Final Farewell  
Helen  Adams

“Friends and family, we gather together today to mourn a great loss…”

He heard the words, but somehow they made no sense even though he had heard them too many times before. This could not be happening.  It was too soon and it was simply inconceivable that he could be attending the funeral of his own child.  It wasn’t supposed to happen that way and he could not accept the truth of it.  As the preacher droned on, memories overwhelmed him.

A large squirming bundle in his arms; so strong and so fragile all at once.  Inger’s proud smile.

Boyish tears over a scraped knee;  “Papa make it better!”

“Who is that lady, Papa?  She has a pretty smile.”  “This is Marie, and she’s going to be your new mama, son.”  “A new mama just for me?  Will she belong to Adam, too?”

Gentle hands cradling a wiggling pup.  “Papa, can I keep this one?  I promise I’ll take real good care of it!” The same delight and the same promise delivered over countless animals throughout the years, and always faithfully kept.

Blue eyes alight with joy.  “Pa, I’m a big brother now!”  “That’s right, son.  Would you like to hold the baby?”  Settled in mama’s rocker, a pillow on his lap to lay the baby on, looking doubtful.  “He’s awful small, Pa.”  “He’ll get bigger, son, don’t worry.”  “Why is he so red and wrinkly looking?  I though babies were supposed to be cute.”  “All newborns look that way, Hoss.  He’ll get cuter, trust me.”

“Oh, Pa, why do the people we love have to die?  I miss her so much!”  Quiet visits to mama’s grave, with an extra bouquet of flowers to lay beside the stone in memory of Inger, and a single flower, the prettiest he can find in memory of Elizabeth.  He never knew her but she gave him his big brother, Adam, and he does not want her to feel left out.

“Aw, Pa, it wasn’t Little Joe’s fault.  He was goaded into that fight.”  Staunch defender against schoolyard bullies, saloon brawlers and men not wanting to take orders from a kid.  Equally vigilant defender against nightmare creatures and monsters under the bed, assuring his father that all was well now.

“Pa!  Pa, I did it!  I cut him out and roped that little ol’ calf all by myself!  Can I go on the roundup this year, Pa?  I promise I’ll do a good job.”  A careful and capable worker respected and liked by all.  Eager to learn the ways of the land and its creatures. Unknowingly teaching others to appreciate those things too.

Years of watching him grow into a man to be proud of.  Strong, loyal, caring, hard working and dedicated.  A soft heart as big as the body which housed it, taking in every stray from here to the Klondike.  A staunch sibling ally, making peace and creating havoc with equal skill and natural inclination.

“Why does Adam have to go away again, Pa?”  Tears rimming his eyes.  “It was hard when he went to college, but I understood.  This is different, though.  The Ponderosa has everything a man could want for the rest of his life.  Why can’t he see that?”   Knowing words would be empty, for there was no answer to his real question, the only thing was to hold him.  To cradle that big head on his shoulder and let the tears come as they had when he was small.  In time the smile returned and the tears faded.  “Thanks, Pa.”

The memories hung suspended on that one moment, the next words echoing in his mind.  “I love you, Pa.”  His own tears flowed at last.

The small man saw the grief of his long time employer and friend and he was forced to swallow a hard lump in his throat.  His own thoughts fell along similar lines, though he did not know it.  How can my little boy be gone?  Only 8 at their first meeting, he had made the young man from China feel welcome in this strange new country.  The family had not needed a cook and housekeeper, Missy Cartwright took care of all that, but the boy had seen that he needed help.  “Don’t need no more of you Chink bastards taking jobs away from us.”  How many times had he heard variations on that epithet from the miners and merchants in the muddy camps, which would someday become Virginia City?  Words his limited grasp of English could barely make out.  He was alone but for a few relatives who had made it to this country ahead of him, and they were in the same poor position as he.  The meal he had been preparing that day of rice and a few paltry scraps of beef he had been forced to purloin from a delivery wagon, was the last meal the young man would likely get for a long time unless his luck changed.  His spirits were nearly as low as his mud caked shoes and he could not stop the tear which trickled down his cheek, hastily wiped away lest anyone see and take it as another excuse to use him for sport.  Then a voice had interrupted his sad thoughts. 

