Joy Comes in the Morning
Laurie Moore

     Ben Cartwright awoke to the sounds of chirping birds as the first rays of dawn filtered into his room. He stretched and arose from his bed and moved to stand by the window. Easter morning, he thought, a time for rebirth. He sighed. Since Marie had died nearly a year ago, he felt as if he was dead, too. For the past nine months, he'd been going through the motions of life, but not really living.

      Could it really have been nearly a year? He shook his head. His boys were growing up so fast. Adam was nearly eighteen, and if he had his way, would be leaving for college back east in just a few months. He didn’t want Adam to go. He didn't know how he would bear being separated from his oldest son for so long, but didn't want to dwell on that this morning. There had been enough arguments on that subject.

       As he dressed, his thoughts turned to his middle boy. Hoss was eleven, but could almost do the work of a grown man. He was quite a help on the ranch. He'd become quieter since Marie's death; Ben realized he hadn't really talked with Hoss in a long time.

      As he headed outside to do his morning chores, Ben smiled as he though of Joseph, his youngest son- only five. Marie's son. Marie's and his, but so much like her.… Sometimes Ben couldn't even bear to look at Joseph, he reminded him so of Marie, but other times he was grateful to have a part of her still with him.  Ben pondered these thoughts while he worked

       Soon the barn door opened, revealing Adam and Hoss, who entered and started their chores. "Mornin' boys," he greeted them.

   "Mornin' Pa," they chorused. "Hey, Pa! Look!" Hoss shouted gleefully, holding up his hat. It was filled with colored eggs nestled in hay, left by the Easter Bunny.

                   “Oh, how could he have forgotten the eggs?" Ben thought with dismay. Someone had remembered however...Hop Sing? he wondered, then Adam caught his eye and winked. Adam. When had Adam had time to do this? Ben returned his wink and found an expression of gratitude for his eldest.

               “We’re gonna hide eggs, ain’t we?” Hoss continued, “ An’ have an egg roll, and go to the church social, an’ ”

                 “Yes, Hoss, we’ll hide eggs, and all those other things,” Ben interrupted with a smile. “Hurry up and finish your chores, so we can have breakfast and get ready for church.” Yes, Ben thought, they would hide eggs, and play games, for Hoss’s sake, and for Little Joe’s.  He still didn’t feel very much like celebrating.

      Ben entered the house and washed up for breakfast. Hop Sing was just bringing out plates of eggs, sausage, and toast. Hoss burst into the house, “HOP SING!”

Hop Sing was startled and nearly dropped one of the platters. “Why boy yell?”

“Sorry, Hop Sing,” Hoss apologized, “but look what th’ Easter bunny brought!” Hoss’s voice rose again with excitement.

“Boy scare Hop Sing half to death! Hop Sing think house on fire,” Hop Sing smiled as he pretended to fuss at Hoss.

 “Pa, I got the buggy hitched up.” Adam had entered quietly behind Hoss.

“Thank you, Adam,” Ben acknowledged. “Will one of you please go get your brother?”

 “I’ll get him, Pa,” Hoss placed his hat of eggs carefully on the table, and then headed up the stairs.

     Hoss found Little Joe sprawled out on his bed, with the covers hanging in the floor. “Hey, Little Joe, wake up!” “Wake up!!” Hoss repeated, when there was no response. He shook Joe and tried once more. “Come on, Joe, it’s Easter- come see if ya got anything waitin’ for ya in the barn!”

     “Aw, Hoss, I don’t wanna get up,” Little Joe, mumbled rolling over and burying his head in the pillow. Hoss was starting to become frustrated with his brother.

     “Little Joe, you’re getting’ up, and you’re comin’ down for breakfast, or I’ll send Pa up here to roust you out of bed!”

     Little Joe wasn’t sure if Hoss would follow through with his threat, but the possibility was enough to get him moving. He sat up and rubbed his eyes. “Are we gonna hide eggs, Hoss?”

    “That depends on whether you got any, little brother!” Hoss jibed. “Now come on, let’s get down to breakfast, before Pa and Adam eat it all up!”

     “You would be worried about that, Hoss!” Little Joe laughed, and scampered out of the room, now fully awake.

      Hoss and Little Joe descended the staircase with all the grace and decorum of a cattle stampede, causing Ben to glare up at them. “BOYS! Don’t run in the house!”

    “Yessir,” they answered, and slowed their pace.

     Hoss accompanied Little Joe out to the barn to collect his bounty from the bunny. Little Joe was thrilled with all the different colored eggs. They quickly returned to the house, sat down at the table, and began helping their plates. “Pa, are we gonna hide eggs, an’ have an egg roll after church, an’…”

     “Yes, Little Joe,” Ben answered, a bit impatiently, “But not if you don’t eat a good breakfast and get yourself ready for church.” Ben shook his head. Hadn’t he just had this conversation with Hoss?

      Soon the boys had finished their breakfast and headed upstairs. Adam dressed quickly and went to help Little Joe, who found wearing a new suit much less exciting than getting colored eggs. When Adam entered, Little Joe had managed to put on his pants and shirt, but was not having any luck with his boots or tie.

      Adam helped his brother get his feet into his boots, then reached for the tie. “Aw, Adam, I don’t wanna wear a tie!” Little Joe complained. “My shirt’s too tight buttoned all the way up - I can’t breathe!”

     Adam smiled to himself. His little brother could be quite melodramatic about the smallest things. He bent down on one knee to address his brother. “Little Joe, it’s Easter. Don’t you want to look nice for…” Adam’s voice trailed off at the expression on Little Joe’s face. He tried another tactic. “You have to finish getting dressed or we’ll be late...and Pa will be mad…” He raised one eyebrow and waited for Joe’s reaction.

     “Aw, Adam, do I hafta ?” Adam made no response, but kept his eyebrow raised.  Joe knew the answer to his own question, but scuffed the toe of his boot along the floor, not yet willing to admit defeat. “I don’t see why I hafta wear a dumb ol’ tie,” he muttered, looking down.

     Ben stuck his head in the door. “What’s keeping you boys? It’s time to go.”

    “Your baby son doesn’t seem to be very interested in wearing a tie,” Adam explained dryly.

    “Well,” Ben smiled as he knelt before his youngest,  “Let’s see if I can help you with that.”

