It was New Year’s Eve and Adam was alone at the Ponderosa. He had been fighting a cold since before Christmas and three days earlier, his body had finally given in. He had developed a fever and a full-blown cough that had Hop Sing running to bring his famous “cold tonic.” Adam was feeling better by New Year’s Eve, but not well enough to be let out of the house by Pa. He still had a headache and his chest hurt enough that he didn’t want out of bed except on the principle “he was never sick.” Pa and both his brothers had offered to stay home and keep him company, but Adam preferred to be miserable in private. He planned to welcome the New Year quietly instead of with food, music and noise. Besides, Hoss and Joe were going to a barn dance/social in celebration and Pa generally spent the holiday with Paul Martin and his wife, Sheriff Coffee, and Judge Brown and his wife. Finally, everyone had left except Hop Sing, and he was in his room.
Adam dozed off and on for a couple of hours after the house got quiet, gathering his strength a bit. About 11:30, he got out of bed, dressed in his oldest, warmest clothes, put on slippers and walked downstairs through the warm, dimly lit house and out the backdoor to one of his favorite “thinking places”. He sat down on the bench, placed his feet on the rail and withdrew into his thoughts.
In a couple of minutes, he heard Hop Sing open the door, scolding as he walked out of the house. Turning, Adam saw that Hop Sing’s arms were full of blankets and pillows. Fussing away, Hop Sing waved Adam off the bench and proceeded to line the seat with the covers, so when Adam reseated himself, he was in a warm cocoon. Then Hop Sing went back in and brought out a cup of hot tea, prepared just the way Adam liked it, and placed it by Adam’s hand. Shaking his head and muttering “crazy boy” under his breath, Hop Sing returned to his room.
Adam rested and gazed at the landscape. It had snowed several times in the past weeks, giving the ground a solid cover, but just an hour or so ago, another inch had gently fallen. There were no tracks at all on the pristine white carpet that led to the tall pines, then to the high mountain vista that bordered the back of the house. He gazed at the view he had known since he was a boy, seeing the darkness of the forest, the grandeur of the mountains, and hearing the night sounds of small creatures scrounging for food. He smiled as he listened to the call of the hunting owl in the distance, and the distant howl of a wolf, calling its mate.
moon was a thin crescent on the horizon, and the clear, crisp sky was ablaze
with stars. Adam spent some time checking out the constellations
and reminding himself of the pattern of the stars by which ships at sea
navigated, just like Pa had taught him so many years ago. Then he
let his mind drift, not trying to think coherently, but remembering bits
and pieces of memories, words read in his favorite books, just letting
himself enjoy the state of “being”. He was’t asleep, but not quite
awake either, when he heard noise so familiar that it didn’t even disturb
his thoughts. He felt a gentle hand land on his shoulder and looked
up to see his big “little” brother standing over him.
What you doin’ out here, Adam?” asked Hoss. “You’re gonna catch more cold if you don’t take care.” He slid his hand from Adam’s shoulder to his forehead, checking for fever. “You’re still a mite warm, and you know Pa’ll have a fit if he finds you out in this weather.”
Adam smiled and slid over a bit on the bench, silently inviting Hoss to take a seat. Hoss sat down and put the blanket over himself and Adam, enjoying the warmth, and waited for the questions.
“How come you’re home, Hoss?” asked Adam. “I thought you were going to kiss Sarah Jane at midnight and welcome the New Year at the party. Both you and Joe have talked about nothing else for the past two weeks. You were going to see Sara Jane and Joe was going to get the rest of the girls. What happened?”
“Well,” drawled Hoss, “Sarah Jane was sick and didn’t come; the music was loud, and the food was running low. Besides, reckon this is as good a place as any to welcome a new year.” The two brothers smiled at each other and went back to watching the night.
“Adam, do you remember your first New Year?” asked Hoss after a time.
Adam grinned reminiscently and looked at Hoss. “As a matter of fact, I do” he responded. “I musta been six or so; it was the first winter after Pa married your, I mean, our Ma. We were wintering in St. Joe, where Pa clerked in a store to earn money for our trip west. We had two rooms back of the store; it was the first place I had ever lived for more than a couple of weeks. I loved it; I was in school and had friends and had Pa and Ma. All a boy could ask for, I reckon.