“Hey, mister?  Why are you cryin’, mister?”  He had shrunk back defensively from the intrusion, then relaxed a bit as he realized it was merely a child.  A rather chubby boy, perhaps 10 or 11 he thought, with straight blonde hair partially shading vivid blue eyes.  It was those eyes that made the young man trust that this boy meant him no harm.  They were curious and yet full of sadness for what he saw.  He looked as though he might cry simply out of sympathy with the other’s plight.  “Is there something I can do to help?”

The Chinese man shook his head.  “No work.  No place for Hop Sing.”  It was the best he could do to explain, as he had no words for more.  The boy seemed to understand.  Without invitation, he took a seat on the wooden pallet and patted his arm.  They sat together in silence for several moments, seeming to need no words to achieve understanding and in that short time they somehow became good friends.

“My name is Hoss,” the boy volunteered finally.  “My Pa is over at the trade post, getting supplies.”

Hop Sing stirred his dinner, tasted it and added a pinch of spice to the mix of meat and rice.  He looked at the boy curiously.  “He no mad you talk?”

“To you, ya mean?”  The boy’s face scrunched in thought, then he said. “Nah, he won’t mind.  He told me to wait by the wagon, but it’s right over there so I’m not disobeying exactly.  Say, Mister Sing, what’cha cooking?  It sure smells good!”

Hop Sing smiled.  He had not understood everything the boy had said, but most of it had been clear.  “It no Mistah Sing.  It Hop Sing.  I cook rice, meat, it very good.  You like?”  The boy did not look like he missed many meals and there was not really enough to share, but Hop Sing had been raised to show courtesy to guests and he was grateful for the rare and easy friendship offered by this white man’s child.  He gestured to the pot with his wooden bowl.

Hoss nodded eagerly then bit his lip in sudden doubt.  “You sure you got enough?  I don’t want to take away from you.  Pa says it ain’t right to be greedy.”

With a smile, Hop Sing spooned out about half of his meal from the pot and gave it to the boy, then fished out his other bowl and scooped the other half onto it.  “Eat.  Eat,” he prompted.

The boy needed no second invitation.  He dove in eagerly.  “Wow, this is the best food I ever had!  Even Mama don’t cook this good!”

Hop Sing smiled and bowed a bit in acceptance of the compliment.  “I cook in China.  Large family, many mouth to feed.  I cook for all.”  He shook his head sadly.  “No one need here.”

The boy looked very thoughtful, then sprang up and handed his bowl to his host.  “That’s my Pa coming out of the trade post,” he said, pointing to a large dark haired man who had just emerged from that building and was looking around with a slightly worried frown, no doubt searching the area for his son.  “Wait here, Hop Sing.” 

He scampered away and Hop Sing watched as he barreled up to the man on the board sidewalk and began to talk a mile a minute.  He pointed back the way he had come and gestured wildly, obviously very excited.  The man looked at Hop Sing and back to his son, frowning slightly.  A few more minutes of conversation and the man nodded his head wearily and began to follow the boy who was dragging him by the arm back to where his new friend sat.

The Chinese man rose to his feet as they approached, suddenly nervous that this big powerful looking man was going to be angry with him for spending time with his son.  He bowed cautiously, afraid to take his eyes off the man.  The boy rushed to make introductions.  “Hop Sing, this is my pa, Ben Cartwright. Pa, this is my friend, Hop Sing.  He cooks better than anybody else around!  Here, try some.”  Hoss picked up his bowl, still containing a bite or two of his meal and shoved it into his father’s hands, then stood looking at the two men happily, certain he had solved his friend’s problems.