     Ben’s large fingers fumbled with the tiny buttons of his infant son’s Easter gown. Marie held Little Joe on her lap as Ben attempted to fasten the back of the garment Marie had sewn from satin and lace purchased in San Francisco. Ben’s older boys had never worn such fancy clothes as infants. As a bachelor father, Ben had made more utilitarian choices, and, at any rate, he didn’t have the means for such finery then.  “Oh, Ben, he’s just a living doll!” Marie exclaimed, holding Little Joe up in front of her, admiring her precious son’s beautiful outfit.

     Ben shook his head to clear the memory of Little Joe’s first Easter, and again saw a five year old boy standing before him. He finished tying the tie and straightened, smiling down at his youngest, handsomely attired in a white shirt, blue pants and jacket, and of course, the tie.  Marie would be so proud… "All right, now let’s get to church.” Ben spoke almost brusquely, trying to suppress the emotions he had triggered.

Hoss was already downstairs waiting. The rest of the family joined him, and together they got in the buggy and headed for Virginia City.

     Little Joe talked nonstop the whole way to church. He couldn’t wait for the picnic and social which would take place immediately following the service.  He wondered if the Easter Bunny had left eggs for all his friends, and what colors they were, and what games they would play.

     Ben found his youngest son’s incessant chatter a bit distracting and kept silent, leaving Adam and Hoss to field his many questions. Ben soon became lost in his own thoughts of a happier Easter, only a year ago…a lifetime ago…

     Marie had given Hop Sing instructions to save and collect the things needed for dying eggs: onion skins for orange, carrot tops for yellow, spinach leaves for green, red cabbage for blue, violet blossoms for purple, and beets for pale red  (well, no boy would call his egg “pink!”). She was so excited this year. Now that Little Joe was four, he was old enough to really participate in the games, and get excited about the holiday. Marie’s favorite holiday was Christmas, but Easter was a close second. In fact, she loved all holidays, any excuse for a celebration. Ben supposed that came from her being raised in New Orleans, a city that certainly knew how to throw a celebration…Ben smiled at the thought. Marie and Hop Sing had dyed the eggs and, after the boys were asleep, carefully placed them in their hats, which they had filled with hay and left in the barn. She loved seeing their expressions of surprise and delight when they found the eggs. Of course, Adam knew where the eggs really came from, but he didn’t spoil the magic for his little brothers. Marie had as much fun that afternoon playing games as the boys had. She was a wonderful mother.

Suddenly, it seemed to Ben, they arrived at the church. The boys jumped down from the buggy, going on ahead while Ben secured the horses. The Cartwrights greeted their friends and neighbors outside the church; many of the ladies made quite a fuss over Little Joe’s appearance.

    “Oh, how precious!” “Isn’t he such a handsome young man?”  “He’s going to be real heartbreaker when he grows up!”  Many of the ladies couldn’t resist the urge to ruffle Little Joe’s curls, and one even pinched his cheeks. Little Joe was NOT impressed.

     Fortunately for the youngest Cartwright, Hoss had seen his plight, and tugged at his father’s sleeve as he talked with Sheriff Coffee. “Pa!”

    “Hoss, don’t interrupt,” Pa admonished and returned to his conversation.

    “But, Pa,” Hoss wasn’t giving up so easily, “ Them ladies is gonna pester Little Joe plumb to death!”

Ben and Roy turned to look at the scene Hoss had observed. Roy smiled. “I think your boy’s right, Ben. Better go rescue him.” Ben nodded his agreement, and headed over to the group of ladies clustered around Little Joe.

“Look at this darling suit!” one of the ladies was saying as Ben approached.

“Good morning, ladies,” Ben spoke as he placed a strong hand on his son’s shoulder.

“Good morning, Mr. Cartwright,” they replied, almost in unison.

“If you ladies will excuse us, we’ll be going on in to church now.” Ben tipped his hat, while keeping his other hand on Little Joe, and directed his son towards the steps of the church. Privately, he’d have expected the ladies to be fawning over his eldest son instead of the youngest one. He knew Adam was considered by many to be one of the most eligible bachelors in the territory. What Ben Cartwright would have been shocked to learn was that many of those ladies considered HIM one of the most eligible bachelors in the territory, and petted young Joseph hoping to get the attention of the father who might hopefully be looking for a step-mother for the boy. It didn’t hurt that Little Joe was a beautiful child, with golden curls that begged to be touched, and eyes that were a window into his very soul.  Yes indeed, many women would jump at the chance to become Mrs. Benjamin Cartwright.

Unfortunately for the wishful brides to be, Ben Cartwright entertained no such notions of remarriage. He only wanted Marie.


Ben sang the words of the opening hymn without really paying attention. His thoughts were still focused on what could have been. Marie should have been beside him, singing the hymn with her beautiful voice. He wondered what color dress she would've chosen for today...Lost in his thoughts, Ben almost forgot to sit down with the rest of the congregation when the hymn was finished.

    As the Reverend began the sermon, Ben was tempted to let his thoughts drift again, but this was Easter, after all. He found himself listening to the story of the death and resurrection of Christ as if for the first time. He was moved by the enormity of God's gift to mankind. He felt God's presence and God's love.

     The congregation stood for the closing hymn. This time, Ben paid attention to the meaning of the words he sang.

 "A Lamb Goes Uncomplaining Forth " by Paul Gerhardt (1607-1676) from the Lutheran Hymnal.

A Lamb goes uncomplaining forth,
The guilt of all men bearing;
And laden with the sins of earth,
None else the burden sharing!
Goes patient on, grow weak and faint,
To slaughter led without complaint
That spotless life to offer;
Bears shame and strife, and wounds and death,
Anguish and mockery, and saith,
"Willing all this I suffer."

As Ben considered the sacrifice of Christ, made out of the Father's great love, he began to let go of his anger. Anger he didn't even realize he still felt. Anger at God for taking his wife- again! Anger at Marie for riding too fast on an unschooled horse, anger that his boys were without a mother, anger at himself for...for what? Allowing Marie to ride a horse, to do what made her happy? For not forbidding her to ride so fast - well he had! - but she didn't listen. Could he have convinced her to be more cautious? As the music continued to wash over him, he felt the anger leave, but with the anger gone, he felt another emotion taking its place...

This Lamb is Christ, the soul's great Friend,
The Lamb of God, our Savior;
Him God the Father chose to send
To gain for us His favor.
"Go forth, My Son," the Father saith,
"And free men from the fear of death,
From guilt and condemnation.
The wrath and stripes are hard to bear,
But by thy Passion men shall share
The fruit of Thy salvation."

