What in tarnation is that?
“What in tarnation is that…?” Hoss said as he looked skyward. “Hey… Joe, Adam…come mere...”
His brothers put down the poles they were unloading from the buckboard and came over to see what all the commotion was about. “What is it, Brother?” Adam asked and put his hand on Hoss’ strong shoulder.
Hoss pointed to the unusual object that was perched high above in the branches of a very tall tree. “Look!”
“Is that what I think it is?” Little Joe asked quizzically as he studied the familiar figure.
“Uh-Huh…” Adam replied, obviously amused by the situation.
“Pa? Is that you…are you alright?”
“Yes, Joe…yes, I’m fine.” Ben smiled at his youngest son.
Hoss took off his hat and scratched his head. “Pa…what in the blazes are you doing up in that tree and umm…”noticing his father’s lack of clothing… “ah...where’s your breeches?”
“Er..well..” Ben squirmed uncomfortably not knowing how to explain his presence in the tree and his current state of undress. “Well…you see…I was….ummm…out by the lake and…ummm…” Suddenly composing himself, he decided that pulling the father card was his best bet to get himself out of his embarrassing predicament…at least for the moment. “BOYS! Don’t just stand there staring…” He ordered, using his best authoritative voice. “Go back to the bunkhouse and fetch a ladder…”
The boys stood there for a moment, grinning at their father as he tried desperately to maintain his dignity.
Ben cleared his throat. “GET ME OUT OF THIS DANGED TREE!”
“Sure PA…hold your breeches…” Adam smirked, he gave his father the once over. “Oh that’s right...” he said melodramatically as he clapped his hands together…”You aren’t wearing any…silly me..”
Hoss and Joe snickered but were immediately silenced by one stern look from Ben.
“Joe, ride back and get the ladder…” The eldest of the Cartwright boys ordered. “Oh and Joe….”
“Yeah Adam?” Joe said as he took hold of the reins.
“Bring PA some clothes…” Adam turned back to his father and with his best British accent. ”Shall there be anything else for you today, sir? Perhaps a spot of tea?”
Ben shook his head and sighed. “No No…the clothes will be just fine…thank you.”
“Right!” Little Joe winked and was off in a flash to carry out his assigned task.
Hoss put his hands in his pockets and looked up at his father. “Well...Pa while we’re waitin’ for that little brother of ours why don’t you tell us how you got yourself stuck up in that there tree…”
Adam leaned against his brother and sighed. “I have a feeling that a long sad story is about to begin.”
“Listen here, boy,” Ben had had about enough from his oldest son “… just you wait till I get down out of this tree…a long sad story….I’ll give you a long sad story….never in my life did I think I would hear such smart talk from a son of mine…long sad story...I never in all my born days...insolent young pup…”
Adam smiled and shrugged sheepishly. “Sorry Pa…why don’t you just tell us how this all happened?”
“Well..” Ben cleared his throat. “You see I was just standing by the lake and…”
Hoss interrupted. “Hey wasn’t Miss Virginia supposed to be having a picnic lunch with you today?”
“Well yes, Hoss…the widow Collins and I had a very nice lunch…fried chicken, hush puppies, corn on the cob…ice cold lemonade…oh and her delicious peach cobbler.” Ben licked his lips. “Boy, that woman can sure make a good peach cobbler…sweet with a little touch of cinnamon….would put Hop Tseng’s to shame…”
“Ah Pa…” Adam interrupted, folding his arms across his chest. “Thanks for delighting us with a critique of Miss Virginia’s culinary expertise, but that doesn’t tell us how you managed to get yourself in your current situation.”
Ben took a long deep breath. “Oh well…you see Mrs. Collins and I had finished our lunch and she needed to pick up a few things in town.”
“Uh-uh,” Adam acknowledged. “Please go on…”
“I offered to go with her, but she insisted that I stay and maybe do a little fishing. She thought I could do with a break. You know how stubborn that woman can be.” Ben laughed. “So…anyway, I was just standing there looking at that beautiful water and it looked so blue and so inviting….I just…just…figured one little dip wouldn’t hurt.”
“Oh I see,” Adam said smugly “So it was then that you decided to strip down to your...umm...birthday suit and take a little dip?”
“Well…umm…yes…but I just couldn’t help myself...really I couldn’t…” Ben replied his eyes downcast, sounding a lot like little Joe when he was in trouble.
“Well I’ll be dagummed…Pa went skinny dipping…” Hoss’ blue eyes sparkled with delight.
Adam was really enjoying watching his father squirm. It wasn’t often that Ben Cartwright, King of the Ponderosa, managed to get himself into dumb trouble and Adam was certainly going to make the most of the situation. “Pa, aren’t you a little old for such foolishness?”
“OLD…I’ll give you old…I’m certainly not too old to tan your hide if you keep up this smart talk, young man…just wait till I get out of this tree…” He glared at his eldest son, but was finding it hard to be stern considering that his own actions this afternoon were comparable to a school boy’s.
Hoss looked up at his father. “Well… Pa that explains one thing, but how in the world did you manage to get stuck up in the tree?”
“Well you see I was enjoying my…umm…swim…when this bear came to get a drink and well…he saw me and I ah…of course I had to make a hasty get away.”
“Of course.” Adam smirked.
Ben shrugged. “That danged bear chased me all the way here. I climbed up this tree to get away from him.” Ben looked down at the ground. “Guess… I didn’t realize how high up I climbed…” He laughed and looked at his sons sheepishly.
Little Joe arrived on cue with the ladder in the back of the wagon.
“Well I’ll be dagummed…Pa went skinny dipping…” Hoss was still in disbelief.
“He went what?”
“Skinny dipping,” Adam and Hoss said in unison, while Joe just stood there stunned.
Ben smiled. “Well after all… Boys… it is the first day of spring.”
The three of them just shook their heads and carried the ladder over to the tree.