Summary: When Joe is worried about his height, his brothers offer him words of wisdom.
Rated: K WC 1300
Five Foot High, Ten Miles Deep
Joe Cartwright stood with his back against the doorframe, a book on his head, and a freshly sharpened pencil in his left hand. Carefully, he scratched a mark beside the top of his head, using the book to make it straight and accurate. That done, he dropped the book on the floor and wrote beside the fresh line “Joseph Cartwright, age 12”.
He stood back a couple steps and compared marks. His face fell. “Why am I so short?”
“You ain’t short,” came a reply Joe hadn’t expected, “you just haven’t hit your growth spurt yet.”
Joe’s face burned. He hadn’t wanted anyone to know he was checking his height. It was something traditionally done on his birthday. Technically, Joe wouldn’t be twelve for another month.
Joe hid his embarrassment with anger, and snapped, “I am too short!”
“All kids are short until they grow,” Hoss reasoned, taking no offense.
“But look,” Joe said, pointing, “Adam was taller than me when he was twelve. And you…you were a giant even then!”
Hoss chuckled. “I sure was. And I didn’t like it neither.”
“You didn’t?” Joe hadn’t expected that answer. He would love to be as tall as Hoss was when he was twelve.
“Nope.” Hoss shook his head emphatically. “I got teased, and called names, and was two heads taller than all the boys I knew.”
“I get teased and called names too,” Joe said, “‘Cepting, I’m a head shorter than all the boys I know. Least you could have walloped ’em if ya wanted.”
“I coulda,” Hoss agreed with a grin, “but I didn’t. Ya know why?”
Joe shook his head. If he could, he would.
“Pa read me a verse outta the Bible,” Hoss said. He lifted his eyes to the ceiling, as though trying to recall. “It was in Proverbs. Can’t remember the place right now, but it said, ‘He that is slow to anger is better than the mighty; and he that ruleth his spirit than he that taketh a city.’* Do you know what that means, Joe?”
Joe shrugged. “Kinda?”
“It means that when you control your temper, you are a whole lot mightier than the strongest man.”
Joe thought about that a moment, then smiled. “Aren’t you the strongest man, Hoss?”
“I’m pretty darned close,” Hoss admitted with a shrug, “but that’s not the point. The point is, Joe, it isn’t how tall ya are or how tough you are that makes you strong. It’s what’s inside ya.” Hoss shoved a finger into Joe’s chest for emphasis.
“I still wish I was taller,” Joe pouted, crossing his arms.
Hoss smiled sympathetically. “You’ll grow. ‘Sides, if ya were taller I couldn’t call ya short shanks.”
“Don’t worry,” Joe said, his spirits lifting a little, “I’ll never be taller than you.”
“Adam,” Joe asked, leaning on the fence as he watched his oldest brother walk the new mare around the corral, “did ya ever get teased when you were twelve?”
Joe assumed he knew the answer. Everyone liked Adam. He was smart, and brave, and taller than Joe. Pretty much perfect, except for being a little bossy sometimes.
Adam looked at Joe thoughtfully. “Why, Joe? Do you get teased at school?”
“A little,” Joe lied, shrugging, “but did you ever get teased?”
A smile smile crept over Adam’s face, and Joe thought he looked a little uncomfortable.
“Yeah, Joe, I did.”
“Really?” Joe asked, surprised, “You weren’t too short or too tall.”
“No,” Adam admitted, “but I was too smart.”
“That doesn’t sound like a bad thing,” Joe said.
“It isn’t, unless all your friends are getting bad grades and then their parents are asking, ‘why can’t you be more like that Cartwright boy?'” Adam sighed. “Friends don’t appreciate that too much.”
“So what did you do?” Joe asked.
Adam hesitated noticeably, eyeing his brother with a raised eyebrow. “I don’t know if I should tell you.”
“Ah, c’mon, Adam, why not?” Joe whined.
“Because I don’t want to give you any bad ideas,” Adam said matter-of-factly.
“I won’t do anything, promise!” Joe pleaded.
Adam sighed. “Okay, I started getting low grades on purpose so that my friends weren’t mad at me.”
“You did?” Joe gasped. He couldn’t fathom.
“I sure did,” Adam said, “and my friends were happy. But I discovered that while I was making my immature friends happy, I was hurting myself.”
“Yeah,” Joe agreed, “I bet Pa was really mad!”
Adam made a face. “Well, yes, but that isn’t the point. You see, by purposely failing, I was deteriorating my reputation. Adults, like Pa and my teacher, they started seeing me as irresponsible. Eventually, I noticed that even my friends didn’t have the same respect for me as when I did well in school.”
Joe sighed. “So you’re pretty much saying the same thing as Hoss.”
“What did Hoss say?”
“He said that it doesn’t matter how tall or tough you are. It’s what’s inside that matters.”
Adam smiled. “He’s right. Appearances never get anyone very far for very long.”
“Hey, shorty, move!”
Joe held his breath, trying very hard to remember what his brothers said. It didn’t help that when he stepped aside, Gilbert and his companions burst into cruel laughter and shoved past him, each elbowing him as they went by.
Joe scowled after them, but was proud of himself that he hadn’t given in to the temptation of tripping one of them.
“Everyone, please take your seats,” Miss Clara said, smiling at her students as they came into the classroom.
Once everyone was sitting down, she asked for Rosie Miller to do the first homework problem on the board.
Rosie got up with her paper tablet and walked up to the front.
Joe liked Rosie. Not only was she pretty, but she was the nicest girl he’d ever met. Joe watched her as she wrote out the math equation.
“Sorry, Joe,” Gilbert whispered behind him, “but she’s too tall for ya.”
The whisper was quiet enough for Miss Clara not to hear, but loud enough for the rest of the classroom to burst into a fit of giggles. Joe ducked his head, and his cheeks and ears burned.
“Alright, children, settle down,” Miss Clara said.
At lunch, Joe sat by himself. He was watching Rosie and her girlfriends play jump rope.
Gilbert sauntered up to the group. “Rosie, you wanna come to the church picnic with me?”
Rosie turned to face him. She smiled sweetly. “Thank you, Gilbert, but I don’t think so.”
“Who would you rather go with?” Gilbert sneered. “I’m the best looking guy in school.”
“That’s true,” Rosie agreed, “but you’re also the meanest, most selfish and conceited young man I have ever met. So, once again, thank you for the offer; however, I was hoping someone else would ask me.”
Gilbert glared, and looked around the schoolyard until he saw Joe. A wide, cruel smile spread over his face. “Who? Shorty over there?”
Joe never felt so small as every gaze in the yard fell on him. He waited for Rosie to deliver the devastating blow. Of course she wouldn’t want to go to the picnic with him!
Rosie stared at him for several long moments, her pretty features revealing no emotion. And then, she smiled. Not a mean smile, or a sympathetic smile, but a true, beautiful smile. “Actually, yes.”
Joe couldn’t breath, and neither could Gilbert, for he started choking and sputtering. “You can’t be serious!”
“I am,” Rosie stated, turning back to Gilbert, “Joe Cartwright is good and kind. Everything you aren’t! I would be honored if he took me to the picnic.”
Joe never felt so tall.
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