The Making of a Man

 

A Bonanza Story

 

 

By Kate Pitts

 

 

 

 

Normally, sinking down into a hot tub after a hard days work is something I look forward to. I let the hot, soapy water wash over my body, relaxing me, and carrying away all the aches and strains of the long hours in the saddle. But not todayÖ

 

Today, the water doesnít work its customary magic. The calm and tranquillity I long for just isnít there. The depression that has been dogging me all day refuses to fade away and, with a sigh, I hurry through my bath and step out of the tub. Reaching for a towel I rub vigorously at my wet hair and as I do so I catch a glimpse of my foggy reflection in the steamed up mirror that hangs on the wall.

 

My reflection, the same face that has looked back at me for years, but today I pause, reach out and rub the mirror clear with the towel and study myself for a moment. Little Joe Cartwright, Little Joe, the youngest of the three Cartwright brothers. The baby of the family, the kid... Itís what Iíve been hearing all my life. Thatís how my family have always seen me. But now thatís about to change.

 

Last night my eldest brother, solid dependable Adam, calmly announced that he was leaving. He wants to see the world, he said, while heís still relatively young. He doesnít want to grow old never having experienced other cultures, other countries. I guess Iíve known for a while that Adamís been unsettled, not happy on the ranch, but it came as a shock all the same.

 

I donít know if I looked as stunned as I felt when he told us, I know it took a while before the news sank in. Hoss seemed happy enough, and gave Adam his blessing, and wished him well. Made me wonder if maybe theyíd talked it over before Adam said anything. My father, well, he shook Adamís hand and said that heíd miss him, and that he understood why he wanted to go. País voice was real quiet though and, when Adam turned away to speak to Hoss, he looked so sad.

 

Didnít sleep last night, thinking things over. Came to the conclusion that though Iím going to miss my brother, and I really donít want him to go, it would be selfish to try and get him to stay. He has his heart set on this. Itís going to be hardest on Pa. Adamís always been his right hand man, helping him run the ranch. Almost as long as I can remember Adam has helped with the books, helped make all the decisions. Now he wonít be there.

 

And thatís what Iíve been fretting about all day. Itís not just Adam leaving thatís going to be different around here. Iím going to have to be different. País going to need someone he can turn to, someone that can help him with the things that Adam used to do, and that someone is going to be me. I know Hoss is older, and I guess it should fall to him, but Hoss isnít good with books and figures, doesnít like dealing with bankers and lawyers. Heís happiest out on the range, or working with the animals, and thatís what heís best at. No, it will be down to me to me to help Pa with the business side of things. Question is, can I do it?

 

With a shrug, I finish towelling my hair dry and start to get dressed. The time for worrying about all that is later. Right now I need to make the most of these last days with my eldest brother. Store up some good memories for the time heís gone. A flicker of pain clenches my gut at the thought. I just canít imagine the Ponderosa without Adam. Iím sure gonna miss him.

 

 

 

Twelve Months Later

 

 

The hotel bed looks comfortable and I yawn wearily as I sit down on counterpane and bend to pull off my boots. Tomorrow night Iíll be home, Iím looking forward to that, and to seeing País face when I show him the contract I negotiated in San Francisco. As I stand up, pull off my shirt and turn down the covers I find myself reflecting on life at the Ponderosa since Adam left.

 

Hard though it is to believe, a whole year has passed and things on the ranch have changed. Nowadays I see a new respect in the men I work with. A new respect from my father and from Hoss. No more the kid brother, always goofing around and having to be supervised, but a man to be trusted, a responsible man.

 

It was hard at first, thereís no denying. We all missed Adam sorely, most especially Pa. For a long while he hardly smiled and often seemed lost in thought and far away. Only time he seemed happy was when a letter came, and he knew that Adam was still alive and well.

 

The hardest thing for Hoss and I, as well as missing Adam, was taking over his workload and dividing it between us. At least Hoss already had the respect of the men. They all liked him and were prepared to work hard for him. First time I showed up as boss man there were more than a few remarks from the older hands about a Ďboy doing a manís jobí. For a while I thought I might have to prove myself like Adam did one time, and take them all on until they acknowledged me as Ďbull of the woodsí. Didnít come to that, thankfully, once they saw I was working just as hard as they were, that I pulled my weight and more, their attitude changed.

 

And boy, was it hard work. Not just the physical stuff, I was used to that, but also the brain work. Iíd seen Adam and Pa poring over the books all my life but Iíd never had to worry about them myself until Adam wasnít there any more.

 

Thought Iíd never get the hang of all those figures, but I did, and as for negotiating contracts and dealing with businessmen, well I found I actually enjoyed that. Had a bit of a talent for it, truth be told. Bet Adam would have been surprised to see how I took to that side of the business, and the good deals Iíve struck. I know Pa was a little amazed, and a lot proud, he told me so.

 

So, when I look in a mirror now I still see the same reflection, but I see a new maturity too. Iíve changed. Iíve grown-up and I kinda like the new me. Kinda like being thought of as mature and responsible, instead of just the hot-headed kid brother.

 

Sometimes I think about what would happen if Adam came home. If he wanted to take back his place as País right-hand man. Be the boss again. Would I go back to being that irresponsible kid he thought I was? To be honest, though Iíd welcome my brother home with open arms, I donít want to give up what Iíve gained this past year. No, Iíve changed for good and if Adam does return, heíll have to accept that and take his place as just one of the Cartwright bosses. One of the Cartwright men.

 

 

 

Kathleen Pitts, February 2005.