Some wishes come true as hoped for, some wishes just can’t be, and some wishes come true in ways not expected. It is the middle of winter and two weeks before Christmas. Joe and Adam find stowaways hiding in their wagon. This story includes two characters from the episode “The Hayburner” written by Alex Sharp.
It was about two weeks before Christmas and it was snowing as Joe and Adam rode the wagon out of Virginia City. They had just bought some last minute supplies for winter and for the annual Christmas Eve party that the Cartwrights held at the Ponderosa. Joe shivered and stared at the snow-covered road as Adam drove. He could hardly wait to be back home sitting in front of the fireplace to get warm. He silently listened to the sounds of the thump-thump from the horses’ hooves and the creaking of the wagon wheels over the snow.
“I can’t wait to get back home and warm up,” Joe said.
Adam replied, “We’ll be home soon enough.”
Joe thought about how he looked up to both of his older brothers. Many times over the years they had shown him the way to go in various situations. Adam and Pa had taught him how to use a gun. Adam and Hoss along with Pa taught him how to ride horses and be a cowboy.
Then Joe heard what sounded like a muffled sneeze coming from under the blanket that was stretched out over the wagon bed.
“What was that?” Joe asked as he turned around and looked down at the blanket.
Adam pulled the horses to a stop. “Sounds like we have company.”
Joe and Adam both hopped down to the ground and drew their guns.
“All right, whoever is hiding in our wagon, come out with your hands up,” Adam said.
A few moments of silence followed. Joe noticed no movement of the blanket. He wondered who in the world could have managed to sneak into the wagon without him and Adam noticing it. Joe remembered talking to the Milfords back at the mercantile while Adam discussed something with the owner after the wagon had been loaded and the supplies covered by the blanket. Was that when someone snuck into the wagon?
Adam shouted, “Get out now!”
Then a boyish sounding voice called back from under the blanket, “We’re not coming out with your guns pointed at us!”
“Me and my sister!”
Joe and Adam both looked at each other and Adam nodded. Then they holstered their guns and slowly approached the wagon. Joe watched Adam grab a corner of the blanket and fling it back to expose most of the wagon bed. Squeezed among the boxes and bags were two blonde kids – a boy who appeared to be about 15 and a girl who looked to be about 10.
“All right, both of you out!” Adam demanded.
Joe and Adam helped the kids out of the wagon.
“Who are you kids?” Adam asked.
“Willie. This is my sister, Beth.”
“What’s the last name?”
“I don’t remember anyone around here named Thompson.”
Joe added, “I don’t remember seeing you in town before.”
Adam questioned, “Where are your parents?”
For a few moments the kids remained silent.
“Our parents are dead,” Willie replied low.
Beth said, “We’re looking for our aunt and uncle, Cora and Enos Milford.”
“Wait a minute, we just saw them back in town,” Joe answered, “Didn’t you see us talking to them?”
“You were?” Surprised looks showed on the kids’ faces.
Willie replied, “We didn’t see who you were talking to. We just heard you talking.”
“Well we had better get back to town and hope the Milfords haven’t left for home yet,” Adam said.
Joe shook his head. “No, Cora said something about them stopping to eat at the International House.”
Joe thought about the conversation he had with Cora back in town. He didn’t remember her saying anything about a niece and nephew coming to visit. He wondered if she was even expecting them. As Joe looked at the Thompsons he remembered when he was growing up he wished he had a younger brother or sister. It was just a simple old wish that he still sometimes thought about.
Adam asked, “Do Enos and Cora know you kids are coming to see them?”
“No,” Willie answered. “It’s a surprise.”
“Well, we had better hurry back to town and hope we catch the Milfords before they leave for home.”
They all got up into the seats of the wagon and headed back to Virginia City.
“You’re from Virginia, right?” Adam asked.
“Yes.” Willie replied.
“And your mother was a sister of Cora’s?”
Beth added, “When our mama and papa died we went to live with our Uncle Marty and Aunt Martha. Aunt Martha was also Aunt Cora’s sister. She died over a year ago.”
