Christmas at the Ranch
“Hey, Joe, if you would pick up on your end maybe I could get this thing into the house.”
“I am holding my end. Hoss, why don’t you just get goin’ so that I can move my end.”
“Why don’t both of you get moving so that I can go in the house.”
“Hey, Adam, can’t you see we’re busy,” said Joe, who was holding just the top tip of a Ponderosa pine tree that he and Hoss were attempting to take into the house. You can go around through the kitchen door.”
“I already tried that, and Hop Sing came at me with a meat cleave. Seems like someone already tracked up the kitchen with, as he called it ‘horse dodo’. Now may I please enter the house? It’s cold out here.”
“Yes, it is cold out here. And I said you could have a small Christmas tree. This thing is way too big.” Ben Cartwright had come up behind his oldest son, Adam. (He didn’t want to admit to them that he had gone behind the backs of all those producers, directors, writers, and etcetera and was letting his sons and friends have Christmas this year. Some years the directors, writers and such allowed the Cartwrights to have Christmas and some years they didn’t.)
Hoss gave a big pull on the trunk of the tree that he was holding in the door way to the ranch house while Joe gave a tiny little shove on the top of the tree from where he stood ten feet out from the door and the pine tree folded its branches just enough to scrape its way into the house. Hoss and Joe lifted it over the table and couch and stood it beside the fireplace on the side nearest to the dining room.
“How ‘bout right here,” said Hoss.
“That looks good,” said Joe standing back to admire the tree while Hoss held it up.
“No, no, no,” said Adam. “It will catch fire there. The tree always goes over here by the staircase. There’s more room here.” He picked up the small table that was sitting where he indicated to make way for Hoss and Joe to move the tree over by the staircase.
“And stand it in a bucket of water so it don’t dry out so fast,” added Ben.
“Well, how are we gonna make it stand here?” asked Hoss.
“You know you have to wrap a rope around it and tie it to the staircase,” fussed Adam. “That’s the way we always do it.”
Hop Sing, the Cartwrights cook, housekeeper and friend had been watching as the Christmas tree was brought in and stood up. He started sweeping the floor. “You make big mess. Now house all dirty again. Now got to sweep floor again. All covered with pine needles. I never understand this having to bring tree into house every year.”
A wooden box of fragile, hand-blown, glass Christmas decorations had been brought in earlier and now Joe, Hoss, and Adam took them carefully out of the straw that kept the decorations safe in the box and hung them on the tree.
Hoss took a short paper chain out of the box.
Joe snorted in disgust. “That old thing. We need a new one.”
“This one is just fine,” said Hoss as he gently added it to the tree.
“You made that when you were five years old,” scoffed Joe.
“What about this?” asked Adam as he held up a small, white, china plate with a child’s handprint in the center and Merry Christmas misspelled around it.
“That’s mine,” yelped Joe grabbing it away from Adam and hanging it on the tree by a red ribbon attached to the back.
Ben sat in his chair smiling at the child-like antics of his three grown sons. He hoped it would be a good Christmas without any of the problems there had been on other Christmas’s. He thought that the only thing missing was a woman or two to add to the enthusiasm of the room. He sighed at the thought that not one of his three boys had found a wife yet and he wondered if they ever would. (Or would be allowed to by the writers.)
After supper Hop Sing brought another small box into the room and took out a few brightly colored paper birds, and paper lanterns to add to the tree. Ben had found the old, wooden, hand-carved nativity and nutcracker that had belonged to Adam’s mother and set them under the tree. Hoss hung five large, new, knit stockings from the staircase railing once he had been convinced it was to dangerous to hang them from a fireplace that was usually in use at this time of the year. Adam tied several large, red ribbon bows on the ends of several branches. Joe stood on the landing of the staircase and leaned way out over the top of the tree to add a silver star, and a gold angel to the top of the tree. Everyone agreed it was the best looking Christmas tree they had ever had.
A few days before Christmas there had been more decorations added to the tree and many gifts were under the tree. Evergreen wreaths with big red bows hung on the door, the staircase and on Ben’s desk. Mistletoe hung near the doorways just in case an attractive woman should wonder in so that the men in the house would have an excuse to kiss her. And there were plenty of attractive women at the Christmas party that the Cartwrights had. Ben had hopes that maybe, just maybe, with all the holiday spirit that one of his sons would ask one of the attractive women at the party to become part of the Cartwright family.
