From the Heart
The Tahoe Ladies
She's a mother-figure yet she has no children. Instead, she takes in everyone to her heart. There, all are nourished and cared for spiritually, emotionally and physically. She is much like Ben Cartwright in that she has been dealt some cruel blows in life yet she has not been embittered by them. No one leaves her presence hungry, cold or hurting. When we were devastated by Katie's death, it was her arms we found around us; her words of solace we sought. Now, she is half the world away yet right next door in our hearts. She is Becky, the Tahoe Lady, and this story, while not written by her, could be about her….

As I went down the hallway that morning, I started banging on doors, hollering "get up!" Yes, it was with a touch more force than I usually used but I was tired and grumpy that morning, not having had all my rest the night before. Something about laying awake in bed until the wee hours of the morning for three young men to return home from town can make a man that way. And when my sons finally did come home, I could tell by the way they were trying unsuccessfully to stay quiet that they'd had more than a little to drink. So this Sunday morning, I was cocked and primed, ready to fire salvo after salvo into those fortifications of 'not feeling well enough' to go to church. We were going and that was all, or my name wasn't Ben Cartwright.

"I am not the least bit surprised by the rough faces around the table this morning. It's obvious that the three of you had way more than a little to drink. Yes, you had the right, I guess you could say. After all, you've been away for better than six weeks. And last night I guess was your celebrating your individual successes. Adam, that contract with the railroads will keep the timber operation in the black for years to come," I said as they finally stumbled, bleary-eyed, to the table. Adam had poured himself coffee immediately and when I spoke my praise, he gave me a slight smile.

"And Hoss, I am impressed with how you handled the cattle drive. Got the herd there in prime condition and ahead of schedule," I lauded him, but more for the fact that he filled his plate that morning. I had expected him to get the cattle there in that manner. But for him to still have an appetite after last night, now that was something! I shouldn't have been surprised. Nothing kept Hoss from eating.

"You did an excellent job rounding up those mustangs as well, Joseph. How long do you suppose before you start breaking them?" I almost laughed aloud. Joseph had to use both hands to find his coffee cup. When I congratulated him, he merely rolled his eyes in my direction. I think that was all on him that wasn't feeling the effects of last night but I wasn't sure. "Here, son, have some oatmeal," I gestured with the serving bowl. He turned a lovely shade of green then rising quickly from his place, bolted for the front door.

I offered the oatmeal to Adam but his response was, "I'll go check on Joe." Adam arose just as quickly as Joe had and made for the front door as well.

"Make sure Charlie has the surrey ready, will you, Adam? Don't want to be late to church this morning. I told the Reverend we would all be there." I am sure it was Hoss who groaned. Had to have been since he was the only one left in hearing range! But I would have laid even money that two others echoed it.

Half an hour later and I had my hands on the reins, heading into Virginia City. It was one of those glorious early summer mornings when the sunlight is bright but the air is still cool and it feels good to be alive. That is unless you were one of the three Cartwright boys who were hungover and forced to ride with their father in a swaying carriage. Now I didn't purposely hit that many bumps and ruts in the road. The road was just in that bad of shape! Especially that section right after I had turned and caught Joseph trying to sleep.

I truly felt like I was fighting an uphill battle that morning on the ride into town. I kept up an uncommon one-sided discussion, as the rest of the carriage occupants remained silent except for the occasional moan, even from stoic Adam who sat next to me. Granted they had all cleaned up and shaved and were dressed in their Sunday best, but there was still something ragged looking in their blood shot eyes. I didn't rub it in but I made sure they were sitting semi-upright once we got into town.

There was none of their usual crisp, invigorating attitude as they stepped gingerly out of the carriage. Hoss, of course, took the team and tied them over with the long line of others under the shade trees while Adam, Joe and I waited in the sunny church yard. At one point, Joe started to turn and go into the church but a quick grab for his arm stopped him dead in his tracks. We always went as one into the church, no matter what and just because the sunlight was a little bright that morning wasn't going to change that!