Free men from the fear of death, from guilt and condemnation, Ben weighed the words in his mind. He knew the words referred to mankind's condemnation from God for their sins, but hadn't he been condemning himself for Marie's death? All the "what if's" and "why didn't I's" sometimes threatened to overwhelm him. Could he be freed from this guilt? If God could forgive him, why couldn't he forgive himself? Was there even anything to forgive? Marie loved to ride, how could he have forbidden her. It was an accident. An accident - that's what everyone had been telling him all these months, but he finally realized and accepted it for himself. He couldn’t have kept Marie in a cage to keep her safe True, it wasn't fair that the boys had lost their mothers, but life wasn't fair. Ben had learned that lesson long ago. You just have to make the best of what you had. What did he have? Ben pondered. A prosperous ranch, a beautiful home, cattle...No, he'd trade every square inch of land and every head of cattle to have Marie back. What did he *really* have? Three wonderful sons, each a precious gift from God. Living reminders of each of their mothers. Yes he was quite wealthy indeed. He sang the remaining verses with renewed vigor.

Of death I am no more afraid,
New life from thee is flowing;
Thy cross affords me cooling shade
When noonday's sun is glowing.
When by my grief am I am opprest,
On Thee my weary soul shall rest
Serenely as on pillows.
Thou art my anchor when by woe
My bark is driven to and fro
On trouble's surging billows.

Adam stole a sideways glance at his father, who was singing the words with such conviction. A hope began to grow in Adam that the father he had lost when his stepmother had died would come back. He had promised Hoss and Little Joe that it would happen, all the while not really believing it himself. Could his father be overcoming his grief at last?

And when Thy glory I shall see
And taste thy kingdom's pleasure,
Thy blood my royal robe shall be,
My joy beyond all measure.
When I appear before thy throne,
Thy righteousness shall be my crown,
With these I need not hide me.
And there, in garments richly wrought
As thine own bride, I shall be brought
To stand in joy beside Thee.

Ben felt his heart swell with the joy the hymn spoke of. Marie wasn't dead, she was alive eternally. She was with him. He could feel her presence, just as he could feel Elizabeth and Inger. He felt complete assurance that one day he would be reunited with them and because of that, he could bear the separation. He felt as if a great weight had been lifted off his shoulders.

   As the family left the church, Ben felt reborn. He looked at the people around him, bedecked in their Easter finery, as if seeing them for the first time. He felt the sun on his face, and the crisp April breeze, and for the first time since Marie's accident, felt glad to be alive. He squeezed Little Joe's hand and smiled broadly at Hoss and Adam. "Let's get our basket of food from the buggy, boys," Ben spoke with excitement, “And don’t forget your eggs for the games.”

     The boys weren't sure what had brought about this change in their father, but they didn't care. Little Joe ran off to join his friends playing in the meadow, while Adam and Hoss helped their father get their things off the buggy.

     Ben unfolded the red checkered tablecloth and spread it out on the ground. Adam carried the basket of food Hop Sing had prepared up to the ladies setting up the serving tables, and then went over to talk with a group of his friends. Ben watched his boys with interest. Hoss was playing horseshoes with several other boys, and Little Joe was running around happily with a group of younger children. Ben noticed that the top three buttons of his shirt were undone, and the tie was nowhere in evidence. Ben shook his head with amusement. Boys will be boys - and who should know that better than he did? Perhaps when Little Joe got older, he would keep his shirt buttoned up…

     The tables set up outside was now laden with delicious food, and the ladies of the church had everything ready to serve. The minister came forward and blessed the food, thanking God for His blessings and His bounty, and for the gift of salvation through Jesus Christ. Ben prayed silently with the minister, echoing his sentiments, but being more specific about the three blessings he was most thankful for.

    Ben called to the boys and motioned for them to come and eat. Adam and Hoss came at once, but Little Joe was too busy playing to stop and eat. Ben called to him again. Finally he joined his father and brothers, mostly because his playmates had left to join their own families.

    As the youngest Cartwright came running up, Ben asked, "Little Joe, where's your tie?" Little Joe stopped short. He had NO idea where it was...Pa would be mad...then it dawned on him that Pa had called him "Little Joe" and not "Joseph"...if he were mad, he'd have called him "Joseph" for sure, so...maybe he wasn't mad? Ben watched with amusement as these thoughts played openly across his son's expressive face. "It doesn't matter, Joe," Ben said smiling and ruffling his son's curls, "Let's just get something to eat now."

     "It doesn't matter" was a response none of the boys expected. Adam and Hoss exchanged shocked glances. They'd expected their errant sibling to get a mini-lecture on responsibility or at the very least be made to search for the missing tie. Joe was just pleased that his father was not mad, and was paying him some attention. They reached the table and filled their plates, Ben helping Joe's plate for him. They returned to their blanket to eat.

As the family finished their meal, Ben noticed Mrs. Kaiser approaching them with a basket. The Kaiser family had immigrated from Germany, and had settled in Virginia City two years ago. Mrs. Kaiser still spoke with a heavy accent. She had been friends with Marie, but Ben hadn’t seen her much recently. He hadn’t seen anyone much recently, he thought wryly.

“Happy Easter, Mrs. Kaiser,” Ben greeted her.

“Ya, Happy Easter to you, Ben. How are you and the boys?”

“We’re doing just fine, thank you.”

“Vell, I hope you don’t mind, but I have a little gift for your boys,” Mrs. Kaiser smiled and uncovered the basket she carried. In it were three pastries, shaped like bunnies, and covered with sugar. “These are vhat children in Deutchland eat on Easter,” she explained. I made some for my little ones, and I thought you boys might like to have some, too.”

Hoss and Little Joe were both eyeing the treats and licking their lips, but Adam was the first to speak. “Thank you very much, Mrs. Kaiser, that’s very kind of you.”

“Yessum! Thanks a whole bunch,” Hoss remembered his manners as he grabbed a pastry from the basket, and bit into it with relish.

“Thank you, ma’am,” Little Joe added shyly, also reaching into the basket for a sugary bunny.  His eyes lit up with pleasure as he tasted the sweet flaky delicacy.

“You’re velcome, boys,” Mrs. Kaiser replied, but took the look on Little Joe’s face as all the thanks she needed. She reached out and touched his cheek. “Sweet child,” she spoke fondly. She stopped herself before speaking aloud of Joseph’s resemblance to his mother. She had come to make the boys happy, not sad. “Vell, I’m glad you all have enjoyed an Easter tradition from my homeland. I must get back to my own family now. Good afternoon.”

“Good afternoon, Mrs. Kaiser, and thank you. I appreciate you thinking of my boys this way.” Ben knew why she had brought the boys the special pastries, but instead of feeling resentment as he might have earlier, he felt the love and concern with which Mrs. Kaiser had shared her gift.

