Lily of the West

The three brothers came home dusty and bone-tired after a long day of branding cattle. They wearily slipped from their saddles and tended to their horses, each man occupied with approximately the same thought: one more hellish work day like this one to finish the branding, and the day after that they’d all go to town to enjoy Virginia City’s 4th of July carnival.

Smiling amidst his private thoughts, Joe was the first to reach the ranch’s front door. What he saw there caused him to call out in surprise.

“What is it, Joe?” Hoss and Adam came running, and all three stood and stared at the door.

A piece of tattered cloth hung suspended from a nail driven into the wood. Next to it, a note was tacked to the door. The cloth was badly torn, but after Joe held it up they saw that it was a piece of what once must have been a very fine pair of men’s flannel underpants. In baby blue.

“I’ll be”, said Hoss.

Adam had grabbed the note and chuckled. “Listen to this”, he said and read out loud:

“Hiya, Wild One!
I sure enjoyed last time.
I kept this to remember you by….
You coming again?
Luv, T.H.P.”

They glanced at each other. Adam lifted his eyebrows at Joe.

“Me? Now wait a minute, brother, those ain’t mine!” Joe reacted hotly. He wagged a finger at Adam. “Tryin’ to deflect attention from yourself, huh?”.

Adam smiled and shook his head. He looked at Hoss, who simply shrugged. “Shucks, Adam, I never wear flannels in summer, I jus’ get plum too hot in ‘em.”

They looked at each other again, and slowly their faces brightened as the truth came to them.

“No way. You think so?” Joe grinned.

Adam smiled happily and nodded. “Pa”, he said with finality.

Hoss carefully looked from one brother to the other. “Who woulda thunk it.”

“That leaves only one question: who is T.H.P.?”, Adam asked.

Hoss stroked his chin and looked down at the dust. “Them’s Thelma Parson’s initials. Her middle name’s Hedwig.”

“That’s ridiculous, Hoss. She’s gotta be seventy-five years old” Joe exclaimed, and after a pause he added worriedly, “You think Pa’s that lonely?”

Adam put an arm around each of his brothers. “Gentlemen, I suggest we put the note and the…ah…fabric back where we found them and wait for Pa to come home from the meeting. I for one would like to see his face when he finds them. And maybe he’ll tell us all about it.”

His suggestion was universally approved, but just as they went inside, Hoss suddenly stopped in his tracks. “Dadburnit, I plum forgot! I’m afraid I’m gonna hafta miss the fun, brothers. Ye see, the Johnson’s have that sick filly, an’ I promised I’d come ta town an’ help ‘em start it on the bottle”. He turned back towards the stable and called over his shoulder, “I’ll be back late. You jes’ be easy on Pa, and tomorrow ye can tell me what ye foun’ out.”

Joe and Adam looked after him fondly. A small critter in need, a promise made, and Hoss would go, tired and hungry as he was. That was their brother.


Ben came home two hours later. Joe and Adam, sitting comfortably by the fire place, exchanged a bemused glance as they heard him snort and mumble outside the door. A moment later he entered. In one hand were the cloth and the note, which he held close to his eyes to read, while his other hand dropped a number of loose sheets of paper onto the table.

“What you got there, Pa?” Joe prodded with a wink at Adam.

“Huh? Oh, hi boys. Fliers from the traveling carnival folk. They’re setting up their tents tonight.”

“I think Joe meant, what do you got in your other hand, Pa.”

Ben stood and looked somberly at their eager faces. “Am I right in assuming that you hope I’ll tell you who T.H.P. is?” Adam and Joe blinked back innocently. “Well, sons, I was hoping to get this information from you.”

Their faces fell.

“Sorry to disappoint you”, Ben said, studying the fabric in his hands. He looked more closely. Recognition slowly dawned in his mind. “Hoss?” he breathed. He looked up. “Where’s your brother?”

Joe made a face. “Hoss? Nah… he said they weren’t his flannels.”

Adam frowned and slowly shook his head. “No, he didn’t say that. He said…. that he doesn’t wear them in summer. Because he gets too hot.” They sat and digested this information for a while.

Ben suddenly slapped the piece of fabric on his thigh. “The carnival! They only come here twice a year - New Year’s day and the 4th of July!” He grabbed one of the fliers from the table and shoved it into Adam’s hands. His face lit up with a broad smile. “That brother of yours.  I’d say this round, for once, goes to Hoss.”

Adam and Joe stuck their heads together and studied the flier with blank faces. There was a picture of a very handsome young woman in an athletic outfit. She was bending over backwards at an impossible angle until her smiling face appeared between her knees. ‘Come see Katrina’, the caption read, ‘the amazing female contortionist from Russia:   'The Human Pretzel.’

Ben laughed richly and walked away towards the kitchen. “Excuse me; let me give Hop Sing some instructions for breakfast.”


Hoss was a little late for breakfast, which was unusual. He heavily plunked down the stairs, found his chair, sat down with a thud and stared at his plate. It was filled with a steaming, fragrant heap of oven-fresh pretzels.

Three warm smiles greeted him as he looked up. “Welcome home, wild one.”

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