The Fountain of Youth
By Debbie B ;0)
The pitter patter of Joeís bare feet echoed through the great room as the other Cartwrightís turned their heads to see what inspired the youngster to end up without his boots on. Adam nearly spewed his coffee from his mouth as he swallowed the laugh that he held in his throat. Ben shook his head in awe and rose to meet the bare bottomed child that ran in circles around the planked table in front of the fireplace.
"Joe," Ben called out to his youngest son. Getting no reply he repeated himself. "Joseph."
This time Joe ran towards his father holding his arms out in front of him so he might collect his morning hug. "Papa." Little Joeís reply was all that was needed as Ben bent down to gather his rambunctious child into his arms.
"Where are you trousers young man?" Ben questioned as he kissed Joe on the cheek.
Joe placed his tiny hands on either side of his fatherís face and Ben watched in amusement as the boyís face took on an expression of seriousness. "Uptairs."
Ben felt the corners of his mouth tugging at his face as he tried to conceal the smile that was begging to display itself. "Why are you not wearing them son?" Benís eyebrows rose in anticipation of the boyís answer.
"I dunno." Joeís fingers toyed with the button on Benís vest before looking into his fatherís eyes. "Pabalee Ďcuz ifín I donts wear Ďem, I ainít gonna have a actadent iníem." The boyís reply was an honest one and what apparently had been a logical reason coming from a three year old.
Hoss rolled his bright blue eyes upward; Adam covered his mouth with his hand trying to hide the smile that caused his lips to twitch and curve upward into a smile.
Ben glanced at his two sons giving each a warning look before turning back to the half naked lad in his arms. "Letís go get your britches on little boy, we have a lot to do today and you cannot be much help with out your pants, and we have to have it finished before we leave for church." Ben smiled as his baby placed a kiss on his cheek.
"Tay Papa, Iíll wearíem, just for you," beamed Little Joe thinking that he was making his papa happy, and wrapped his arms about his fatherís neck as Ben marched up the stairs determined to get his son ready in time for church.
"Joseph, we have already stopped at two outhouses and we aren't even half way through town," fussed Ben. " Can't you wait until we get to the church before you use it again?" Ben was beginning to get angry with his youngest son; this stopping at every outhouse along the way was getting totally out of line.
"Think he's got something wrong with his bladder?" asked Adam trying not to giggle and give his father cause to turn his anger on him.
"BLADDER?" shouted Ben and then whispered as curious eyes turned in his directions. He tipped his hat to one lady and her husband as they stared at him.
"What did you just say, Ben Cartwright?" responded the lady, her hands on her hips.
"Say?" called out Ben..."Oh, I said ladder, watch out for that ladder," he pointed and smiled as the lady's husband stopped suddenly bumping into a ladder that had been left on the sidewalk.
"Papa, pwease, I gotta go," whined Little Joe, holding himself between the legs and squirming on the seat next to Hoss.
"Ya better stop Pa, he acts like he really does gotta go, 'sides I don't waníem to pee on me," spoke up Hoss.
"Oh good heavens," mumbled Ben as he pulled back on the reins, bringing the team to a stop in the middle of the street. "Adam, help him down. Joseph, run behind the mercantile, they have a privy there, and please hurry, Adam go with him."
"Aw Pa," complained Adam as he hopped from the wagon and hurried to chase after his baby brother who had just disappeared around the corner of the building.
"Need any help?" called Adam as he waited patiently by the door.
"Help, help, help," the subdued cries from within the walls brought Adam to sudden attention.
Jerking open the door, Adam clamped his hand over his mouth to keep from laughing. There stuck in the wooden hole was his baby brother. Little Joe's bottom had dropped deep enough into the hole that his body was wedged tightly.
"Joe, why were you sitting? I thought you just had to pee?" asked Adam, tugging at his brother's body in an effort to free the boy.
"I did, but I wanted to sit on this one, cause I dwibbled on my pants at the last potty. I didn't wanna do it again. OUCH, that hurted," wailed Joe as Adam pulled up on his brother's little arms finally freeing the behind from its trap.
Adam could no longer contain his laughter as he spied the red ring that circled the pink cheek buttocks of the youngest Cartwright.
