Once Upon A Christmas, 1850

By: Jennie Allender
Debbie Beshears

Joe had ridden his pony fast all the way home from school. He knew he should not try to push the animal so hard but Shadow only had two speeds no matter how fast you asked him to go, slow and slower. Run and gallop was something the dear old stead never participated in. ĎMaybe Iíll ask Santa for a new faster pony,í thought Little Joe, Ďifín there really is such a person as Santa.í

Joe wanted to get home in the worst way and have a talk with either his father or one of his brothers on the Santa Clause subject. Joe was mad. Lucas Tatum, his not so good friend, was trying to make him believe that there was no such person as a Santa Clause. Joe had listened to what he had been saying and did not like the direction the conversation took when out of the clear blue sky someone had asked him if he believed in Santa. When Joe had told them of course he did, everyone had laughed at him and called him a baby. It had hurt his feelings, the laughing that is, but he had always thought that Santa Clause was the one who always left the presents under the Christmas tree on Christmas Eve after he had gone to bed. Adam and Hoss had always seemed to think so too, why even Pa believed in Santa Clause. But now Little Joe was beginning to have doubts, no thanks to Lucas Tatum. That Lucas was forever trying to start something with him, either trying to get him in trouble or telling him lies about things he knew nothing about. Like the time Lucas had told him girls could get Ďpregnatedí just by kissing a boy. Pa had straightened that idea out for him and now Joe felt confident that Pa would straighten this Ďno-Santaí lie out as well.

As soon as Joe entered the yard he began yelling for his brothers. "ADAM! HOSS? WHERE ARE YA?" Joe jumped from his pony and quickly tossed the reins around the hitching post. He continued to call out for his older brothers as he ran into the barn looking for them. When he did not find either Adam or Hoss inside he turned and ran for the house in search of his father.

Little Joe burst into the house slamming the door as he pushed it shut. Not stopping as the door re-opened he ran straight to his fatherís desk in search of his father. Ben, who had gotten up when he heard his youngest son entering the house, caught Joe as he attempted to fly past him. Benís arm closed tightly around the young boyís waist and swung him around in a semi-circle as he attempted to stop him. "Whoa," laughed Ben, "whatís the hurry?" he asked as he sat Joe on his feet.

"PaÖPaÖ" shouted the excited boy, "you gotta tell me quickÖ" he said as he jumped from one foot to the other in his excitement.

Ben folded his arms across his chest and gave the boy a stern look, "Tell you what, Joseph? I will tell you how to properly close the door."

"No Pa, I need ya ta tell me the truth, is there really a Santa Clause?" The small boy was watching his fatherís expression knowing that his pa would clear everything up for him. But the father suddenly seemed at a loss for words. How was he ever going to get past this? And where was Adam when he needed him?

"How does Santa get down the chimney? What makes the reindeer fly? Where do all those toys come from and where do Santaís elves live? Heh Pa, heh?" Little Joe wanted to know everything, right now. He jumped from one foot to the other and ran in little circles around his father.

"Joseph please calm down. And for heavenís sake, be still, you are making me dizzy." Ben reached out and clamped both of his hands on his sonís shoulders calling a halt to the boyís steady movements.

"Pa, tell me is thereÖ" Joe started to ask again but was stopped when the front door opened again and Adam and Hoss entered. Ben let out a long sigh of relief hoping that maybe he could pass the buck to his oldest son. Adam had always had a way with handling minor little details such as this thought Ben and smiled in satisfaction to him self.

Adam and Hoss hung their hats on the pegs behind the front door and Adam unbuckled his side arm and set it on the sideboard by the door. Both boys came to stand next to their father and younger brother and could tell by the expressions on the two faces that something was going on.

Hoss took one look at Little Joe and decided that he was in trouble again. Adam on the other hand had chosen to watch his fatherís face and what he read there told him that his father was fixing to pass to him an undesirable task that had something to do with the squirming little boy that his father was attempting to hold still. Adam noticed that Ben was smiling at him and that his fatherís eyes had taken on a sparkle that had not been there when he had first entered the house.

Hoss moved closer to Little Joe and grabbed him playfully in a tight hug. "You in trouble again Short Shanks?" asked Hoss as he began to tickle the wiggly boy causing the little one to start laughing uncontrollably.

"Naw, I ainít in no troubleÖ" he began.

"I am not in any trouble," corrected Adam as he turned from his fatherís gaze and started to help Hoss with the tickling. Little Joe squealed as his brothers forced him to the floor and continued their gentle torment.

Joe was gasping for air as he called out to Adam, "What would ya be in trouble for Adam?" asked Joe laughing. "Stop, stop," Joe continued to giggle. "Ya gonna make me pee my pants ifín ya donít stop!"

Ben took this opportunity to make an escape to the kitchen. He usually did not allow the boys to rough house inside but hearing the laughter and seeing the boys teasing and playing together gave him pleasure. One never got too old to play and Ďbesides,í thought Ben, Ďthis time next year Joseph might really know the truth about Santa Clause and then that special Christmas magic would be forever gone from his home.í Christmas would always be a special time of year but once his youngest stop believing in Santa never again would there be that little special feeling one gets when experiencing Christmas through the eyes of a small child. Only if and when he could gather his grandchildren around him would he be able to again have those feelings, but that was a long way off, hopefully, thought Ben as he slipped into the kitchen to speak with Hop Sing.

Adam pulled Joe to his feet; "We better let the little scamp up Hoss. I donít want to be the one to have to wipe up a puddle if he pees."

"Me either, ya better git to the outhouse fast fore ya have an accident." Hoss swatted his baby brother on the backside as he turned toward the door in a run.

"And take care of your pony while youíre out there," Adam called out to him as Joe slammed the door.

Shortly there after Adam headed for the barn, he was curious about what was taking his little brother so long. When he reached the door he could hear talking inside and wondered whom Little Joe was talking too. Silently he stepped inside and quietly slid into the shadows to better observe his younger brother. Adam almost laughed out loud when he saw Joe talking to his pony, Star.

"Itís not that I donít love ya Star, but I really do need a faster pony. Youíre get up and go has already got up and gone," Joe told his little brown pony as he scratched the twitching ears.

Adam had to cover his mouth with both of his hands to keep his giggle suppressed.

"Maybe you can help me Star, how does Santa get down the chimaney? What makes the reindeer fly? Where do all of those toys come from and where does Santaís elves live? Come on, you can tell me, Iíll keep it a secret. I promise?" Little Joe leaned closer to the pony and whispered into his ear. "How does Santa get around the world to all the kids in only one night?" Joe continued with his questions, hoping his pony would have the answers and not aware that his oldest brother was watching from the shadows.

Star shook his head from side to side as if to say, Ďsorry pal, donít know the answer to that one.í

Joe rubbed the ponyís soft nose and kissed Starís forehead. "Would ya do me a favor since ya donít know that one? Would ya ask Sport or Chubbs, they might know? Iíll be back to do my chores later and ya can tell me then?"

Adam decided that now would be a good time to make him self known to his brother and maybe answer some of the questions. He seriously doubted that Star would offer much assistance he smiled to himself.

Adam stepped out into the open, "Hey buddy." Joe not knowing that Adam had come into the barn jumped when he heard his brother speak.

"Hey, whatícha doing sneakiní up on me like that?" Joe hoped that his brother had not heard him talking to his pony. He just knew that he would have to endure more teasing if his brothers found out that he confided in Star.

Adam moved across the barn and sat down on a bale of hay patting the space next to him. "Come sit by me Joe and maybe I can answer your questions better than Star can," smiled Adam.

Joe looked into his brotherís eyes to see if he were teasing again. When he saw the laughter there, Joe returned his brotherís smile and sat next to Adam on the hay. Adam slipped his arm around the smaller boyís shoulder and pulled Joe closer to him. Joe looked up into his brotherís face and smiled for the second time. Adam thought that this may very well be the last Christmas that Joe would believe in Santa and he really wanted it to be a good Christmas just in case. ĎWhat harm would it do to let the little boy sitting next to him keep on believing, just for a little longer?í thought Adam as he watched the twinkle in the hazel eyes that watched him.

"Letís do one question at a time Joe. What do you want to know first?" Adam asked.

Joe thought for just a moment and then turned shining eyes up at his brother. "Is there a Santa Clause?" Joe figured if Adam told him no to that question there would not be any reason to finish this conversation.

"What do you believe buddy?" Adam put the question back to his brother wanting him to decide for himself.

"Well heck Adam, I believe!" Joe thought back to the teasing he had taken from Lucas Tatum and wasnít sure what he believed but knew he did not want to admit that to Adam. "Donít ya Adam?" Now unknowingly, Joe had put the question back into Adamís lap causing the older boy to frown slightly.

"Of course I do, who do you think is responsible for putting all of those wonderful gifts under our Christmas tree?" Adam lifted Joe into his lap facing him so that he could watch his brotherís expressions.

"I dun figured it was Santa, after all Pa is too poor to be buying all of that stuff for the three of us," Joe told Adam innocently.

Adam chuckled and tousled Joeís curls, "I have to agree with you on that one little brother."

"Whatís your next question buddy?" Adam asked, not wanting the hole he was digging to become any bigger.

"How do the reindeer fly?" Joe looked up expectantly at Adam.

Before Adam could answer the next question the barn door was pushed opened and Hoss appeared. "Whatícha fellas adoiní in here?" he asked as he moved to sit on the bale of hay, facing his oldest and youngest brothers.

"Maybe you can help me out," Adam winked at Hoss. "Little brother here wants to know all about Santa Clause."