Joe remembered Cora once saying something about losing both of her sisters. She had a brother who was married with several children. Another brother had left the family farm many years ago and no one ever heard from him again. Joe had always felt for Cora losing some of her siblings. Didn’t she say she was the oldest in her family? He could not imagine losing one or both of his brothers. The pain of that had to be terrible.
Beth continued, “Now Uncle Marty won’t celebrate Christmas, and he wants nothing to do with it anymore. There’s not even a Christmas tree.”
Her words sent Joe’s mind back to his early childhood. He still remembered that first Christmas after Mama died. He knew that Adam remembered more about it than he did since Adam was several years older than him. Joe remembered he and his brothers begged Pa for a Christmas tree and he said “no”. Then a day or two before Christmas Day Pa and Adam finally brought home a Christmas tree. There were only a few presents under the tree on Christmas Day, but that was okay. There was always a sense of emptiness and sadness with Mama gone. Yet they still had each other, and they still had Christmas.
“We had the same type of thing happen when my mama died when I was little,” Joe informed. “We almost didn’t get to celebrate that first Christmas after she died on account of our pa being so sad.”
Beth looked at him with sad eyes and asked, “You mean you know how we feel?”
“Sure we do.”
Adam added, “Yes, that Christmas was a hard one. We still got to celebrate Christmas, but someone was very much missing. It’s never easy losing someone you love and care about.”
Joe shook his head. “It sure isn’t.”
On the way back to town Willie and Beth talked about their memories of their parents. Joe listened to them and thought about his own mother. He was about five-years-old when Mama died, and he only had a few memories of her. Joe always wished he had more memories of her than he did, yet he was grateful for what he did remember.
Cora and Enos sat at a table in the International House restaurant as they ate their slices of apple pie to finish their early lunch before going home.
“Pie’s good,” Enos said. “But you know it can never beat yours.”
Cora felt herself blush. “Oh, Enos.”
“Besides you won the last pie baking contest here in town.”
“I know, but the competition was mighty stiff. Remember I was surprised I even won.”
Cora noticed Enos smiling at her. She thought about how she had always enjoyed cooking. She had grown up helping her mother cook for a family that included two younger brothers and two younger sisters. Then Cora’s thoughts went to how she used to hope she would have a daughter whom she could teach to cook and enjoy cooking with. It was just an old wish from the early years of hers and Enos’ marriage. Instead no children came.
“Well who have we here?” Enos gazed past her like he was looking at someone.
Cora turned around and saw Adam and Little Joe Cartwright walking across the room toward them. Right behind them were a teenage boy and young girl. She thought the children looked like her nephew Willie and niece Beth. She had only seen them a few times over the years back in Virginia. They were the children of her youngest sister Sarah. Cora wondered what they would be doing here, and why they would be with the Cartwrights? She also wondered about their Uncle Marty as she did not see him with them. Cora and Enos stood up as the Cartwrights and the children approached them.
“Willie and Beth?” Cora said.
The children both replied, “Hi, Aunt Cora.”
“What are you two doing here? We didn’t know you were coming. Where’s Marty?”
“He’s back in Virginia,” Willie answered. “He doesn’t know we’re here.”
“He doesn’t know you’re here?”
Beth replied, “No. He doesn’t want to celebrate Christmas and we want to.”
Cora thought about that for a moment. “He doesn’t want to celebrate Christmas? That’s no excuse for just taking off without leaving him a note about where you’re going. He’s probably worried sick about you.”
“We’re sorry,” Willie and Beth said.
“All right. How in the world did you two get here?”
“We took the stage,” Willie answered.
Beth added, “We told everyone we were seeing our aunt and uncle.”
Cora replied, “Well we need to wire Marty and let him know you two are here.”
Horrified looks crossed the children’s faces.
“But he won’t let us celebrate Christmas,” Beth protested.
Enos replied, “We’ll go let Marty know the kids are safe and invite him out here to spend Christmas with us.”
“That’s the right thing to do.” Cora nodded and looked up at Adam and Little Joe. “Where did you two find the children?”
Adam replied, “We found them hiding in our wagon.”
Cora turned back to Willie and Beth. “What were you two doing hiding in their wagon?”