Ben Cartwright looked a bit dubiously at the food in his hand.  He did not really care much for rice, that much was obvious from his expression, but he could not resist the happy trusting look in his little boy’s eyes and gamely took a bite.  Surprise and then approval came over his face as he chewed and he looked at the small Chinese man with new eyes.  “This is excellent, young man!”  He looked down at Hoss again then seemed to come to an inner decision.  “My son here tells me that you need a job.  Well, it just so happens that we can use a cook.  I own a ranch not far from here and my men would sure appreciate a good chuck wagon cook.  Something tells my wife wouldn’t raise much of a fuss over not having to do all the cooking either.  What do you say?”

Hop Sing was a bit unsure if he was hearing what he thought he was hearing.  “You offer job to Hop Sing?”

Ben smiled and held out his hand.  “For as long as you want it.”  The other man hesitated, then shook on the deal, making a decision he would never regret. 

He began his life on the Ponderosa cooking for the many hired hands working the ranch and helping Mrs. Cartwright look after the three children during the day.  At 14, the oldest boy Adam was not really a child, but he, like his father, never treated Hop Sing with anything less than complete respect and kindness.  He seemed to have an unusual understanding of how much a fish out of water the young man felt and bonded to him with a quiet but steady friendship Hop Sing came to cherish.  The baby of the family, Little Joe, had wrapped the new arrival firmly around his chubby little finger the moment they had met.  He had toddled right up to the Ponderosa’s newest employee and stretched his little arms up with a smile.  A nod from the child’s smiling mother had emboldened Hop Sing to pick the boy up and receive his proffered hug.  The baby’s green eyes had lit with interest when he saw the long queue of hair hanging down Hop Sing’s back and he had immediately made a grab for it.  Hop Sing had been startled to feel the tug, but he had not been able to help laughing over the baby’s delighted giggle.  It reminded him of the many young children in his own family and he had known that his heart was gone forever.  But as much as came to love those two, it was to young Hoss that Hop Sing felt the closest kinship.  For it was he who had been the first in this land to accept his new friend as he found him and to offer him a home.  It was always Hoss who was the most appreciative of Hop Sing’s culinary skills and his caring efforts towards the family, and when poor Mrs. Cartwright had met her tragic end, it was Hop Sing to whom the boy had gone for comfort.  They had adopted one another, and there never were two truer friends.

Hop Sing took a shuddering breath.  He felt as though a hole had been torn through his middle and nothing would ever fill it again, but the job Hoss had given him was not yet done.  He had promised in his heart that he would always look after this family.  Some promises were meant to last forever.  Hop Sing wiped away the tear trickling down his cheek, just as he had that day decades ago when this boy had come into his life. It was only right that he should try to smile, to wish Hoss well as he went back out of his life today.  He placed a hand on Mr. Cartwright’s shoulder and a deep understanding passed between them.  Ben did his best to smile back at Hop Sing, through the tears clouding both their eyes and somehow he felt just a little bit better.  Hoss would not have to be remembered with only sadness.

Adam watched the exchange between his father and his friend and knew instinctively what was happening, just as he had always somehow known when it came to his family.  How he missed his big wonderful brother already!   They had not seen a great deal of one another over the last eight years, but the distance between them did not make their love any less or this loss any easier to bear.  He was just grateful beyond measure that Hoss had been able to make it out to visit with he, his wife Ruth and their two young children last fall in Philadelphia.  The railroad stretching across the country certainly made travel more convenient than it had been a few short years ago.  It had enabled Hoss to make that journey and stay for a couple of weeks without worrying too much about his work at home getting too backed up.  It had enabled Adam to make it here today, in time to say goodbye. 