"I reckon I could help ya out some, I know a few things," Hoss smiled a big gapped tooth grin. Adam rolled his eyes toward heaven and gently shook his head. The hole had just gotten another foot deeper.

"Joe wants to know how the reindeer fly. Do you want to explain this one to him?" Adam looked beseechingly at Hoss. Hoss took his clue from his older brother.

"They move their feet back and forth just like the horses do when they run, except they are doing it in the air." Hoss smiled thinking that he had given his little brother the proper answer. Adam groaned softly and Hoss cut his clear blue eyes in his older brotherís direction.

Adam was quick to add, "Thatís just part of it little buddy, they have to eat the magic corn first."

Joeís mind wandered momentarily as he imagined what it would be like if he could fly like Santaís reindeer. He thought that he might be able to persuade Hoss to grow some of that magic corn come spring. Quickly pushing that thought aside he leaned forward so that his nose was touching Adamís nose. "Adam, where do ya git some of that magic corn?" Little Joe softly whispered as if it might be a secret.

Adam could almost see the wheels turning inside of Joeís head and gently pushed Joe away from his face. "It can only grow in the North Pole," he answered firmly and then quickly added, "Now donít you get any crazy ideas in that little head of yours about running away to the North Pole to get a hold of that magic corn. Santa Claus would not take too kindly to having his corn stolen."

Joe frowned and looked deeply into Adamís eyes. "Ah shucks Adam, I ainít gonna steal nufiní and I ainít no thief." Joe leaned forward once again and rested his head against Adamís chest. ĎI wish I knew how he always knows what Iím thinking,í Joe thought to himself as he snuggled closer to his older brother.

The temperature was starting to drop and Adam was looking forward to getting back inside the comforts of the ranch house. "Joe, do you have any more questions that need to be answered?"

Joe straightened up and nodded his head. "Yep, I wanna know how Santa gits back up the chimaney once heís done with presents?"

Adam glanced over at Hoss. "Would you like to answer this one as well Hoss?" Adam secretly hoped that Hoss would not blow this answer out of portion and add another foot to the fast growing hole.

"Sure I can Adam. Thatís an easy one." Hoss pulled the bale of hay so that he was sitting closer to his brothers. He stood and tapped Joe on the shoulder. "Lookee here Joe. This is how itís done."

Joe turned his head around so he could see what Hoss was doing. Adam had started to laugh before Joe even had his head turned and was quick to follow suit. Hoss was standing with his left finger placed along side of his nose. Once he had Joeís attention Hoss went on to explain. "See Little Joe its like this, Santa comes down the chimney and when his good deed is done he simply puts his finger by his nose and nods his head.

Adam rolled his eyes once again and felt himself sinking deeper into the hole that seemed to be getting larger. "Thatís only part of it Hoss."

Joeís attention was drawn back to his older brother as he began speaking. "Itís all in the pipe Little Buddy."

Joeís eyes held a puzzled glaze as he tilted his head to the side trying to understand what a pipe had to do with Santa being sucked up the chimney. "Whatícha mean Adam? Whatís a pipe got to do with Santaís finger up his nose?"

Adam shook his head slowly before responding. "Not just any pipe Joe, a magic pipe. Santa has to have the pipe in his mouth before placing his finger ALONG SIDE his nose, not up his nose," explained Adam desperately praying that his little brother would accept his explanation. "Why donít we continue this discussion in the house, itís getting cold out here and I am sure that Pa would not want you to be catching a chill with Christmas just around the corner.

Adam and Hoss walked with Little Joe to the house. The temperature had begun to drop again and neither of the older boys wanted the smaller one to get sick during the holidays. When they reached the door Adam instructed Joe to go on in while he and Hoss returned to the barn to finish their chores. They had spent so much time explaining Christmas magic to their younger brother that they had fallen behind on the chores.

"Okay, Iíll wait for ya inside, but hurry Hoss. Iíll let ya win a game of checkers ifín ya wanna play," laughed Little Joe.

"Let me win? Why you little scamp," Hoss fringed a frown and acted like he was going to grab Joe, but Joe giggled and ran into the house.

Once inside Joe removed his hat and coat and tossed them onto the settee. His father was no where to be seen so Little Joe moved to the fireplace and turning his backside to the heat he attempted to warm his chilled body. Suddenly his eyes fell on his fatherís pipe that was sitting on the humidor on the table next to his fatherís favorite chair. Joe remembered what his brothers had told him of how Santa managed to go back up the chimney after placing the presents under the tree. Joe smiled to himself and wondered if his fatherís pipe held any magic in it.

Joe glanced around to be sure he was alone before picking up the forbidden pipe and placed it between his lips. Next he moved to stand on the hearth close to the fire and placed his finger along side of his nose. The last thing he did was to tightly shut his eyes and imagine himself flying up the chimney and onto the roof.

Ben came from the kitchen and saw his youngest son standing on the hearth. Curious as to why the boy was there with his pipe in his mouth, the finger looking as if it were in the nose and with eyes shut, Ben silently moved forward until he was no more than a foot from his son.

"Joseph, why do you have your finger in your nose and my pipe in your mouth?" stated Ben and then had to reach out and catch the startled boy when he nearly fell off the hearth.

Joe gave his father a slight smile and managed to keep the pipe in place by holding it with his teeth in the corner of his mouth. "I didnít have my finger in my nose. I had it along side of my nose." Joe looked with innocent eyes at his father and continued to hold his smile.

"And my pipe? Would you please tell me why it is in your mouth?" asked Ben as he reached to remove the pipe from between Joeís lips.

"Pa, Adam and Hoss said that when Santa goes back up the chimaney, he puts his finger along side of his nose and holds the magic pipe in his mouth. Then he shuts his eyes and powie! Up the chimaney he goes." Joe beamed up at his father.

"That still doesnít explain my pipe." Ben sat down in his chair and pulled Joe onto his lap.

"Promise ya wonít laugh, Pa?" asked Joe seriously.

"I promise son," Ben assured the boy who watched him with sparkling eyes.

"I just wanted to see ifín your pipe was magic and I thought I might could go up the chimaney like Santa does. But it didnít work," finished Joe sadly.

Ben fought to control his laugher. "Joe, thatís because this pipe," Ben held the pipe out for Joe to see, "isnít magic. Only Santaís pipe is magic; thatís why you didnít go up the chimney. He has a very special kind of pipe, not just an ordinary one like I have here."

Joe seemed satisfied with his fatherís answer. But still had unasked questions and thought this might be the time to ask, considering he had his fatherís full attention.

"Pa, what happens ifín Santa loses his pipe? How does he get up the chimaneys then?" Joe was facing his father and waiting for the answer to his question.

Ben thought for a moment before coming up with a suitable answer, hoping to satisfy his inquisitive young son. "Well Joe, Santa is extremely careful with his things, he just does not lose them. He knows if that happens, then Christmas would be ruined for all the children, so he makes extra sure that he keeps up with things like his pipe." Ben hoped this would put an end to his sonís worries.

Hoss and Adam chose this time to return to the house. As they hung their hats up Hop Sing announced that supper was ready and the four Cartwrights moved to the dining room. After supper Ben retired to his favorite chair, picked up his Ďmagicí pipe and filled it with his favorite tobacco. Soon the room was filled with the sweet smelling aroma.

Hoss and Joe played several games of checkers and true to his word, Little Joe even let Hoss win one or two games. Ben smiled when he heard the laughter of his youngest and before long he announced that it was Little Joeís bedtime.

"Come on Sport Iíll give you a pony back ride upstairs and read you a story. Howís that?" offered Adam.

"Okay Adam, night Pa. Night Hoss." Little Joe ran to his father and hugged his neck then did the same to Hoss.

"Good night son, Iíll be up later to hear your prayers. Adam, please donít keep him up too long, heís had a full day," Ben instructed his oldest.

"I wonít Pa, up you go," and with that Adam swung his little brother up and onto his back and began bouncing him up and down as they climbed the stairs.

It didnít take Adam long before he had Little Joe dressed for bed and snuggled into the covers. "Okay Joe, what story do you want to hear tonight? Remember, Pa said you couldnít stay up much longer so it has to be a short one."

Joe thought a minute and then suggested a Christmas story. "Howís about the stable story Adam? Since itís almost Christmas, and it ainít long."

Adam agreed and pulled the little book from the shelf. As Adam sat down on the bed Joe pulled free from the covers and crawled into his brotherís lap. Adam wrapped his arms around the boy and opened the book. In his deep mellow voice he began reading

A Stable in Bethlehem.

"Over a stable in Bethlehem,

Twelve drowsy doves are cooing.

Snuggling in the fragrant hay,

Eleven cows are mooing.

Weary and resting in their stalls,

Ten donkeys nod their heads.

Scurrying over the stable floor,

Nine mice run from their beds.

Eight shepherds wrapped in woolen robes

Watch over their flock by night.

Seven soft sheep are still awake

And see the stars grow bright.

Guarding the fold, six faithful dogs

Are ever alert nearby.

Five angels sing, "Hosannah,

Glory to God on high.

From eastern lands four camels come

With humps and shaggy fur.

Three wisemen bring rich gifts of gold

And frankincense and myrrh.

Two parents look with tender love

Upon a manger bed

At one small baby lying there

With straw to pillow his head.

The shepherds, the wisemen, and animals all

Have come to worship the babe in the stall.

While high in the sky a star shines bright

To signal the Christ Childís birth this night."

Adam looked down at Joe and saw that the boyís eyelids where getting heavy. "Joe, back in bed," Adam helped Joe snuggle down in the warm bed and covered him with the blankets. "Good night little boy, I love you," Adam leaned down and kissed his brotherís forehead and watched as the eyes closed in slumber then turned the lamp low and returned to the great room to speak with his father. He wanted to tell him that Joe had requested a new pony for Christmas, one whose Ďget up and go had not got up and gone.í Adam laughed softly to himself, "Aw, Christmas!"