Hop Sing oversaw the roasting of half a beef in a pit that the cowhands had dug in the yard, while all of the guests had arrived with plates, and bowls full of potato salad, jars of pickles, green beans casseroles, pinto beans with jalapeño pepper seasoning, and homemade breads. There were a dozen or so of different kinds of cookies, cakes, and pies. A Mexican family brought enchiladas, tacos, burritos, and sapodillas. An American Indian family brought venison, wild rabbit stew, roast turkey and the greasy, Indian fry bread that is so popular with the newcomers to America. (The writers weren’t too informed about different cultures at this time in the life of the Cartwrights.) For once there were even left overs. Hoss had eaten all he could consume and then some and kept complaining about how his tummy hurt and his mouth was on fire after eating that hot Mexican food with the jalapeno seasoning in it.
There was fun and games for all. Sack races, horse races, (of course Little Joe won) poker games, and hide and seek were popular. Joe and Adam especially like the hide and seek games they played with several of the young women that came to the party in their very colorful, party dresses. Of course the men all were wearing their dreary, boring suits topped off by big western hats. And each and every man had on a pair of the heavy, pointed, cowboy boots that the women dreaded having their feet stomped with when the dancing began. Those cowboys had to get drunk and really show the women a good time when it came to square dancing, but only Adam seemed to be able to waltz decently so all the women wanted to argue over who’s turn it was to dance with Adam when a waltz was played.
The party went on for hours and hours and finally broke up at the very late hour of about eight o-clock in the evening. The cowhands retired to the bunk house, to snore the night away as they had to get up early the next morning to do all those cowboy jobs like punching cows and building fences. The Cartwrights went to their house to gather around the big fireplace and discuss the party.
“Well, did any of you boys ask any of those cute young ladies to be your wife?”
“Wife!” echoed all three of the boys. (They wondered if Pa had forgot about the unwritten rules of all those producers, writers, directors, and such.)
“Why would I ask any of them to get married?” asked Adam, from where he sat on the couch. “When I get married I want someone that is smart. That has been to school. Someone that can do something besides be a ranchers wife, cooking and cleaning, splitting wood, chasing cows, breaking broncs and having kids.”
“Oh,” commented Ben.
Adam continued, “I want a wife that is sophisticated, plays the piano, reads poetry, and enjoys going to the opera and ballet.”
“Now, I can’t say much for them kind a things, Adam.” Hoss stood in front of the fireplace, “Me, I’d rather have that there strong, rancher’s wife. She seems more to my way of thinkin’ to make a good wife.” He picked up the fireplace poker and stirred the ashes in the fire then added a couple of pieces of firewood from the woodbox.
“Oh,” said Ben again.
Joe giggled from his seat on the big, coffee table in front of the fireplace. “Now I don’t want either of them kinds of women for a wife. I want one that’s cute, with a sassy type of personality. One that wants to have fun and maybe we’ll raise us a few cute, little spotted ponies as well as one or two little kids.” He too, stared into the fire as if he could see just the right girl to be his wife.
“Oh,” said Ben for the third time. Under his breath so that his sons couldn’t hear he muttered something that sounded like, “But the powers that be won’t let any of you have a wife. Or if they do she will get sick and die.” (Was he talking about all those writers, directors, producers and such?)
After a moment he stood and stretched. “I think we are all getting too melancholy for our own good. First thing you know we’ll be cryin’ in our milk. So why don’t we have a drink of whiskey and a couple of those left over cookies before we go to bed. Christmas should be a happy time.”
The next day the Cartwrights got up early so they could join there cowhands in some good, old-fashioned cowboy work. Ben wondered into the barn with a coffee cup still in his hand. He wasn’t sure if he was really up to climbing onto a horse and riding. Why, oh, why did the powers that be want him to keep riding horses? And which one of those obnoxious buckskins would it be today. Why was in necessary for him to always ride a jugheaded buckskin? Why couldn’t he have a nice, gentle, well-trained sorrel like the one Adam had? Why couldn’t Adam get the buckskin with that rough, jarring trot that tried to shake his teeth out? He leaned against a post, sipped on his coffee, and waited for the wrangler to figure out he was there and get his horse saddled for him.
Adam had followed his father into the barn and was trying to get warmer by turning the collar of his jacket up and pulling on a pair of leather gloves. He noticed Ben had a cup of coffee. He should have thought of getting one before he came out. But if he drank another cup of the brew he would just have to get on and off of his horse more times so he could pee. Drinking coffee and then riding a horse at any gait wasn’t the smartest thing to do. And which of those idiot sorrel nags did he get today. The powers that be always put him on a sorrel, usually with white stockings. They didn’t seem to realize that the audience really could tell the difference between all those different horses that he and his family had to ride. He might have to ride only sorrels but the watchers could tell that difference in them even if it was something as minor as the white stocking was on a right foreleg instead of a left hind leg. (Not that the directors, writers, or producers could tell the difference. They really weren’t as smart as they thought they were.)