 Soon Little Joe and Hoss had devoured their bunnies, and ran off to play again. Adam was eating his more slowly, and remained on the blanket with his father, who was still thinking of Mrs. Kaiser’s unspoken statement. Joseph was so much like Marie.

What was different with Marie’s death? Why had it taken so long for him to come to terms with his grief? Ben thought back to Elizabeth and Inger; they had also died untimely deaths, but...but what? Were their deaths less tragic?

     Childbirth was a dangerous thing. Many women died in their efforts to bring a new life into the world, and Elizabeth had not been in the best of health. Still, he was unprepared for her death. He grieved deeply for a long time, and sometimes wished they’d never even had a baby. Then he would look at Adam, and feel guilty for thinking such a thought. When he finally came to terms with her death, he was so grateful that he had Adam as Elizabeth lived on through him.

     What about Inger? Her death was certainly unexpected. However, the journey west was fraught with danger; many pioneers lost their lives along the way. This knowledge didn’t keep Ben from being devastated by Inger’s death and from being consumed with guilt. If he hadn’t taken Inger west, she would’ve been safe. In time he came to realize that Inger had made her choice to come with him, and accepted the risks for herself- he hadn’t forced her to come.

    In a blinding flash of clarity, Ben realized that it wasn’t different with Marie. He had thought that his feelings of anger, guilt, and loss were greater now than they had been before, but he had felt the same emotions just as intensely with the deaths of his other loves. Only time, and the love of family, friends, and God, had healed the anger and guilt, and lessened the pain of loss.

    At the time though, he had even tried to escape from the intense feelings. He couldn’t get out of Boston fast enough after he lost Elizabeth, and he had moved on, with the wagon train, after Inger was killed. This time he couldn’t leave physically, but he had been absent emotionally from the lives of his sons, just as before.  Ben had been so consumed with his own grief that he had neglected his boys. Oh, they were fed, clothed, sheltered, educated, and disciplined, but mostly left to their own devices. Certainly not talked to or played with enough...

    With a pang of deep regret, Ben realized that he'd done this to Adam for the third time. Of course Adam couldn't remember his Pa not playing with him as a newborn, but he'd had to become a man at age 7 after the death of Inger. Ben had been in a fog of grief, leaving Adam to take care of both of them.

    Now it had happened again. Ben had been lost in his grief, and Adam had been left with most of the responsibility of running the ranch, and parenting Hoss and Little Joe. He thought of how much he’d come to rely on his eldest son, how much Adam did to help him. How much Adam has taken on himself, without complaint, and without appreciation, Ben thought sadly.

Adam had sat quietly, observing the activities around him, and watching his father. He knew something had changed with him, but he wasn’t sure what. He wondered what his father was thinking of, as he was obviously deep in thought.

Ben took a deep breath as his thoughts returned to the present. He wanted to put things right with Adam, and he didn’t want to wait another minute to do it. “Adam, would you mind helping me with something?”

“Sure, Pa,” Adam replied, puzzled.

Ben got up and headed towards the buggy, with Adam following. No one paid any attention as they left. When they were far enough away not to be observed, Ben spoke again. “Adam, I wanted to talk to you about something.”

Adam was even more confused. Pa sounded very serious, but he couldn’t think of anything that he’d done to upset him. Then again, Pa didn’t sound upset, just…serious.

“I wanted to apologize to you, Adam.”

Adam quickly closed his mouth after it fell open at his father’s words. His mind had been racing, wondering what topic his father had thought important enough to discuss here and now. An apology had taken him completely by surprise. An apology for what? Adam had no idea, and so didn’t know how to respond to his father’s statement. He looked at his father expectantly, hoping for a little more information.

    “Son, you’ve carried an awful lot of responsibility these past several months. Too much. I’ve put too much on you.”

Adam misinterpreted this statement to mean his father thought he hadn’t been able to handle the tasks. “I’ve done my best, Pa,” he began.

“Adam, I know you have. You’ve done everything exactly right. My point was that you shouldn’t have had to. And from now on, you won’t.”

Adam was now thoroughly confused. “I won’t what, Pa?”

“You won’t have to manage so much alone, and you won’t have to be a father instead of an older brother. I’ve leaned upon you heavily, son.  I hadn’t realized how much though, until today, when I stopped and thought about it a little more objectively.”

“Pa, you don’t have to explain…” Adam began, but Ben held up his hand.

“Yes, I do, Adam. I owe you at least that much.” Ben sat down on the front steps of the church, and waited for his son to join him. “I hope you never in your life have to go through the pain of losing someone you love so much…” Ben had to stop and take a deep breath. He hoped he could get through this conversation. He began again. “When someone you love is suddenly gone….” Ben stopped himself again. Could he not even say her name? He couldn’t before, but now…now that he was assured of her eternal happiness, he would try. Ben started a third time, “When Marie died, my world collapsed. I couldn’t feel anything but my own pain, my own grief. I was filled with feelings that I didn’t want to experience, so I guess I just shut everything out, including you boys. That was wrong. I should’ve been there for you, Adam, for all of you. You’ve had to grow up way too fast. When Inger died, I left everything to you then, too. You were just a boy. It was wrong of me. Now, I’ve left you with running the ranch and dealing with your brothers, when you should’ve been given some time for your own grief. ”

“Pa, it’s okay. I did what I had to do,” Adam began, uncomfortable at the mention of Inger. Hoss’s mother had been the first real mother he had known.

“That’s just it, son. You did do what you had to do. The point is, you shouldn’t have had to.” Ben took another deep breath.  Adam had built a wall around his heart after Inger died. It took Marie nearly a year to break thought that wall, to win Adam’s love and acceptance. Now with her death, that wall had been solidly rebuilt. Adam rarely showed his true emotions, and Ben supposed that was his fault, too. How could he get through to his son, now?

“Adam, I know how badly you want to attend college in the fall,” Ben began.

“Pa, I can wait another year, if you need me to stay here,” Adam offered, believing his father was about to ask this of him anyway.

“No, son, that isn’t fair to you. Of course, I want you to stay here- I’ll miss you terribly, but I can’t keep you from your dream. Not when you’d done so much to help me achieve mine…” Ben’s voice trailed off, thinking of how Adam had been by his side as they built the Ponderosa together.

Adam’s eyes opened wide with hope, “You mean, you’re saying I can go? You’re saying yes?”

