Lifelong Impressions    
Charlee Ann Baker  

Disclaimer:  I do not own the Cartwright characters but they do linger in my mind, readily available whenever I choose to imagine.  My thanks to David Dortort for creating the Cartwright family.



As soon as Adam’s bare feet touched the cold floor, he shuddered and pulled them back up and under the warm covers again.  Hugging the blankets around him so as not to let any warmth escape, he glanced at the faint purple hues just beginning to lighten his bedroom window.  Looking toward the window again, he noticed barely-discernable Jack Frost ice paintings on the inside of the panes and decided he would stay in bed until it was just a little warmer.  Nearly every morning, Adam was up before Hoss, Joe, and their Pa.

Let someone else get up first today, he thought.

Of course, Hop Sing always got up before everybody.  The first thing Hop Sing did every morning was to start a fire in the huge fireplace in the great room.  He would then proceed to his kitchen to start a fire in his stove so he could begin cooking breakfast for himself and the rest of his household.  Hop Sing was nearly always up before his chickens even realized a new day was dawning.

Adam’s bedroom had the advantage of sharing the chimney from the fireplace in the great room below so his bedroom was usually a little warmer than those of the rest of his family.  It occurred to Adam as he lay there idly passing time in his head that, if his own bedroom was this cold, Hoss’s bedroom and Joe’s bedroom must be nearly freezing.  This thought made him grin because he knew he was still going to be up before Joe.  Trying to get Joe out of bed every morning was like trying to push molasses uphill.  Joe, now 21 years old, was reluctant to get out of bed any morning of the year, much less a bitter cold one like today.

Adam waited for a little while but hated to stay in bed any longer than he had to.  Here it was, a whole brand new day to be alive and he didn’t want it to go for naught.  He jumped out of bed and pulled his clothes on as fast as he could.  Hop Sing had already placed a pitcher of hot water at his door and Adam quickly retrieved it.  The warmth from the fireplace below was already warming the chimney in his room as he stretched and yawned the rest of the way to wakefulness.

Adam used a good portion of the hot water to shave.  As he was shaving, he continually adjusted the angle of his face to accommodate the one-dimensional mirror on his wall.  The sun crested the horizon and light poured into his room.

As Adam shaved, he happened to glance at the small scar located a little more than an inch above the arch of his left eyebrow.  His large, expressive, hazel-brown eyes saw that scar every time he shaved or looked in a mirror but his mind never paid any attention to it.   He had been carrying that scar around for so many years that it just seemed to be a natural part of the landscape of his handsome face.

The hand holding his razor now paused in mid-air and he suddenly grinned at the face in the mirror looking back at him.  A distant memory had come whizzing out of whatever corner of his mind where it was stored and that memory captured his immediate attention.  This particular memory had a habit of revisiting him in the most unexpected moments.


Young Adam Cartwright was looking forward to finally being able to leave for college in the fall.  His Pa had promised that he could go and his Pa always kept his promises.  But first, summer had to come, and before that spring had to come, and before that winter had to GO.  Good Lord but Adam was ready for winter to be over.

It had been one of the coldest winters he could remember and he was ready for it to just disappear.  There had been a couple of times when he had wished his brothers would just disappear right along with winter.

Instead of winter disappearing, it had rained, then snowed, then rained some more.  It had rained so much that a huge mud puddle appeared at the low point in the large pasture behind the barn.  The saturated ground refused to soak up any more water but the rain kept coming anyway.  That mud puddle got wider, and wider, then wider still.  That glorified mud puddle soon turned into a fair-sized miniature lake.  Then it froze.  For weeks it was frozen stiff.  Stiff and inviting.

Suddenly winter was fun.  Word spread among the few Cartwright neighbors and soon various children could be found slipping, sliding, and sledding on that little shallow lake.  The adults thought it was great…what better way to keep their children out of their hair.  The children weren’t the only ones who were thoroughly sick of winter.