Joe was awakened by the pitter-patter sounds of tiny feet on the rooftop. He jumped out of the comforts of his warm bed and landed on the cold wooden floor with a thump. Careful as to not wake the rest of the Cartwright family he tipped toed down the stairs, cautiously avoiding the seventh and ninth steps that creaked. Looking over his shoulder to assure himself that the coast was clear, Joe unlatched the lock and as quietly as possible swung open the heavy oak door. He stood in front of the house waiting for his eyes to adjust to the darkness while he squished his toes into the freshly fallen snow. The excitement of possibly seeing Santaís reindeer made him forget just how cold it was outside. Joeís shoulders slumped with disappointment. He realized that what he had heard was not the eight tiny reindeer that Adam had told him about when he had read him "The Night Before Christmas" earlier that week, never realizing that Christmas Eve was still a few days away.

Joe cursed, using a word that he often heard his older brother use when things did not go the way they were suppose to. He glared up at the roof watching the squirrels playing a game of tag and shivered as he felt the cold penetrating through his red and white-stripped flannel nightshirt. Joe was too intrigued by how the squirrels could run around the slippery rooftop without falling that he ignored the warnings signs that his body was trying to send him.

Adam woke to the sounds of giggling. He pushed back the down quilt and slipped into his robe. After lighting the lantern Adam entered the hallway and opened the door to Joeís room. It did not come as a surprise when Adam found his little brotherís bed empty. Adam quickly made his way down the stairs and stopped dead in his tracks when he saw the front door standing wide open. He swallowed the lump that had formed in his throat as he reached for his gun. Again he heard the distinct sounds of giggling.

Adam stood on the front porch watching in silence as the little boy giggled and ran in circles around the front yard pausing from time to time to watch the squirrels. He would stand still for a few minutes and when his feet became cold he would start running around again. This game continued until Joe could no longer ignore the one warning sign that caused him to come to a complete halt. Not giving it a second thought the young boy hiked up his nightshirt and tucked it under his chin. Joe turned around surprised to see his older brother standing on the porch with his hands on his hips imitating their fatherís stance.

Adam knew what the small boy was plotting and had cleared his throat to draw attention to himself. Amused by the look that had suddenly appeared on Joeís face caused Adam to laugh. Swallowing the remainder of his giggles Adam raised his brows in question.

"What are you doing standing there with your lower extremities exposed to the night elements?" questioned Adam as he came to stand beside the shocked child.

"Huh?" replied Joe not understanding what Adam had just implied. "Whatícha mean?" Joe asked as he took a step back allowing himself some distance between himself and Adam.

Adam smiled and shook his head. "I am asking you what are you doing.... oh, never mind, Little Buddy." Adam draped an arm around the shivering boy and pulled him close to his own body. "I take it you were planning to..." Adam stopped and swung his arm out over the ground. "Ah, relieve yourself?" he questioned as he bent his head to peer into Joeís eyes.

Joe felt slightly embarrassed that he had been caught and that Adam knew exactly what he had intended to do. He lowered his gaze to stare at the snow on the ground and just nodded.

Adam chuckled and lifted Joeís head so he could look at the younger boyís face. Feeling the boyís embarrassment Adam quickly changed the subject. "Would you like to tell me what it is you are doing outside in the middle of the night running around in just your nightshirt?"

Joe saw the small smile that had appeared on Adamís face and relaxed knowing he was not in trouble with his older brother. "You ainít gonna believe me Adam, but I heard noises on the roof and came out to see if it was Santaís reindeer. Honest, I really heard feet steps." Joe stared into his brotherís dark eyes waiting to see if Adam believed his story.

Adam glanced up at the rooftop and back down at the now squirming boy. "Footsteps you say?"

Joe shook his head yes and looked up to the roof. "But once I got outside here I only sawed squirrels playiní."

Adam put a restraining hand on Joeís shoulder in a vague attempt to still the boy. "Do you have ants in yours pants?" he asked as Joe continued to squirm.

"Nah, I gotta pee," answered the boy and crossed his legs. "I canít hold it any more."

"Any longer," corrected Adam as he reached down and pulled up the nightshirt. "Hold it up so you donít get it wet," he explained as he glanced up to the second story window to see if they had awakened their father. "Hurry up so I can get you inside and warmed up. You are likely to catch a chill standing out here with nothing on."

Joe tucked the nightshirt under his chin and went about his business. When he started to laugh Adam peaked over his shoulder to see what had become so funny. Adam had to cup his hand over the giggling boyís mouth as well as his own to muffle the laughter. When Joe was finished he lifted his chin allowing the nightshirt to drop back to its proper position and then looked up into Adamís face.

Adam nodded his approval and chuckled once again. "Well Buddy, you could use some practice on the "J" but the rest of it looks pretty darn good."

With a protective arm around Joeís shoulders he lead the shivering boy into the house. Adam reached down and picked Joe up and carried him up the back staircase and to his room. He placed Joe onto his bed and went to Joeís room to retrieve a dry nightshirt. Once he had the boy changed and warmed up he pulled back the bedcovers and motioned for Joe to lie down. Adam climbed in beside him and blew out the lantern wishing Joe sweet dreams. He laid there listening to the sounds of his younger brother breathing and finally closed his own eyes when the breathing had slowed indicating that Joe was on his way to sleep.

"Adam?" Joe whispered as he cuddled up next to his brother.

"What is it Little Buddy?" answered Adam as he put his arm around Joeís waist drawing him closer to his own body.

"You ainít gonna tell Pa that I was outside are ya?" Joe asked with a slight quiver in his voice.

Adam tightened his hold around Joeís waist and kissed the top of his curly head. "No, it will be our little secret Buddy," he answered as he felt himself drop another foot into the hole that was getting larger as the day wore on. "Just promise me the next time you decide to go outside in the middle of the night, wake me first. I do not fancy you being outside by yourself at this time of the night."

"Why?" was all that Joe could think to respond with. He had no idea why Adam would be worried about him being outside their own house, whether it was day or night. What was the difference?

Adam was fighting to stay awake and not wanting to ignore the question simply replied, "What would you have done if the front door had slammed shut? Or better yet if you had slipped on the wet snow and had gotten hurt? No one would have known until morning."

"I didnít think about that Adam." Joe covered Adamís hand with his own hand and gently squeezed it. "Good night Adam."

"Night Buddy," Adam replied as he returned the squeeze.

Ben left instructions with his sons for the afternoon. "Boys, I have to go into town today to take care of some last minute shopping and clear up a couple of business details. I want you three to make sure everything is finished before that storm blows in. Looks like we might be getting more snow before tomorrow morning." Ben rose from the table and wiped his mouth on his napkin.

"Hop Sing will be gone for a while also, Adam, that leaves you in charge, please watch out for you brothers," Ben turned to Joe and smiled, "Especially this one." Ben ruffled the top of Joeís head.

"Aw Pa, I donít need no watchiní over. I ainít no baby," Joe shot back at his father.

Ben turned to face Joe thinking to reprimand the boy for his tone but saw that his son was smiling and noted the shine in his eyes. "You will always be my baby Joseph, no matter how old you get! Now come here and give your old papa a hug," laughed Ben.

Joe jumped from his seat and wrapped his arms around his fatherís neck. Ben carried Joe in his arms to the door before setting him on the floor. "You just be good and do what Adam tells you to, understand?"

"I will, I promise Papa," Joe hugged his father one last time and placed a kiss on his cheek before Ben turned and left the house.

The boys worked hard at completing the work that their father had asked them to finish by the time he returned. Joeís thoughts wondered all day to the questions he had been asking his brothers. He was satisfied with his brotherís answers but one thing still bothered him, could Santa fit down the chimaney? Joe remembered pictures in the picture book that Adam had bought for him last year and remembered that Santa was rather fat. Joe was worried that he might not fit in their chimaney. Suddenly an idea popped into his head and he went in search of Hoss. Hoss was on his way to the barn when Joe found him and laid out his idea to Hoss. Hoss was not being cooperative so Joe persisted.

"Hoss, ya just gotta try it, come on," begged Joe not wanting to give up on his idea.

Hoss was becoming frustrated, "Little Joe, I ainít gonna go down no dadburn chimney! "Now leave me alone, ya hear?" Hoss started to turn toward the barn to do his chores but his little brother grabbed his arm halting his retreat.

"Aw Hoss look," Little Joe pointed to the roof of the house. "All we gotta do is climb out my winder and ease our way over to the chimaney. It ainít agonna be hard, shucks, I do it all the time," smiled Joe, his young face flushed from the crisp air.

"Ya do what?" Hoss almost yelled then lowered his voice. "Ya better not let Pa catch ya doiní that." Hoss pulled Little Joe into the barn so that no one could over hear their conversation.

Joe was dancing up and down in excitement. "Hoss, you and Adam both said that Santa comes down the chimaney. But I think he is too fat, so I figured that if you could fit down that thing, then for sure old fat Santa could. What do ya say, do it for me, please Hoss, please, please, please," begged Joe batting his hazel eyes at his middle brother and giving him one of his most angelic looks, a sure winner every time.

Hossí old soft heart melted. He was a sucker when it came to refusing his baby brother and he knew it. "Okay, but ya better not be atelliní no one about this or Iíll clobber ya good, ya hear me?" Hoss ruffled the curls on top of Little Joeís head.

Joeís joy spilled forth. "I wonít tell honest, Hoss. Come on, letís get the ropeÖ" began Little Joe.