A hard cold emptiness was growing inside of Adam’s heart as he looked at the smooth wooden coffin, specially made to house its large inhabitant.  Why could he not grieve properly for the little brother that had meant so much to him?  He had seen his father, equally empty of outward emotion until just a few minutes ago and had known that it was simply shock and disbelief that had made him so bereft.  He had seen that look twice before and had expected this service to bring Pa the emotional closure he needed to begin his cycle of grief, but had also expected equal relief for himself and it had not come.   The coldness seemed to be growing instead, numbing him to everything.

“Hey, Adam!  You got to learn to loosen up once in awhile!”  The voice echoed through Adam’s mind, accompanied by the loud cheerful guffaw that was unmistakably Hoss’, and he was startled.  When had he heard those words last?  Oh, yes, now he remembered.  It had been during that visit to Pennsylvania.  The family lived on several acres just outside of Philadelphia and Adam had hoped to impress Hoss with the order and serenity of his home and family, a family Hoss only knew from letters and photographs.  Not one hour after his brother’s arrival, Adam’s oldest daughter, seven year old Liza, had come running in screaming like a banshee, covered in huge splotches of mud and ready to kill as she yelled for her little sister.  A giggle had given away the position of the other girl, four year old Mary, who had immediately run to Hoss demanding protection.  Hoss had picked up the little sprite, not minding a bit that her hands were as muddy as her sister’s dress, leaving no doubt as to how the older girl had come to get so dirty, or that those muddy hands were leaving smears all over his coat. 

“Did you throw mud at your sister?” he demanded, twinkling eyes belying his stern expression.  The girl nodded solemnly.  “Why did you do that?”

“Lizzy wouldn’t let me play with her.  She says I’m too little to ride her pony, but I’m not!  I can do anything!”  The tot nodded her head defiantly. 

“Well, did it ever occur to you that Liza might just be looking out for you until your Pa says you’re big enough for your own pony?”  She thought it over and looked slightly abashed, shaking her head.  “Bigger kids have to look out for the little ‘uns sometimes, punkin’, even when the little kids don’t like it.  Think how bad your sister and your folks would’ve felt if you’d gotten on that pony and got yourself hurt.”  Tears welled up in the child’s eyes.  “Now then, do you think throwin’ mud was any way for you to treat her when all she was doing was looking out for you?”

“I’m sorry, Lizzy,” Mary sobbed.  “Don’t be mad at me.”

Liza still looked a little mad, but the tears were obviously softening her up some, as was the knowledge that Uncle Hoss was on her side of the argument.  “Come on, let’s go wash up before Mama catches us,” she said, holding out a hand as Hoss gently lowered the little girl to the floor. 

Hoss had chuckled as he watched them go.  He had seen Adam looking a bit stern and made a gesture as if to say, what would you have me do? 

“Don’t you think you let them off a bit too easily?” Adam asked, wondering how it was that his daughters had instantly forgiven and forgotten at his brother’s prompting when they were both known to hold a grudge until forced to apologize to each other. 

“Hey, Adam. You’ve got to learn to loosen up once in a while!” Hoss had advised with a grin. “Them two was just having fun and testing each other’s limits a bit.  Your problem is that you’re raising up a miniature you and a miniature Joe in female form and you ain’t got a little Hoss to get in the middle for you!”  He had thrown back his head and laughed heartily at his own observation and after a moment, Adam had joined him, realizing he was absolutely right.  Elizabeth was a very quiet and fastidious child, more prone to looking at picture books and playing with imaginary friends in scenarios made up in her own mind than with real children.  Mary, on the other hand loved companionship, be it human or animal, and always had some form of mischief brewing beneath her dark brown curls.  Her overly serious sister was the favorite target of that mischief and many battles had raged through the house because of this.

“Well, we’re working on it Hoss,” Adam had chuckled, thinking of his wife’s recent announcement of a third pregnancy.  “They’ll be in the wrong order, but maybe we’ll get a little Hoss yet.”

