Summary: After the death of a close friend, Adam and his family find a peculiar object that appears to have a long and fascinating history among the Cartwrights.
Word count: 2684
“As we gather together in memory of Hank Edmonds we remember his love and kindness he showed to all creatures, great and small.”
As the preacher proceeded with the funeral service, Adam’s thoughts drifted. A light mist hung over the graveyard adding to the solemn mood that was stretched across everyone’s faces. Adam’s four children stood near him. It wasn’t the first time he or the children had been to a funeral and it certainly wouldn’t be the last.
It was never easy for him, and no matter how many times he attended a funeral, it would never get any easier. However, this particular one stung more deeply. Hank Edmonds was a long-time ranch hand on the Ponderosa. For as long as he could remember, Hank was around. He watched Hoss and Little Joe grow up to be mature and responsible adults. He was there when Adam got married and was at all his children’s births. Hank was more than just an employee on the ranch, he was practically family.
Glancing down at his children he could see the loss of Hank was hitting them hard too. Nathan was 15 now and lately, Hank had been helping him get better at rounding up cattle this past year. His ten-year-old twin daughters, Clara and Helen, didn’t have much interaction with Hank. However, he was always quick to show them the newest baby animal on the Ponderosa which they always adored. Samuel was Adam’s youngest son at six-years-old and admired Hank like another uncle. Yes, this was going to be a huge hole in all of their hearts and Adam was dreading having to deal with the grief that will likely follow in the coming weeks.
The closing remarks to the funeral service pulled Adam out of his thoughts. “Let us all go in peace remembering Hank’s wonderful life. Amen.”
Tears glistening in his eyes, Adam gathered his children and headed back towards the buggy. Later this week, they would be going through Hank’s possessions at the little house he owned. It was a chore that he was dreading, but he knew it had to be done. He only hoped that they would all have a better handle on their grief by then.
A week later, Adam’s family plus Hoss, Joe, and Ben were all at Hank’s tiny house he owned on the Ponderosa. Since Hank didn’t have any immediate family, the Cartwrights were tasked with going through all the items he owned. They would sell what they could and keep anything they thought might be useful. They didn’t expect to keep much as most of the items Hank had were either broken or so old, they didn’t work anymore.
Adam and Joe decided to tackle the main house while Hoss and Ben took on the little barn outside that was built to store Hank’s horse and supplies. Adam figured there probably weren’t too many dangerous things up in the attic, so he sent his children up there to start going through things and to keep them from being underfoot.
While the grown-ups were making progress downstairs and outside, the children were enjoying going through all the old things. The attic contained so many fascinating things from old furniture to broken frames to boxes with nearly an inch of dust on top of them.
“Hey, Nate. What do you think is in here?” Nathan paused in his search of an old dresser to see what his brother was talking about. Clara and Helen also stopped looking through a box of old photos to go over to see what Samuel was looking at.
Nathan walked over to where Samuel was kneeling on the floor with a chest that almost looked like something that should have been found on an old pirate ship. He fiddled with the lock for a few moments but couldn’t get it open. “Hmm… I don’t know Sam. It looks like it’s locked.”
Clara has always been the more adventurous of the two twins and she eagerly jumped at the possible opportunity of an adventure. “Well, there has to be a key around here somewhere. Let’s look!”
“Clara, the key could be anywhere. It might not even be in this house anymore.”
Clara rolled her eyes at her older brother always trying to put a damper on all the fun. “Well, we can still look, can’t we?”
They all started looking in every nook and cranny they could find. Every drawer and box was searched. They were just about ready to surrender to the fact that the key wasn’t here when Samuel got everyone’s attention. “Do you think this is it?”
There in his hand was an old rusty key that looked about a hundred years old. “Hey, that’s a good find! Let’s see if it unlocks the trunk.”
Samuel moved back over to the trunk with all his siblings following close behind. He inserted the key and they all heard a soft click before the lock snapped open. All four of them let out the breaths they were holding in, relieved that the key opened the trunk.
Nathan slowly pushed open the heavy lid with all four of them peering inside. Hoping it was some long-lost treasure trunk, they were sorely disappointed to see only a bunch of rusty tools inside. “Well, these are no fun.”
