~*~*~ Advent Calendar ~*~*~
* Day 21 *
Summary: Memories of family and Christmases past are shared between brothers.
Rating: G 2,770 Words
Note: This story was written for the Bonanza Brand 2020 Advent Calendar, originated in the Forums.
Christmas morning dawned early and noisily; after settling Cochise in the barn, Joe thrust open the front door to the heart of the Ponderosa shouting, “Merry Christmas!” Bearing gifts for family and friends, he hollered, “Where is everyone?!” Thirty minutes later the family, including Hop Sing, sat at the dining room table eating a hearty breakfast; it almost felt like old times, but with a few notable exceptions.
After eating their fill, the family moved to the great room. Luxuriating in the warmth provided by the flames dancing in the fireplace; they exchange gifts. After the last present was unwrapped, Joe handed Ben an envelope.
Setting his pipe aside and raising an eyebrow. “What’s this?”
“It’s the gift I know you’ve really wanted these past few months.”
Ben pulled out a sheet of paper and read. Looking up, “This is a signed contract for the old foreman’s cabin.”
“Yeah, I got to talking with one of the new hands Candy hired, seems he already sent for his wife and son. I thought the cabin would be the perfect residence for the family.”
Sitting forward in his chair, “Are you sure?” inquired Ben.
Nodding, “We’ll need to do some repair work on the place,” Joe responded, ignoring the tears welling in Ben’s eyes.
“You mean, more than you already did?” Jamie asked; smiling at Joe’s nod.
Having begun cleaning up all the discarded wrapping paper and ribbons, Hop Sing paused next to Ben’s chair and said, “We need rearrange upstairs!”
Joe’s cackle sounded throughout the room as the others eagerly began talking one over the other to welcome Joe the rest of the way home.
“Hey Joe?” Later that Christmas afternoon, Jamie shouted up the darkened staircase leading to the attic. “Joe? You up there?” He heard the ceiling boards creak as whoever was above walked across the floor.
“Yeah Jamie, I’m up here.” Without waiting for his younger brother to respond or climb the steps, Joe returned to the trunk he had been searching.
Entering the domain of yesterdays long past, Jamie looked around at the various items and trunks placed in storage; a baby bed, dressing table, and a rocking horse were set in one corner. Set against one wall was a bookshelf filled with camping gear and cooking supplies which had seen better days. In another corner, he spied a bed and trundle. Finally seeing Joe he inquired, “What’cha doing up here?”
Kneeling, Joe carefully lifted a wrapped package out of one of the trunks. Standing, he carried it to the table where he’d previously set a lantern and other items he’d already retrieved.
Working to untie the strings which fastened the brown paper around the item, “Oh, sorry Jamie. What’d you need?”
“Just curious what you were doing up here? I know it’s a little much, what with Pa and Hop Sing orderin’ the hands around, getting ready for the party tonight.” Pointing he asked, “What’s in that package?”
‘Well that’s clear as mud,’ Jamie thought to himself.
“Sorry Jamie, it’s just…. It was a difficult decision to make, to come back and live in the house.”
“You know Pa’s real happy you decided to move back into your old room, that you won’t be staying at the foreman’s cabin anymore. It was the perfect Christmas gift you gave Pa this morning, ya know?”
“Yeah, I know.” Turning to face his young brother, “You do understand why I wasn’t ready to move back into the house until now, don’t you?”
Shrugging his shoulder, “Not really.”
“I had a family and….” Swallowing heavily, “I wasn’t ready to come home and have it be as if Alice and the baby never existed.”
“I guess after losing everything in the fire, there’s not a lot left to remember her, huh.”
Silence echoed between the floorboards and the rafters, and ran along the walls; surrounding the brothers like a scratchy old, wool blanket.
Shaking his head, Joe slowly revealed the item, “Well, when I decided to move back, I remembered Hop Sing had packed up a lot of the stuff from my old room that I didn’t take with me when Alice and I moved into our own home. Items I left because I didn’t feel they belonged with me, now…. since I was…. married.”
Gulping at the sad memory of his former sister-in-law, “So, now that you’re back, what are you doing?”
“Oh, looking for some of my old things to put back in my room, make it so it doesn’t look like a guest room.”
“I guess that makes sense.” Hooking his thumbs over his waistband, “With as many people who’ll be here tonight and eventually end up staying, I can see you not wanting any a them thinking they can squat in your bedroom.”
In his hands Joe held what he had been looking for, an exquisitely carved box that slid into a matching wooden sleeve, about eight inches, by six inches, by two inches.
“Wow! That’s beautiful. Where’d you get it?”
“Hoss carved this for me a long time ago as a Christmas present.”
“Looks like an oversized matchbox.” Jamie observed Joe moving the box part back and forth within its sleeve.