"WhoaÖwhatíca need a rope fur?" Hoss stopped Joe in his tracks, "Why a rope? Ya planniní on hanginí me?" laughed the bigger boy.

Hossí statement caused Little Joe to break into a giggle and before long both boys could be heard laughing inside of the barn. Unknown to the two giggly boys, Adam stood in the doorway watching the antics of his two younger brothers.

"Might I ask, what is so funny?" Adam asked as he pulled the barn door shut to keep out the cold. It had begun to snow again and the ground was beginning to become covered with a light layer of the white flakes.

Both younger boys instantly stopped laughing and turned to face their older brother. Adam took one look at the young faces staring back at him and knew that the two boys were up to something.

"Out with it? What are the two of you cooking up now?" Adam placed both hands on his hips and tried not to smile, the boys were looking guiltier with each passing second.

Joe was the first to speak, which did not surprise Adam. "Aw shucks Adam, we ainít up to nuthiní are we Hoss?" Joe turned to face his middle brother and winked at him, hoping that the larger boy would take the hint and play along with him.

"Heh? What? Oh, thatís right Adam, we ainít up to nuthiní." Hoss smiled at Adam innocently.

"Iím not buying. Where were you two headed with that rope? Out with it now, before I have to tell Pa." Adam smiled to himself as he watched his brothers. ĎThis is getting interesting,í he thought to himself.

"Rope? What rope?" Hoss questioned as he held the rope behind his back. Adam quickly stepped up to Hoss and yanked the rope from his hands.

"This rope, what are you doing with it?" demanded Adam, beginning to loose patience with both of the boys.

Hoss hung his head briefly and then looked at Adam. "We was gonna tie it around my middle soís I wouldnít fall down the chimney and then we was gonnaÖ."

Adamís mouth dropped opened. "What?" he shouted. "So you wouldnít fall down the chimney? I want an answer right now, do you understand?" Turning to Joe who had begun to slip slowly from the barn stopped when his brother yelled at him. "JOE, get back over here!"

Joe obeyed his brotherís command and came to stand next to Hoss both boys now facing the older boy. "Adam, we was just gonna see if Hoss could fit down the chimaney, thatís all, honest," smiled Joe, giving Adam one of his famous ĎIím innocentí smiles.

Adam moved to sit on a bale of hay. "Why would you do a fool thing like that?"

"Well ya see Adam, Joe thought that if I could fit down the chimney, then Santa could fit. Joe seems to be having doubts as to whether or not Santa can, and if ya remember youíre the one who told him that the jolly little man could. Now our baby brother wants ME to prove it to him," Hoss glared at Adam, "no thanks to you," he whispered softly so that only Adam could hear.

Adam could not stop from laughing, the look that Hoss had given to him told him volumes of what he was feeling just now. Hoss looked as if he were a mouse caught in a trap. Joe on the other hand looked as if he just got caught with his hand in Hop Singís cookie jar.

"Ya ainít agonna tell Pa are ya Adam?" questioned Little Joe as he came to stand in front of Adam and placing each of his hands on the side of Adamís face cupping the older boys chin. Adam looked into the pleading eyes and smiled.

"Not if you let me help!" laughed Adam realizing that he had just added another foot to the now deep hole.

"What? Ya wanna help us? Why?" Hoss turned suspicious eyes on his brother.

Adam rose from his seat and rolled the rope up, "Iíve always wondered how old Saint Nic would get down that chimney myself. I know he does it," he was quick to add for Joeís sake and turning, winked at Hoss. "I just want to see how itís done. Besides Joe, you need some help holding that rope, you wouldnít want to let go and cause Ďbigí brother here to fall into the fire now would you?"

Joe started giggling at the thought and before long all three brothers were laughing. "Okay Adam, you can help. But we gotta hurry for Pa gets home," Joe ran from the barn, both Adam and Hoss following close behind.

As soon as the three brothers reached the house they made a run for the stairs, Adam and Hoss taking them two at a time. Little Joe ran as fast as he could while trying to copy his brothers but stumbled on the landing. Not wanting to get caught by their cook, Hop Sing who unbeknown to the boys had gone to visit his cousin in town, he quickly got up and ran the rest of the way.

The brothers were all laughing when they entered Little Joeís room and opened the window. The snow had continued to fall and luckily for the boys had not picked up in volume.

"Joe, you stay close to me, I donít want you falling. Pa will have our hides as it is if he finds out what we are doing, let alone what will happen to us, me mostly, if you fall and break a leg or arm. Hoss, you better be careful too," Adam instructed as he helped Little Joe out of the window and onto the roof of the house. Cautiously the three boys inched their way to the chimney.

"Letís tie this rope around you Hoss," Adam made a loop, slipped it over Hossí large frame and secured it around his mid-section. "Howís that feel, tight enough?"

Hoss yanked on the rope a couple of times. "Itís okay, ready?"

"Hurry up Hoss get in there," Joe had moved to stand where he could look down into the chimney. "I wanna see ifín ya fit."

"Hold one just a dadburn minute short shanks, I gotta take my hat off." Hoss removed his hat and sat it on the roof. The wind chose that moment to blow gently and Hossí hat was sent sailing through the air and onto the ground in front of the house.

Hoss watched helplessly as his hat fell into the snow. "Gosh dangit now look. Ifín Pa comes home heíll be sure ta see it, then whatíll ya think heíll say?"

"Forget it Hoss weíll be done before he gets back, unless you want stay out here all night talking. Now get your leg over the side." And with that Hoss did as he was instructed, Adam and Joe doing their best to help him.

"Not so fast let me git my other leg in first before ya start letting up on that rope. Joe! Stop pushiní me." Hoss was beginning to have second thoughts about trying to go down the chimney and cast worried eyes at his older brother.

"Adam?" he began.

Adam peered over the side; Hossí shoulders and head were still sticking out the top of the stone chimney and he had a death grip on the edge. "Itís too late now, get going!" Adam could not stop the laugh that suddenly rose in this throat at the look on the pudgy face starring back at him as he pried the fingers lose from the warm stones.

Adam and Joe held the rope tightly as Hoss descended down the dark hole. When his head disappeared from view, Joe looked up at Adam with twinkling eyes. "Ya reckon heíll fit? Seems sorta tight to me?" Joe laughed.

Before Adam could offer a reply Hoss shouted from the dark depths of the chimney, "Hey! Itís hot in here, are ya sure that fireís out?"

Joe jerked his head to look at Adam, both faces showing alarm. "The fire, Golly Moses Adam, I plum forgot about that," Joe said. "Whatíll we do now?"

Adam stood as if in thought, "Letís pull him back up, quick." Adam and Joe began pulling up on the rope hoping to raise Hoss to the top.

"Hey, whatíca doiní? Donít pull on that there rope Iím stuck!!" Hoss started coughing loudly, the sound reaching the ears of his brothers.

Adam peered into the hole, "You okay down there Hoss?" he shouted.

"Iím stuck in a dadburn chimney with a fire nipping at my butt, Iím covered in soot and I canít breathe, do I sound like Iím okay to ya?" Hoss yelled back at his brothers.

Adam and Joe leaned over the edge and looked at their bigger brother and laughed at the sight, sure enough, Hoss was stuck, dangling from the rope like a bird on a wire. His face was blackened from the soot and all that could be seen was the whites of his eyes. Adam and Joe burst out laughing and had to sit down on the roof to keep themselves from falling. Joe leaned into Adam and Adamís arm closed protectively around the smaller boy as they dabbed their eyes to dry the tears.

"Oh Adam, didíca ever see anything so funny in youíre life?" giggled Joe holding his stomach from all of the laughing.

"Not lately," Adam could hardly contain his own laugher.

"Hey, get me outta here, itís gettingí hotter by the second! Adam? Joe? Dadburnitall! Whatíca two adoiní out there?" Hoss was losing patience with his brothers. "HEY!!"

Adam leaned over the edge again, "Just hold on Hoss. Iíll send Joe in to make sure that the fire is out, then we can just lower you on down. Now be quiet before everyone in the bunk house hears you."

Joe allowed Adam to help him back through his bedroom window and as soon as he was safely inside, he ran from the room, down the stairs and to the fireplace. The fire had almost died out and Joe stuck his head up into the chimney. When he saw his middle brother wedged into the tight opening he began laughing again.

"Joe, when I git outta here, Iím gonna wallop ya good," groaned Hoss as he tried to inch his massive body deeper into the hole.

"Aw Hoss, ya just afunniní me. Hold on, Iíll get the fire out soís ya can come on down."

Joe ran to the kitchen and using the pump he filled Hop Singís empty slop bucket with water and ran back into the great room. Without uttering a word he tossed the cold water onto the dying embers. The fire sizzled as it was extinguished and a dark smoke began making itís way up the chimney. Suddenly loud coughing could be heard echoing from within the enclosure.

Hoss wiggled trying in vain to free himself from his smoky prison. On the roof Adamís face turned black when the smoke and soot flew upward covering not only his face but his shirt as well. Disgusted now with having allowed himself to be a part of his younger brotherís shenanigans, he put all of his weight into the rope and yanked.

"Ouwie!!" screamed Hoss from within. "Stop yanking on that dadburn rope, I canít breathe as it is, and ya trying to cut off my wind supply, dangit!"

"Sorry Hoss, just thought I might be able to pull you free. Hey, listen. Someoneís coming. Be quiet down there," whispered Adam into the chimney. "Tell Joe toÖ"

Adam never got to finish his warning because Ben had chosen just that moment to ride into the yard. As he tied Buck to the hitching post and made his way to the house all he had on his mind was a glass of brandy and warming his backside by the warm fire. The night air had turned colder and the snow had picked up itís pace giving the frozen ground a good layer of white.