"Tain't funny Adam, I cud'of feld in that hole!" cried Little Joe jerking his pants up and slipping his arms through his suspenders.
"I'm sorry little buddy, but you looked like you've been branded," apologized Adam, straightening the boy's clothing.
Adam gathered his baby brother up in his arms and as he turned his father, an angry glare on his face, met him. "Does this have to take all day?" Ben said between gritted teeth.
"Sorry sir," said Adam hurrying around Ben.
"I got tukíd, Papa," smiled Little Joe over the back of Adam's shoulder at his father who was following behind.
"Tukíd?" questioned Ben.
"I'll explain later Pa, best hurry, we'll be late for church if you don't," said Adam, a mischievous smile on his face.
"Why couldnít I have had girls? Heh Lord, heh?" mumbled Ben as he climbed back into the carriage.
Ben stopped one more time before reaching the church; this time he accompanied his youngest to the outhouse behind the gunsmithís shop. As Ben kneeled down to refasten Joeís suspenders, he couldnít help but smile at the innocent look that adorned his babyís face.
"Joseph, Papa wants this to be your last time until after church services. Do you understand me?" Ben stated in a fatherly tone of voice as he rested his hands on each of Joeís shoulders in an effort to still the bouncing boy.
Benís laughter started off softly and built in volume until several persons had stopped to see what all of the ruckus was about.
"Come on you little scamp," laughed Ben, swinging Joe up into the air and carrying him back to the buggy. "You just remember what I said, no more going potty until after church."
Ben was amazed that Joe had remained quiet through most of the
sermon, more amazed that he had not asked to use the outhouse. Just a few more
minutes and church services would be over and he could relax thought Ben
happily. He couldnít wait until Marie got back from
"PA! I GOTTA GO," shouted Joe aloud as he tapped his fatherís shoulder.
Ben, embarrassed that he had been caught daydreaming in church, was pulled from his own thoughts at the sound of his son yelling in his ear. Quickly surveying the room, Benís face flushed bright red at seeing all eyes staring at him and quickly clamped his hand over his sonís mouth. Giving the reverend a sickly smile Ben nodded for him to continue as he mouthed a silent apology.
Ben pulled Joe over onto his lap and wrapped his arms tightly around the squirming boy.
"Joseph, you had better be still, right this minute," ordered Ben in a whispered voice and tightened his arms.
"Papa, donít squeeze me likathat, ya gonna make me pee on ya," cried Joe trying to get free from his fatherís strong arms.
"Joseph," Ben stated through gritted teeth.
"Twit Papa," fussed Joe freeing one arm and struggling to free the other.
"You twit," ordered Ben reaching for the arm that Joe was flailing about in the air.
Ben suddenly realized that the preacher had stopped talking and that the room had gotten very quiet. Ben froze, a look of near panic on his face, when suddenly from across the room, the sound of soft laughter could be heard. Then another, and another, then more until the entire congregation was laughing uncontrollably. Ben chanced a glance at his older two sons and saw that they too were laughing; it was then that Ben realized that he had been arguing with Joe in a loud voice.
Embarrassed beyond measure, Ben rose slowly, tucked his wiggly bundle under his arm and marched from the church. Once outside on the porch, Ben stopped as the congregation began singing, ĎI Need Thee Every Hourí.
Benís anger dissipated as the words of the song reached his ears. "Come on little fella, letís get you to the outhouse before itís too late," laughed Ben setting Joe on his feet and taking his hand.
"Oh tatís tay Papa. I donít gotta go no more." Joe gave his father a big smile and wrapped his arms about his fatherís legs. "I luv ya."
Ben stood quietly under the shade tree to the side of the church and waited for Adam and Hoss to exit the building. As the congregation filed from the opened doors, Ben noticed several of his friends where looking in his direction and Ben was not unaware of the smiles that graced each face of the one who looked at him. Ben felt his own face redden slightly as the memory of his youngest offspringís outburst in the church. Ben glanced down; the object of his thoughts was sitting silently under the tree, the first time all morning he had actually been still. A long blade of grass was pressed tightly between his fingers as the boy tried to make the grass whistle as he blew with all of his might. Ben smiled, so he had been a little embarrassed, it wasnít the first time, and it sure wouldnít be the last time, thought Ben. Little did he know just how quickly his face would once more turn red!