Ben smiled at his beloved son through his tears, “Yes, Adam, I’m saying yes. You can go. I’ll manage without you somehow.” Ben regretted those last words when he saw Adam’s look of concern. “What I mean is, I’ll have to get used to you being gone, son. It’s hard for me to remember a time when you weren’t with me,” Ben explained, not wanting his son to forgo his dream of furthering his education because he felt he couldn’t leave his responsibilities on the ranch.

“Pa, I don’t know what to say. I wanted this so badly, but I was afraid it would never happen.” Adam suddenly embraced his father, “Thank you so much, Pa!”

Ben held tightly to his first born, savoring the feeling of his son in his arms. “You’re welcome, Adam. I hope it’s everything you want it to be. I just want you to be happy.  I love you so much.” Ben blinked back his tears. Neither father nor son could find more words, but they didn’t need them. Ben felt Adam’s love and gratitude, and Adam felt secure that his father loved and valued him, as he always had.

Finally, they released each other. “I guess we’d better be getting back, your brothers will wonder what’s happened to us,” Ben laughed. As they walked back over to the picnic area Ben kept his arm around Adam’s shoulders.

When they had nearly reached the edge of the churchyard, Little Joe came running up, “Pa! Adam! Where’ve you been!” Ben and Adam smiled at each other; they’d come back just in time. Not waiting for an answer, Little Joe continued, “There’re about to start the egg roll! You gotta come watch! I’m gonna win, Pa, I just know I’m gonna win.”

“Little Joe, they’ll be a lot of other boys and girls trying to win, too,” Ben didn’t want his son to be disappointed. “Just have fun, that’s what’s really important.”

“Sure I’ll have fun, Pa, ‘cause I’m gonna win!” With that, Little Joe ran off again.

 Adam rolled his eyes. “Did he not hear anything you said?”

“He’s just a boy, Adam,” Ben replied, shaking his head with amusement at the enthusiasm of his youngest.

Adam and Ben reached the family’s blanket in time to see Little Joe carefully selecting the egg he wanted to enter in the egg roll. “Hurry up, Little Joe!” Hoss had grabbed one of his eggs, and was ready to go.

“I’m coming, I’m coming!” Little Joe finally made his choice and hurried off to join his brother.

Ben and Adam followed the younger boys over to the hill at the edge of the meadow. They went on to the bottom, for a better view, while Hoss and Little Joe joined the other children at the top. Steve and Jacob Foster, brothers in their early twenties, were in charge of the games. When Steve saw all the children were ready, he signaled them to start. The eggs rolled down the hill as the children laughed and cheered. Most of the children followed their eggs down, and some of them ended up rolling down along with the eggs, which they found to be even more fun.

The two older Cartwrights were surprised and pleased to see Little Joe’s egg slightly ahead of the rest. They found themselves cheering at the egg. “Come on! Come on!” They looked at each other and laughed as they realized how silly it sounded. Their cries of motivation would hardly cause the egg to go faster. However, others were doing it too, so they resumed their shouting. Hoss’ egg was near the middle of the group, but Little Joe’s was even further out in front than before.

“By golly, that boy is gonna win,” Ben laughed, not believing his youngest was really going to fulfill his prediction. He knew Marie would’ve been delighted; he was sure she was looking down on the scene with pleasure.

As Little Joe’s egg reached the bottom of the hill, followed closely by its owner, Steve proclaimed it the winner. Ben was as thrilled as his son; he raced over and grabbed him up in his arms, swinging him around in the air.

“I told you I was going to win, Pa!”

“You sure did, didn’t you, son,” Ben laughed. “You sure did.”

Hoss came running up as Ben put Little Joe down. “Hey congratulations, little brother!” Hoss was genuinely happy that Joe had won, and not concerned that he himself had not. Ben was reminded of Inger’s selflessness, and smiled to himself.

“Everyone, can I have your attention,” Jacob Foster shouted. When the crowd had quieted he continued, “While you have been watching the egg roll, I’ve been hiding eggs in the meadow. Let the hunt begin!”

“Oh, boy, an egg hunt! Come on, Hoss!” Little Joe grabbed his brother’s arm, and pulled him along. The children quickly spread out, looking for the hidden treasures. Eggs were hidden in clumps of grass, on low branches of trees, under corners of picnic blankets, and Hoss even found one on the serving table, under a leftover piece of bread.

When the hunt was over, Little Joe had collected seven eggs. Hoss had five, but remaining in his hat were the shells of four others. “Well, I got hungry,” he explained. “It’s been nearly an hour since lunch!” The other Cartwrights laughed.

“The next game will be the egg toss,” Steve announced. “Divide into teams of two, come stand up here facing each other, and toss an egg back and forth. With each toss, take a step backwards. The team who can throw their egg the farthest, without breaking it, is the winner.”

“Pa, be my partner!” Little Joe implored. Ben was honored that he’d been chosen over Hoss, and gladly accepted.

Hoss asked Adam to be his partner. “Why not,” Adam replied with a smile, grabbing an egg from Hoss’ hat.

The spectators ooohhhed and aaahhhed as the teams moved further apart. It wasn’t long before the first egg broke. Little Joe was having a grand time, tossing the egg back and forth with his father. He didn’t even care whether he won this or not. When his egg finally broke as he caught it, Ben worried that he would be unhappy, but Joe ran and hugged his father, laughing. “That was fun, Pa!”

“Yes, it was, Little Joe,” Ben ruffled his son’s hair, pleased that his son had found that you didn’t have to win to have fun. He also realized that what Joe had found pleasurable was playing with his father, and Ben resolved that Joseph would have much more such pleasure in the future. “It’s getting pretty late, though. We’d better be getting on home.”

“Aw, Pa, can’t we stay a little while longer?”

“We can watch the end of the egg toss, and then we have to go.”

“Okay,” Joe replied resignedly, then turned his attention back to the game.  “Hey, Pa, look at Hoss and Adam!”

Only a few teams remained, and the Cartwright brothers were among them. Ben and Little Joe watched as they moved further and further apart. “How could they not break the egg, throwing it so far?” Little Joe wondered.

Finally, only two teams remained. Ben found himself holding his breath as Adam threw the egg to Hoss. When the egg was successfully caught, he released the pent up breath, only to hold it again as Hoss threw the egg. On that throw, the other team broke their egg, but Adam caught his safely. Everyone cheered, and Ben and Little Joe ran to congratulate the winners.

Adam had thought he was too old for such games, but he found himself having a good time, and was quite pleased that he and Hoss had won. He patted his brother on the back, “That was good throwing, Hoss!”

“You too, older brother!” Hoss returned the compliment.