Hoss bumped into Adam when he walked into the barn because he was sleep walking again and eating a rolled up flapjack filled full of honey that was dripping out and down his shirt. “Sssssarry Aaadommm,” he said with his mouth full. He sat down on a hay bale to finish consuming the flapjack and to let a hound-dog that had followed him to lick off the honey on his shirt. Hoss let the hound finish then looked up to see that Little Joe was watching him and the hound.
“That’s gross,” said Joe making a face at his brother.
Ben sighed, “Can’t we have just one day without the three of you boys doing something to make each other mad so that a fight gets started?
“I’m not starting any fight today,” said Adam. “I’m still too tired after being up so late after having to dance with all those ladies at your party last night. I didn’t get to bed until ten-o-clock.”
Two wranglers came into the barnyard leading four horses. A buckskin, a sorrel, a black, and a black and white pinto. Ben, Joe, Adam, and Hoss stepped out of the barn looking at the four horses with disgust.
“Not again,” whined Joe. “I don’t like that one. He always moves the wrong way when I go to jump on him without using the stirrup. When he does that I fall on the ground. Why can’t I have a good horse for a change? And why do they all have to be named Cochise?” (How dumb are those producers, directors and writers anyway. Just once, just once I’d like to have a big, black horse. Maybe one of those Friesian that I been hearing about. They sure are pretty.)
Each wrangler handed the proper set of reins to the proper Cartwright making sure they got the correct color of horse. One wrangler spoke to the four men, “These nags are all ready for you guys. They’ll make you look good as long as you don’t fall of like last time.” (It was Joe that had fallen off when he had given the wrong command to his horse.)
Hoss took the reins of Chub and dug into his pocket for a sugar cube. The horse ate it smacking its lips just like Hoss did after he ate a sugar cube.
With a creaking of his joints Ben climbed into Buck’s saddle. Joe jumped onto Cochise without falling on the ground. Adam got Beauty to stop circling him long enough to mount. Hoss succeeded in distracting Chub with another sugar cube so he could get on. All four rode out of the yard and off across the pasture to find where the cow herd was for the day.
There were a lot of action shots that day, but after a day full of riding here and there so they could chase cows, rope a calf or two and shoot a couple of outlaws the dumb man with the clacking boards yelled a final cut and the Cartwrights were allowed to get off their horses and hobble back to the ranch house. As they did so the storm that had been brewing all day decided to cut loose with a tremendous clap of thunder and dump several bucketfuls of cold rain water on the four men. (The directors never paid attention when their assistants told them the weather would get to bad for filming.) Soaked to the skin they ran into the house where they stood around the fireplace dripping water on the floor while Hop Sing complained to them in Chinese about the mess they were making.
“It’s not supposed to be raining,” fumed Hoss as he took off his boots so he could dry his socks. Another noisy round of thunder shook the house. “It’s Christmas Eve and it’s supposed to snow. How can Santa Claus get here if it’s pouring down rain?”
“Hoss,” shouted Adam at his younger, but bigger brother, “how many times have I told you that Santa Claus doesn’t exist.” He was trying to be heard over the sound of the storm as well as being disgusted at such immature ideas as his brothers seemed to have.
“Yes, he does, yes, he does, yes, he does,” chanted Little Joe. “I saw him once. I swear I saw Santa Claus when I was three years old, but no one will ever believe me.” The rumble of thunder snarled all around them.
“Stop it,” bellowed Ben at his sons. “I have a headache, and you’re acting like children. Grow up.”
“Supper is ready,” screeched Hop Sing. “Come eat or I throw it out.”
“Oh, goody, stew,” commented Hoss, as he ran to the table, sat down and took a big helping.
While the storm raged they ate a meal of hot stew and had a round of brandy. By then Cartwrights were more than ready for a good nights sleep. Tomorrow they would be up early to open their Christmas presents. (Not only was it Christmas it was their day off.) That is if Santa Claus found his way to their home and thought they had been good enough all year so they could have a present.
As they started to climb the stairs to their bedrooms Hop Sing came running in from the kitchen. “It snowing now. Great big snowflakes come down and make big piles of snow. Santa Claus can come now.” He giggled to himself at the thought of a magical person that brought presents to those that were good.
