Summary: After a long day of fence repairs, Adam, Hoss, and Joe decide to camp by the lake. What could be better on a chilly night than some hot popcorn?
Disclaimer: I don’t own the Cartwrights or Bonanza. No copyright infringement is intended. Original plot and characters are property of the author. This story is for entertainment and no money was made from it.
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Passing Time and Popping Corn
The boys had had a long day of fixing fences and decided to camp out by the lake rather than make the long trip back home only to have to haul their weary bodies back to the east pasture the next morning. Adam was tugging on a boot, desperately hoping to free his swollen foot. He’d been filling his canteen from the barrel of water on the back of the wagon when Joe decided to move the darned thing up to the next section of fence. The wheel went over his foot but fortunately didn’t linger there; however, he’d had to limp around the rest of the day.
“You need help?” asked Joe.
“I can get it.”
“How about I just try? It’s the least I can do.”
“The least you can do is to stay over there and let me get my boot off.”
Hoss didn’t want to listen to any more bickering from his brothers, so he strode on over to Adam and grabbed his foot by the ankle. Adam grimaced at the strength of his brother’s grip and was about to shout out a sharp rebuke when his boot came off after a swift tug that sent Hoss sprawling face-first into the dirt; Adam was flung backwards, hitting the ground with a thud. Adam’s grunt of pain was followed by a sigh of relief. The boot was tossed at Adam as the largest Cartwright headed back to his blanket by the fire.
Adam wiggled his toes experimentally to make sure they still worked after removing the sock. “How’s it look?” asked Joe.
“Not too bad, considering.” He had expected it to be black and blue but it looked to be a little red in the fire’s glow. Propping his ankle on a small log, he wearily laid back with his head on his saddle.
“How about a game of cards?” asked Joe.
“Don’t you ever get tired?” asked Adam. “How can you bound around with so much energy?”
“Youth is on my side, Brother,” replied Joe with a giggle. “How about you, Hoss? You wanna play?”
“I dunno. You always seem to end up with a winning hand.”
“I don’t cheat!”
“Just at checkers,” said Adam with a snort.
“Hey! I’m just very good at planning my strategy is all.”
“Is that what you call it?” asked Adam.
“I oughta come over there…” warned Joe.
“Both of ya just simmer down,” ordered Hoss.
“Do you wanna play or not?”
“Nah. ‘Sides, you’ll wanna use chores to bet with an’ I ain’t takin’ all your turns for carryin’ chamber pots down the stairs every mornin’ for a month again.”
Joe giggled at that and Adam couldn’t help but let loose a giggle of his own. Poor Hoss had walked into that bet last winter when Joe wanted to play pinochle while passing time at one of the line shacks. The hands had had enough sense to find other tasks to busy themselves with when Joe got a certain look in his eye at the sight of a deck of cards, but Hoss still didn’t seem to realize how devious Joe could be when it came to passing on certain chores. Adam often wondered if Hoss had been twisted around their little brother’s finger for so long that he couldn’t see Joe’s devilish side or if Hoss lived under a canopy of eternal optimism, thinking that this time his luck would be different. How ironic that Joe liked to put chores in the pot when playing cards with Hoss and that he almost always managed to win, except for that one time that he was stuck with mucking the stalls for three months after his bigger brother was dealt a royal flush during a poker game. Even more ironic was that Joe was the dealer during that game.
“You wanna play cards or not?”
Joe shrugged and began shuffling the cards anyway. He thought he’d just play solitaire for a while.
Adam tried to read by the fire’s light but realized he’d scanned the same paragraph six times in a row without successfully reading it. Closing the book, he decided to look at the stars and marvel at the intricate patterns formed in the inky blackness. Looking at the night sky, seeing constellations and watching for shooting stars, always brought back fond memories of being a small boy on the prairie with Pa. His grandfather, the Captain, and Pa had had to navigate by the stars at night, so the boy learned from a young age which stars were important for finding one’s direction and which constellations appeared in the night sky in which season. Seeing Orion’s belt, he traced the pattern to the hare that was eternally hunted and his stomach growled. The stew they’d eaten several hours earlier hadn’t left his stomach feeling satisfied and now it was calling for some more food. Adam reached into his saddlebag and pulled out a piece of jerky, hoping that would stop the rumbling. He marveled at the beauty of the Milky Way as he gnawed on the tough piece of beef.