Willie answered, “We heard them talking about Christmas at their house and we wanted to see their big Christmas tree. We also hoped they would take us to you.”
“That was me that Little Joe was talking to.”
“Yes we know that now.”
Cora gazed at Willie and Beth for a few silent moments and noticed she could see their mother in their faces. They both had her blue eyes and blonde hair. Her mind went back to when she and her brothers and sisters were children. As the oldest she always felt motherly toward her siblings. Cora felt motherly toward her niece and nephew now. She realized she also had always felt motherly toward the Cartwright boys.
“Thank you, boys, for bringing the kids back,” Enos said. “It’s a good thing we were still here.”
“It was our pleasure,” Adam replied.
Little Joe added, “We all had a good visit on the way back.”
“Thank you,” Cora said and then asked the children, “Have you two eaten?”
Willie answered, “We had a little bit of breakfast early this morning at the last way station.”
“Let’s get you two something to eat before we head home. It’s a long ride out to our ranch.”
Enos added, “I’ll wire Marty.”
Joe and Adam were again riding their wagon toward home. It had stopped snowing.
“I’ve been thinking about that first Christmas after Mama died,” Joe said.
“What do you remember?” Adam asked.
“I remember something about all of us wanting a Christmas tree and Pa saying there wouldn’t be one.”
“Right. One night after dinner you and Hoss were crying about there not being a Christmas. Pa sent you both to bed. I had a long talk with him about children needing to celebrate Christmas. Then Hop Sing came and said something about holding onto the memories and honoring them.”
Adam became silent as if he was remembering that night so long ago. Joe remembered something about lying in bed crying while he just barely heard Pa and Adam talking downstairs. A few times Pa even raised his voice.
Adam continued, “Pa finally agreed we could have a tree. So early the next morning we left and got the tree.”
“I remember Hoss and I were surprised to see you two bringing the tree home.” Joe paused a moment as he recalled watching Pa and Adam setting the tree up by the fireplace. “I looked at the tree and wished Mama was there to see it.”
“We all did, Joe. We all did.”
Joe looked over at Adam and noticed moistness in his brother’s hazel eyes. He felt wetness in his own eyes as well.
It was evening when Cora and Enos arrived home with the children. Willie and Beth rushed to the Christmas tree which was set up out in the sitting room. Cora joined them and put her arms around them. For a few moments they all just stared at the tree in silence. The branches were filled with various ornaments and gold garlands.
Cora spotted a very familiar red crocheted bell and took a hold of it. “Do you see this? Your mama made this for me and Enos the first Christmas after we were married.”
“Really?” The children replied with widened eyes.
Beth added, “Mama was always doing crafts.”
Cora nodded with a smile. “Yes she was. I remember a few times she even took her craftwork to school with her.”
“Does seeing the bell make you feel sad? Uncle Marty says it makes him sad whenever he is reminded of Aunt Martha.”
Cora thought about that carefully and answered, “I do miss both of my little sisters and wish they were still here with us. Yet when I’m reminded of them I think of all of the good memories that I have of them. Sarah was always crocheting or knitting or sewing something. Martha was always gathering flowers into bouquets and displaying them in vases. She even had several pots of flowers that she grew.”
“When Aunt Martha died Uncle Marty gave away all of her flowers. He won’t let any flowers be in the house.”
“I’m so sorry.” Cora hugged Beth and held her close. “Sounds like he’s been taking it pretty hard. I wonder if Ben Cartwright can help him?”
Willie questioned, “Is he a brother of Joe and Adam?”
Cora shook her head. “No. He’s their father. He’s been widowed three times.”
Cora was glad that Marty had replied to Enos’ wire that he would come out here to spend Christmas. She hoped and prayed that Ben would have a chance to somehow reach Marty and help him to begin to work through his grief.
Cora stood at the stove stirring a pot of soup while Beth looked through her little wooden box of recipes that had been written down on various scraps of paper as well as index cards over the years.
“I remember Mama was always collecting recipes,” Beth said.
Cora smiled. “Yes she started doing that while she was still living at home.”
“She taught me a lot about cooking and she let me help her cook. Whenever Papa would cook chicken or turkey over the fire he would sometimes let me turn them. Aunt Martha didn’t want anyone in the kitchen with her.”
