SUMMARY: Joe is quite the talker especially when it involves finding a way to avoid work, but it is more difficult when his father is right there. He’s clever enough though to find a way that even his father appreciates.
Rating: PG Word Count: 1321
Finishing up his lunch with a chicken leg, Joe watched his brothers and father as they ate. They had a picnic lunch packed by Hop Sing on this day for their break making it a picnic, something it seemed they did far too seldom any more. He wished at that moment there would be more conversation and less eating to make the occasion last. With the way his father could be focused on a work schedule, as soon as that last piece of chicken was consumed, he was likely to be hustling them back to work. There was only one way to prevent it, and Joe knew how to do it. All he had to do was put a spark to the fuel.
“Pa, I think my first memory of a picnic like this was down by the lake in the summer before Adam left. Hoss and I got to go with you down to the lake with you for a picnic. You and Adam weren’t getting along, and all of a sudden, you sent Hoss back to get him. Do you remember that?”
With a sideways glance that said he remembered that day well too, Adam acknowledged Joe’s query without saying a word. There was only that slight tilt of his head and the hint of a smile as they waited for their father’s response. Hoss was a bit more obvious with that shy smile and a look directed at their father daring him to try to deny that memory. Ben couldn’t of course because he remembered that day so well. It was one of those days that were the worst of days and the best of days for him as a father.
Spring was in full bloom with the promise of summer wafting in on every warm breeze. Staring at puffy white clouds with Hoss and Little Joe, Ben felt some of the heaviness in his heart lift finally. Almost a year since they had lost Marie, in a short time, Adam would be leaving to go to college in the east. However that thought brought some of the heavy feeling back because for the past few weeks, Adam had been inexplicably irresponsible. Late for meals, missing deadlines, and forgetting chores he had promised to do, he had not been able to give any kind of satisfactory answer any time Ben had questioned him about any one of the incidents. Instead, Adam had been evasive and almost defensive making Ben suspicious, but he didn’t know of what. He had tried to give him his eldest son one more chance that morning to explain himself, but he had stood silent as usual and refused to answer. He was good at that, as stubborn a man as any Ben had ever met; unbending unless he was ready. So Ben felt he had been forced to issue his ultimatum, which he already regretted to some extent.
“If you cannot explain yourself, then you will stay here and catch up on the work you have missed while I take the boys on a picnic to the lake as I promised.”
At that point, he had seen something in Adam that looked like he wanted to explain or at least ask to come with them, but then the mask slid over those patrician features of his, and there was no communication. He had only said he hoped they had a good time although the words were said without emotion in that flat tone he used when he didn’t want to give anything away at all. His oldest son was a puzzle to him most of the time, and Ben knew that if he had included him in the outing, he would have had the best chance of drawing out what was troubling him or what was going on in that labyrinth of his mind.
“Well, that’s enough of staring at the clouds trying to guess what they are. We should get going to the lake for our picnic.”
Hoss looked nervous but made a request. “Pa, can we stop by Marie’s place first?”
Putting a hand on Hoss’ shoulder, Ben reassured his son that it was not an unreasonable request. He had finally come to understand that his sons grieved as much as he did and needed these moments too. They did make a side trip to her final resting place, and found all the brush cleared away and the spot landscaped with bright spring flower plantings, rosebushes budding out, and a stacked stone bench.
Standing in the middle of what amounted to a small flower garden, Hoss stared at his father. “Pa, who done this?”
Pausing and watching Little Joe sit on the bench and grin, Ben had tears in his eyes. His youngest had been so sad so often for the whole year, and Ben had thought coming to this spot might ruin the day for him, but the bench and flowers had made it a good experience. The changes would make it easier for him to be here and accept that it was his mother’s resting place. He wondered why he hadn’t thought that clearing the area and planting flowers would help. Seeing some of Marie’s prized roses growing from cuttings and already showing small buds was the best touch of all. It was something that she would have chosen for the spot if she had been able to design it herself. He didn’t answer Hoss’ question. Instead he posed one.
“Son, could you ride home and ask Adam if he would please join us for the day?”
Without delaying a second and grinning, Hoss turned to run to his horse to ride for home to get his older brother. Ben had to caution him to be careful.
“Hoss, don’t try to go so fast that you forget to watch for holes and things in your way. It won’t do for you to get hurt and not be able to come back here to enjoy that basket of Hop Sing’s chicken as well as the day with us. Adam would miss it too.”
“I’ll be careful, Pa, and I’ll be back with Adam, too.”
Smiling as he finished telling the story, Ben waited to see how his sons would react. Hoss smiled and Adam shrugged. Joe had a question.
“Adam, why didn’t you tell Pa what you did when it was finished?”
“It was complicated. I guess I wanted it to be a surprise.”
“Joe, I think he was letting me know how he felt about the lack of trust. We didn’t clear the air about things like we should have. Those days, I wasn’t always in the right frame of mind for talking or perhaps I should say for listening. As for taking credit, he’s never been one to do that. You must know he likes to let his actions speak for themselves. Now, you have once again managed to get us to delay going back to work for quite a good break. It is one of your more well-developed skills. But, the break is over. Time to work.”
Those words were softened by the quiet thank you Ben gave his youngest as they walked to their horses. He also gave a squeeze to the shoulder of his oldest letting him know he appreciated his cooperation in letting the story be told. Adam shrugged, and then Hoss slapped him on the back so hard he had to take a step forward.
“What was that for?”
“That was for taking the last drumstick while I was listening to the story. Don’t think I didn’t notice.”
They all went back to work with smiles for the afternoon.
Tags: Adam Cartwright, Ben Cartwright, Family, Hoss Cartwright, Joe / Little Joe Cartwright
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