Anyway, we had just had our first Christmas together. We actually had a tree and everything, another first for me. Around the tree on Christmas Eve, Pa and Ma told me I was going to be a big brother come summer. I was so excited, but I sure didn’t understand where they were going to find the baby, though Pa tried to explain, I guess. I had heard my friends and the grownups talk about New Year’s Eve and I wanted to stay up to see it in. I really thought something special happened on New Year’s, like I would be different or something. Pa, said ‘No,’ of course. It was too late for me to be up.
So, I was put to bed at the usual time and fell asleep, even though I tried hard to stay awake. Then, I heard Ma and Pa talking about getting me up for the New Year. Ma thought I ought to greet the New Year with them, so I would know I was part of the family; Pa thought I was too young. Ma won the argument.”
Adam ‘s face was tender with his good memories. “She usually did. So they came in and woke me up and wrapped me in a blanket and we went out to sit and watch the clock reach midnight. Pa had glasses with some special something in them; I got milk, but I had a special glass too, one of Ma’s real crystal ones. I was real careful, didn’t want to break it.
“Anyway, we sat there and watched and listened and the clock struck 12 times and Ma and Pa cried, “Happy New Year” and hugged and kissed each other and me. I couldn’t figure out what all the excitement was about. Everything looked the same to me. I curled up and put my head on Ma’s lap, cause I was tired by then. Then, I felt something move inside Ma, on my face. It felt almost like a butterfly’s wing, kissing my cheek. I jumped and looked up at Ma’s face and she had the funniest look on it. She whispered, “Ben, I felt the baby move” and she reached for Pa’s hand to see if he could feel it too.
That was when I really knew I was going to be a big brother. I knew where the baby was; still didn’t know how it would get out, but I knew nothing would ever be the same again for us. I remember you moving, Hoss, on that New Year’s Eve.” Adam smiled at his brother and continued. “You were a gift to all of us that year, one of the best gifts I ever got. Course, there were times that I might’ve given you back if I could’ve, especially when you cried half the night or followed me when I told you not to. Guess you are too big to give back now,” he laughed.
Hoss looked at Adam with shining eyes, now owning Adam’s memory of that special New Year’s Eve too. He loved it when Adam broke out of his reserve enough to share memories of Inger with him. Hoss had no memories of his mother except for Adam’s, and he treasured quiet times when Adam talked to him like this. The two brothers looked back out into the dark night, each busy with his own thoughts on this New Year’s Eve.
Suddenly, both heard a noise in the house and the door flew open. Little Joe darted out the door and almost tripped on his brothers, sitting quietly on the bench. “What’re you doin’ out here in the cold? Pa ‘ll have a conniption if he catches you out here, big brother, and he will tell you that you oughta know better, Hoss, than to let him stay.” Even as he rattled on, Joe wiggled his way between his brothers, and snuggled up with them. He had always claimed the spot in the middle, warm and protected by his older, bigger brothers and saw no reason to stop this night. Besides, it was cold out here on the porch.
Adam and Hoss laughed, rearranged the blankets so everyone was warm, then Adam asked, “Thought you had big plans for tonight, Joe? Didn’t you say you were going to eat, drink and make merry ‘til the cows came home and kiss all the girls for New Year’s Eve?”
“Yeah, that was the plan, big brother, but it didn’t quite work that way. Carrie was there and wanted to be my date for tonight. I forgot I‘d invited Suzanne to be my date; and then, to make matters worse, Josie Pruitt was back from school and she sure was pretty. No matter who I kissed, everyone else was going to be mad at me. So, I just told them that I had to get home ‘cause you were sick and needed me and they all thought I was so thoughtful and sweet and nobody got mad. Then I come home and find you two on the back porch. What’s up?”
Adam and Hoss laughed at the typical Joe conversation, run-on and in trouble with girls. Hoss said, “We was just sitting, talking a little about special New Year’s Eves we remember. Hey, Adam, do you remember the New Year’s Eve parties here at the ranch?”
Joe looked puzzled. “We have Christmas parties, not New Year’s Eve parties.”