We made our way to our accustomed pew, the second from the front on the right hand side. Various friends and neighbors greeted us but I was the only one who returned their hellos. Twice I had to poke Hoss in the back to keep him in motion as we filed in. And I had to keep a close eye behind me to make sure Adam and Joe were following me and not getting sidetracked by a frilly bonnet. Just because they knew I didn't approve of such flirting seemed to make them all the more determined sometimes. This was church after all and on the Lord's day to boot!

After the opening hymn, my sons seemed to settle into one of the accustomed patterns that had helped to shape our lives: Sunday morning sermons based on the readings of the Bible. Although I can say with certainty that neither of my sons were overly religious, they still followed the basic tenants of our faith and felt contrite when they crossed the line otherwise. That morning I was sure there was plenty of contriteness to go around.

"The subject of this morning's sermon is the bonds our heavenly Father has with us, His children," Reverend Meredith started.

I looked down the row to make sure that my sons were paying attention. Next to me sat Joseph. Since he had always been the fidgety one, I kept him where I could deal with him and that meant right next to me. Adam sat next to Joe and appeared to be listening to what the preacher was saying but I knew that at times, his mind would be elsewhere. When I would catch that far away look in those dark eyes, an arm across Joseph's shoulders would allow me to nudge Adam and bring him back to the present. Hoss sat at the opposite end of the pew and was completely out of range to any correction I might have needed to give but then I rarely, if ever, had to correct that son.

"Each of us has his or her own connection with God," the reverend was saying and I jerked myself back to paying attention to his words, realizing I had completely missed the Scripture reading. "When do we first acknowledge these bonds?" Reverend Meredith was asking rhetorically. But I soon lost myself in my own thoughts, much to my chagrin but I don't think God thought me remiss for I was thinking of the relationships my own sons had with me, their earthly father and how they echoed the same bonds with their Heavenly Father. But when had those bonds developed, those I had with the three men who sat beside me?

I almost snorted aloud in amusement for I could just about give the time of day when the bond had been formed between myself and the restless young man beside me! I quickly covered my smile and, although my eyes were on the reverend, my memories took me to that creation.

Joseph was less than a day old that other brilliant morning years ago. I had been present at his birth and held him when he was moments old the evening before. He was a tiny, squalling infant who was dwarfed in my hands. Even though I felt myself a competent father, I was scared to hold something that small and had quickly given him back to Marie. We had counted fingers and toes, commented on the curly hair and then we had introduced him to his older brothers. They were just as in awe of this tiny hollering bundle as I had been but they let it show. I didn't. Finally, Marie had begged to have him back. She had nursed him and my newborn son went right to sleep. Marie followed his example quickly. Only once in the night did he awaken and Marie had arisen and cared for him. But with the coming of the first dawn for him, my youngest began to stir again. Since I thought it best that Marie sleep a while longer, I slipped from bed and went to the cradle.

I remember clearly reaching down to pat the back of the squirming child and seeing how my hand completely engulfed it. I changed the baby's diaper for a dry one but I couldn't see in the dim light where there was any dry clothing. Shrugging, I scooped him up, carefully balancing his head in the palm of my hand, my fingers cupped around those curls protectively. I cast about for a blanket to cover him and found one. Together, my littlest boy and I slipped from the bedroom and down the stairs.

Hop Sing met us at the kitchen door. He reached to take the baby from me then I guess he caught the look in my eye and pulled his hands back, smiling. I asked him for coffee and his head bobbed once, his eyes shining brightly.

I returned to the living room. Joseph still continued to squirm and gave me little fussing noises when I sat down. I had to chuckle at the little elfin face, all screwed up then the little elf became a small tyrant when he began to cry. I put him to my shoulder and tried to gently soothe him but he continued to voice his displeasure. I knew from having dealt with Adam and Hoss as infants that sometimes movement would cease their turmoil so I stood and began to walk the floor. All the while, I remember talking soft and low to him while holding him close. He continued to cry. If he continued, I knew he would arouse Marie and she needed her sleep, so we stepped outside into the glorious daylight of a Ponderosa spring morning. His first.