With yelps of joy Adam, Hoss, and Little Joe went off to bed, although they swore they wouldn’t be able to go to sleep because they were going to try to see Santa when he did come. Ben told them to shut up and go to bed so he could get some sleep.
Lying in their individual beds in their individual bedrooms all the Cartwrights listened with their ears wide open hoping to hear the clatter of tiny reindeer hooves on the roof. But instead they began to hear the whistling and whining of wind as it came in through all the tiny little cracks that were all over their logcabin home. In minutes the wind got worse turning Christmas Night into a blizzard that was piling snowdrifts higher and higher around the ranch house.
Adam got up and looked out his window after wiping a layer of frost off the glass. He couldn’t see much except the snowflakes flying here and there before the terrible wind. Ben looked out his window and wondered if the roof to the house would stay on in as bad a storm as it looked like they would have. Joe tiptoed into Hoss’ room but Hoss hadn’t woke up. The roar of the wind was so loud it was even hard to hear his brother snore. He shivered in his nightshirt and went back to his room to crawl under the covers where he could hide his head and hope that Santa would make it regardless of the storm.
After laying in their beds for several hours Ben and Adam were finally lulled to sleep by the screaming and screeching of the wind and pinging of frozen snowflakes on the windows. Hoss snored on while Joe trembled and quaked under his blankets until he reminded himself he wasn’t a little boy anymore and drifted off to sleep. For a brief second he was sure he heard the sound of sleigh bells and tiny hooves stomping on the roof and someone calling ‘Ho-ho-ho, and a Merry Christmas to All’. He tried to keep awake so that he could get up and go see if Santa Claus actually was leaving presents but he couldn’t keep his eyes open or his thoughts clear and off to slumber-land he went.
Hop Sing snoozed on all night as he wasn’t bothered by the storm or the thought of a strange fat man in a red suit accompanied by reindeer coming to visit.
It was early, very early, about eight o-clock, when the residents of the Ponderosa woke up to a Christmas-card-like landscape that would make photographers and directors shudder and quiver with delight at the sight. There were huge drifts of snow against the north sides of all the buildings. The new snow sparkled as if covered with millions of infinitesimal diamonds. Long ice cycles hung from the eves glittering in the early morning light. Bluejays squawked, sparrows chirped, and a big red rooster crowed a welcome to the new day. Squirrels chattered and flitted through the snow covered Ponderosa pine trees that surrounded the ranch house. In the pasture the cows came out of the protection of the stands of trees, shook off their snow coats and began to dig through the snow looking for grass to eat. Several deer and elk appeared on the edges of the pasture also looking for food. A group of horses decided it was time to run and play so they went bucking and squealing as they raced across the field and back again. They scattered the snow as if it was water making it sparkle even more.
In a few moments the cowhands slowly came out of the bunkhouse to see the new day and watch the animals at play. A young collie dog chased one of the barn cats around the corner of the woodpile. As the cook worked in the cookshack and Hop Sing in the kitchen smoke drifted out of the chimneys and up into the blue sky that had only a few white fluffy clouds that was all that was left of the terrible storm from the night before. Moments later the smell of coffee, bacon, and fresh bread floated out to tantalize the cowboys. Before they went in for breakfast a snowball fight broke out. The cowboys grabbed up handfuls of the white stuff and made big balls to throw at each other. They would take time to have a little fun, even if on Christmas day the stock still had to be fed and watered.
At the sound of boots thudding down the stairs Hop Sing set plates full of hotcakes, and scrambled eggs on the table. By the time Ben pulled his chair out at the head of the table Hop Sing was pouring a steaming cup of coffee for his boss.
The three Cartwright brothers trooped down the stairs, Adam following his father to the table while Hoss and Joe took time to peak at the Christmas tree. There were the same presents that had been there yesterday but now there was the addition of a new pair of boots in Joe’s size, a super sized coat that would fit only Hoss, a fancy dress shirt that looked like something Adam would wear, a couple of copper bottom cook pots for Hop Sing, and a new Stetson hat that Ben might like.
Large smiles lit the faces of all the men as they looked but didn’t touch the gifts. It was as if they were afraid if they did the gifts would disappear.
There was the sound of banging on the front door. When Joe opened it he was hit in the face by another of the snowballs that had been aimed at the door. Quickly he grabbed a jacket and ran out to join in the fun with Hoss right behind him. Even Adam was lured into the foray.
Ben and Hop Sing watched the antics and then Ben had a thought. He whispered to Hop Sing, “Where are those dang producers, writers, and cameramen when something really nice happens around here.”