Searching through the tools, Helen picked up one tool that looked like something Hop Sing uses in the garden. “This one seems different than all the others.”
“Mind if I look at it?” Once Helen handed the item over, Nathan continued. “Looks like a little hand shovel. And look here, there’s some writing on the handle.”
“What’s it say, Nate?” Curiosity was getting the better of the youngest Cartwright.
Turning the shovel sideways so he could properly read the inscription, he responded, “The spade of luck.”
All four children cast glances at each other, clearly confused. “Wonder what that means?”
Nathan shook his head in response. “I’m not sure. We can go ask Pa though. Maybe he knows.”
With all the children in agreement, they headed for the stairs in search of Adam.
Meanwhile downstairs, Adam and Joe were both going through an old cabinet in the kitchen. They looked up and glanced at each other when they heard what sounded like a herd of elephants coming down the creaking stairs. “Guess your children are done going through stuff upstairs.”
Adam gave a small laugh. “I’ll make sure to send them outside to play if they’re done. We don’t want them getting in the way inside here.”
“Pa! Pa! Look what we found!” Samuel could hardly contain his excitement as he came to a stop just inside the kitchen.
“Hold on there son. What did you all find in the attic?” Adam glanced at the rest of his children who had now made it into the kitchen as well. His gaze stopped on his oldest, hoping he could help clarify what they all found up there.
“Well, we’re not really sure. We found this really old trunk that was locked. Sam found the key and when we opened it, there were a bunch of old tools. This here was among them.” Nathan handed over the old shovel to Adam, who took it in his hands.
“Yeah, Pa. I was hoping the trunk had some long-lost treasure of gold. Instead, all we found was some dumb old tools.”
“Samuel. Watch your language.” Adam leveled his youngest with a stern glare.
Joe had stopped his cleaning and saw what the children had handed over to Adam. “Now, Sam. I wouldn’t say that shovel isn’t treasure.”
“What’d you mean by that, Uncle Joe?”
“Well, that shovel you found has a long history with us Cartwrights. Don’t you remember Adam?”
“No…wait…yes, yes I do. Your uncle is right, this really is almost as good as long-lost ancient treasure. See this here shovel was given to us by Hank on each of our first cattle drives. Actually, come to think of it, it was given to every new hire on our cattle drives. It was a sort of initiation. Hank claimed it was superstitious and he told us if we didn’t carry it, bad things would happen.”
Helen instantly doubted what her father was telling them. He might be able to fool her brothers and sister, but there was no way he was going to fool her. “That can’t be true. A shovel can’t make bad things happen.”
“Well, I don’t know about that Helen. I know lots of people who have their own superstitions about things.”
“Okay, say that it does. Did anything ever bad happen when you didn’t carry it?”
“I couldn’t tell you. I believed it to be true and always had it on me.”
“Of course your father would follow the rules.” All the children snickered as Joe continued. “Me, on the other hand, always had trouble following the rules. And I do believe there was one time I didn’t carry it with me.”
“Please tell us what happened!”
“Well…I don’t know. We have a lot of work to do here.”
Joe knew his nieces and nephews would never let him rest if they didn’t hear the story. He looked over at Adam who gave a short nod of his head in agreement to let Joe tell it. “Oh alright. I guess we could use a short break. Why don’t we all head out to the main room. Adam, do you mind getting us some lemonade?”
“Not a problem. Coming right up.”
Ben and Hoss entered the house just as everyone was getting settled into the main room.
Hearing the door creak open, Samuel looked up from his seat on the floor. “You want ta join us, Grandpa and Uncle Hoss? Uncle Joe is getting ready to tell us a story!”
“And there’s lemonade!” Clara added knowing it would help entice Hoss to stay.
Casting a smile toward Ben, Hoss responded, “Well, if there’s cookies too, I’ll join you.”
“You’re in luck, Hoss. I found some cookies in the kitchen.” Adam stated as he came out of the kitchen carrying a tray full of lemonade and cookies.
“In that case, we’ll all take a short break.”
After passing out cookies and lemonade to everyone, Joe was ready to get the story started. “Alright, is everyone all set?”