What ever possessed me, I have no idea but looking back on it, I think God was directing me. As I walked my newborn child outside that morning, I talked to him of all the things that would be his someday. I spoke of my dreams for him and his brothers that were tied up in the land that had become known as the Ponderosa. But still he fussed. Finally, it came to me that perhaps the blanket he was wrapped in wasn't enough to keep him warm. Feeling a stupid fool for jeopardizing a child less than a day old, I slipped him under my robe to warm him. He stopped fussing and I smiled a relieved smile.

I saw Hop Sing standing at the kitchen doorway, a cup in hand and I recalled that I had asked for coffee. Well, I thought, the porch rocker would be a great place to have it that morning. Hop Sing waited until I was seated before even offering the cup to me. Once again he reached for the baby.

"Hop Sing take care of baby now," he offered and displayed a greater English vocabulary than I thought he had at that time.

"No, not right now, thank you. Is Marie awake yet?"

The only word I could use for the look on his face was to say that Hop Sing was crestfallen. I dismissed it and him. If he thought for one moment that I was going to give him my son--well, never mind. He would prove to be a formidable foe in the tug of war over Joseph but that would be in years to come and I am getting ahead of myself.

"No, Missy Cartlight still sleeping. You want Hop Sing to wake her? For baby?"

I shook my head no and sent him back into the kitchen with instructions for breakfast. I sipped my coffee slowly, cognizant for the first time of the small life that rested easily on my chest, his tiny cheek moving restlessly against my night shirt. Again, I felt as though God were directing me and I reached down and pulled the fabric aside and let the warm little face rest directly against my own flesh. With that simple action, Joseph stopped his restlessness and opening his eyes, looked up at me.

That was when the bond was created between Joseph and I. The simple act of feeling each other so close gave such peace to both us, of allowing the other to feel the warmth there and hear the beating of the other's heart. It was a physical bond that would endure forever, I thought. Many times while he had been growing up, the connection had been tested but had always come back stronger than it had been before. And all we ever had to do was to touch one another to remember that it was there.

As I sat there in the church that morning, listening to Reverend Meredith drone on, I gave the 'tie' a little tug by laying my hand on Joseph's restless thigh. Yes, the bond was still there, strong as ever, I thought, as Joseph calmed immediately. Looking at him out of the corner of my eye, I saw him smile at me then return his attention to the preacher's words.

"Part of the covenant we have with God, the Father, can be found in this," and the reverend gestured to the Bible before him, " the Words he has given us to read about how much He loves his children."

Ah yes, I thought, that is the tie I have with you, Adam, isn't it? That of words.

But it was more than words, it was ideas, thoughts, dreams. I looked down the pew and caught Adam's glance. He must have known I was thinking of him since he gave me a small smile and returned his attention to the reverend.

    My attention wavered then I finally gave up the fight and let my thoughts run back to another summer morning. The church pew disappeared in my memory to be replaced by a hard wagon seat and the air smelled of dry dust, not the fragrant flowers of the church altar. The road before me rolled out endlessly into undulating green hills.

    "You ain't listenin' one bit to me, Pa!" the petulant voice beside whined.

    I looked down at the dark haired boy seated beside me, the book on his lap open. The patch on the knee to his britches stood out, starkly condemning me for being a lousy seamstress. His face was dirty and his shirt had been buttoned improperly. And although his eyes shone brightly, I thought it was with tears.

    "Okay, you've got me. Sorry, son. Go on with your reading. I'm listening now."

    He turned his attention to the words in the book before him and began to read again but the words there were perhaps more than his vocabulary could handle and he stumbled over them repeatedly. As gently as I could, I would correct him then urge him to continue. Finally I had to stop his reading.

    "Time for your nap, son. Hop into the back now," I directed and lifted the flap covering the front entrance to our only home.

    "Do I have to, Pa? I ain't tired."