“I got an idea,” announced Hoss.
“You wanna play cards after all?” asked Joe with a great deal of hope in his voice.
“Nah. How about some popcorn?”
Adam’s stomach perked up at that; hot popcorn would taste good on this chilly night. “You have some?” he asked eagerly.
“Yup. Hop Sing put a bunch a kernels in a pouch for me and I’ve got ‘em tucked in tight in my saddle bag.”
“What are you waiting for?” asked Adam.
“How ‘bout you, Little Brother? You want some?”
“If you’re gonna make it anyway, sure. I’ll get the pot.”
Hoss happily rummaged through his saddlebag for the pouch and the salt. He enjoyed hearing the ricochets of the kernels in the pot as they burst as well as the taste of the hot corn when it was finished.
Joe set the pot over the fire and Hoss added a small bit of bear fat to the bottom of the cast iron vessel; then he poured the pouch’s contents in. He watched the pot with great expectations, just waiting for the sound of the first explosion as a cue to begin shaking it up so all the kernels would pop. After several minutes, he was gratified to hear a loud POP and he reached for his bandana to protect his hands from the heat of the pot.
The smell of the popping corn caused Adam’s stomach to rumble loudly; he placed a hand on his belly as he sat up and got his plate from his saddle bag. He knew his brothers would happily share from the pot but he wanted his own pile to savor.
Hoss shook the pot vigorously as the non-stop explosion of corn rang out into the night. He knew he had to time the noise carefully so the corn wouldn’t burn. The smell of the popping corn soon had their mouths watering and stomachs growling in anticipation.
A log in the fire suddenly popped, sending a shower of sparks up into the air. Hoss dropped the pot directly into the fire as his bandana burst into flames. The lid fell from the pot and corn began to shoot into the small camp, seemingly from every possible direction.
Adam had leapt from his blanket when a spark caught a corner of the woolen fabric and it began to burn. He was stomping around on the blanket when his nose caught a terrible smell. Turning quickly, he feared he’d see one of his brothers on fire but was quickly assailed by popping corn. He limped from the fire’s light and bumped into something solid, falling smack down on his backside.
“That you, Adam?” asked a brotherly voice.
“Dadburned fire is what happened. Now we ain’t go no dadblamed popcorn. Dadburnit!”
Not seeing Joe, Adam called for him. He must have scrambled in the other direction.
“Over here!” he called out.
The fire finally died down and they returned to the camp and its stench of burned corn. Joe flopped down and yelled out, “My cards!”
“They burned up?” asked Hoss.
“All but one,” he said dejectedly, holding up a deuce of hearts.
Adam reached for his half-gnawed piece of jerky despite his stomach’s protests. “Guess we’d just better get some rest after all this excitement.”
“You and you’re stomach,” grumbled Joe to no one in particular even though Hoss realized the comment was directed at him.
“Well dadburnit! You were certainly eager to eat some a that, too!”
“Don’t start, you two!” warned Adam. He didn’t want to listen to them bicker about it when they’d have a long day tomorrow.
Hoss found some stray pieces of fluffy corn near his blanket and plucked them from the ground. He didn’t think they could be too dirty since they’d been sitting on top of the dirt so he quickly popped them into his mouth, savoring the taste.
“You’re worse than a rootin’ bear,” said Joe after seeing what his brother had done.
“Wasn’t nothin’ wrong with those.”
Adam’s snores caught Hoss’ ears and he looked over at his older brother—he’d fallen asleep with that half-chewed piece of jerky gripped in his fingers. Hoss gently pried the jerky from his brother’s hand and placed it back in the saddle bag; then he gently placed his ankle on a small log to hopefully keep the foot’s swelling down. Finally, he covered him with the spare blanket to keep the chill off.
Joe had already curled up in his blankets so Hoss was left alone with his thoughts. He picked up Adam’s book and lay down near the fire to read for a while. Since he wasn’t sleepy after all that excitement, he didn’t want stare at the night sky in hopes that he’d fall into a slumber. After reading the same three sentences close to ten times, Hoss’ eyes shut and he fell into Morpheus’ arms.