Adam smiled at the thought of that third child, due very soon now.  Ruth had been unable to accompany him for that reason but he knew that Hoss, of all people, would have understood that.  Suddenly, tears sprang to Adam’s eyes.  How Hoss had looked forward to seeing the child he and Ruth had already agreed to call either Erik or Erica!   He and Joe no longer had their own Hoss to intervene in squabbles both big and small, but his memory would always be with them and just maybe a bit of that wonderful gentle spirit of his might come to reside in his namesake.  A flood of emotion swept over Adam and he could not stop the hot tears that had begun to course down his cheeks.  He felt a hand squeezing his shoulder and found himself looking into the swimming eyes and tender smile of his baby brother.  Startled, he tried to pull away, but Joe held firm.  His soft voice whispered,  “We have to look after each other now, Adam.  Hoss would want that.”  An infinite reach of time passed in a moment as a shared lifetime of memories with Hoss passed between them. Then Adam leaned forward and buried his face in the strong shoulder of his little brother, allowing his aching heart to find solace in the embrace of the man to whom he had given comfort all his life.  The irony did not escape either of them, but neither cared as they stood together, each missing his best friend and finding love and emotional support in the arms of his remaining brother.

It felt so strange to Joe, to be the strong one the entire family leaned on.  It had been he who had gone to the preacher and undertaker to arrange today’s funeral. He who had borne the shock of his father, Jamie and Hop Sing’s heartbroken reactions to the news that Hoss was dead, and he who had telegraphed Adam and arranged to bring him out on the very next train leaving from Philadelphia. He had felt the responsibility settle squarely on his shoulders like a heavy cloak as he had watched the life leave his brother’s sky blue eyes.  He had inherited a legacy of sorts in that moment. 

They had been together that last week, quarantined with about two dozen others who had either contracted typhoid fever or been exposed to it.  Joe had known he was safe from the illness as he had already survived it years ago in his childhood, but Hoss had not been so lucky.  Joe had begged him to leave when they heard of the outbreak in the tiny town of Blackwell; to let him handle the nursing for the sick people who had no doctor and not enough well citizens to take care of them.  Hoss had refused flatly.  Some of the sick and suffering were children and old folks and they needed tending, he had said.  It had been all right at first.  Joe had done whatever he could to reduce Hoss’ risk of infection but it had been inevitable.  He worked as long and as hard as he could before the illness stole his strength and then Joe was left to tend him as well as the others.  Sadly, there were far fewer to tend by then but still Joe had forced himself to help everyone equally, wanting all the while to never leave his brother’s side. 

Joe had prayed with every fiber of his being that Hoss would be spared and had tried to believe that his legendary strength would pull him through, but four days after Hoss first became ill Joe had known there was no hope.  He had seen that look of impending death too many times by then and his heart had broken.  Hoss had known it too, and typically his last thoughts had been of Pa, his brothers and Hop Sing rather than himself.  He had asked Joe to take care of them with his final breath and even after his voice gave out, he had locked eyes with his brother and asked again.  Joe had nodded, unable to speak, and in their final moments together, Joe had realized just how lucky he was to be able to have the chance to say goodbye.  He had vowed then, as he closed those now empty eyes forever, that he would find a way to share that goodbye with his family.

Now, standing with them in the grass and flowers of the part of the Ponderosa that Hoss had loved best of all, holding his brother Adam in his arms, Joe wondered if he would have the strength to keep his promise.  All he wanted was to fall apart and let the burden of care fall to someone else for a while.  To be the child, the baby brother, the one everyone else looked after, just for a little while.  But, looking around he knew this was not to be. 

“We now consign the body of Hoss Cartwright to the Earth, and commend his soul to Heaven.” The preacher concluded the service and everyone filed away with softly uttered whispers of “Amen”.  Nearly everyone in and around Virginia City had shown up to say farewell to Hoss and the family stood in line to receive handshakes and sympathetic words and that in itself was a form of torture.  Finally it was over, and they moved slowly toward the carriage and horses to go home.