    "You aren't tired," I corrected his English but gestured with a nod of my head for him to do as he was told. Reluctantly and with drooping shoulders, my little boy scrabbled to do as he was told.

    As I continued on down that long road to somewhere, I wondered what I was going to do. We had no money for food or other essentials to continue our journey for much longer. I would have to stop and find work soon. That would bring on a whole different set of worries. What would I do with Adam? He was only five years old and needed looking after while I was working. He was an obedient child but also a curious one. He had surprised me recently when he picked up a book and started to read it to me. At first I thought that he had simply memorized the words, but then he piped up and told me that two of the pages were stuck together and he couldn't go further until I pried them apart. When had he learned to read? Sure, I had been showing him some words and had always read to him at night as we camped. I shook my head in wonder then fixed the book for my boy.

    A quick glance into the bed of the wagon showed me that Adam had fallen asleep, a book open beside him. Wasn't tired, was he? I turned my attention back to the road before us and flicked the reins over the back of the team.

    That night, as we made camp, I wondered how I could approach the subject with Adam about what we needed to do. I decided that even though he was only five years old, he needed to hear the whole truth from his father. Some of it he would understand, some of it he wouldn't, but he needed to hear it all.

    Even though it was summer, the prairie was cool that evening and after washing our dinner dishes and putting things right, I pulled out an old quilt and wrapping it around us both, sat Adam down to talk with him.

    "The next town we hit we need to stay there for a while, son," I started.

    "Is that where we are goin' to live forever?" Adam asked eagerly.

    I sighed. "Maybe. Maybe not."

    "Why not?" he challenged.

    "How many times have we talked about this, son? About where we are going? And why. Somewhere out there is a place God has made just for us."

    "Yes, Pa. I hear you. But it is just so hard-" and uncharacteristically, Adam began to whimper. I hugged him close to me and once again began to talk of the dream I had: to go west and find the peace and happiness that I felt had left me when Elizabeth had died soon after Adam's birth. I knew it was out there, I just couldn't put a name to the place but I knew it wasn't behind us. How many times in the past had we pulled into a town and I had asked myself if this was where our journey ended? Many, and each time I had known we needed to push on. But how do you explain this to a child? Do you explain it at all, even to yourself?

    "Tell me again, Pa. What's it gonna be like? Our home?"

    And once again I told him. "There will be good water there, full of fish for a boy to catch on Saturday afternoon. Maybe some trees just made for a rope-swing. There'll be places to go adventuring in, too. And at night, we'll have us a snug little cabin, with a fireplace to keep us warm. You can have your own room."

    "Can I have a place to put books, Pa? So the pages don't stick together and get ruined?" he asked and I had to smile.

    "Of course. And you can have lots of books."

    "And a candle to read them by at night?"

    "And a candle so you can read at night but you have to remember that you need to sleep too! After all, all our land is going to take a lot of energy to explore."

    He grinned up at me then boasted "I'm gonna help you work it, Pa! I'm gonna be the best help you ever had!"

    I gave him a gentle squeeze and let him know that I thought he already was the best help I'd ever had. Just then, the clouds parted and showed us the Big Dipper. For several long moments, we both stayed silent, staring into the night sky.

    "Pa," I heard his soft voice and felt him stir within the confines of my arms, "Tell me another story about bein' a sailor."

    With my story, we were both returned to a lighter mood, Adam, the happy listener, me the storyteller. It wasn't long before I felt his head nod against my arm and I knew Adam was asleep. I stopped talking and looked to the stars shining brightly overhead.

    "Yes, son. Home is out there somewhere. I don't know where it is but I know that it's there and all those things you want will be there for you. I will make sure of that. In the mean time, have faith in your pa, okay?" I asked the dark head resting on my shoulder. I stood and carried him back to the confines of the wagon and lifted him into the narrow bed there. Covering him with the same quilt, he stirred but did not awaken as I slipped his worn boots off.

    With the coming of the next morning, our journey resumed. The road led us to the outskirts of Saint Louis, a bustling city even then. Adam stood behind me and looked out over what he could see of the metropolis and I could feel his excitement. I must admit I was excited too. A place this big and I was sure to find work.

