Summary: A little extra bit for “Hoss and the Leprechauns.”
Rated: K WC 2000
A Father’s Thoughts About His Son
Don’t misunderstand me, please. I’m proud of all my sons, always have been. Time and again, I’ve looked at them and marveled that such a flawed man as myself could have produced boys—well, men—like them. I’ve seen qualities in them that I could only pray came from me. They’re honest, noble, honorable men, and I’m proud to be their father.
But today . . . today, I saw something in my middle son that went beyond anything I’ve ever seen, in any man, and it humbled me.
The past few days have been—well, challenging. Poor Hoss, insisting that he’d seen little men in green suits. The rest of us, nodding and rolling our eyes and thinking privately that he must have gotten a bit sun-touched. He brought home the strongbox of gold, and still we doubted. That very night, somebody broke into the house and stole the strongbox right out of the bookcase, and even so, we thought he was imagining things.
But Hoss . . . bless his heart, he stood firm on what he knew to be true. He knew what he’d seen, and he held fast even when the rest of the town—including his own family—thought he’d imagined it all.
He was right, of course. The little men existed, just as he’d said. They weren’t leprechauns the way that con man, the so-called Professor McCarthy, claimed; they were just people who happened to be very small and who had used their unusual appearance to earn a living as performers. But they wanted to be ordinary now. They wanted to be regular folks, just like the rest of us.
Sitting there in the sheriff’s office, looking at those five little men in their green suits, it seemed an impossible dream. How on earth could they hope to survive in a rough-and-tumble place like Virginia City? They were barely the size of schoolboys. Just walking down the street would practically be an invitation to the bullies who run rampant in a town like ours.
We’d talked about it at home, of course. That night, after we delivered McCarthy to the sheriff, we went back to the house and talked about what would happen to the leprechauns, as we called them. Adam opined that they should go back east to someplace like Boston or New York, where people were more likely to understand those who were different.
“What do you mean? You think we can’t understand ‘different’ here?” Joe demanded. Never having been east of St. Louis, my youngest son is automatically defensive when his eldest brother suggests that the east—especially the northern part of the east—has any advantage over our part of the country.
“I’m just saying that they might fare better in a real city.” Adam’s voice wasn’t quite patronizing, but it was close enough that I could see Joe’s nostrils flaring. Before I could step in, though, Hoss spoke up.
“I reckon they can manage just fine in this city,” he announced with a certainty that struck me as optimistic given some of our population. “They’re gonna be just fine in Virginia City,” he pronounced as though the topic was closed.
“And what makes you so sure of that?” The challenge in Adam’s voice brought Joe to his feet, but I planted my hand on my youngest son’s chest before he could pounce.
“I just know,” Hoss said, unflapped. “Same way I knew them little fellers was real in the first place.”
“You knew that because you saw it,” Adam reminded him. “You haven’t seen those fellows surviving in Virginia City yet.”
“It don’t matter,” Hoss said, crossing his arms. “They’re gonna be fine. I know it.”
Maybe it was the certainty in his brother’s voice, but I felt Joe relax enough that I took my hand off his chest and he stayed put. He was still glaring at Adam, but I’ve been around my boys long enough to know when an immediate threat has passed. So, I announced that I was going to bed and suggested strongly that they all do the same. “I have a feeling tomorrow’s going to be a long day,” I added with an ominous touch. Joe and Adam exchanged looks as though duly warned, and I hid my smile as they headed up to bed and I started to follow.
But from the foot of the stairs, I saw Hoss rooted in his place on the end of the settee. “You coming?” I asked.
“In a minute.” He sounded distracted, and I went back over to him.
“Everything all right?” I rested my hand on his shoulder, and he smiled.
“I reckon so,” was all he said. It was far from a guarantee, but he favored me with that wonderful gap-toothed grin that somehow reminds me of his mother, and so I let him be and turned to go upstairs. Just as I reached the landing, his voice stopped me.
I turned back again. He was still on the end of the settee, but his face was more serious now. “What is it, boy?” I asked.
He chuckled at my choice of words. Boy. Yes, that’s how I refer to them all, even now when they’re unquestionably grown. I’ve even referred to Hop Sing that way every now and then. They’re all my boys, and they always will be. The Ponderosa was my dream; they’ve given everything to make it a reality, and I will never forget that. The responsibility I feel toward them, the gratitude, the protectiveness, the love—when they’re all old and gray, they’ll still be my boys, all of them, and I’ll fight anyone who says otherwise.