Adam smiled a little and said “I know, but we did have a few New Year’s Eve parties to raise the roof. It started after Pa married Marie. The first Christmas after they got married, Pa wanted to have a big Christmas Eve party to kind of get folks used to Marie, but she had other ideas. Your Mama was Catholic, Joe, and she said that Christmas Eve was a religious holiday, for church and family, not for parties. But, she remembered big New Year’s Eve parties in New Orleans, so that’s what they did. Marie and Pa planned a really big wing-ding, and they sure hoped the weather would cooperate so folks could come. Must have invited half of the Nevada Territory to that first party.”
“As you know, Marie and I had lots of problems after she married Pa and I was being a pain about the party, too. Marie had ordered a real suit for me, with a tie and dress shirt and everything. I’d never had a suit like that before and, while a part of me liked the grown-up look it gave me, the brat in me was angry the suggestion came from Marie and not Pa. Anyway, Hoss was still too young to have to wear a suit, but Marie came into my room to be sure I had the tie right, and everything. I had to admit she looked beautiful in an elegant, green gown, with her blond hair piled up on her head. She didn’t look a bit like the other women of the territory, and I knew they would be jealous of how beautiful she was.
“It was a big, fancy party and everybody got there just fine. Marie and Hop Sing had worked hard on the food; Pa had his great punch; the house looked sparkly and me and Hoss both had friends coming, so we’d have company our own age. I didn’t know how to dance, but I was only 13 and I really didn’t miss it much. As it got close to midnight, everybody started watching the clock so at the sound of the chimes at 12, they could toast each other and kiss the ladies. I watched Pa and Marie and I couldn’t remember ever seeing Pa any happier than he was that night, hugging and looking at Marie, waiting for the kiss. After that, I couldn’t really be sorry Pa had married Marie; she made him so happy. I was confused about how I did feel after that.
“We had big parties every New Year’s Eve after that until Marie . …Well, anyway, you don’t remember the parties, Joe, because you were still real small when they stopped. When I got home from college, Pa and I decided that we should have a Christmas party every year, but not on Christmas Eve. Marie would have haunted us if we tried that. New Year’s is always hard for Pa because of the fun Marie brought to the holiday for him. I wish you could have seen how beautiful she looked at those parties, Joe. She glowed, and sometimes you look just like her, when you are having a really good time.” Adam drew a deep breath, smiled at Joe and Hoss, and before he could catch himself, he began to cough.
Just as Hoss and Joe started to get up, the door opened again and Ben walked out. Without a word, he helped Adam stand and motioned to the other boys to bring the blankets and pillows. Inside the warm great room, Ben eased Adam down on the settee and propped him up with a couple of pillows, covering him with one of the blankets. Hoss went to the kitchen and brought back a glass of water for Adam and Joe held it so Adam could catch his breath and sip it. Adam waved them all back, but the three of them stood until he was breathing easily again, then they all sat down. Ben looked at his three sons and growled, “Just what do you three think you were doing, sitting out in the cold with Adam coughing his head off?”
“Pa, I’m all right; it’s just a little cough. Besides, the question is, what are you doing home? You’re supposed to be at the Martins for New Year’s dinner.”
Ben looked sheepishly at his sons and confessed, “I didn’t think Adam ought to be alone on New Year’s Eve. Looks like I had a little company in that view. How come you two are home so early?” Ben had no intention of admitting he had heard much of the conversation on the porch, having not gone to town at all; instead he had been reading quietly in the great room, unseen by his sons. It always touched him deeply that the three boys, each with a different mother, could care so much for each other and still fight like they did sometimes.
He looked at the clock, and seeing the approach of midnight, reached into his cabinet to take out the fine crystal shot glasses there and a bottle of his very best brandy. Shouting “Hop Sing,” he poured five brandies and offered one to each member of the family, including Hop Sing as he entered. Hop Sing had brought a large tray filled with goodies, some sweet and some salty, to satisfy the big appetite, the slightly sick appetite, and the two in between.
The clock chimed out 1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8-9-10-11-12,
and the men counted down each chime. On the stroke of 12, they raised
their glasses to toast each other and the New Year. It didn’t really
matter where they were; they were with the people who really mattered and
the New Year looked good from there.
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