As soon as his older two sons joined Ben, the four Cartwrights headed for the International House for lunch. Ben, taking caution, looked down at Little Joe.
"Joseph, do we need to make a stop at the outhouse before we have lunch?" Ben asked offhandedly.
Joe smiled innocently up at his Pa, "Naw, I ainít gotta go. Iím hungwe, letís eat." Joe pulled free from Adam who had been holding on to his hand and ran inside.
Minutes later the family had turned in their orders and waited patiently for the waitress to bring their meals.
"Ah Pa, Little Joe had an accident." Hoss waved his hand in front of his face desperate to chase away the offending odor.
Ben shook his head annoyed with himself for not remembering to bring the extra change of clothes that Marie consistently reminded him to bring. "Joe, did you have an accident?" Benís voice was low and he tried to be discrete not wanting to cause a scene in the restaurant.
"Na, na Papa, no actadent." Little Joe replied giving his father his famous angelic smile.
Ben shrugged his shoulders and went back to reading the menu.
"Pa, thereís that smell again." This time is was Adam who was complaining.
"Joe," whispered Ben and then slightly louder when the little boy did not answer. "Joseph are you sure that you did not have an accident?" Ben could also smell the odor and this time is smelt like it was getting stronger and more noticeable.
"Iím shore I donít Papa," Joe again smiled at his father, proud that he had not had an accident since yesterday.
"I am sure that I did not," corrected Adam as he moved the water glass out of Joeís reach hoping to prevent a disaster from occurring.
The squeal of delight rang through the restaurant as Joeís voice echoed in itís temporary silence.
"It wasnít Adam eifer Papa." Joe was standing on his chair with one knee on the table attempting to reclaim his water glass. He cupped his hands to either side of his mouth like he was going to whisper, "Itís musta been Hoss, Papa."
Adam heard the snickering coming from the table behind him and he silently wished them to have a dozen children of their own one day. He rolled his eyes at Joeís comment and moved the water glass to the opposite side of the table.
"Get off the table and sit down Joe," Adam directed as he shook his head slightly embarrassed at the number of people that had heard his brotherís comment.
Joe took his leg off the table and stomped his foot on the chair to show his annoyance. "Papa, ainít Adam, ainít me, musta be Hoss," stated the child as he once again leaned across the table in search of his water glass.
"Twirt me Pa," reassured Hoss as he again waved his hand in front of his face.
Ben was losing his patience and once more he leaned across the table. "Joseph are you absolutely positive that you did not have an accident."
Joe jumped down from the chair and walked around the table to stand in front of his father. The boy turned around and before any one knew of his intentions, Joe dropped his pants around his ankles, bent over, pulled his cheeks apart and then yelled, "See Papa no actadent, just toots."
Adam rose quickly to his feet and reached for the small bundle
of joy that he usually was so proud of. He scooped up Joe and draped him over
his shoulder, turned and walked out of the restaurant leaving his brother and
father to deal with the numerous snickers and comments that had made them the
center of attraction.
Minutes later he was joined by his father and middle brother who climbed into the buggy without uttering a word to either Joe or himself.
Ben looked over his shoulder and smiled at Adam. He was pleased to think that the ride home back to the Ponderosa would be one without interruption. Little Joe had snuggled up next to Adamís chest and had fallen asleep in Adamís arms, Joeís left thumb planted firmly in his mouth. Clucking softly to the team, Ben slapped the reins down on the flanks of the horses urging them forward.
Hoss was jerked awake as the buggy was pulled to an abrupt halt. Adam stopped humming and automatically tightened his hold on Joe hoping that he would not be awakened.
"Whatís wrong Pa?" inquired Adam as Ben handed him the reins and jumped down from the buggy.
"Nothing son, be right back," explained Ben as he headed behind the mercantile in the direction of the outhouse.