“Well, it seems I have a bunch of winners for sons,” Ben managed to envelop all three boys in a huge bear hug. He loved the feeling of having his hands on all of them at once. Giving them a final squeeze, he released them one by one.

“It’s time for us to go home, boys. I’ll bet Hop Sing will have supper nearly ready by the time we get there.” That last statement was all the prompting Hoss needed, and his brothers joined him in gathering their things.

 Adam collected the family's dishes from the table, while Hoss helped Pa fold up the blanket. Little Joe carefully placed the remaining eggs back in his hat. The Cartwrights waved goodbye to their friends and headed back to the buggy. Hoss spoke up, "Pa," he began tentatively, "Could I sit up front with you and...and drive the horses?” Hoss had been asking to learn to drive a team for some time, but Pa had said he wasn't old enough. Today, however, Hoss had carefully noted his father's good mood, and decided to risk asking again.

Ben considered his son's request. He realized the real reason he'd been putting him off about learning to drive a team of horses was that he didn't want to take the time to teach him. Well that was going to change, starting right now. He was going to make time for all his boys.

"That's a good idea, Hoss, come on up here!"

Hoss had been prepared to be turned down again, but when he heard his father's words his face lit up with a huge smile, and his blue eyes sparkled. "Yes SIR!" he responded, as he climbed up front next to his Pa. Adam lifted Little Joe up to the back seat, and then climbed in after him. Ben put his arms around Hoss and placed the reins in his hands, while still keeping hold of them himself.

"Well, let's get these horses moving, son!"

"Hi-ya!" Hoss shouted and flicked the reins, and off they went. Ben helped his son guide the buggy out of the churchyard, and then gave him more control as they got back on the main road out of town.

    Ben showed his son how one of the horses was the leader, and to concentrate on guiding that one. As Hoss gained confidence, Ben allowed the horses to go a little faster.

Little Joe watched with excitement as his brother guided the buggy. He wondered how long it would be before HE could learn to drive too. He leaned back against Adam and closed his eyes, imagining himself driving the horses all on his own. What adventures he would have…Soon his even breathing indicated he had fallen asleep. Automatically, Adam took his little brother into his arms. Little Joe stirred slightly, but Adam patted his back, and he laid his head on Adam's shoulder and remained asleep. Ben noticed Adam's actions, and smiled back at him, realizing once again how Adam had been more of a father than an older brother to Little Joe recently.

Ben returned his attention to Hoss. "You're doing real well, son. You've got a special way with animals."

Hoss beamed at this praise from his father. Ben released his hold on the reins for a moment to give his son's shoulders a squeeze. "I haven't told you, Hoss, but I appreciate how hard you've been working around the ranch. Pretty soon, I'm going to have to start paying you the same as the hands." Ben and Hoss both laughed, but Ben knew it wasn't too far from the truth. "I haven't spent very much time with you, son," Ben continued, "and I'd like to apologize for that. I've been missing Marie real bad, and I've been pretty selfish. I know you must miss her too. I know it's been hard on you these last few months."

Hoss swallowed hard, and nodded. "Yessir, it's been almost like we lost you both, when..." Hoss broke off, realizing what he was saying, and afraid he would anger or upset his father.

"I know, Hoss, that's exactly what I mean. You've needed me, and I haven't been there."

"You don't have to apologize, Pa, we understand. Adam said you just needed some time alone."

"I appreciate your understanding, Hoss, but it doesn't make it right, and I want to make it up to you somehow."

Soon the buggy arrived in the yard of the family home. Adam had remained silent during the trip back, knowing that his father needed to talk things out with his brother the way he had with him earlier.

Ben clapped Hoss on the shoulder as they got down from the buggy. "You did a fine job, son, I'm proud of you. I'll see that you get another change to practice real soon." Ben turned to help Adam down, as his arms were full of Little Joe. "Why don't you take Joe on inside, and I'll put up the horses."

"I can see to the horses, Pa," Hoss spoke with conviction. "If I'm gonna drive'em, I oughtta take care of 'em."

Ben smiled with pride at his middle boy, who wouldn't be a boy much longer. "Why don't we do it together?” Father and son headed to the barn, leading the horses. They unhitched the buggy and started bedding down the horses. "Hoss, if there's ever anything you need to talk to your Pa about, you just speak up. I mean it about making it up to you for before. If I forget, you don't be afraid to remind me."

"Yessir," Hoss replied solemnly, deeply touched by what his father had discussed with him.

  "Another thing," Ben continued, "is we haven't spent any time together, just the two of us. How would you like to go on a hunting trip with your Pa?”

"Just you and me? You mean it??"

"I certainly do, Hoss! How does this coming Saturday sound?”

"It sounds great, Pa, it sounds great." Hoss hugged his father tightly. Spring was a busy time at the Ponderosa, and for Pa to take a day off to spend with him spoke louder of his Pa's love for him than words ever could. Hoss was filled with joy.

After they finished caring for the horses, Ben couldn't resist giving Hoss another hug. "You're really growing up, son. I love you."

"I love you too, Pa"

They walked back to the house together, Ben's arm around his son's shoulders.


Adam had laid Little Joe on the settee and covered him with a blanket. He then went to sit at his father's desk. He looked up from the ledger he was checking when he heard Pa and Hoss come in. "Hey, Hoss, I didn't tell you before, but that was a fine job you did driving home today."

"Thanks, Adam," Hoss beamed, knowing his older brother's praise was sincere. "Hey, guess what, Adam? Guess what?” Adam was unable to attempt to guess before an excited Hoss continued, "You'll never guess, so I'll just tell ya! Pa and me's going huntin' Saturday, him and me, just the two of us!"

Adam directed a questioning look towards his father, who nodded to confirm Hoss' statement. "Go on and get washed up for supper, Hoss," Ben instructed, then moved to stand by his eldest son. "I know I just promised you a reduction in parenting responsibilities," Ben spoke softly, "but if you and Hop Sing can manage Little Joe for the day, Hoss and I’ll be home in time for supper."

"It's no problem, Pa. I think it's great that you and Hoss are going to spend some time together."

Ben smiled his gratitude at Adam. He hated to impose on Adam to watch his brother for a whole day, but he really felt it important to spend the time with Hoss. Marie was the only mother Hoss had ever known, and she'd been his mother for over half his life. Ben wondered how well Hoss could remember any time before Marie had come into their lives. Yes, he and Hoss would have some long talks...Suddenly it registered with Ben what Adam was doing at his desk. "Adam Cartwright! We don't work on the books on the Lord's Day!"