It was a Saturday and six-year-old Little Joe could hardly wait for Adam and Hoss to finish their morning barn chores so they could take him out on the ice.  Ben had forbidden Little Joe to be there unless he was accompanied by either or both of his big brothers.  Little Joe kept opening the door of the house to peek out to see if his brothers were coming.  Ben was getting exasperated.

“You open that door one more time, little boy, and you won’t be going anywhere today.”

Little Joe giggled as he shut the door.  “Yes, Pa.”

Hoss also was nearly beside himself with excitement.  He was so anxious to get himself out to that little lake that he was slamming things around in the barn in his haste to get his chores done.  When Hoss slammed things around, they were slammed around.

“Hoss, why don’t you just go ahead and get Little Joe.  I’ll finish up here,” Adam said as he retrieved the pitchfork from the floor where Hoss had tossed it.

“Really, Adam?  You sure?  You don’t mind?  I’m almost done anyway.”

Adam grinned at his middle brother.   “I don’t mind.  Go.  I’ll catch up to you as soon as I can.”

Hoss ran to the house to collect Little Joe.

Hoss grabbed Little Joe’s mittens and shoved Little Joe’s hands into them.  Ben watched as Hoss struggled mightily to get Little Joe’s coat on over the bulky mittens.  Hoss gave up and started over.  He jerked the mittens off, pushed Little Joe’s arms into the sleeves of his coat, then shoved his little hands back into the mittens.  Hoss was started to breathe in short, hard spurts.

“Hoss, you make sure you hold on to Little Joe when he’s on the ice.  Unlike you, he doesn’t know to stand bent forward to protect his head in case he falls.  Do you hear me?”

“Yes, Pa, I won’t.  I mean, I will.  I mean I will hold onto him and I won’t let him fall.”

Hoss was anxious to get going and here Pa was, wasting precious time telling him something that he had already told him a hundred times.  But of course Hoss listened as respectfully as he could.  Pa was not a man to be ignored.  Hoss never said so but he did think that ever since Little Joe’s ma had died, his pa had become way too protective of his sons, especially his youngest.

“Little Joe, will ya stop squirmin’?  The ice is gonna melt plumb away before I can even get ya ready to go outside.”  Hoss was becoming stressed.

He was in such a fury to get out to the lake that he was now making a real mess of trying to help Little Joe get his boots on.  After Little Joe yelped in pain, Ben rose from his chair and took over the job himself.

“Hoss, you need to slow down a bit.  The ice will be there for some time,” Ben said as he fixed Little Joe’s boots.  Ben then pulled a knitted cap over Little Joe’s head and tied the strings beneath his chin.

Hoss was starting to wish he had just stayed in the barn and finished his own chores.  He didn’t seem to be making much headway toward getting to the lake.

At last, Little Joe was deemed to be dressed warmly enough to satisfy Pa and the two boys were allowed to leave.  They banged their way out the door and raced for the lake as fast as Little Joe’s bulky clothes would allow.  Little Joe tripped once and gentle, kind, considerate Hoss just hauled him to his feet and didn’t even slow their pace.

Five or six other children had ridden their horses to the Ponderosa and were already enjoying the little frozen lake by the time Hoss and Little Joe arrived.  Nobody owned a pair of ice skates but it didn’t take long to figure out that boots did a fine job of sliding.  Hoss dutifully held on to Little Joe while they both took small sliding steps on the ice.  Little Joe shrieked with delight.

The other children, all of them much older than Little Joe, soon became involved in a contest to see who could slide the farthest after a running start.  Hoss plugged along with Little Joe for a while but it wasn’t long before he wanted to part company.  He wanted to join in on the real fun.  He parked Little Joe on a small rock by the edge of the lake and told him to stay put.  This was Hoss’s first mistake.

The children soon tired of the sliding contest and decided to play crack-the-whip instead.   Each child grasped the hand of the child next to him until a human chain was formed.  The larger boys formed the head of the chain and the smaller children formed the tail of the chain.  Because Hoss was the largest boy, he was chosen to be the first child at the head of the chain.

