Ponderosa come to fruition. Without my boys, I likely would have given up and settled elsewhere, working odd jobs just to survive. It was their love for me, and mine for them, that made me determined to make a better future for all of us. Marie completed our family and brought Joe into our lives. I briefly lost faith, hope, and love when she died, but the Ponderosa, this land with its vast pines reaching for the sky and the sheer beauty of Lake Tahoe, made me realize that whatever divine plan is in store for our lives, there’s always hope for a better tomorrow. My boys embody the love I’d had for their mothers and I fiercely love my sons.”
Jamie had tilted his head down and looked at the floor.
Ben gently touched his fingertips under the boy’s chin and lifted his head to look into his tear-filled eyes. “I questioned the Almighty when we buried Hoss. Why my son? Haven’t I suffered enough? I didn’t receive an answer. Hoss wouldn’t want me to dwell in despair but hold a warm place for him in my heart.” He paused for a moment. “You’re part of our family now. I have faith you’ll find your place here and I hope that you’ll come to love us.”
Jamie sniffed and wiped his nose with his sleeve. He stepped into Ben’s embrace and held tight to him, holding back tears.
“What about Adam and Joe?” asked Jamie. “Do you have faith and hope for them?”
Ben rubbed his thumb against the back of Jamie’s neck, a gesture he’d often used to soothe Joe when he was troubled. “I have faith Joe’s heart will mend as he grieves Alice. Someday, he’ll meet another woman whom he’ll want to marry and start a family with. And as every Christmas, I hope this will be the year Adam returns home.” He leaned back to look into Jamie’s eyes. “As for love, I have you to keep me young.”
Jamie’s snort was a held-back chuckle.
The sound of a wagon’s wheels carried in from the front yard.
“It’s about time Joe got back from town,” Ben said with a glance at the clock. “What could have taken so long?”
Jamie shrugged a shoulder then wiped his eyes with the backs of his hands.
A cold gust of air blew in through the open door. Ben didn’t even notice the chill. His mouth fell open and before he could form words he was grasped in a tight embrace.
“Look who I found in town,” said Joe. He beamed with a smile that lit up the room.
“Adam, let me look at you,” said Ben. His son wore a beard streaked with gray and had a few wrinkles around his eyes. “Why didn’t you send a letter?”
“And spoil your present?” asked Adam.
“Good thing Jasper took so long finding the wrench to fix up the wheel,” said Joe. He ran his hand through his hair. “You’d think a blacksmith would know where all of his tools are.” Joe slapped Adam’s back. “Well, I was waiting around and saw this old man get off the stage and thought I’d best get him someplace warm before he caught his death of cold.”
“Who are you callin’ old?” Adam asked with a swat at his brother’s shoulder. “You’ve got more gray in your hair than I’ve got in mine.”
“At least I’ve got hair,” said Joe with a wink at Jamie.
Adam stepped back from his father and took in the red-headed boy by the tree. “You must be Jamie,” he said, taking in the boy’s scrawny appearance and freckled face.
Jamie awkwardly stuck out a hand, unsure how to greet the man he’d only heard stories about.
“Come here,” said Adam. He pulled the boy into a hug and whispered, “Welcome to the family.”
Joe joined his brothers and wrapped his arms around them. Ben wiped an eye with the heel of his palm then jammed his hands into his pockets.
“Thank you, Lord, for these precious gifts,” he silently prayed.
Click here for the 2018 Advent Calendar – Day 15 – Memory aka We Remember by Cheaux
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