    We stopped to water the horses at a public fountain. Off to one side, I saw a blacksmith's sign and, warning Adam to stay in the wagon, I went to talk to the man in charge. There I was brusquely told there was no work for a drifter. I thanked the man and returned to the wagon. Adam was sitting on the seat, his face solemn, his hands holding his favorite book. At first I thought something had happened to him and I asked him if he were all right.

    "Yes sir," he mumbled then straightened and looking me in the eye said, "We need to keep going, Pa. This isn't it."

    My eyebrows raised in surprise, I asked him "Isn't what?"

    "Home," was all he said.

I swung up onto the hard wagon seat and gathered the reins in my hands. Pulling the horses heads around, we headed west down the main thoroughfare. As we rode silently, we looked at the buildings and people we passed. Everywhere there was motion and color. Hawkers with their wares calling in singsong fashion competed with the rumble of carriage wheels. Here, I thought, was Life, and I wondered what Adam thought of it. He answered my unspoken question by sitting down beside me and opening his book to read. I noted what it was he was so engrossed in and smiling, I hugged him to my side. It was Paradise Lost, his mother's favorite work. A little old for a boy so young and just learning to read but so appropriate I thought as we left the city behind us, headed together for another dream, another paradise.

Unlike with Joseph, I don't know when the actual bond developed between Adam and I. I know that it had been there before that day in Saint Louis. For Adam had known and understood the dream I'd had long before then. Perhaps he always had.

I caught myself before a jerk would have signaled that I had not been paying attention to the sermon until that moment. I glanced quickly to my left and saw Adam cross his arms over his chest and cover the lower part of his face with his hand. Anyone else would think that he was pondering the message of the sermon. From my angle, I could see the smile hidden behind the hand. The tilt of the head and the light in the dark eyes told me that he had known of my wandering mind. I cleared my throat and the smile disappeared.

"…And our Father has given us many ways to keep the bond between us strong. He has given us all that we need to make us strong in body as well as strong in spirit. All we need to do is accept those gifts from our Father," the reverend droned on.

Deciding that it would do me absolutely no good at that point in time to get anything from the sermon, I pointedly let my mind drift back to someone else who had said much the same to me years ago: Inger.

As she lifted her month old son to her shoulder she smiled at me, her blue eyes dancing in mirth. "Ben," her soft lilt making me almost blush with pleasure as she said my name that night. "The baby needs feeding."

I reached for her, not in the least concerned for the welfare of my newest son. Inger was all that a baby could ask for in a mother but right then, I was more concerned in her role of my wife than my sons' mother. Outside the canvas walls of our wagon, the crickets played us a serenade and the breeze coming down the mountain pass was cooling.

"Every time I turn around, the baby needs feeding," I groused and reaching beyond the infant held in her arms, stroked her face. I'd had half a mind to tell her that the baby had seen more of her the past month than I had but decided that it would sound petty and childish. But it was true. I missed my wife for somehow she had disappeared into motherhood before my very eyes!

She smiled at me and, using her free hand, captured my rough hand in hers. Fingers entwining, she held it fast to her cheek. "Ben," she crooned again and again I felt my blood begin to rise. "If your son here is to get to be a big boy, he needs all the good things in Life. And this is just one of them," and she gestured to where the sandy red hair baby nursed at her breast.

"I would not deny Eric a meal, Inger. You know that but it just seems that you spend all your time with him! How about spending a little time with the boy's father?" Yes, I freely admit it, I was whining. It had been so long before my marriage to Inger that I had done without the pleasures of a woman's love that I had come to believe it would be forever denied to me. But then she had come into my life and brought that part back to me. Now, what with the late stages of her pregnancy making relations difficult if not impossible, then her recuperation from the delivery- well, I was hungry too. And I was trying my best to tell her so but she just sat there in the wagon, blissfully smiling.

"Now, Ben," she started again.