Acting as an anchor, Hoss grasped the hand of the child next to him and then slowly turned his body in a tight circle while the rest of the children in the chain boot-skated in the same direction as fast as they could.  As the speed of the chain picked up, the outermost child would release his hand as soon as he felt he was going too fast.  The momentum would then fling the child outward.  Sometimes the child managed to slide for quite a distance before he took a tumble.  The next child on the chain would do the same thing as the chain continued to accelerate.  As the chain shortened, the laughing children would then reassemble to begin again.

Hoss was having so much fun that he had completely forgotten about Little Joe.  This was Hoss’s second mistake.

He should have remembered that his little brother never sat quietly for very long.  He should have remembered that but he didn’t.  Hoss was unaware of the fact, but Little Joe had quickly gotten bored sitting by himself on that cold rock and had wandered back out onto the ice.

As the reassembled human chain picked up momentum again, the outermost child suddenly found Little Joe right in his pathway.  Rather than slam his body into Little Joe, the child made a split second decision and grabbed a handful of Little Joe’s coat instead.  Suddenly Little Joe found himself rushing across the ice.  He couldn’t keep his feet underneath him but that didn’t matter…sliding on his knees worked just fine.  Little Joe’s high-pitched giggles burst forth and he yelled out, “Whee-e-e.”

As this was happening, Adam appeared at the edge of the ice.  He was horrified at what he saw.  He ran out onto the ice toward Hoss.


As Hoss had done nearly all of his life, he instantly reacted to the ominous tone of Adam’s command.  His stomach did a flip-flop and he released the hand of the child next to him.  This was not a wise decision.  The sudden release of their anchor snapped the chain of children outward away from Hoss and the children went flying in all directions, some of them at top speed.

One of those little scraps of humanity was Little Joe, hurtling on his knees at a high rate of speed directly toward Adam.  Adam lurched forward on the ice to try to slow Little Joe.  Unfortunately, at that moment, Adam slipped on the ice and lost his balance in a sudden spin.  His feet went out from under him and he landed hard on his back.  Adam felt the back of his head hit the ice, then dozens of little flashes of light danced before his eyes.

Before Adam could move, Little Joe’s body slammed into his shoulder.  The momentum tossed Little Joe up and over Adam’s head, then landed him in a crumpled heap beside Adam’s ear.  Adam felt a sharp pain just over his left eyebrow.  He blinked several times to clear his vision but blood was running down across his left eye and he couldn’t see very well.  He threw out an arm to hug Joe to him, trying to calm his little brother who by now was crying loudly in Adam’s ear.

Little Joe’s mouth was bloodied and Adam’s forehead and left side of his face were covered with blood.  Hoss took one horrified look at both of his brothers, then quickly left the ice and ran as fast as he could to get their father.

Ben and Hop Sing both came running to the scene.  Ben checked Joe over quickly, then handed him to Hop Sing to carry back to the house.  He then kneeled beside Adam who seemed to be a bit confused.  Adam kept trying to sit up but wasn’t making much progress.  Ben placed his large hand in the middle of Adam’s chest and pushed his son back into a prone position.

“Pa, Joe’s hurt.  I need to help…him.”  Adam looked bewildered.

“Lie down, son.  Adam!  Stop arguing with me!  I need you to lie still for a minute and tell me what’s wrong.”

“Not…not sure, Pa.   I see two of you and…and I don’t know which one of you is you.”

“Hoss, run and get Charlie.  Tell him we need Dr. Martin out here as soon as he can get here.  After you find Charlie, you meet me at the front door of the house.  I’m going to carry Adam up to his room and I need you to open any doors for me.  Go, son.  NOW."

Ben carried Adam into the house and up to his room and stretched him out on the bed.  He quickly tied a long strip of clean cloth around Adam’s head to stop the copious flow of blood coming from the wound on his forehead.