Cora thought about her sisters for a few quiet moments. “Martha was always the quiet one. Was she still reading those novels?”
“Yes. She had a bunch of them and she was always going off to read them, and she was always buying new ones.”
“Did she ever read them to you?”
“Sometimes she did.” Beth pulled out a recipe and looked at it like it interested her. “It was nice.”
Cora put a hand on Beth’s shoulder. “Hang onto the good memories that you have of your mama and papa and Aunt Martha. No one can ever take them away from you. You treasure those memories.”
“So whenever I feel sad about missing them I should think about the good memories?”
“Yes, sweetheart. Let them comfort you.”
“I wish Mama and Papa were still here. I wish they could come back.”
Cora put an arm around Beth and hugged her.
For a couple of days Joe thought about the Milfords and the kids. He wondered how they were all doing. He found himself wanting to go visit them and check on them.
Late one night Joe stepped out of his room and noticed light coming from downstairs. He figured Pa must be at his desk working on paperwork. Joe walked down the stairs and spotted Pa sitting at his desk writing something.
Pa looked up. “You’re still up, Joe?”
“Yeah,” Joe replied as he sat down by his father. “I can’t sleep.”
“Something’s on your mind?”
“I’m thinking I would like to go over to the Milfords in the morning and check on them. I’d like to see how they and the kids are doing.”
“That’s quite a long ride out there. I’m sure they’re probably all doing just fine.”
“I know, Pa. I still want to go over there.” Joe paused a moment in thought. “You know I think the kids are nervous about their Uncle Marty coming out here. I have this feeling they’re wishing they can stay with their Uncle Enos and Aunt Cora and not go back to Virginia. Willie and Beth want to celebrate Christmas and Uncle Marty doesn’t want to.”
“Christmas can be a difficult time for those who have lost loved ones.”
“I know. I still remember that first Christmas after Mama died.”
Pa’s dark eyes looked sad like he remembered it well. “Yes it was a bittersweet Christmas.”
“It sure was.” Joe paused again as he thought about Willie and Beth. “I really feel for those kids. First they lose their parents. Then later they lose their aunt.”
“I’m sure the past few years have been rough for them.”
“At least they have each other.”
“If you’re going over there I would prefer you not go alone through the snow. See if one of your brothers would like to come along.”
“I’ll do that. Thanks, Pa.”
Cora thought about the past two days as she and Enos laid in bed. She remembered a couple of times now the children had asked if they could stay with them. Enos told them they would need a family talk with Marty. Beth helped Cora with meals and household chores while Willie helped Enos with the horses and various outside chores. She now thought about how they were like a real family – the family she had always wanted.
“Cora?” Enos whispered as if he didn’t want the children to hear from their nearby bedrooms.
“Yes?” Cora whispered back.
“You want the children to stay, don’t you? I see it in your eyes.”
She thought about that and answered, “Sure I do, but Marty should have a say in this.”
“Of course. What if I were to ask Marty if he and the children would like to come live with us?”
“I would love that, but will Marty agree with it?”
“We won’t know unless we ask.”
Cora thought about that as Enos put his arms around her. She silently prayed for there to be a way that the children could stay here with her and Enos.
“Willie has been petting Prince and talking to him a lot,” Enos said.
Prince was the thoroughbred racehorse that Enos had gotten from Little Joe one year in exchange for a stock horse. Cora still wasn’t sure they should be keeping a horse that did no work on the ranch except to eat a lot of hay. Still Enos had always wanted to own a thoroughbred.
She rolled over toward him and replied, “Land sakes, now don’t you give that boy any fool ideas about racing horses.”
“Woman, there is nothing wrong with a boy loving horses.”
“Besides he told me he thinks he’d like to be a cowboy like the Cartwrights.”
“Oh all right.”
Snow still covered the whole land as Joe and Hoss rode their horses toward the Milfords’ ranch. It was not snowing, but it was still cold. Joe shared with Hoss about how he felt for Willie and Beth.
“Sounds like you’re wanting to be a big brother to those kids,” Hoss said.
Joe replied, “Perhaps.”