I threw my hands into the air, surrendering. "All right, then. Have it your way, woman!" I grumbled and rolled onto the bed, my back to her. After a few more minutes, I heard her singing softly and my heart began to lose some of the feeling of neglect it had harbored. A few minutes more and she turned out the lantern, casting the wagon into inky darkness. I felt her slip into the bed beside me, the warmth of her body curling into mine. Her hand worked its way under the quilt and wiggled under my crossed arms and across my chest, drawing her closer yet to me. As she whispered my name, her breath came warm across my cheek and all the resolve I had to be mad at her melted.

A long while later, as she lay against me, her head resting on my shoulder, I felt a contentment come over me again. I must have chuckled out loud. "Inger," I whispered and she stirred a little, "You are magnificent. Is there anything you can't do? Temptress, wife, mother, pioneer woman, all rolled into one! I feel truly blessed by you, you know."

Her finger crossed my lips and I heard her hiss "Sssh! Don't wake the baby. He'll want to be fed again."

"But I thought-" I started, totally confused. As much as I thought I knew about women, Inger was showing me how little I did know.

"Be still, my love or your voice will wake him. Shhh," she whispered. So I stayed silent, so silent that after a short while I felt the steady rhythm of her breathing that told me Inger was asleep. I sought sleep as well but it stepped beyond my grasp that night and I lay there, my wife of barely a year at my side, my month old son an arm's length away and my eldest son on the wagon seat just beyond my head outside of the canvas. Yes, the contentment I felt was as deep as any well and as broad as any ocean I had ever crossed. But then why couldn't I sleep?

Finally, I got up carefully so as to not awaken Inger and slipped out of the wagon. I stirred the embers of the fire back to a flame and fed it a few slivers of wood. They had just caught when her arms slipped around me from behind and her head rested on my back.

"I just don't understand, Inger, that's all. What is you want?" I murmured. Her arms tightened around me.

"The same things you want, Ben. I want everything that is good for our sons," she replied and moved to stand before me, her arms still around me. I rested my head atop her crown of bright gold hair and breathed deeply of her scent. "I want them to be happy and secure. I want them to enjoy all the good things in life."

I took a deep breath and let it go slowly. "That is going to take a while. This country we are going into is not an easy one to make a living in, you know."

"I am not talking about the material things in life, Ben. I am talking about giving our sons other things."

"Like what?" I asked, intrigued. "I thought all women want a big fancy house and all that tom foolery."

She laughed and pushed playfully at my chest but I held her fast.

"No, I mean those things that make a person feel good about himself. We need to give our sons an appreciation for life, for the beauty of a sunset, for the majesty of tall mountains, for the delight of cold water running through a meadow. I want our sons to be rich in their love for all things great and small that are God's creations. I don't want them to ever feel sorrow and want for love. I want them to always know that they have our love. That's what I meant by giving our sons all the good things in life. Everything else is just 'things', Ben."

As I hugged her to me, I thought I understood what she meant. And once again I felt myself to be truly blessed to have such an insightful woman as my own. But I was not to have her much longer. Before the month was over, she was gone from me forever and the depth of my despair knew no limit. Day in and day out after her sudden death, I trudged beside the wagon mindlessly. All I was doing was putting one foot in front of the other. When other families left the little wagon train, I barely noticed their passing until I found myself alone in the high desert of Western Utah with a six-year-old son and a two-month-old baby. It was though I was waking up from a dream.

"Shall we make camp here, Pa?" Adam asked, tugging on my coat.

I said nothing but went about woodenly doing those things necessary to keep body and soul together. I started a small fire with cow chips for there was no wood and set a pot of beans on to warm. Adam had pulled our single cow off to the side and was milking her. Inside the wagon, I heard Eric begin to fuss and cry but I continued on with my chores. When I finally had the team cared for, I returned to the fire and found Adam valiantly trying to give his brother a bottle. I couldn't tell which one of them hated the idea more.