Ben stopped to pick up the hat lying in the snow wondering how it had come to be there. Suddenly, fear gripped his heart as his thoughts turned toward an impending danger. Had Hoss been injured, was he lying somewhere in the snow hurt? Using caution, Ben approached the house gun drawn as he opened the front door to his home.

Joe who was standing with his head up the chimney turned quickly when seeing his father enter the house unexpectantly. The look on the young face was one of total shock and disbelief.

"UmmÖHi ya, Pa," Joe smiled sheepishly.

Ben placed his gun back into itís holster and removed his gun belt. After placing it on the sideboard and hanging his hat on the peg along with Hossí he walked to the fireplace and faced his youngest son. The guilty smile, the soot covered face, the steam from the now wet ashes and the bucket which had been tossed to the side had not gone unnoticed by the father. Ben felt his anger slowly making itís way to the surface.

"Would you like to explain this?" Ben stood with hands on his hips. Joe gulped and swallowed the lump in his throat all the while smiling up at his father with a look of innocence on his dirty face.

"Explain what?" Joe tried.

On the roof, Adam was pulling and tugging on the rope, trying to free his much-too-large-to-fit-in-a-chimney brother. Hoss was trying to squelch his grunts and groans while he tried to work himself free.

Ben reached for Little Joe and scooted him out of the way. "Letís start with those," Ben pointed at the pair of black boots dangling in the fireplace.

"Those?" Joe said, the smile quickly leaving his face. "They look like boots, wouldnít ya agree Pa?" Joe batted his green eyes at his father.

"I would indeed but whose boots are they?" shouted Ben as he bent his head to peer up into the chimney. Hoss picked that time to kick out with his feet and a cloud of black soot descended from his trap and fell into the face of his father. "What the? Hoss, is that you up there?" ranted Ben while trying to wipe the black stuff from his eyes. Joe turned his head to keep his father from seeing his smile that had suddenly reappeared on his face.

"Yes sir, Pa. Itís me. Did ya have a good time in town, Pa?" Hoss was at a loss as what to say; he knew he was in trouble. How could he ever make his father understand that he was only trying to help Joe understand the whys and why nots of Christmas?

"Get down here this minute!" yelled Ben. "And you young man? Get over here and help him, now!" Ben said to Joe who instantly came to stand next to his father. Ben looked into the face of his youngest son and instantly started laughing as his anger dissipated. His laughter caught the boy off guard and Joe looked at his father, doubting the older manís sanity.

"Pa, I canít come down, ereÖin fact I canít go up either. I think Iím stuck," called down Hoss. Benís laughter continued and Joe took a step backward from his father. When Ben sat down on the hearth still laughing, Joe moved to stick his head up the chimney.

"Hey Hoss, Adam, ya better git in here quick like, somethinsí wrong with Pa," Joe called up to his brothers.

"Whatís wrong with him?" answered Adam from the roof, his voice sounding funny coming down the chimney. This only caused Ben to laugh louder.

"Heís laughiní Ďstead of grumbliní like you said he would be Adam ifín heída caught us. Better hurry it up though, he donít look so good," Little Joe called up into the chimney and then turned worried eyes back to his father.

"Do you mean to tell me Joseph that your older brother is on this also?" laughed Ben as he finally got up and moved next to Joe. Ben looked again into the hole.

Joe watched his father, "Ya ainít mad, Pa?" Joe asked in amazement.

Ben smiled down at the little boy who was watching him and waiting for an answer. How could he be mad at his sons? Hadnít he and his brother tried the very same thing when they were about the same age? Ben remembered being the one stuck in the chimney and his father finding him much in the same position that he now found his own son.

"No son, I Ďainítí mad. It brings back memories. Remind me to tell you about when I was the one stuck in the chimney." Ben ruffled his sonís head.

Joe started laughing, "Pa, ya got stuck in the chimaney when ya was a kid?"

"I sure did. Iíll tell you later, first, letís get your brother out of there and get this fire going again, itís getting cold in here." Ben suggested as he hugged Joe to him.

Ben and Joe began the task of freeing Hoss from his trap while Adam worked from above. It took more time than they wanted to admit but at last Hoss was freed and the four Cartwrights headed for the wash room, hot baths the only thing on their minds by then.

By the time they had finished bathing, Hop Sing had returned home. Finding the fire had died, he hastened to start a new one and in remarkable time, warmth had returned to the great room.

With Ben in his favorite chair, Joe snuggled into his lap, Adam in his favorite blue chair and Hoss stretched out on the settee, Ben told his sons of the time that he and their Uncle John had decided to test the Ďchimaneyí for Santa. The ending results of their adventure had not ended as well as it had this evening. Ben laughed when he informed his sons that his and their uncleís backsides had been warmed by their grandfather Joseph rather than by the fire in the fireplace and that his father had not been as understanding as he had been earlier. The boys laughed and Joe starred in wonderment at his father as he tried to envision his father as a boy getting into trouble, the same kind of trouble that Joe knew he himself was famous for. Joe snuggled deeper into his fatherís chest and soon the soft sounds of his breathing told his family that the youngest had fallen asleep. Ben rose and carefully carried Joe to his room and placed him into bed. Bo was waiting on the other pillow and Ben tucked the little stuffed bear under his sonís arm, kissed his brow and blest his night before turning the lamp down low and pulling the door closed.

Ben had given the boys the afternoon off to enjoy the new layer of snow that covered the ground over night. He knew it was useless to try to get much work out of the three, even Adam still acted like a boy when it came to playing in the snow. Ben stepped out on to the porch and ducked as a wild flying snowball headed his way. Laughing, Ben picked up some snow for himself and formed it into a perfect ball. As Joe ran passed trying to out run the flying snowballs being thrown at him, Ben launched his and hit the boy in the back of the head. Before Joe could retaliate Ben ran into the house and shut the door laughing.

Adam was soon out of ammo and suggested that they make a snowman, which delighted the younger two brothers. "Joe, you make the smaller ball and weíll use that for the head," instructed Adam. "Hoss you work on the base and Iíll do the mid-section." Adam began rolling the snow to make his part of the snowman and watched from the corner of his eyes as his brotherís worked on doing their share. Soon all three had their snowmanís sections completed. Adam lifted his up onto the base and turned to help Joe with his but started laughing when his eyes took in the sight. Joeís snowmanís head resembled that of a pear rather than the traditional round shape.

"Joe, buddy, letís see what we can do about fixing Frostyís head. He might not like it if we leave him with a conehead," snickered Adam.

Hoss turned to see what Adam was laughing at and begun to laugh also. "Hey Short Shanks, how ya planniní on keepiní a hat on Mr. Conehead?"

Joe smiled innocently up at his middle brother, "I plan on using yours, itíll fit," giggled Joe.

Adam and Hoss joined Joe in reshaping Frostyís head and then lifted the head section onto the mid-section. The three stood back to admire their handiwork and began discussing how they should dress the snowman.

"He should have a hat to cover his head," suggested Hoss after much thought. Joe took off for the house in search of a hat to use. As Joe ran into the house, Ben was seated in his favorite chair reading the newspaper.

"Hi ya, Pa," shouted Joe as he ran past his father and up the stairs. Going into Adamís room, Joe knew the perfect hat he wanted. Pulling the chair over to the wardrobe and opening the door Joe climbed onto the chair and began pulling boxes from the shelf. After several boxes lay scattered on the floor he found what he was looking for.

Jumping down he tore the lid off and reached inside pulling out the black top hat. Joe ran from the room laughing as he tried to imagine his older brother wearing the hat.

"Bye ya Pa," called out Joe as he ran past his father. Ben briefly looked up and muttered a good-bye to his fleeing son as the front door slammed shut causing Ben to shutter slightly.

Adam took one look at what his brother held out to him and laughed, "I would have never thought of that! I hope you didnít make a mess of my room?" Adam already knew the answer to that question just by the look on his young brotherís face. "Donít worry, weíll straighten the mess later." With that said Adam reached down and raised Joe up so that he could place the hat on the snowmanís head, "You do the honors buddy."

"Hat on head, hmmÖnow he needs a scarf," suggested Adam.

"Iíll get it," called Little Joe as he turned and ran back to the house. "Hi ya Pa," yelled out Joe as he reached behind the door and snatched his fatherís neck scarf from the peg.

Bye ya Pa," he called and slammed the door. Ben glanced up to respond to his sonís farewell but the boy had already closed the door.

Joe handed the scarf to Hoss. "Your turn you do it," smiled Little Joe. "What next Adam?" Joe said dancing around in excitement.

"Wait a minute, what about the eyes? Old Frosty canít even see yet," exclaimed Joe.

"We can use coal for the eyes," offered Hoss who was still trying to tie the scarf to Adamís satisfaction.

"Iíll get it," said the little excited boy as he ran back to the house for the third time.

"Hi ya, Pa," Joe called out as he ran to the kitchen in search of the perfect eyes. Benís head raised again but did not see his son fly passed and imagined he must have been hearing things. Seconds later banging and clanging could be heard coming from the kitchen and Ben rose from his seat to see what the ruckus was about. Half way to the kitchen Ben ran into his youngest son on his way out the door.

"Bye ya, Pa," called out the soot covered boy before his father could reply, the door was slammed shut. Looking up to heaven in wonderment Ben returned to his chair and picked up his paper.

"Here ya go Adam, you do the eyes," Little Joe started to giggle, "donít makeíem cross-eyed big brother." Adam looked down at his youngest sibling and ruffled his hair causing the boy to giggle again.