Joe remembered that old wish of wanting younger siblings. Deep down inside he secretly hoped Willie and Beth could stay with Enos and Cora. At the same time he realized they would probably have to go back to Virginia with their Uncle Marty. Still what if Willie and Beth stayed?
Joe and Hoss soon arrived at the Milfords’. Many times when the Cartwrights visited they sat in the kitchen. Sometimes they all sat out in the sitting room. This time they all gathered in the sitting room where the Christmas tree was.
“Little Joe is the one who often comes over here and breaks our bronc’s for us,” Enos said. “He and his brothers all do.”
Willie’s eyes widened like he was very interested in this. “Really?”
“We sure do.” Joe nodded.
Hoss agreed, “Yep.”
Willie asked, “If me and Beth get to stay with Uncle Enos and Aunt Cora could you show me how? I want to be a cowboy.”
A moment of silence followed as Joe and Hoss glanced at each other and looked at the Milfords.
Joe carefully answered, “I would love to, but we’ll see what happens.”
“Now let’s not get ahead of ourselves,” Enos added. “Marty needs his say in this.”
More uncomfortable silence followed before Willie questioned, “Can we see your Christmas tree?”
Joe replied, “You want to come back with us to the Ponderosa?”
Joe and Hoss both looked over at Enos and Cora. Joe secretly hoped the kids could come back with them.
Cora replied, “Now children, it’s not proper to invite yourselves to someone’s home.”
“Oh all they did was ask if they could see the Christmas tree,” Enos answered.
“There ain’t any harm with somebody wanting to see a Christmas tree.”
“I reckon it’s okay if they go back with us.” Hoss smiled. “We don’t mind and our Pa sure won’t mind.”
Joe added, “It’s a long ways to the Ponderosa, so they’ll probably need to spend the night.”
“We’ll be mighty sure to bring them back tomorrow,” Hoss said.
Joe watched Enos and Cora glance at each other. He hoped that he and Hoss could bring the kids home to visit. Yet he knew he wouldn’t blame the Milfords if they said “no”. After all how often had they seen their nephew and niece? Maybe only a couple of times?
“I don’t have a problem with them staying for just one night,” Enos replied. “Marty is supposed to be here in a couple days. So it would be a good if they’re back here before he comes.”
Cora appeared to give Enos a warning glance. “Oh all right.”
Joe agreed, “We’ll do that.”
Joe and his family stood with Willie and Beth gazing at the Cartwrights’ Christmas tree. Joe found himself looking at the different ornaments that he knew were his mother’s. He noticed the four silver stars that Mama had made with him and his brothers her last Christmas. It was one of the few memories that he had of her.
“It’s so beautiful!” Beth exclaimed.
Joe gently took a hold of one of the silver stars. “Adam and Hoss, do you remember when we made these with Mama?”
He noticed his brothers both smiling like they were enjoying their memories of that day so long ago.
“I remember her laughing,” Hoss said. “She sure enjoyed doing things with us.”
Adam nodded. “And our little brother here has her laugh.”
“Yeah, he sure does.”
Joe and his brothers chuckled.
Pa added, “Treasured memories always have a place in our hearts.”
Later at dinner Willie asked about running a big ranch like the Ponderosa. Joe and his family shared about caring for cattle, rounding up and riding broncos, trail drives, riding fences and more. Joe noticed Willie’s blue eyes were filled with wonder as if he was excited about hearing all of the details.
Willie announced, “I would love to be a cowboy.”
“Ranching is a lot of hard work,” Adam replied.
Joe agreed, “It sure is. You have to work even when you’re feeling tired and your body is aching.”
Hoss smiled. “But you get to see the beauty of the morning sun coming up over the mountains, mares frolicking with their foals, eagles flying over the trees, and so many things.”
Pa nodded. “The boys are right. Ranching and being a cowboy is all of those things and more.”
After dinner Joe sat with Willie and Beth on the settee. Pa worked on paperwork at his desk while Adam and Hoss had gone out to do evening chores.
Willie and Beth shared memories of their parents while Joe shared memories of his mother. Joe found himself feeling he was making a connection with them, and the thought crossed his mind if only they were his younger brother and sister. He wished they really were, but of course they weren’t.