Days later on a hot summer afternoon:
Adam pulled Beauty to a halt and repositioned Little Joe in front of him. The boy had fallen asleep on the way to Mitchís house. Joe had been begging Pa for over a week to visit with his new friend that he had met at a church picnic. Ben had finally agreed to let Adam take him over to the Devlinís place being that Adam had some things to discuss with Pete, Mitchís older brother.
Joe was awake by the time they arrived at the ranch and began to squirm in the saddle as he saw Mitch standing outside waiting to greet his company. "Hi ya Little Joe," Mitch called out jumping up and down with excitement.
"Hey yaself," replied Joe waving frantically as he waited for Adam to get him down from the horse.
Pete and Adam helped the smaller boys set up their wooden soldiers and then sat down on the front porch to talk while keeping an eye on the younger boys. Joeís eyes widened in wonderment as he watched the Devlinís dog sniff at the coral post turn in a circle and then lift his leg, peeing on the post.
"Whys he do dat?" Joe asked Mitch as he watched the dog move to another post and repeat his performance.
Mitch shrugged his shoulders as he gave Joe his best explanation according to Pete.
"Pete says all boy dogs to it," began Mitch as he giggled at the dogís talent of standing only on three legs. "It lets the utter amimals know that this is his howse and they hafíta stay away." Mitch smiled as he recalled the reasoning behind Rover marking his territory.
Little Joe giggled as the amusing sight continued, soon bored, returned his attention to playing.
Later that afternoon after Joe had taken his nap, Ben had sat down at his desk to work on the ledgers. Instructions were left for Adam and Hoss to occupy the small bundle of mischief and keep him out of harmís way. Adam had gone to the kitchen to get a plate of cookies and milk for them to snack on. The weather was beautiful and Hoss had asked permission to eat their snack out on the front porch. Both older boys got lost in a discussion concerning the new foal that had just been born two days earlier and did not notice that Little Joe had wandered away from the porch.
Ben stood from his desk and stretched the kinks out of his back before making his way to the porch. Things had been too quiet and he wanted to check on the status of this three sons. He was surprised to find only Hoss and Adam on the porch and immediately questioned them as to the whereabouts of their younger brother.
Embarrassed that their father had caught them talking and could not tell their father where Little Joe was, both boys pushed back their chairs and scurried about the front yard in search of the wayward toddler.
Ben and Hoss were drawn to the corral when they heard Adamís laughter. They both hurried to Adamís side and Ben stood in shock watching his baby son crawling on all fours sniffing at the wooden post of the corral. Joe had removed his trousers and was crawling from post to post stopping only long enough to sniff at them. Ben gasped out loud and Adam and Hoss only laughed harder when Joe lifted his leg and proceeded to pee on the one post that must have met his satisfaction, marking it for predators to stay away. Ben was not amused at Adamís explanation and quickly ran to Joeís side. The exasperated father gathered the small boy into his arms and hurried him into the house out of the sight of the ranch hands that had witnessed Josephís little demonstration and was desperately trying to stifle their giggles, lest their boss fire them.
Joe watched in awe as Hoss placed the squealing piglet on the
pile of newspapers. The piglet grunted a few times and then went about doing
his business. Little Joe scrunched up his face and stared at his older brother,
totally oblivious to the praise that Hoss was giving the runt of the litter for
using newspaper as his chamber pot.
The piglet, having been so tiny, had been brought into the house to be given special care until he would be able to rejoin his family in the pen out behind barn.
"Whyíd ya call it a good boy?" questioned the three year old as he squatted down to inspect the paper.
"Cause Short Shanks, he done used the paper like a good boy oughtíta and not the floor," explained Hoss as he picked up the piglet and handed him to Joe so he could clean up the mess.
"Why donít he use the outhouse?" Joe asked as he tried to image the piglet sitting on the pot.
"Cause little one, he ainít big enough to reach the seat." Hoss smiled down at his younger brother, pleased with his explanation to the curious boyís line of questions.
"Oh," responded Joe as he followed Hoss out of the kitchen door to the front yard. "Will he use it when he dits bigger?"
"Donít think so punkin, he will living in the pen with his kin by that time." Hoss lifted the little pig from the floor and placed him back in the box that had been provided for its comfort.