“Yeah, it does. If I remember correctly, the second year Adam was away at college, he’d sent me some books as a birthday present.” With a brief laugh, “I know he called them penny-dreadfuls, they were stories about pirates and their adventures, but at least they kept me interested in reading. Hoss and I spent a lot of time in my bedroom late at night reading them. I guess at some point I told Hoss I wish I had a treasure chest and for Christmas, he gave me this. I started keeping all my treasures inside.”
“Wouldn’t it have been easier to make it with hinges instead of having to carve something to slide it in and out of?”
“Maybe, but you have to remember, back then… It wasn’t easy to purchase things; money was tight, what with the Ponderosa growing and all. And brackets this tiny…would have been considered frivolous and they would have cost too much when you included the expense of shipping and the possibility of them getting lost in transit. When I was younger, most of the gifts we gave each other were truly from the heart, not so much store bought as they tend to be today.”
“I wouldn’t call your gift to Pa, store bought.” Jamie looked on, watching Joe finally slip the box out of its sleeve. Among the readily visible items were marbles, arrowheads, quartz rocks, coins, and… “A thimble?”
“It belonged to my mother. A few years after she passed, Pa and Hoss were redoing the wall to the right of the fireplace, converting the area to a gun rack. Anyway, while I was helping to clear out all the debris,” holding up the thimble, “I found this. The story Pa told me was one day Ma and a friend were sewing a Christmas quilt, and I guess I kinda had some fun with all their swatches. After receiving a paddling for being naughty, I had to help Momma clean up the mess. Later, when she returned to her sewing, she could never find this.”
Returning the thimble to the box, Joe pull out a small, satin pouch. Next, he opened the drawstrings and upended the contents into the palm of his hand.
“No, not a watch, but it does look like one.” Pressing the top button as if it were a pocket watch, the lid popped up revealing a compass. “Adam gave this to me before he left. The last Christmas he was here, he gifted it to me.” Joe quieted; remembering back to that day. “The next morning Adam told us he would be leaving the Ponderosa in the spring; said he wanted to go places, to see things he’d only read about in all those books he was always reading. Pa wasn’t surprised, though I remember his eyes brimming with tears. Later, I accidentally overheard them talking and Pa said when he saw Adam give this to me, he knew the announcement was coming.”
“Yeah, Pa’s always good an knowing things that we think we’re keeping from him.”
“I always wondered how Pa did that too. But this time…. See, Pa gave this to Adam before he left for college.”
Clearing his throat, Joe continued, “That night, when we were heading to bed, Adam asked me to stop by his room. He motioned me to settle on his bed, something he hadn’t done since I…. before he went away to college. After he sat on the chair at his desk, he told me of how Pa had given this to him; explaining that whenever things became too difficult or if Adam ever felt that he couldn’t finish what he’d started… Pa told him to open this and it would point him true. Adam told me that whenever I began to doubt myself, all I had to do was pull this out and it would guide me true, too.”
Jamie interrupted, “I don’t understand. I know a compass always points North; but what’d that have to do with doubting?”
“For Adam, it was the fact that Pa had given this to him. It was a way to be reminded that Pa always had faith in him, to be able to follow through with the direction he chose; to go to college and graduate.”
“Okay, but what about you? You always seem so confident.”
“Jamie, you have to understand. When I was a lot younger, Adam and I butted heads for a long time. I was jealous of everything he had and could do after he returned home.”
“Younger brother syndrome?” Jamie offered while pulling out a chair from next to the table and taking a seat.
“Yeah, something like that.”
“I guess every younger brother thinks they know more or can do anything the same as their older brothers.”
Joe saw the chagrined look, knowing Jamie spoke from experience. With a brotherly punch to his sibling’s shoulder, “Just remember, I was once your age.”
Resting his chin on his hands, elbows leaning on the table, Jamie attempted to lighten the mood and forget his own disaster, “Even though it mighta been a long time ago?”
Gently shaking his head with a smile, Joe continued, “Yeah, a long time ago. Anyway, I always thought I was so much smarter and knew so much more and could do anything better than Adam did because I didn’t have to go away from home to learn it. The harder he was on me, the more I felt as if I didn’t belong, that I wasn’t a real Cartwright. Took my own Grand Swing to realize that all the time Adam spent trying to teach me, he was trying to make things easier on me; so I wouldn’t fail as spectacularly as he did.” With a brief huff, “Anyway, Adam went on to state that even though I’d been the recipient of Pa’s ‘United with stand, divided we fail’ speech; he wanted me to understand why the world’s best explorers kept a compass to guide them. Said family was all well and good, when they were around, but sometimes, a traveler or a man had to seek his own counsel; and a compass was the most valued possession he could own.
“Gifting this was Adam’s way of handing over the reins of the Ponderosa to me, letting me know he had faith in me taking over as Pa’s right-hand man. But…”
“You?” Jamie interrupted, “Why not Hoss?” Sitting up straight. “No disrespect, but shouldn’t that have fallen to Hoss, since he was older than you?”