It was morning in Virginia City as Cora, Enos and the children waited for the stagecoach to come in. Cora could feel the apprehension coming from Willie and Beth. She noticed she felt mixed feelings. She wanted the children to stay with her and Enos. Yet she knew that Martha and Marty had committed to taking care of Sarah and Wesley’s children after they had died. Now Martha was gone too. She also thought about Willie and Beth needing someone to be a mother figure in their lives.
Soon the stagecoach appeared as it rounded a corner up the street. Marty was one of the first people to step out.
“I was looking all over town for you two,” Marty told Willie and Beth. “I even looked all over the countryside around town. I had no idea you would run off all the way here!”
“We’re sorry,” Willie and Beth replied.
Cora silently watched as Marty just gazed at the children. Then he hugged them both.
“I’m glad you kids are both okay,” Marty said. “Why did you two take off? You didn’t even leave a note!”
“We wanted to spend Christmas with Uncle Enos and Aunt Cora,” Willie answered.
Beth added, “You wouldn’t let us have a Christmas tree.”
An awkward moment of silence followed. Cora noticed Marty’s gray eyes looked very sad as she sensed his great grief. Then she realized Marty was probably living in the past. Cora remembered her father, a long time ago, saying something about moving on and not being stuck in what used to be.
“Now, children, that is not the way to talk to your elders,” Cora said. “You both know better than that.”
“Sorry,” Willie and Beth both replied.
Marty answered, “I didn’t mean for you kids to get upset and take off like you did. Just don’t do that again. After Christmas the three of us are going back to Virginia.”
Cora saw disappointment on the children’s faces. She sensed that her brother-in-law wasn’t sure he liked it out here in Nevada, but he was relieved to see the children again. He glanced around like he was trying to get his bearings. Cora found herself secretly wishing the children could stay.
They all soon left in the Milfords’ wagon. Cora and Enos told Marty about living in Nevada while Willie and Beth told him about meeting the Cartwrights. Cora mentioned that Ben Cartwright had been widowed three times. She noticed that Marty said little the entire time. She had the feeling that he was quietly taking everything in and pondering it. Cora remembered Martha once telling her in a letter that Marty was a quiet thinker.
“We would like to invite you and the kids to come live with us if you’d like”, Enos told Marty. “We have plenty of room, and we don’t mind having you here.”
Cora and the two men were gathered around the kitchen table after the children had gone to bed.
Cora nodded in agreement. “I agree.”
“I’ll give it some thought,” Marty replied and paused like he was carefully choosing his words. “When Martha and I agreed to take in Willie and Beth we committed to raising them as our own. I intend to fulfill our commitment.”
Cora answered, “Of course.”
“Nevada does sound like a nice place, but Virginia has always been my home. I’m not sure I want to leave.”
Enos added, “As you know Willie is wanting to be a cowboy. Beth has been helping Cora with the cooking.”
“That’s good,” Marty said. “I hope they haven’t been a burden to you while they’ve been here.”
Cora shook her head. “Oh no. We enjoy having them here. We enjoy having all three of you here.” She thought a moment about what she wanted to share about grief and moving on. “I do miss both of my little sisters. I treasure the memories that I have of us growing up. I still have all of the letters that they sent us after Enos and I moved out here, and sometimes I find them and read them again. Our father said something about not being stuck in the past. I’ve learned to move on, but I still have the memories in my heart.”
“You make a good point,” Marty replied. “I do intend to take the kids with me back to Virginia.”
It was Christmas eve. Joe and his family sang Christmas carols while guests arrived at their Christmas party. Among the invited guests were folks from neighboring farms and ranches along with some friends from Virginia City. The Milfords soon arrived with their family.
Enos and Cora introduced Marty to the Cartwrights. Joe noticed Marty had a sadness about him like he was very much missing someone. It reminded him of how Pa looked that first Christmas after Mama had died.
Everyone mingled and laughed with one another as well as feasted on all of the holiday foods that Hop Sing had baked and prepared. Joe introduced Willie and Beth to the other children who were there. He looked up and noticed Marty quietly slipping out the door. Next he watched Pa slowly walk toward the door like he was thinking about following Marty out. Joe strolled over to Pa just as he put his hand on the door knob.