"Joe, I gotta go out side and do some chores, ya go play
in the great room with
"AhÖdo I gotta Hoss? I wanna go wif ya, I can help soís ya git done den ya can play wif PortTop, and me" Joe smiled up at his big brother and Hossí heart almost gave in to the boyís pleas.
"PortTop?" asked Hoss scratching his head in doubt.
"Yeah, datís what I named the pigwit. I liked it betterín what Hop Sing wanted to callíem, Bacon," Little Joe explained.
Hoss tossed his head back and bellowed loudly in amusement. "Oh, you mean Porkchop, go on Short Shanks find Pa and Iíll hurry and finish, then weíll play anythiní ya wanna." With that Hoss turned Joe toward the kitchen door and gave a little nudge waiting until he was sure that the boy went in search of their father before going outside.
Joe grabbed the paper that Ben had left lying on the table in front of the fireplace and ran with it to the kitchen. Ben who was busy at his desk glanced up quickly as Little Joe passed through the room, never giving another thought as to what his youngest might be up to. Hop Sing was out in the garden selecting herbs to use for the Sunday dinner so Joe had all the privacy he needed. He sat down on his haunches and spread out the paper on the wooden floor. Sliding his arms out of the straps of his overalls, Joe let his pants fall to the floor. He sat down and pulled off his boots and then tugged his overalls off, flinging them across the room where they landed on the worktable. Joe sniffed the paper and crawled around in circles like he had seen the piglet do before squatting and doing his business leaving a large wet circle in the very center of the evening addition of the Territorial Enterprise.
Later Ben searched for his evening paper; having no luck, Ben marched into the kitchen to inquire of Hop Sing as to whether or not he had seen the newspaper. Ben stopped dead in his tracks, unable to form the words that struggled to sound forth, Ben stepped closer to the boy whose back was to him and gently tapped him on the shoulder.
Taking a deep breath, Ben bellowed, "JOSEPH! JUST WHAT ARE YOU DOING?"
Joe startled, jumped to his feet and turned to face his father. "I house browken now Pa, I pee on paper like PortTop," Joe beamed up at his father.
"PortTop?" asked Ben, confused at his sonís choice of words.
"Yeah Papa, the little pigwit that Hoss dun let pee on the paper Ďwhile go."
Ben shook his head in disbelief and shock. Squatting so that he might be eye level with Joe, Ben placed both of his hands on Joeís shoulders. "Son, where are your trousers and your boots?"
"Thar," pointed Joe to the pants that he had tossed over his shoulder where they came to rest on Hop Singís worktable.
Ben grabbed the trousers and boots, took Joe by the hand and marched up the back stairs. "Letís get you cleaned up and ready for dinner young man," laughed Ben.
Once upstairs, Ben led Joe into his room and placed the half naked boy on the bed. "Joseph, I want to show you something," smiled Ben getting down on his hands and knees.
Joe peeked over the side of the bed and watched as his father pulled a large white pot from beneath his bed.
"See this son?"
Joe bobbed his head up and down, giving his father a big smile.
"Well, Joseph, this is the chamber pot. When you gotta go and you canít get to the outhouse, you are to use this. No more papers, and definitely no more fence posts. Do you understand?"
Ben raised his head as the front door burst opened and watched in awe as his youngest son raced across the room and flung him self onto the settee. Where the tot got his energy was always a marvel to Ben. Ben had often remarked to his wife that if he could only bottle and sell the product, he would be the richest man in the territory.
"Papa, Hoss and Adam are angwe at me," cried Little Joe, giving his father a glance from under his arm where he had hidden his head when he had thrown him self down on the couch.
Ben rose from his chair and moved to sit on the settee next to his weeping baby. Gently Ben rubbed his hand up and down the boyís back until the crying ceased. Carefully Ben lifted his baby son onto his lap and hugged the tiny body to him.
"Why donít you tell Papa why your big brothers are mad at you?" encouraged Ben.
"Cause," sniffed Little Joe.
Ben smiled to himself, "Cause why Joseph?"
"I dunno, they just is," pouted Joe.