Charlie walked by on his way to the barn and stopped to admire the boyís work of art. "Not bad, not bad at allÖexcept he needs a nose," volunteered the hired hand.

All three boys exchanged glances and shook their heads in agreement. "Iíll get one." And Joe was off to the house again. As he tore open the front door he noticed that Ben was no longer sitting in his favorite chair. Suddenly his fatherís head peered from above the settee to see who had opened the door. When Joe saw his father he smiled and waved. "Hi ya, Pa," and ran to the kitchen. Seconds later he reappeared with a long carrot in his hands, "bye ya, Pa."

"Joseph, come here," ordered Ben but the door slammed; his words lost to the wind. Giving up, Ben lay back down on the settee and tried to resume his nap.

"I wanna do the nose, please," squealed Little Joe and Hoss gathered the boy in his arms holding him so that he could put the carrot in place.

Charlie strolled from the barn stopping at the corral fence and laughed. The Cartwright boys seemed to be having fun, even Adam, who usually did not take part in the younger boyís adventures. Seeing the oldest having fun gave the cowhand a good feeling inside, he liked Adam, always had, in fact he liked all three boys, but Adam was his favorite.

"Donít forget the buttons!" he called out to them as he mounted his horse and rode from the yard.

"The buttons, I almost forgot! Be right back." Joe returned to the house at a run and pushed the door open causing it to bounce hard against the sideboard. Ben jerked his head up at the noise and watched Joe as he bounded up the stairs. Joe turned and saw his father watching him, "Hi ya, Pa." Joe took the stairs two at a time and before Ben could reprimand the boy he was gone from sight.

Joe ran into Hossí bedroom in search of the buttons to use on Frosty. Seeing the larger brotherís red nightshirt lying in the floor Joe made a grab for it and turned it right side out. The large bright buttons were just what he needed and with a yank the buttons came off and fell on the floor. Joe got down on his hands and knees gathered the three buttons from the floor and tossed the nightshirt back to the spot where he had found it.

As Joe descended the stairs, Ben was waiting for him at the bottom. "Joseph, stop," ordered his father.

"Canít Pa, Adam and Hoss are waiting for me," and with that the boy slipped under his fatherís arm and headed for the door. As he pulled the heavy door open he stopped and smiled back at his father, "Bye ya, Pa." The shutting of the door seemed to rattle the windows of the great house. Ben sighed in exasperation.

Once back outside Joe handed the buttons to Hoss. "You might as well put these on Hoss theyíre yours anyway." Little Joe smiled up at his middle brother as Hoss took the large shiny buttons from the little opened hand. Hoss held them out and looked at them trying to remember where he had seen them before.

The boys stood back to admire their handiwork once more. "Somethinís still missiní," Hoss said out loud. "Hmmmm" he continued.

"Howís Ďbout some arms?" suggested Joe.

"Hey little brother," beamed Hoss, "youíre purty smart fur a youníun."

Adam rolled his brown eyes, "Like it takes a genius to figure that out," he said with a smirk on his face and a gleam in his eyes.

"Yeah, but just lookit who thought of it." Hoss gave Adam one of his gapped tooth grins.

Adam picked up some snow and shoved it down the back of the larger boyís shirt causing him to squeal loudly. Little Joe started giggling and fell down rolling in the snow. Joe suddenly stopped rolling in the snow and told his brotherís he knew where to find some arms for the snowman.

Joe ran back into the house slinging the door wide open. Ben was coming down the stairs and opened his mouth to speak but Joe cut him off. "Hi ya Pa," he smiled as he ran for the kitchen. Digging into the utility box Joe chose two of Hop Singís finest wooden spoons and ran to the front door. Ben had started back up the stairs but turned when Joe called out, "bye ya Pa." Joe was gone before Ben had a chance to utter a word.

Ben stopped and scratched his head wondering just why his youngest kept running in and out of the house. With that on his mind he continued up the stairs until he reached the top most steps and stopped suddenly. Why was he going up, he wondered when minutes ago he had been going down? Frustrated Ben turned and marched back down.

Adam and Hoss were throwing snowballs when Joe returned with the wooden spoons but stopped when they saw him attempting to stick them into the snowman. "Here buddy, let me help you." Adam placed the arms at eye level for Joe to see and gathered Joe into his arms standing back to survey their work.

"All finished," Adam told his brothers. "Donít look too bad to me, what do you fellas think?"

"I think heís plum cute myself," laughed Hoss.

"Me too Adam," Joe smiled at his brothers.

Adam stared at the snowman and smiled mischievously, "I think he looks almost human. All he needs is a gun and a pipe."

"What do you say we go see if Hop Sing has some hot cocoa and some Christmas cookies to munch on?" suggested Adam. "Besides little buddy, you need to get warm, and Hoss here needs to get out of those wet clothes.

The two older boys walked back to the house, Adam carrying Joe across his shoulder and playfully swatting the backside of his baby brother. As they entered the house Ben was standing at the bottom of the steps scratching his head as if trying to remember something.

"Hi ya, Pa," called out Hoss as he hung his hat on the peg behind the door and began taking off his coat.

"Hi ya, Pa," mimicked Adam setting Little Joe on his feet and removing his damp clothes.

"Hi ya, Pa," smiled Joe as he jerked his coat and hat off and handed them to Adam to hang up for him.

Ben looked up, a blank expression on his face and still scratching his head he turned and walked up the stairs. The brothers all exchanged questioning glances, Hoss shrugged his shoulders and the three made their way to the kitchen in search of the hot cocoa and cookies.

As Ben reached his bedroom and started for the door he paused. "What am I doing up stairs? I thought I was going downstairs to the kitchen," Ben said to himself and then laughed hearing his own voice. Moving on into the room he continued his one sided conversation with himself, "Now Iíve taken to talking to myself," he smiled at his image that reflected back at him from the mirror on his dresser.

Ben sat down on the edge of the bed and pulled off his boots thinking that now since Joe had stopped slamming that dang door, it would be a good time to catch a nap. Ben rolled over onto his side, fluffed his pillow and within minutes was sleeping soundly.

Little Joe was still stuffing cookies into his mouth when both Adam and Hoss rose from their seats. "Gotta git started on the chores short shanks," Hoss explained to the boy. "You stay inside and weíll be back shortly." And with that the older boys left Joe in Hop Singís care and collected their coats and hats.

Hop Sing was preparing the supper meal and stopped long enough to run Joe from his kitchen. "Go now litle one, tell Misser Cartlite, supper almost redity." Joe snatched two more cookies, one he shoved into his mouth and the second one he crammed into his pocket to give to his father.

Looking around to be sure that no one was watching he ran through the great room. Not seeing that the corner of the rug was flipped up Joe tripped and fell forward onto the wooden table in front of the settee. Reaching wildly out to stop himself his hands made contact with the large bowl of fruit that sat in the middle of the table. The bowl crashed loudly to the floor sending a variety of fruit rolling out in all different directions.

Upstairs, Ben rolled over and grunted opening one eye to scan the room for the noise he thought he had just heard. Quiet now, the eye slowly closed.

Joe scanned the room to make sure he had not been seen before he continued his flight up the stairs in search of his father. Joe stopped at the first step and giggled. In a swift movement he hopped onto the lowest step, then the second and continued until he made it to the landing. The thumping sound of his boots along with his giggles echoed loudly throughout the silent house.

In his bed Ben rolled to his back. Once again the lone eye surveyed the room before joining the other eye in unsettled sleep.

On the landing Joe giggled once before hopping on the next step. HopÖgiggleÖhopÖ giggleÖhopÖgiggleÖhopÖhopÖgiggleÖgiggleÖhopÖhopÖJoe reached the top.

Ben groan loudly and flopped over onto his stomach, grabbed the pillow and with both hands held it tightly over his head in an effort to drown out the stampede coming up the stairs.

With boots clanking powerfully on the planked floor, Joe skipped merrily down the hall, singing his version of Jingle Bells. "Jingle bells, jingle bells, skipping down the hall. Oh what fun it is to skip while I go lookiní fur my pa."

Ben turned onto his back bringing the pillow with him still covering his face. "What in thunderation is that racket?" he asked himself sleepily.

"Dashing down the hall with boots upon my feet, Iíve come to get my Pa, to tellíem itís time to eat. Jingle bells, jingle bells, jingle all the way, you better get your butt down stairs or theyíll be hell to pay." Chanted Little Joe as he flung open Benís bedroom door and pounced like a puma onto his fatherís bed.

Joe tossed the pillow aside and straddled his father. Leaning in closely to Benís face and using the index and thumb of each of his little hands Joe raised his fatherís eyelids and smiled, "Hi ya, Pa."

"Ohhh," moaned Ben. "Joseph, was that a whole army making all of that noise or just you?" Ben asked trying to sit up in the bed without knocking his son from his lap.

Joe gave his father one of his most angelic smiles, "Just me Pa, twernít no army."

Ben tousled the curly head, "I thought so, a whole army could not have made that much racket." Ben swung his legs over the side of the bed and set Joe on the floor in front of him. "Canít a man take a nap around here without being disturbed?"

"Aw shucks Pa, ya been nappiní all day. Donít ya reckon itís time to get up? Hop Sing said to tell ya, supperís almost ready." Joe moved so that Ben could pull his boots on.

"Here Pa," Joe dug into his pocket and pulled out what was left of the smashed cookie and offered it to his father. "I brought this one for ya."

Ben looked at the crumbled mess held in the dirty hands and then looked into the shiny eyes that smiled back at him. Ben reached out and drew the boy into his arms hugging him tightly. "Iíd better pass on the cookie son, I wouldnít want to ruin my supper and make Hop Sing mad."