“I would like to join you, Pa,” Joe informed.
Pa gazed at him a moment and replied, “Sure.”
Joe and his father walked on outside. Joe noticed Marty standing up on the porch and staring out into the snowy yard filled with wagons and carriages.
“Is it all right if we join you?” Pa asked.
Marty turned toward them. “That’s fine.”
Then the three of them stood together on the porch gazing out into the yard. Silence followed while no one spoke.
“It sometimes gets to be a little too much?” Pa said.
“Yeah.” Marty paused like he was thinking about it all. “I understand you’ve been widowed three times?”
Pa nodded. “Yes.”
“Did you find it hard to celebrate Christmas?”
“I did. It was very bittersweet. At first I didn’t want a Christmas.” Pa paused like he was thinking carefully about his words. “Marie, my third wife and Joe’s mother, always said that Christmas was her favorite time of the year. I finally realized I could honor her memory by continuing to celebrate Christmas because she loved it so much.”
“Martha, my wife, did enjoy Christmas. It just doesn’t feel right with her not being here.”
More silence followed. Joe remembered again the few memories that he had of that first Christmas after Mama died. He played in his mind the scene of Pa and Adam carrying in the tree and setting it up.
Marty informed, “Enos and Cora have invited the kids and me to move out here and live with them.”
“How do you feel about that?” Pa asked.
“I’m not sure. The kids want to stay here, and Willie wants to be a cowboy. I’ve heard a lot of good things about Nevada, but Virginia has always been my home, and I’m not sure I want to leave. Besides that Martha is buried there.”
“When Elizabeth, my first wife and Adam’s mother, died her father told me something that I’ve always remembered. Don’t keep her on your shoulder. She would not like that. Keep a warm place in your heart for her.”
“He made a good point. I’ve been thinking that Martha would want me to eventually move on. I’m not sure I’m ready to do that just yet.”
“That’s quite all right. A man should make major decisions only when he’s ready – never in a hurry.”
“When I was young I wanted to someday own a horse farm, but I ended up working in a livery stable all these years. Still at least I’ve always worked with horses.”
Meanwhile Joe remembered he and his brothers sometimes helped Enos break the broncos that he rounded up every year. A neighbor often helped him as well.
“Enos could use the extra help,” Joe said. “He rounds up bronc’s every year and breaks them and sells them.”
Marty nodded. “You have a point there too, young man.”
Next Enos and Cora stepped out the door and onto the porch.
“There’s Marty!” Enos exclaimed. “We were wondering where you had taken off to.”
Cora added, “We wanted to make sure you were all right.”
Marty replied with a slight smile, “I’m just out here talking with the Cartwrights.”
Joe noticed that Cora’s eyes had become moist.
Christmas morning at the Ponderosa started with Hop Sing cooking a big breakfast for the Cartwrights. After breakfast they all gathered around the Christmas tree and started passing out presents and opening them.
Pa handed Joe a wrapped present that was the shape of a small book. He wondered what this book could be that Pa was giving him.
Pa informed, “I went though your mother’s things and dug this out. I thought you might like to have it.”
Joe opened the present to see a small journal with a worn leather cover. He thumbed through it and saw that the yellowed pages had mostly been written in.
“Mama’s journal?” Joe asked.
Pa smiled. “Yes that’s the journal she kept when she lived at the orphanage. As you know she had no brothers and sisters, but at the orphanage she became good friends with a girl named Felicia. They ate and played together, got into trouble together, shared a lot of things with each other, and they even called each other sisters.”
“Sounds like they had a pretty special friendship.”
“They did. That journal is full of a lot of treasured memories that your mother had.”
“I wonder what happened to Felicia?”
“Your mother once showed me Felicia’s grave.” Pa paused like he was remembering something. “Anyway I hope you will enjoy reading through that. I know I have.”
“Thanks, Pa. I will read this and always treasure it.”
Joe carefully cradled the book in his hands and gently thumbed through the pages again. He pictured in his mind Mama and Felicia up in Heaven smiling.