Ben watched as Joe played with the buttons on his shirt before lifting the quivering chin so that the hazel eyes of his youngest was looking into his own dark eyes.
"They must have a reason. Did you do something that you werenít suppose to do?" Ben could only imagine what that something might be. Adam and Hoss seldom became angry with their youngest brother, most time they were only annoyed with his shenanigans and considering what those had been of late, Benís imagination was running rampant.
Before Ben could question his son any further, the door burst opened for a second time and in marched two very angry looking young men. Ben saw first the dark scowls that adorned his older sonís faces and smiled to him self, as they seemed to trip over each other in their haste to enter the room.
"Where is he?" shouted Hoss.
"I get him first, he peed on my boots before he peed on yours so move over you big lug," snapped Adam as he elbowed his way passed his younger but larger brother.
"Oh no you donít," Hoss reached his large beefy hand out and grabbed Adamís arm, halting his brotherís entrance, "these are my new boots, I get the first swat, big brother, now ya move for I havíta move ya myself," demanded Hoss.
Ben stood quickly to his feet bringing in his arms the trembling body of his youngest offspring.
"Both of you stop that ruckus right this minute," demanded Ben. Instantly Adam and Hoss stopped their arguing and turned to face Ben.
"There his is," growled Adam, advancing on the squirming boy who struggled to escape from his fatherís arms.
"Heís mine," shouted Hoss, using his larger frame to step in front of Adam and reaching to snatch Joe from Benís arms.
Joe squealed in fright as Hoss grabbed him and swung him about in the air. Ben reached out and stopped Hoss from a second swing.
"What is going on here? Why are the two of you scaring the life out of this boy?" demanded Ben, who had rescued Joe from his brother.
Both Adam and Hoss started talking at once until Ben could make no sense of either until he at last held his hand up for silence.
"Please, one at a time, now what has happened?"
"Go ahead Adam, you tell him," said Hoss who had watched the tears begin to well in his little brotherís eyes. Adam too had noticed that Joe had become very quiet and watched as his tears slipped from his confused eyes.
Unable to make him self tattle on his kid brother, Adam looked to Hoss. "No, you go first, they were your new boots."
Hoss hung his head, "UmÖwellÖyou see PaÖum," stammered Hoss.
"Will one of you please explain to me what is going on? Why can I not get a straight answer from anyone around here all of a sudden?" questioned Ben.
Both older boys, ashamed now of the way they had over reacted to an obvious mistake hung their heads.
Ben waited and then waited some more. "Well?"
"Theyís angwe cause they say I peed on their boots. But I not pee on Ďem, I pee on hole in floor in the woft."
"In the hole Joseph?" asked Ben, stunned.
"Ah-huh," nodded Joe, " I hurd Adam bet Hoss that he werenít able to hit the hole yesterday when they was upín the woft. I jest wannaíd to see ifín I could too."
Laughter echoed from the walls within the Cartwright home releasing the tension that had moments before been felt by all four.
"Guess you canít be mad at him for doing what he sees his brotherís doing," laughed their father.
After supper, Ben and his sonís were enjoying large slices of Hop Singís fresh baked apple pie. Tempers had cooled; Ben had delivered one of his fatherly lectures on proper toilet training, not to just one but to three wayward boys all the while trying to stifle the smiles he knew were attempting to show themselves on his face.
"Adam, wead me tory, pwease," begged Joe.
"Joseph, what is wrong with you? Do you have ants in your pants?" laughed Ben while he watched Joe dance around, his legs pressed tightly together and his hands in a most inappropriate place.
"Nutiní Papa," shouted Joe as he ran up the stairs at a daring pace.
Ben rose from his seat and quickly followed the toddler into his room. There stood the youngest member of the Cartwright family, bare buttocks shining as he peed into the white chamber pot. Benís chest swelled in pride at his sonís accomplishment but he laughed out loud as the words to his sonís little ditty reached his ears.
"I peed in the hay like Adam and Hoss,
But that only made my Papa real cross.
I peed on the fence and I peed in the yard,
And Iím glad that Papa didnít spank me real hard.
Here I stand and take a bow,
Cause Papa, Look at me, Iím a big boy now."