"I was just going over these figures, Pa," Adam began.

"Well, go over them tomorrow, young man!" Ben admonished, but he couldn't keep the corners of his mouth from turning up, revealing that he wasn’t really angry. “You’d better go on and get washed up for supper, too.”

As if on cue, Hop Sing appeared from the kitchen. “Dinner all leady. You come eat now,” he announced, placing a glazed ham on the table beside several bowls of vegetables.

“We’re coming, Hop Sing,” Ben acknowledged. He and Adam quickly went to wash up and returned to the dining room. Ben stopped and knelt by the settee. “Little Joe, Little Joe,” he whispered, shaking his youngest gently. “Joseph, wake up son, it’s time to eat.”

Finally, Little Joe stirred and rubbed his eyes. Ben sat him up and proceeded to wash his face and hands with a damp cloth he’d brought down with him for that purpose. The coolness on his face brought Joe quickly to full alertness, which was also Ben’s intent. “Go on to the table now, we’re waiting on you,” Ben instructed, when he deemed his son suitably clean.

Little Joe jumped up and ran over to join his brothers at the table. Ben sat down at the head of the table and blessed the food. Hop Sing had made a special meal for Easter, even though he himself did not celebrate the holiday.

As the family ate, Little Joe rambled on and on about the events of the afternoon. He had enjoyed the games, but especially the one he won, and he liked the pastry the nice German lady had shared with them, and he couldn’t believe that Pa’d finally let Hoss drive a team. Ben found himself listening with fond amusement to his son’s perceptions of the day’s happenings.  How could he have found the excited banter of this precious child annoying only this morning?

After they finished eating, the family moved to the living room. Hoss challenged Adam to a game of checkers. Little Joe piped up,” Why can’t we have an egg hunt, like we did this afternoon? Then we could all play together.”

“It’s too dark outside now, Little Joe,” Ben said with regret. “Maybe we could do it tomorrow.” Ben attempted to placate his youngest.

Little Joe was undaunted. “We could hide ‘em inside, Pa!”

Ben and Adam exchanged glances. Inside? Well, why not, Ben thought. Out loud he said, “Alright, we’ll have an indoor egg hunt. One time – then it’s off to bed with you,” Ben spoke with mock sternness. “You and Hoss close your eyes, and Adam and I will hide the eggs.

“Pa,” Adam suggested, winking at his father, “Maybe they should go upstairs instead.”

Ben got his son’s message, and agreed. “You two heard your brother; go on upstairs. We’ll call you when we’re ready. No peeking, now,” Ben added laughing, as the boys ran up the stairs, excited that their Pa was playing with them. Usually on Sunday evenings he just sat in his chair and smoked his pipe.

When the younger boys were gone, Adam brought over the eggs.

“Okay, Adam, I’ll hide five, and you hide five, and for Pete’s sake, remember where you put them, in case the boys don’t find them all. We don’t want to lose one of them.”

Adam laughed, “I agree completely!” Neither Cartwright wanted the house to be enveloped by the sulfuric smell of rotten egg.

Soon the eggs had been hidden around the room.  “Hoss, Little Joe, come on down, now.” Before Ben had even finished calling, the boys were already halfway down the stairs. Little Joe spied an egg on the hearth, and ran to grab it. Hoss spotted an egg in the bowl of fruit.

“Hey, I thought that one would be harder to find,” Adam feigned disappointment.

“Aw, Adam, anybody could see that weren’t no apple!” Hoss laughed.

Before long, Hoss had collected six eggs, and Little Joe had four. “Well, that’s all of them,” Adam announced. “Now it’s somebody’s bedtime,” Adam looked meaningfully at Little Joe.

“But Adam, I’m not a bit….sleepy!” Joe had interrupted his own sentence with a huge yawn, proving it to be an untrue statement.

“I’ll get him ready for bed, Pa.”

“No, Adam, I’ll take care of that.” Ben gathered his youngest son into his arms, and carried him up the stairs. He paused on the landing. “Say good night to your brothers, Joseph.”

“Goodnight Hoss, goodnight, Adam.”

Ben entered his youngest son’s bedroom, and took a nightshirt from the dresser. Little Joe quickly shed his clothes and put it on.

“Joseph,” Ben began, unwittingly setting off alarm bells in his young son’s head. Little Joe believed he was in for a lecture about something, but what? What had he done? He tried to think what it could be.

“Oh, Pa, I was hoping you’d forgot all about me losing that tie,” Joe blurted out.

Ben laughed, “Actually, I did forget all about it, until you reminded me.”

Little Joe groaned. When would he learn to keep his mouth shut?

“Well, since you brought it up, it would’ve been better if you’d given the tie to me or one of your brothers when you took it off,” Ben gently chided, “but that isn’t what I wanted to talk to you about,” Ben finished solemnly.

Little Joe looked up questioningly, wondering what subject could be so serious, but yet did not concern his misdeeds.

Seeing he had his son’s full attention, Ben continued, “I wanted to talk to you about your Mother, Joe. I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about her today, and how things have been since…well, since she’s been gone.” Ben sighed inwardly. As he’d feared this was going to be the most difficult conversation of the day. “I’ve never really explained it to you, about what it means for a person to die.”

“Adam said that Ma went to Heaven to live with God,” Ben smiled and nodded, confirming his son’s statement, but his smile faded as Joe continued. “When is she coming back? She’s been gone a really long time, and I miss her. Doesn’t she miss us, too?

“Joseph, this is very hard to understand, even for a grown up,” Ben silently begged Marie for the words to explain death to a child. He hadn’t had to explain so much to Adam, when Inger was killed; he’d seen what happened, and he was older than Joseph…well, only two years older, but due to the circumstances of his childhood, so much more mature. Ben prayed for wisdom.

“Your mother didn’t choose to leave us, Joe. It was an accident. Her horse fell and she was hurt real bad. Her body couldn’t go on living, so God took her to Heaven. She lives there with Him, now. She can’t come back from there, son. Not ever.

 “Even if I’m really good?”

Ben cupped his child’s face in his hands. “No son, no matter what you do, she can’t come back. That’s the way it is when people die. They can’t come back.”

Little Joe considered his father’s words. “No matter what I do?” He repeated his father’s statement as a question. “So…she didn’t…die…b..b.because I was bad?” Joe asked, hesitantly expressing his innermost fear.

Oh Lord, was this what the boy thought? He had no idea Joe could believe he had somehow brought about the death of his mother. Ben’s thoughts were interrupted as Joe continued speaking.

