Time Heals Wounds

"Come on, you're almost there," Joe Cartwright urged his friend. He was guiding a blindfolded Candy Canaday to the dinner table.

"What this all about?" the other man asked. Joe had to try to suppress his laughter.

"You'll see." When they reached it, Candy removed the blindfold. The sight he saw puzzled him; just an empty table.

"Joe, buddy… something tells me you didn't blindfold me and drag me over here just to admire the tablecloth, did ya?" Joe couldn't take it anymore; he had to laugh. At that moment, in came Joe's father and brother, accompanied by Hop Sing. The little Chinese man carried a large rhubarb pie.

"Happy birthday, Candy!" Joe cried, relishing the surprised look on the cowboy's face. Candy was stunned.

"I---I don't know what to say---thanks."

"Don't say nothin' and eat, that rhubarb pie's gonna get cold," suggested Hoss. That was the best idea yet.

When the whole thing was over, the four were hanging out in the living room. It was then that Joe asked the question.

"So, Candy, where were you 30 years ago today?" He regretted it the minute the words left his mouth. His father shot him one of those patented, 'if-looks-could-kill' glares. The family was painfully aware that Candy was often unwilling to disclose information about his past. They let the subject drop. It was quiet for a while until Candy spoke.

"…Independence, Missouri…"

"Huh?" Joe and Hoss looked up from the checkerboard. Ben folded up the newspaper.

"The wagon train my mother and I were on started out in Independence, Missouri." Joe smiled at the thought of Candy opening up about his life before all he knew now. Candy kept on going as though no one was in the room.

"I was more or less a normal kid…me and the other boys in the camp would play, but it wasn't all fun and games. The winters were brutal…the campfires were often barely enough to keep the stock from freezing. On especially cold nights, my mother would hold me to keep me warm. One morning, I woke up, but she didn't…" The pain on his face was evident. Joe listened, but his mind began to wander.

Growing up without a mother…God, I know how he feels. Out of mercy, Joe decided to end the conversation.

"That's okay, Candy…you don't have to say anything more." The deafening silence ensued once again. For some strange, inexplicable reason, the foreman continued with his story.

"After a time, they took me to Fort Delaney to be with my father. We had never really met, so imagine his surprise when he was handed a five-year-old kid and told, 'This is your son.'" The scenario made Candy smile and that was a relief to everyone present. He kept going.

"We came very close, my father and me, a lot like the three of you. I made friends with all the other Army Brats, the soldiers began to teach me the tricks of the trade…it was fun. For a while, my life was normal again, but then, it happened."

"What happened?" inquired Hoss. Candy resumed his narrative.

"One day when I was nine, my Pa was sent into action. He told me he'd be back soon…he never came back…I never saw my father again…" Candy's voice faltered and then broke off. Joe witnessed this and zoned out for a second time.

How stupid was I to bring this up? It's tearing him apart! Whole thing makes me feel damn lucky I still have a family. His thoughts were interrupted by the sound of crying, quietly at first and then uncontrollable sobs that could not be stopped. He glanced over at Candy. The man was sitting on the settee; head in hand, shoulders heaving. Guilt-laden, Joe walked solemnly up the stairs.

Joe stayed within the confines of his bedroom for the rest of the afternoon. Ben Cartwright was deeply concerned about his youngest son. He only retreated into silence if something was very wrong. That sentiment in mind, he decided to check on him.

"May I come in?" he requested as he knocked softly on Joe's door.

"I suppose so, was the reply. Ben stepped into the room and examined the other. Joe seemed melancholy and vaguely aware of his surroundings. His normally sparking green eyes appeared very empty.

"I know you feel bad about what happened earlier," began the father, "but—" Joe cut in.

" 'Feel bad' is the biggest understatement of the century. I don't know…just watching him try to force himself to tell me…I wish I hadn't said anything…Candy probably hates me…I didn't mean---please go away, I don't want to talk," he said, turning his back to his father. Ben was not willing to give up that easily.

"Joseph, grief is a very natural emotion that every man, woman and child goes through at some point…even Jesus wept, son," he mentioned, gently taking Joe by the shoulders and forcing him to make eye contact. "Perhaps Candy is just experiencing now." Joe scowled and wrenched free of his dad's grip.

"Maybe so, but I hate myself for knowing I was the cause of it!" he snapped. Ben sighed, trying to think of another example.

"All right, let me put it this way: If you get shot, over time, the wound gets better, right?"

"Yeah."

"Well, that's in a sense like the grieving process. Sometimes old wounds can reopen and that's what happened to Candy. I know from experience that time really does heal all wounds."

"Yes, sir…what can I do for Candy to help make him stop hurting?"

"Nothing but to be there for him when he does decide to talk, and even then, just listen." Joe was grateful he had a father who could give him such advice.

"You said that 'time heals wounds'…did it heal yours?" the youth asked.

"As a matter of fact, it did…but there are still scars."

"I know…thanks, Pa." The elder could not help but smile.

"Anytime, Joseph, anytime."

Next morning, Joe made up his mind to at least talk to Candy again, to apologize. The other seemed cheerful which made Joe dread the impending conversation all the more.

"Mornin', Little Joe," Candy greeted.

"Hey, Candy…we need to talk," Joe replied, impassively.

"About yesterday? All right, you can go first."

"Okay, I'll go first. I'm—" Joe stopped, thunderstruck. "You want to talk about it?" Candy grinned and leaned against the staircase.

"Yeah, see, I figured out that if it wasn't for you, all those emotions I thought were dead and gone would've kept on driving me crazy. So thanks…for everything." Joe nearly fell about laughing at the prospect of pent up emotions being the only thing that made his friend 'crazy.'

"A very wise man told me that time heals wounds, so if you ever wanna talk, I'll listen."

"I'll keep it in mind. Same goes for you, deal?"

"It's a deal." Joe extended his hand, which Candy shook vigorously. "We've gotta go help Hoss mend some fence on the south pasture," he noted. Off the friends rode, each happy that the other would always be there to listen, no matter what the situation was.