Jamie Cartwright followed a few steps behind the others, then slowly stopped and turned to take one last look at the grave of the man he had been privileged to call brother for so short a time.  He felt a bit out of place now.  He thought about the huge man in the big white hat with his perpetually sunny smile and felt a similar expression tugging at his own mouth. He would give anything to have Hoss back. To feel his comforting presence that made all the bad things and fears in Jamie’s heart and memory go away.  He would do anything just to hear his voice or his laugh one more time, but somehow he could not feel quite the same level of pain and grief that he had observed in the others and the isolation of that knowledge was terrible.  He felt guilty that he should be remembering all the happy times he had shared with Hoss and the funny stories he had been told about the adventures Hoss had shared with Joe and Adam when all the others could feel was sadness.

“Jamie, are you all right?”  He turned and saw that the others had noticed his absence and had come back as a group to fetch him.  He began walking back to the carriage with them and nodded, starting to speak of what he had been thinking, then stopping in guilt.  Joe seemed to sense something, for he tipped the boy’s downcast chin up.  “What is it?”

“I was…I was just remembering some of the stories you told me about the adventures you and Hoss used to have.  I guess it’s wrong to be thinking of something silly right now, but all of a sudden I couldn’t get that story of Hoss thinking he saw leprechauns out of my head.”  Jamie shrugged an apology; his freckled face growing red as everyone stared at him.  Then, slowly, smiles began to spread across their faces.

“We all thought sure he’d gone out of his mind,” Adam said slowly.  “He was so adamant and it all sounded so utterly ludicrous, but when I finally got a look at those little men I was almost fooled myself.”

Ben chuckled just a bit, the sound ragged but genuine.  “And I thought he’d given himself a concussion by falling down the stairs and was seeing things.  He sure was persistent though, and he definitely got the last laugh when he stood up the whole town and forced them to give those little fellas a chance.”

“That how Mister Hoss was,” agreed Hop Sing with a fond smile.  “Always pick up stray, help everyone who need help, no matter how silly he sometimes look.”

Jamie listened to them reminisce and felt his fears calming.  Suddenly, Joe hugged him with a ferocity that startled him.  “I’ve just been wishing I could find a way to bring him back for a minute,” he whispered brokenly.  “Now you’ve given me the answer.   Thank you, little brother.” 

With smiles and claps on the shoulder, the family climbed into the carriage and started for home.  “Hey, Joe, do you recall that time we were all fighting over Dolores Tenino and Hoss suckered you into becoming a matador?” asked Adam, with a small laugh.  “We wound up chasing that stupid bull he picked for the fight all over town, then you and I had to clean up the mess he caused while Hoss got to sit on the porch getting his ‘wounds’ tended by Dolores.”

Joe smiled ruefully, “He sure got the best of us that time!  You mind the time I got the bright idea to enter him in that pancake eating contest to make up the money I owed you for losing your $1000 ruby?”  Adam laughed again, harder this time, and nodded.  “He got the best of the deal that time too.  I had to hand over all that prize and reward money to you, plus I got in trouble with Pa for gambling, plus I owed Hoss for his share of the money for months afterward.  Hoss just got to eat a lot!”

Ben raised an eyebrow, smiling a little.  “Yes, for the first time in three days.  Don’t forget that you put him on that ‘rabbit food’ diet first to get him ready for the contest.”

The word ‘rabbit’ reminded Joe of the time he and Hoss had tried raising rabbits for pelts and then proved too softhearted to go through with the deal and he recounted the story for Adam as the carriage moved down the road and laughter filled the air.

All evening long, as they sat around the table, eating as much as they could hold in a sort of unspoken tribute, the Cartwright family, including Hop Sing, reminisced about every kind deed and misadventure of Hoss’ life.  Each shared memory seemed to spark another one. There were as many tears as there were smiles, but together they began to move past the pain and the wound began to heal a little. Late, late that night as they retired to bed, they could feel Hoss’ bright spirit smiling down upon them and their dreams that night were pleasant ones.

The End
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