“She was gone, and I wanted her, but she didn’t come back, and then I wanted you, but you didn’t want me around. I thought you were mad at me. I thought I did something that made you and Mama mad.” Once he had started talking, Little Joe’s thoughts came pouring out in a torrent.

“If I wasn’t bad why did she die?” Little Joe found it hard to let go of the misconception he’d believed all this time. “What did I do to deserve this?” Joe shouted, his grief expressing itself as anger.

Oh, Marie, how do I help him understand, Ben implored silently, feeling tears welling up in his eyes. He took a deep breath as an idea came to him. He placed his hands on his son’s trembling shoulders, and tried to explain.

“Joe, do you remember this afternoon, when Mrs. Kaiser gave you the pastry she made? You didn’t do anything to deserve it, it was a gift. It was just something good that happened. Sometimes bad things happen, that you don’t deserve. Like when your Mother died. You didn’t do anything bad to make it happen. It just did. Adam and Hoss were just babies when their mothers died. They certainly didn’t do anything wrong to make it happen, did they?” Little Joe wordlessly shook his head no, as silent tears slipped down his cheeks. “The Bible says the rain falls on the just and the unjust. Do you know what that means?”  Again Little Joe shook his head. “Well, it means that good things happen sometimes, and bad things happen sometimes, and whether we’re good or bad doesn’t make the things happen. It’s just a part of life.”

“Pa, is God mad at me?” Joe cautiously asked, after a period of silence.

 “Joe, why would God be mad at you?”  Ben was taken off guard by his son’s thoughts again.

 “Well… I’ve kinda been mad at Him…because of Mama…”

 Ben smiled through his tears. He lifted his son’s chin, and Joe met his gaze. “Joe, God’s pretty big- I think he can handle your being mad at him – and I can promise you that he still loves you anyway.” Joe’s face showed his doubt. “You get mad at me sometimes don’t you?” Little Joe nodded yes.  “But I still love you. I always love you, no matter what you do, or how you act, because you’re my child. That’s how it is with God. We’re His children. That’s what Easter is all about. God gave us a gift, a gift we didn’t deserve. He made it possible for us to go and live with him in Heaven when we die. That’s where your mother is right now- she’s in a wonderful place, and one day, we can see her again.”

“I want to see her now!” Joe’s tears were falling in earnest now.

 “I know, son, I know.” Ben took his son into his arms. “I wish I could see her now, too, but we will have to wait.” He rocked his son gently in his arms, and waited until his sobs quieted. “You know you can talk to her if you want to. I do, sometimes. She’s always with us, son, in our hearts.” Joe raised his tear-streaked face to look at his father, trying to understand.

Ben sat his son back down on the bed and gently wiped the tears from his face, and kissed the still damp cheeks. “Little Joe, if you ever want to talk about your Ma, or ask me something about her, it’s okay.  You’re so much like her, Joseph. I’m so thankful to have you, to always remind me of her.”

Little Joe rubbed his eyes, trying to make sense of all that his father had told him.

 Ben sensed that his son had reached his limit of serious conversation for the evening. He decided to change the subject.

“Joe, how about tomorrow I take the afternoon off, and you and I go fishing?”

 “Really, Pa?  Just you and me?” Little Joe brightened, just as Ben had hoped.

 “Just you and me, son.” Ben smiled, ruffling his son’s curls. Little Joe threw himself into his father’s arms, and Ben returned his tight embrace, pressing his cheek against his son’s soft hair, drinking in the feel and scent of his precious child. Finally, Ben released Little Joe, and laid him back down. You have a big day tomorrow- better get some sleep.”

“Okay, Pa,” Joe reluctantly agreed. “Pa, I love you.”

 “I love you too, son, very much.” Ben tucked the covers around his son and kissed him on the forehead. “Goodnight, Joseph, sleep well.” He turned the lamp down low, but not off, and quietly walked to the door. He looked back at his son who had already fallen asleep. He shook his head in disbelief at how fast Little Joe could go from being wide awake to fast asleep, and closed the door.

Ben walked down the hall to Hoss’ room. He figured his middle boy would be ready for bed by now. He knocked softly on the door, and almost instantly heard his son respond, “Come in.”

Ben entered to find Hoss just climbing into bed. “I just came to say goodnight.”
He tucked the covers around his son, and kissed his forehead, just as he’d done with Joseph moments ago.

    “I sure had fun today, Pa.”

    “Me, too, Hoss, and I’m really looking forward to Saturday,” Ben added with a smile. “We’ll have a lot more fun times, son.”

    “I know we will, Pa.” Hoss responded. “Goodnight, Pa.  I love you.”

    “I love you too, Hoss. Pleasant dreams.” Ben walked quietly from the room and closed the door.

Adam was sitting in the blue velvet chair reading a book, and looked up when he heard his father’s footsteps on the stairs.

“Is everything okay, Pa? I heard Little Joe crying.”

“Everything’s fine now, Adam,” Ben assured his son. “We were…talking about Marie. Do you know that poor child thought he’d done something wrong to cause her to die? He thought maybe if he were good enough, she would come back.”

Adam’s face showed his consternation. “Pa, I had no idea he thought that!”
“Of course you didn’t; none of us did,” Ben reassured. “I think I was able to convince him otherwise, but I have a feeling it will take some time for him to really believe it.”

“Pa,” Adam spoke hesitantly, closing his book. “What’s changed? What made you talk with each of us about…things?”

“Adam, ever since Marie died, everyone has said her death was a terrible accident, but now she’s in a better place. I’ve known that in my head, but in the service today, I knew it in my heart. I felt God speak to me. I felt Marie’s…spirit… the way I can feel Inger’s, and your mother’s. I know she’s happy, and one day we will all be together again. That’s enough to give me the strength to go on. From now on, I will be there for you boys no matter what. I will be both your father and mother; after all, I’ve done it before,” Ben finished smiling sadly. He continued more strongly, “Today felt like a glorious morning, after a long dark night. The message of Easter is as real today as it was 1800 years ago.”

Adam smiled at his father in understanding. Again they needed no words between them.  Adam was now sure of what’d he’d suspected earlier; his father was back, and he was here to stay. He rose from the chair, setting aside the book he was still holding. Father and son embraced warmly, drawing strength and comfort from one another. Then
Ben Cartwright and his eldest son walked arm in arm up the stairs.

 The family had been through a time of great tribulation, and had not escaped unscathed, but they had survived. They had survived, and they were going to be all right. Ben felt confident in his belief that many happy days lay ahead for the Cartwrights of the Ponderosa.

  The End

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