“That gold,” Hoss said now. “Roy says it’s mine. Why is that?”
“It was panned on our land,” I reminded him. “And you’re the one of us who found it. So, it’s yours.”
He nodded as though the explanation made sense. Truth be told, it doesn’t. I understand that that’s what the law says, and I understand why. It’s a way of keeping the lunatics under control, and I don’t disagree with it on that ground. If the gold didn’t belong to whoever owned the land where it was panned, you’d have all those jackasses with their gold pans trespassing on private property, running rampant and ruining good grazing land. As a practical matter, though, it makes no sense at all. Why should gold that originated someplace else be mine simply because somebody was standing on my land when they pulled it out of a stream? I didn’t make the gold, and I didn’t do the work to retrieve it. If the person hadn’t panned it, it would have ended up following my stream to somebody else’s river and eventually out to sea. From a logical standpoint, saying that the gold is mine simply because of where it was pulled of the water seems arbitrary at best. Since I have no better argument to offer, though, I’ll accede to it.
Hoss didn’t look as though he quite agreed either, but like me, he seemed willing to accept the law’s position in the absence of anything better. He nodded and bade me good night. I headed up to bed, thinking that the matter was resolved.
But the next day, as we sat in the sheriff’s office, I saw that it wasn’t resolved at all. At least, not the way the law said. I listened as my son announced that “we” had reached a different decision about what was to happen to the gold. That “we” had decided it was to be given back to the men who had panned it.
We. I couldn’t help smiling at that. “We” hadn’t decided a thing. “We” hadn’t even talked about it. “We” certainly hadn’t agreed to give away thousands of dollars worth of gold. “We” hadn’t decided that this time, the law was just plain wrong, and “we” hadn’t made the choice to use that gold to help five families start new lives.
That was the decision of one man. One very good man.
One man with heart for others as big as the blue Nevada sky. A generous, loving heart that would always choose what someone else needed over what the law said he was entitled to.
Over the years, I’ve had dozens upon dozens of opportunities to be proud of my boys. That day, sitting in the sheriff’s office, watching the expressions on the faces of those little men in their green suits and listening to Hoss explain what “we” had decided, I felt more than just pride glowing in me. I watched as my boy, who had experienced so much ridicule and persecution in his youth, took those five men under his wing and shared with them the wisdom he’d learned the hard way. I stood back as he shepherded those men out onto the sheriff’s front steps and addressed the townsfolk who had gathered, explaining in simple, logical terms why the arrival of these families in Virginia City was a benefit to everybody. Right before my eyes, the folks who had laughed and ridiculed those little men turned around and welcomed them, carrying them on their shoulders like heroes as they headed over to the saloon for a drink together.
My son did that. My boy. My Hoss.
So often, a father wonders what he’s taught his children. When they go astray, as they’re bound to do from time to time, it’s easy to think that none of the lessons and examples meant anything at all. I could always see Hoss’s mother in him. Her kindness, her generosity of spirit—it glowed in him. But I wanted to believe that something I’d said, something I’d done, had contributed to that magnificent heart, too. I remembered all those years when he’d come home hurting because of someone’s cruel comment about his size or his intellect, and I’d tried my best to help him to see that there was so much more to him—and to the other person—than just those few words. So often, I’d sent him off to his chores or to bed and wondered whether I’d made any sense at all. But that day, as the crowd headed off to the saloon, my heart knew a deep, rich hope, mingled with awe and humility, that my boy had heard not only what I said, but what I’d meant to say.
Not that it was all me, of course. Far from it. The ability to see people for who they were, to really hear them, to understand more than what was said—so much of that was just part of him, right from the very beginning. His insights, his perception, his sensitivity to the feelings of others—it was all so very Hoss. But as I saw him standing there, watching his new friends being welcomed by old friends, I felt a stirring deep inside that said that maybe I’d been part of it after all. That somewhere along the line, I’d done something right.
He turned to me then, just as though he’d heard my thoughts. “Feel like a beer, Pa?”
“Sounds fine, son.” I draped my arm around his shoulders, and for just a moment, our eyes met. I knew that he understood everything, because his eyes got misty just for a second, and his grin grew as wide as Lake Tahoe itself. We walked over to the Golden Lily together, and all I could think was one simple truth.
When I grow up, I want to be just like Hoss.
Disclaimer: All publicly recognizable characters and settings are the property of their respective owners. The original characters and plot are the property of the author. No money is being made from this work. No copyright infringement is intended.
Other Stories by this Author