“I never asked Adam that. But you know….knew Hoss. He was too gentle to get really tough on the men when it was necessary. Can you imagine Hoss trying to negotiate some of the contracts that kept the Ponderosa going? He was happier working with the men and the animals than he was doing anything else.”
Smiling at some of the memories Joe’s comments invoked, “Yeah, that was Hoss.”
Giving a short snort of breath through his nose, almost in disgust at himself, “There were so many times after Adam left that I was mad at him for leaving.” Seeing Jamie’s eyes enlarge, “I thought it was his ultimate revenge by not turning over the reins to Hoss. Oh, I never said anything to Pa, but I was angry….feeling Adam dumped everything on my lap and took off to who knows where; and left me with both of my brothers laughing at me. God, how many times did I say, ‘On my own’ or ‘Me do’ when I was a small child; I might have been more eloquent in my teens, but the sentiments were still the same. And then when I really needed him….” Closing the lid he’d earlier opened, “In the quiet of my room, long after Pa or Hoss had gone to bed, I’d eventually pull out this compass and open it….” Fisting the compass tightly, “Holding this was something tangible, proof that someone had faith in me. Yes, it was given to me by Adam, but ultimately it was Pa’s gift and that meant so much more; that Adam was willing to part with it. By the next morning, I’d come downstairs and know exactly what my plan was to complete the task. And Pa never knew of all the times I wanted to give up.”
“I wouldn’t be too sure of that,” Jamie snickered.
“You’re probably right.”
Watching Joe heft the compass in his hand, “So, I take it there’s more to coming up here than just redecorating your bedroom?”
Turning to face his brother, and placing a hand on his shoulder, “I’ve been lost for a while, ever since I…. Alice and the baby died, but more so since I tracked down their killers.”
“You should be proud of what you did,” Jamie stated, his face expressing his confusion. “You tracked those men down and brought those murderers to justice!” The pitch of his voice rose in excitement.
“Not all of them; those who died haunt my dreams. Even after all the late-night talks Candy had with me out on the trail, he couldn’t dissuade me from my vengeance. Maybe…. If I’d left it to the authorities, it’s possible that all of them would have stood trial for their roles in Alice’s death. That’s also part of why I couldn’t live here; fearing the disappointment I’d see in Pa’s eyes.”
“No one ever held their deaths against you, not Pa, not even Clem.”
“I did.” Joe reflected for a few moments before he slipped the compass into his shirt pocket.
“Are you going to talk with Pa?”
“In time. Right now, I just want to get settled back in the house. Though I will say that Adam was right.” Joe headed for the doorway carrying his matchbox treasure chest and patting his shirt pocket with his other hand, “This has always pointed me true in the past. And in order for it to help me find myself, I realized, I needed to come home.” Looking back to Jamie, “It sure has gotten quiet downstairs.”
Standing to follow his brother, “But what of everything else?” Jamie motioned back to the items on the table.
“I have what I need for right now.”
Jamie picked up the lantern and made his way to the doorway.
Looking serious at his brother’s approach, Joe said, “It’s not just the compass that will help me, but, the meaning behind the gift.” He wrapped a hand around the back of Jamie’s neck and gave him a squeeze, “Coming home, and talking with you has helped, too.” Dropping his arm and shrugging his shoulder, “As for those, I’ll come back and move them into my room later.” Turning in the doorway, “I suggest we get downstairs to see what Pa and Hop Sing are up to. Besides, I can smell the spiced apple cider all the way up here.”
“Are you going to spike the punch bowl?”
Raising his eyebrows, “And what do you know of spiking the punch?”
Laughingly Jamie answered, “Nothing Joe. Nothing at all,” as he passed his brother.
Administering an on-target-swat to the seat of Jamie’s pants, Joe remembered the many times he had been the recipient of such from Adam, or Hoss, or even their Pa. With a loft to his step, he followed his brother downstairs, to hearth, family, and friends.
Merry Christmas Everyone!
May the love of family, home, and hearth always guide you true.
Character: Jamie Hunter Cartwright
Gift: Matchbox and compass (bet you thought it was a thimble)
Inspired by: Forever
Director: Michael Landon
Written by: Michael Landon, David Dortort (creator)
Author’s Note: In my mind’s eye, I never thought it would be that easy for Joe to return to the ranch house after events in ‘Forever‘. So, I saw him staying at an ‘old foreman’s cabin’ until he was ready to live once more in the home where he grew up.
References made to: The Grand Swing and The Quest.
Joe’s adventure in sewing was first recounted in Aunt Dinah aka The Christmas Visitors
Link to the Bonanza Brand 2020 Advent Calendar – Day 22 – The Paper Toy-Theater by Sibylle
Other Stories by this Author
- Christmas Tradition (by BluewindFarm)
- Between the Twelfth of Never and Forever… (by BluewindFarm)
- A Christmas Journey Remembered (by BluewindFarm)
- Twas the Night Before Christmas (by BluewindFarm)
- The Christmas Visitor (by BluewindFarm)