"Yeah, we donít want him to go back to China afore he has Christmas dinner cooked do we Pa?" Joe asked innocently and stuffed the crumbs into his mouth. Ben laughed and picked the boy up into his arms and carried him from the room back downstairs.

Benís booted toe kicked something and Ben saw the something roll along the floor. Ben set Joe on his feet and stooped to retrieve the apple from its hiding place under the table. Looking around, Ben noticed the upturned fruit bowl that lay in the floor near the chair and retrieved it also. Joe watched his father collecting apples from various places around the great room and decided that now might be a good time to excuse him self to go wash up for supper. Ben had his back to the boy and did not see him escaping through the kitchen.

Hoss and Adam who were just coming in from the cold removing their hats and coats watched their father crawling around on his hands and knees. The boys exchanged amused glances and moved closer to watch. Ben, unaware of his sons, stopped gathering fruit when his hand touched something strange. Realizing that it was a boot, he raised up to sit back on his legs and smiled at his two oldest.

"Hi ya Adam. Hi ya Hoss, I was picking up fruit. I think a certain green-eyed little scamp has been through here." Ben rose and placed the apples back into the bowl then moved to the table. "Letís have some supper," said Ben somewhat embarrassed at being caught crawling around on the floor.

Joe joined them at the table; Ben blest the meal, his family and their health. "One more day Joseph before Santa comes."

"Thatís right little buddy, hope youíve been good this year. You know what happens when youíre not, Santa donít stop at your house," teased Adam. "You reckon heís been good enough Hoss?"

Hoss picked up on the teasing and joined in. "I donít rightly know big brother. I remember a couple of times this year he got his britches warmed. Whatíll ya think, Pa? Has baby brother here been good enough so that Santa will stop?" Hoss watched the worried boy turn questioning eyes to his father.

Ben suppressed a laugh and looked to Little Joe. When Ben saw that tears were forming in his eyes he reached out and ruffled the boyís head. "Oh, I think your brother has been a very good boy this year," he told Hoss and Adam. "Donít you worry any Joseph, Santa is sure to come down your chimney this year," smiled Ben.

The smile returned to Joeís face. He quickly rubbed the wet tears from his eyes in hope that none of his family had noticed. He knew of several reasons that Santa shouldnít be stopping at his house, but he wasnít about to tell his father. And besides, reasoned Joe to himself, if his pa thought that he had been good enough to merit a visit from Santa then he had nothing to worry about.

Joe curled into a round ball as he lay sleepily upon his bed thinking about what Adam had said about their snowman, Frosty. Adam had stated that Frosty almost looked human and all he needed was a pistol and a pipe. If anyone were standing in the boyís dark room, no one would have been able to see the smile that spread across the boyís face. Giggling to himself, Joe sprang from the bed, forgetting momentarily his boots, he stopped to slip them on before he ran down the stairs. Joe was careful to step over the steps that he knew would squeak and possibly wake his family. Putting a hand over his mouth to stifle the rising giggles Joe took his fatherís pipe from the table next to the leather chair where Ben always sat to smoke and read his paper.

Joe stuck the pipe into his nightshirt pocket and as he made for the door he stopped at the credenza and picked up his wooden gun that he always kept there along side of his brothers and fatherís pistols. Carefully Joe removed Benís revolver from its holster and placed it on the credenza. Joe slipped his little wooden gun down into the empty leather holster and fastened the small leather strap across the top of the wooden gun like he had seen this father and brother do to their own guns.

Being as quiet as possible Joe unlocked the front door pulling it open just enough that he could slip out into the moonlight. Joe stomped through the snow making his way to where Frosty stood guard over the yard. Joe noted that Frosty had lost one of his bright red buttons. Little Joe glanced around the new fallen snow and spotted it lying at the base of the snowman. Reaching down Joe returned the object to its proper place.

The night air had turned colder and Joe felt the urge to hurry. Quickly Little Joe stuck his fatherís pipe into the spot on the face of the snowman where he figured the mouth should be. Next he strapped Benís large gun belt with his wooden pistol in its holster around Frostyís middle and stood back to admire the new attire. On his way back to the house Little Joeís eyes fell on the spot where he had Ďwrittení his name in the snow and realized with some disappointment that the new snow had covered his artwork. Without thinking Joe hiked up his nightshirt tucked it under his chin and taking extra care with the J, rewrote his name. Giggling softly to himself he ran back into the house, slammed the door without thinking and ran into his room before anyone was aware that he had even left his bed.

Ben who was awakened from a much-earned sound sleep jumped to his feet at the sound of the slamming door. Not taking time to grab anything other than the spare gun that he kept in the drawer next to his bed he silently made his way downstairs. Adam had also ran into the hall and followed in his fatherís footsteps.

"Whatís going on Pa?" asked the younger boy quietly as he and his father crept with caution to the door.

"I thought I heard someone close the door," Ben whispered over his shoulder as he opened the door and peered out into the night. Instantly Benís eyes fell upon the lone figure standing in the middle of the yard. Adam stood on his toes trying to peak over his fatherís shoulders.

"Stop!" yelled Ben to the man, "who are you and what do you want this time of night?"

Adam followed Ben out onto the porch, not seeing the man in which his father was calling out to. The only thing that he could see in the yard was the snowman that he and his brothers had made earlier. Instantly Adam burst out laughing loudly causing his father to jerk his head back and stare at his son as if the boy had suddenly lost his mind.

Ben, embarrassed by the fact that he was caught talking to a snowman brushed his way passed his laughing son only stopping long enough to point a finger at Adam and firmly stated, "Not a word about this to anyone, do you understand?" Not waiting for an answer he returned to his bed.

Adam moved further into the yard still laughing at his fatherís intruder when he noticed that Joe had written his name once again in the snow. Giving a sly smile and a wink of an eye to Frosty, Adam lifted his nightshirt and added his name directly under Joeís.

Bright and early the next morning Hoss was the first to rise. As he made his way to the barn to start his morning chores he noticed that Frosty had had company sometime during the night. Taking note of his fatherís gun belt strapped to the chubby snow creature he reminded himself to collect the object on his return to the house and to have a private word with his baby brother. As Hoss looked down he saw where Joe had written his name in the snow and laughed out loud when he read the name under the younger boyís. Not wanting to feel left out, Hoss glanced around the yard making sure he was alone and when he felt confident the coast was clear, he added his name under Adamís.

Joe later was on his way to the chicken coop to gather the eggs when he stopped to say "hi ya, Frosty." The first thing that Joe noticed was that someone had removed his fatherís gun belt from around Frostyís massive waist and had left his wooden gun hanging on the end of the spoon arm. Joe figured that the best thing to do was to say nothing at all to anyone and hoped that it would not be called to attention. Joe turned from the snowman to continue his way to the chicken house when he noted the added names in the snow. Giggling to himself and not wanting to have his fatherís feelings to be hurt Joe added ĎPaí to the growing list of names in the snow.

Once the chores where completed and the family had gathered back into the warmth of the great room Adam turned to his father, a question forming on his lips. "Pa, is there anything else you need for us to do? We have presents to wrap."

Ben smiled at his three sons as they held their breath in anticipation of his answer. Ben laughed softly, all three looked like small boys. Pointing to the tree Ben informed his sons, "there will be no presents to put under this tree if you boys donít do something about decorating this monster."

The boys exchanged looks and each headed in a different direction to collect the needed items to adorn their tree. Hoss returned from the kitchen with the bowls of popcorn and cranberries that Hop Sing had prepared earlier for their use. Adam carried the boxes of treasured family ornaments down the stairs and placed them on the table in front of the fireplace. Little Joe came up from the cellar carrying a variety of colored candles to use on the tree. Ben sat back in his favorite chair and watched the excited boys as they dug through their treasures looking for their prized ornaments to hang first.

"Hoss," reprimanded Adam for the fourth time, "if you would string them instead of eating them we could get finished quicker. "We still have to wrap our gifts, remember?"

Hoss glared at his brother, "But this popcorn is so good."

"Hoss, Iíll tell Hop Sing to pop you some more just to eat if you will just hurry it up a little so we can get done," offered Little Joe as he stood and ran to the kitchen.

When Joe returned from the kitchen Hoss was still working at stringing the popcorn and cranberries. Little Joe looked on in frustration when suddenly an idea popped into his head and he smiled devilishly. Turning his back to his brothers, he began popping the bright red cranberries into his mouth.

"Joe!" yelled out Hoss, startling the little boy and making him turn around suddenly forgetting the mouthful of berries he was trying to swallow.

"Hmm?" he mumbled trying in vain to swallow the lump in his mouth.

Adam and Hoss started laughing; the boy had red berry juice dripping from his chin causing him to look as if he were bleeding profusely.

"Ya ainít suppose to eatíem, ya suppose to stringíem," quoted Hoss as he crammed a handful of the popcorn into his mouth.

"I just thought that if we ate what was felt we could get dun faster and get to wrap our presents," Joe explained to his brothers. Even Adam agreed and reached for a handful of the popcorn and stuffed it into mouth.

With the stringing of popcorn and cranberries finally completed the boys worked together to wrap the goodies around the tree placing each string in the exact location as designated by Adam. Hoss glanced at his youngest brother and rolled his eyes each time the string missed itís mark as Adam stopped to fix it.

Ben had watched with much amusement until he felt his own excitement grow and no longer could be just a spectator and rose from his chair. "Hey boys, I will hand them to you. Adam you can hold Joseph up to reach the high places while Hoss can hang his further down. Save the angel for Joe to put on top, as usual."

At last the final ornament was hung in its place and the four Cartwrights stood back to admire their creativity. Suddenly the three older men burst out into loud laughter, causing Little Joe to turn startled eyes at his family.