Christmas morning at the Milfords started with Cora and Beth cooking breakfast. After breakfast they and Enos and Marty opened presents in the kitchen because Marty said he didn’t like being in the sitting room because of the Christmas tree. Cora was surprised that Marty had brought presents with him. She was not expecting that.
Cora watched Marty hand Beth a small wrapped gift.
“This is something that Martha bought several years ago in hopes we would someday have a daughter,” Marty said. “That didn’t happen, but I believe she would want you to have it.”
Beth opened the gift to reveal a small porcelain doll.
“A doll!” Beth exclaimed. “Thank you, Uncle Marty!”
“You’re welcome. I hope you enjoy her.”
“I will! She’s so pretty!”
Cora privately agreed that Martha would want Beth to have that little doll. She imagined Martha and Sarah both watching from Heaven and smiling.
Cora watched Marty hand Willie a small wrapped gift. Willie opened it to reveal a bronze figure of a cowboy on a bucking horse.
“Wow!” Willie gazed at the horse and rider with a big smile on his face. “Thank you!”
Marty replied, “You’re welcome. Martha gave that to me one year. I thought I would give it to you since you love horses so much.”
Cora, Enos, Marty and the children all stood beside the stagecoach. Cora secretly didn’t want to see the children go. At the same time she realized they needed to stay with Marty. She noticed Willie and Beth both had unhappy looks on their faces.
“You children behave yourselves and mind your uncle,” Cora told Willie and Beth.
The children replied, “We will.”
“He still loves you and cares about you. We all do. Don’t you children go running off again.”
Willie and Beth just simply nodded.
Marty placed his hands on the children’s shoulders and said to Cora and Enos, “We’ll be writing to you. Maybe this summer, after school is out, we’ll come out to visit.”
“We would love that,” Enos answered.
The next thing Cora knew Marty and the children got on the stagecoach, and the stagecoach rode down the street and turned a corner out of view.
Cora wiped her eyes, swallowed a lump in her throat and tried not to cry.
Enos put an arm around her shoulders. “They’ll be back, honey. I can feel it.”
“I hope so.”
The snows of winter eventually melted away by early March. Trees had started to bud leaves and wildflowers started to bloom in the meadows.
One cool afternoon Joe and his brothers were out in the yard working on making new wheels for their wagon. Pa was inside the house working on paperwork. Joe thought he heard the distant sounds of creaking wagon wheels coming louder and louder as if someone was riding in on a wagon.
“Sounds like we have company,” Adam announced.
About a minute later Enos and Cora rode into the yard on their own wagon. Joe noticed they both had big smiles on their faces as if they had good news. Enos pulled the wagon to a stop as Pa walked out of the house. Everyone greeted each other. Joe spotted an envelope clutched in Cora’s hands.
“We have great news!” Enos exclaimed.
“What happened?” Pa asked.
“We were in town checking the mail, and we got a letter from Marty. He has decided he and the kids will be moving out here this summer and living with us.”
Cora added, “It will be wonderful to have children in the house.”
Enos turned to Joe. “You know Willie sure wants to be cowboy. You’ll show him, right Little Joe?”
Joe replied, “Of course!”
“You know he really enjoyed helping with our horses and spending time with them. He was always talking to them – especially to Prince.”
A look of disapproval crossed Cora’s face. “You had better not be thinking of getting that boy into horse racing.”
“Now woman, I’m doing no such thing! I keep telling you there’s nothing wrong with a boy loving horses. Willie still wants to be a cowboy.”
“Oh, all right.”
Joe and his family chuckled. Then he remembered a certain passage that he had read in Mama’s old journal a few days ago. A nun had said something about wishes sometimes coming true in ways not expected.
Tags: Joe Cartwright, Adam Cartwright, Hoss Cartwright, Ben Cartwright, Christmas, Holiday
This story was written for a challenge on Bonanza Boomers.
Other Stories by this Author
- Mama’s Brooch (by Sierras)
- Family Treasures (by Sierras)
- Sunrise (by Sierras)
- Eagle’s Nest (by Sierras)
- I’ll Wait (by Sierras)