"Here," I said and took the baby and the bottle from a relieved boy. Eric fussed and didn't want to take the rubber nipple into his mouth to suck. I tried to force it on him but he refused, putting his hands in front if his little round red face. I was at a complete loss as to what to do to make the child eat. I sat there at the fire, holding him in my arms until even he quit crying and struggling. It was then I realized that both of us were looking at the same thing: the small bright fire before us. He was enraptured by its motion, I thought, and while I let him watch the fire, I again tried to give him the bottle. This time, he took it. The only time he stopped nursing from the bottle was when Adam stepped between the flames and us. Eric finished the entire bottle.

"Look, Pa," Adam exclaimed from somewhere behind us and I turned to see him on the edge of the camp looking into the night sky. It was full of stars and one was streaking towards earth with a fiery path all its own. Still cradling my husky little one, I went to stand beside Adam and we watched as the star raced to its demise far to the west.

"Did you see that, Hoss?" Adam asked, calling his brother by the nickname given to him before he was even born. "That's a shooting star and it's suppose to be good luck. How can you tell where they land, Pa?"

"I'm not sure you can, son," I answered but in truth I was paying more attention to my newest son. Even though he was just a few months old, I swear, he had seen and paid attention to the star.

That night, we all slept beneath the beautiful star-filled sky and I saw it as if for the first time in a long time. Nestled beside me, Hoss, as I was beginning to think of him and call him as well, slept through the night. He awoke me at dawn, his gentle little bubbling noises filling my heart as well as my ear. I quickly cared for him then took him once again to the edge of the camp, this time so he and I could watch the sun rise together.

Yes, it was just as Inger had said. We needed to give our sons those things in life that would make them feel good about themselves and about the world they lived in. From that morning on, I made it a point to share those things with the growing child that was her's. Hoss seemed to delight in all things great and small just as Inger had wanted. And I found within myself a new awakening sense of delight in them as well, just watching him. Little by little, I finally understood. Through the gift of God's handiwork upon the earth, Hoss and I came to understand what all the good things in life really were about. The simple things that his mother had whispered to me that night were those things which bound Hoss to me still: a love of the land and all who walked upon it, no matter how great or how small. And the words did not need to be spoken for him to know that I loved him.

My reverie broke when the good Reverend Meredith announced the final prayer of the morning. I bowed my head and while the preacher asked God the Father to strengthen the bonds of love for his children, I thanked Him for the bonds I had with my own. Each one was separate and distinct but each one was complete and strong.

As we made our way out into the sun-drenched church yard, I caught myself doing what just came natural to me: I slapped a hand down on Joe's neck to keep him from flirting with a young lady, and suggested that we have dinner at the International House. Hoss' face burst open in a smile brighter than the sun if that were possible and he claimed to be starving. When I suggested that we stay in town long enough for the Sunday matinee and see the newest acting troupe from San Francisco, I saw Adam's ears perk up. I tugged at the neck under my hand and we headed off into town. Slowly, I let the grip lighten until finally I could let go completely and not feel as though I was giving in to anything. It didn't surprise me one bit when Joe stayed right where he was next to me and instead of dropping my hand away entirely, I let it rest on the shoulder beside me as we walked to the International House.

Yes, some how, I had managed to find that within each one of my sons that they needed most: for Adam, it was a dream to be fulfilled and expanded; for Hoss, a land so full of beauty and wonder that it would delight him all his life; for Joseph, a heart strong enough to quiet the loudest cry with just a touch. But beyond that, they had given me something I would always need: a bond of love.

Late that night, with the house all quiet and serene, I took up my pen and opened my journal. I hesitated for just a moment then quickly bent to the task at hand.

June 18th 1868
My beloved sons,
I can hear the three of you laughing right now, calling me a sentimental old fool. But let me remind you all that you each had something to do with making me one! And I can envision you reading this someday and I want you each to know that even though this may sound like it was just this day alone, it wasn't; I have felt this way all your lives but it was today that I was especially moved by it. And I thought this would be the way to remember it years down the road……….

The End

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The Tahoe Ladies
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