"Whatís so funny?" questioned the little boy who stood with hands on his hips looking very much like his father.

The middle of the tree was very obviously the area in which Little Joe had hung his ornaments; other areas of the tree were bare except for the string of popcorn and cranberries. Higher up the tree, the taller Cartwright men had managed to tastefully place their choices.

Adam began to move his younger brotherís decorations but Ben held out a hand and stopped him. "Leave them Adam, they look fine to me. Next year he will be taller, hopefully," Ben turned and winked at his youngest and Joe returned the wink using both eyes, not perfect but Pa got the message.

"Letís wrap!" laughed Pa heading for the steps. His sons were quick to follow each making their way to their own rooms where each had their treasures hidden.

An hour later Hoss emerged from his room carrying his gifts down the stairs. "Iím dun, Pa. Has Adam and Joe come down yet?" he asked as he placed his presents under the sweet smelling pine.

"Right behind you, brother," called out Adam who had heard his brotherís question. Adam strategically placed his gifts around the tree and sat down in his favorite chair.

Hop Sing carried in a tray of hot cocoa and warm cookies for the men to enjoy and set it on the table. A half-hour later when the cocoa was cooled and the cookies gone Adam suggested that perhaps someone might need to check on the youngest in the family.

"He sure is taking a long time to wrap his gifts. I think I will go see if he needs any help. God only knows what kind of mess he has created in this length of time," laughed Adam as he rose from his chair and made his way up the stairs.

Adam knocked softly on the door and waited for Joe to respond.

"Who is it?" called out the young boy.

"Would you believe Santa Clause? Ho, Ho, Ho," laughed the teasing Adam.

"Aw Adam, I know itís you. Come on in, I need some help," Joe returned the laugh.

Adam slipped into the room and shut the door behind him. Adam cast his eyes about the room and began laughing again. He had been right; it looked as if a tornado had unexpectedly ripped through his brotherís room.

"Joe," said Adam waving his arms about the scene, "how did you manage to do all of this?"

"All of what? All Iíve been doiní was tryiní to wrap these things up. You gonna help me or just stand there lookin?" pleaded Little Joe.

Adam stepped over and around the different sizes of brown paper that had been cut and discarded all about the room. His eyes suddenly fell on a brown wrapped package on the bed. Carefully he picked it up and held it out to Joe.

"What is this?" he asked warily

"Hey brother that is your gift, put it down," Joe took the package from his brotherís hand and put it back on the bed.

Adam sat down in the floor next to his brother, "Think you used enough twine?"

Adamís gift looked as if it were wrapped with an entire ball of the twine and Adam had to suppress his laugher at his little brotherís attempts at gift-wrapping.

With Adamís help Joe finished wrapping the remainder of his gifts and carried them downstairs to place under the tree with the rest of his familyís presents.

Adam picked up his guitar and began strumming Christmas carols. Before long the entire family had started singing the festive tones until a loud knock was heard at the door. "Iíll get it," volunteered Ben as he rose from his chair to answer the door.

"Howdy Ben, Merry Christmas," greeted Roy Coffee as he entered the house. "Nice snow sculpture you got out there," laughed the sheriff as he removed his coat. "Especially like the inscriptions along side," he continued laughing. Ben turned as if to go out the door but stopped when Hoss put a heavy hand on his shoulder.

"Iíll explain it to you later, I donít think you really want to know right now." Hoss gently escorted his father back to the chair where he had been sitting.

"Donít worry Pa, " volunteered Little Joe, "we just wrote our names in the snow," he said and grinned at everyone in the room. Adam suddenly stopped strumming the guitar, Hossí face suddenly turned red, Roy burst into laughter and Ben watched wondering about his family and his friendís sanity.

"Joseph, Iíd say itís about your bedtime son. Letís go," Ben rose from his chair and started to gather the small boy into his arms.

"Pa wait, I gotta get Santaís milk and cookies," Joe stated and ran for the kitchen. Minuteís later Joe returned with the special plate that had always been used to hold Santaís treats. With care he sat the plate of cookies and the tall glass of milk onto the table. Turning to Hoss he shook his finger at the bigger boy, "Donít ya dare eat those Hoss, these are for Santa, ya hear?" Little Joe turned from his brother and allowed his father to gather him up into his arms.

"Night every one," Joe said as Ben carried him to his room.

With Joe safely upstairs with their father, Adam and Hoss snuck out to the barn. A short time later they were finished spreading magic around the yard. Stepping back on the porch both brothers smiled in satisfaction at their handiwork.

"Those hoof prints sure look real to me, if I didnít know no better, I would believe that they were real. I know little brother will think so," smiled Hoss rubbing his large beefy hands together in excitement.

Adam reached into his pocket and tossed several grains of the Ďmagicalí corn out into the yard causing it to scatter in all directions. "The final touches," he said and laid his arm around Hossí shoulders as they entered the house.

Ben extinguished his pipe. He had waited until he felt sure that Joseph was sound asleep before going into the spare room to gather his youngest sonís Santa gifts from their hiding place. With care he placed each gift in such a spot that would cause the young boy to search for them. Standing back, Ben was pleased with what he saw; this could very well be the last Christmas that Little Joe would Ďbelieveí and the thought saddened him slightly.

"MERRY CHRISTMAS! MERRY CHRISTMAS!" The shouts seemed to bounce off of every wall in the house as three grown men burst from their rooms in alarm. Ben was the first one out into the hallway and as Adam and Hoss emerged they collided with each other. Standing at the end of the hall dressed only in his nightshirt stood seven year old Joe Cartwright, grinning from ear to ear.

"MERRY CHRISTMAS everyone!" he shouted out in glee.

"Joseph, do you know what time it is? The sun isnít even up yet," laughed Ben as he picked the boy up.

"But who cares Pa. Itís Christmas day. Ifín we start now weíll just have longer time to enjoy it. Whatícha say? Please??" Joe hugged his fatherís neck and kissed his cheek.

Ben looked over his shoulder at his other two son, "How can we say no to that?"

"Everyone grab a robe and slippers and meet downstairs in three minutes," instructed Ben. "Last one down has to carry out all the old wrapping papers." Three men and a very excited boy ran in four different directions scurrying about like tiny little Christmas mice.

Joe, whose room was closest to the steps, was the first one down. Ben, Adam and Hoss all reached the top of the stairs at the same time and each tried to squeeze past the other. Ben gave in and allowed his two sons to descend the stairs before him. He had no desire to end up in a heap with a broken leg on Christmas morning. Carrying out the trash was just a small price to pay in regard to his personal safety, he reasoned.

Ben played the roll of Santa and began handing out the gifts. Presents were ripped opened and paper tossed about the room as each boy delighted in every gift. Thank you could be heard above the rustling of the papers.

Ben stood when all the gifts were unwrapped and announced that he needed some help in the barn. "Boys, could the three of you come to the barn with me? I need you to help me with the chores so that we can finish before our guest start arriving."

"Sure Pa," agreed Adam and Hoss, rising from their seats and wondering why Pa wanted to finish with the chores so early in the morning. Joe started out the door with his brothers but stopped and turned back to gather his new toys. He straddled his stick pony, gather his new stuffed dog he named, Scruffy, and followed his family out to the barn.

"Hey Adam," called out Joe, stopping to look at the hoof prints and corn about the yard. Ben stopped about the same time and stood staring at the writing in the snow. Suddenly he understood what Roy had meant by his comment on the signatures in the snow.

"I told you he would visit those who believed," Adam told Joe as he placed an arm around the younger boyís shoulder. Ben had moved ahead to the barn and had the door opened by the time the boys entered.

As Joeís eyes took in the sight before him, he stood as if frozen to the spot, unable to utter a word. "Well Punkiní, whatíll you think?" asked Hoss who was the first to find his voice. Joe handed the stick pony and Scruffy to Adam and ran to his fatherís opened arms.

"Pa?" squealed Little Joe, "for me?"

Ben laughed, "Well son, heís not for Hoss." Ben gathered the excited boy in his arms and placed him on to the new saddle.

"Pa, heís perfect. Thanks Pa, thanks Adam, and thanks Hoss. This is the best Christmas ever." Joe was close to shedding tears of happiness.

"What are you going to call him?" Adam asked watching as Pa led the new and slightly larger pony around the barn with Joe hanging on to the new saddle.

"I think I will call himÖhmmÖSnowflake," smiled Joe.

"But heís black," frowned Hoss puzzled by the name.

"I know that silly. But look at his face, he has a white snowflake right between his eyes," explained Joe.

All eyes turned to look at the new pony and sure enough there spaced exacted as Little Joe had stated was what looked like a splattered snow fake. "Ahh," smiled Ben, "only through the eyes of a child can one know the magic of Christmas. May it last forever."

Ben reached up and helped this young son from his new pony. "Robes, slippers, and nightshirts are not appropriate clothing for winter days nor pony back rides, letís get inside and get warmed up," suggested Ben.

Adam and Hoss headed for the house, "I want breakfast," called Hoss over his shoulder.

"I want hot coffee," Adam added.

Ben carried Joe from the barn and as Ben pulled the barn door shut Joe stopped his father is his tracks with a mighty tight hug and an extra big kiss. "I got what I wanted, right there in the barn."

Ben squeezed his little boy, "And I have all I want, right here in my arms. Merry Christmas, Joseph."


December, 2001

A Stable in Bethlehem, by Joy A. Hulme, no infringement rights intended.

Thanks to Little Jennie Allender for naming our story.

Lucas Tatum, a character invented by Debbie Beshears, used with permission only.

Thanks to Helen Adams for allowing us to use Bo, Little Joeís stuffed bear.