“Alright, it all took place during the summer when I was about 16 years old. Pa — Grandpa finally allowed me to join my first cattle drive. This one was only a small drive, not the main one we usually do in the fall. He refused to let me miss school to join that one, but considering this one was during summer break, I was finally able to convince him.”
“Wait a minute there Joe. I seem to remember me and Adam helping to convince Pa to let you join.”
“Hey! No interrupting!” Joe exclaimed, feigning annoyance at his older brother.
Once the giggles from the children quieted, Joe continued. “Now as I was saying, this was my first cattle drive. Hank pulled me aside a few days before we left and handed me this shovel. He told me I had to carry it with me for good luck, otherwise, bad things would happen. Of course, I told him I would carry it. The day of the drive arrived and after packing my saddlebags, I decided I didn’t have room for the shovel. So I left it behind.”
“Oh no. You didn’t.”
“Ssshhh… no interrupting Uncle Joe, Sam.” Helen whispered loudly as she reached over and nudged Samuel in the shoulder.
After glaring at his older sister for being called out in front of everyone, he then offered his apologies to Joe. “Sorry, Uncle Joe.”
“No worries. The first couple of days were great on the trail. It was just like a fun adventure. It wasn’t until the third day that things turned for the worst. One of the cows got lost and it was my job to find it and bring it back to the main herd. I was searching for nearly two hours when my horse got stuck in a giant mud pit. And after jumping down off of my horse, I also got stuck in the mud up to knees. It took at least a half-hour for me to free myself. Took nearly twice that time to get that horse out of the mud. By the time we were all freed, I had lost the stray’s trail I was following. To make matters worse, looking around, it appeared I was hopelessly lost.
“I wandered around aimlessly for what seemed like a week, hunger growing with every minute that passed. Eventually, I found that lost cow, but the darn fool thing wouldn’t budge no matter how hard I pushed and shoved and pulled. I tried to get it to move for probably an hour or two to no avail. Frustrated in wasting nearly a whole day on a task that should have taken me an hour or two at most, I sat down on a fallen log. It was about that time that somehow one of the other drovers on the drive found me. There in his hand was my forgotten shovel. As soon as he handed it to me, the stubborn cow miraculously got up and started walking. It remained right by my horse’s side as the other drover and myself made our way back to the cattle drive who by now had made camp for the day. Turns out camp was less than a mile away.
“So, you ask if the shovel really is lucky or can make bad things happen? I’ll leave it up to your own conclusions. All I know is that it was odd and a strange coincidence how quickly my bad luck changed after I had that shovel in my hand. After that day, I made sure to always have that shovel in my saddlebag for the rest of the drive and I never ran into any more trouble.”
“Wow! That is quite the lucky shovel.”
“Yeah. Should we put it back Pa? It could live with all of his other stuff in the attic.”
“Hmm…that’s a good question.”
Ben decided now was a good time to add in his two cents on the fate of the shovel. “If I may interject, Adam. Maybe it might be a good idea for you to take it home with you. You are the only one that has children right now and you can then give it to Nathan when he joins his first cattle drive in a year or so. This way we can carry on the tradition that Hank started with the shovel and we can always remember what a wonderful man he was.”
“That’s a wonderful suggestion! What do you think children? Do you want to keep Hank’s legacy alive?”
In agreement with each other, they all practically shouted, “Yes, Pa!”
“I don’t know what a lega-lega-thing is, but I think we should keep the shovel.”
Letting out a small laugh at his youngest and clapping his hands together, Adam added his own approval. “Very well, it’s settled then. I’m sure Hank would be overjoyed to know we are carrying on a fun tradition he started.”
Over the next several weeks, there were many things they threw out from Hank’s house. The shovel wasn’t among those items. It remained in the hands of the Cartwrights and was continued to be given to new hires on their first Cartwright cattle drive. To this day, Hank continues to smile down from heaven, thankful his legacy continued long after he left this world.
Written for the 2020 Ponderosa Paddlewheel Poker Tournament. The game was Five Card Draw. The words and/or phrases I was dealt were:
At a funeral
I was also dealt a Joker.
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