Summary: An old man gives Adam something more than advice.
Rating: K (1,410 words)
Life and Sunsets
Adam Cartwright volunteered to go into Virginia City today to get the mail. Joe, Hoss and he had already finished their chores, and after that they all had a free day. Adam volunteered anyway, anxious to see if a book he was expecting had arrived. It hadn’t.
On the long ride back to the Ponderosa, he decided to stop by old Mr. Travers shack to say hello. Mr. Travers had no family, and no one from town ever visited, so he made it a point to stop by whenever he could.
Always looking forward to Adam’s visits, Mr. Travers hobbled out his front door to greet him and invite him in for coffee. Adam accepted and the two men went in and sat at a table where Mr. Travers had already placed two cups.
“Mr. Travers,” Adam began. “How are you feeling?”
“Oh, I don’t know, Adam. I’ve been real tired lately. I just haven’t felt much like gettin’ out. But you know, that’s alright. My bones are old, and it’s time I took it easy.”
Adam grinned, but said nothing.
“Adam, did I ever tell you about my family?”
“I didn’t know you had family, Mr. Travers.”
“Well, I did. Once. A long time ago. I owned a metal shop back east. We smelted ore and cut metal used for all kinds of things; coffee pots, cups and plates, and even those fancy knobs you see on the drawers of furniture. I made a nice livin’ for me and my wife and our two little boys.”
“What happened to them?”
“Well, I decided to move the family out west. I figured I’d do the same thing out here and still make a good livin’. But on the way out, we got caught in a flash flood. I lost ’em all.”
“Mr. Travers, I didn’t know. I’m sorry.”
Mr. Travers waved his hand. “Oh, don’t go apologizin’. It happened a long time ago. But you know, after a while…after I stopped grievin’, I just didn’t have a need to rebuild that life. I had plenty of money to keep me from the shop back east, so I stopped here. And here I stayed.”
Mr. Travers stood and went to the stove to fetch the coffee pot. He poured both cups, and slid one over to Adam. “Adam, I feel like my time is comin’. You’re the only one who’s ever taken an interest in listenin’ to this old man ramble on. I want you to do somethin’ for me, and I want you to listen to some advice.”
Adam took a sip of the coffee and leaned back in his chair waiting for Mr. Travers to continue.
“By the time I finally stopped grievin’ for my wife and children, and I mean to tell you, I stopped grievin’ ’cause somethin’ in me changed. Everything I had done before the flood that killed them wasn’t important anymore. That flash flood came up so fast, there was no way I could have avoided it. After it was all done with, I couldn’t handle that I had just kissed my wife and hugged my boys that mornin’ and all of a sudden they were gone. All the plans we made comin’ out west…one day they were with me and the next day, they were gone.”
Mr. Travers paused and took a sip of coffee. “Adam, you want some more?”
Adam held his cup out, and Mr. Travers refilled it. “Do you have any enemies?”
“I expect there’s someone out there who isn’t particularly fond of me.”
“Do you have any regrets?” Mr. Travers asked.
“A few, I suppose.”
Mr. Travers got up and walked to the fireplace. He removed a rock just under the mantel, took out a metal box, and brought it back to the table, shoving it toward Adam. “There’s a letter and a list in that box and some money and stock. When I’m gone, I want you to take that stock and cash it, and then divide it accordin’ to what’s on that list. Make sure it all gets where it’s supposed to go. Will you do that for me?”
Mr. Travers took the box, and put it back behind the rock under the mantel. Sitting back down at the table, he took another sip of coffee, and finished what he wanted to tell Adam.
“Now, for that bit of advice. Live every day like it was your last day. ‘Cause it just might be.”
Mr. Travers got up and extended his hand. “It was nice of you to stop by.”
Adam stood up from his chair, and shook Mr. Travers’ hand, hoping to himself that his visit had made Mr. Travers’ day a little better. Once he was up on Sport, he tipped his hat and left for home.
Three days later, on his way back home from Virginia City, Adam stopped by Mr. Travers place. He thought it odd that Mr. Travers didn’t come out of the shack to greet him. He knocked at the door, but there was no answer, so he stepped in. He found Mr. Travers in bed, his body cold. By the way his arms were crossed over his chest, he supposed that Mr. Travers knew he was going, lay down, and waited for death to come. Pulling up the blanket, he covered Mr. Travers body, then went to the mantel where the metal box was hidden, taking it out of its hiding place. After placing it in his saddle bag, he rode back into town for the sheriff.
When he got back to the Ponderosa, his father was sitting at the table on the front porch. Adam walked over, sat next to his father, and placed the box on the table. After he told his father what had happened to Mr. Travers and about their last conversation, he opened the box. Removing the letter and unfolding it, he read it aloud so his father could hear.
“To Adam Cartwright,
I am writing this letter because I know that my time is coming. Everything in this box is what I saved from our wagon after the flood. I’m not proud of the contents of this box. I was able to save it, but was not able to save my wife and children. I have only recently opened this box after all these years to add this letter and list.
I have many regrets, but I won’t bother you with them now because it is too late. I have lived my life and I can’t change it. Lord willing, I will be able to see my wife and boys again. I have not led a remarkable life, and have done no kindness toward anyone. I don’t know if the Lord is willing as that is all that I have to be judged for.
I would like you to take the money and stock in this box, and divide it equally among the names of the people on the list. It is a list of people who have done me a kindness in my life. It is a sad legacy, but it is all that I have.
So, listen to an old man. Treat people well, even if they don’t deserve it. Go out of your way to show kindness to people you know and to people you don’t know. Don’t take anything for granted. Watch the sunset and thank the Lord for its beauty. Remember, it is the only sunset you will see today. Tomorrow’s sunset is never a guarantee.
And thank you for listening to an old man ramble on.
Adam removed a second piece of paper from the box and unfolded it. He looked at it, and then handed it to his father. There was only one name on the list. Ben smiled, squeezed Adam’s shoulder and went inside. When dinner was ready, he came back out looking for Adam, finding him leaning against a tree, looking west. “Adam, it’s time for dinner.”
Adam continued to look west as he spoke, “Pa, when was the last time you watched a sunset?”
The two men stood in silence watching the sunset together until it gave way to the night sky.