Adam kept trying to sit up and Ben kept pushing him back to the pillow.  Adam wasn’t entirely making sense.  As Ben worked to undress him, Adam insisted that he could help.  As soon as Ben got Adam’s boots off, Adam reached for one of his boots and tried to put it back on.  As Ben carefully got Adam’s coat and shirt off, Adam reached for the discarded shirt to put it back on again.  Ben was getting nowhere.  He finally pushed Adam to a prone position one more time and instructed Hoss to hold him there while Ben finished undressing him and got him into a nightshirt.

Ben placed a cold compress on the growing lump on the back of Adam’s head, then cleaned up the blood on his face and in his hair.  The tight bandage around Adam’s head had stopped the bleeding from the wound on his forehead so Ben loosened the bandage a little.  He decided to leave the wound undisturbed until Dr. Martin could get there.

Instructing Hoss to stay with Adam to prevent Adam from sitting up again, Ben quickly went downstairs to check on Little Joe’s progress.  Hop Sing was tending to Little Joe but it was obvious that Little Joe wasn’t really hurt much.  Although he still had tears in his eyes, he was drinking a cup of warm cocoa and had a half-eaten, cocoa-soaked cookie clutched in his little hand.

“Is ‘dam okay, Pa?”  I didn’t mean ta hurt him.  Is he cryin’?”

“No, Little Joe, this wasn’t your fault.  The doctor is coming and I’m sure Adam will be okay soon.  Now, let me take a good look at you.  Why are you talking baby talk?”

“I ain’t talkin’ baby talk, Pa.  My loose toof is losted and my tongue mithes it.  Now I have one toof gone and one more wiggly toof that wasn’t wiggly before.  Can we go back to the ice so I can look for the losted one?  The toof fairy won’t come ‘less I have a toof for her to pick up.  Can we, Pa?”

“I think I have a fair idea where your tooth is, son.  We’ll talk about it later."

Dr Paul Martin soon arrived.  He did not have to be escorted to Adam’s room.  He had been the Cartwright’s doctor for years and he was well aware of who belonged in which bedroom.

Dr. Martin examined the lump on the back of Adam’s head and noticed his somewhat bewildered state of mind.  He told Ben that he suspected that Adam had sustained a mild concussion but, with quiet and complete bed rest, he should be okay in a few days.

He next turned his attention to the lumpy cut on Adam’s forehead.

“Ben, how did this cut happen?  It’s rather deep and it has an odd shape.”

“Well, Paul, from what I can gather, the two boys collided pretty hard.  Joe is missing one tooth and has another tooth that is now loose.  I wouldn’t be at all surprised if you find that missing tooth when you clean out Adam’s wound.”

“Well, I’ll be darned, Ben,” Paul said as he gently extracted a small tooth from Adam’s forehead and handed it over to Ben.  “I’ll have to do a little stitching here.  It looks to me like Little Joe’s tooth is going to leave a lasting impression on Adam.”

As worried as Ben was for Adam, he couldn’t help but chuckle a little at the scrapes his boys managed to get themselves into.

The Cartwright boys recovered nicely.

Joe’s permanent teeth eventually grew in straight and firm.

Adam recovered from his concussion with no further complications.  The wound on his forehead healed into a small, flat scar, the shape perfectly matching the shape of Little Joe’s front baby tooth.

Hoss wasn’t able to sit comfortably for a couple of days after Pa had a little discussion with him about ignoring responsibilities.  Hoss was, however, the only one of the three boys who made it back out for a quick boot-skate on the ice before it all melted away.


Adam’s thoughts returned to the present and he chuckled to himself as he resumed shaving.  A small twitch of a smile played at the corners of his mouth as he thought of how lucky he was to have that scar.  That little scar and the memories that went with it would go with Adam wherever he went for all of his life.  It would always be there to remind him of his littlest brother, and his littlest brother’s exuberance for life.



March, 2003

Revised:  January, 2004


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Charlee Ann Baker

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