Little Lessons : A Paradise Story

Characters; Ethan Cord 34, Claire Carroll 13, Joseph Carroll 11, Ben Carroll 7 and George Carroll 6

Background: Ethan Cord is an ex gunfighter living in Paradise, Colorado, a mining town, in the late 1800's. Ethan has recently become the sole guardian of his sister's four children. She was living with her children in St. Louis, Missouri and working as a singer in the theater. The children came to live with their Uncle after she died from tuberculosis. Having purchased a small ranch, Ethan is determined to keep the children together as he struggles to make a living. Although he wants to stop using his gun as a way to make a living, he is called on to help out the local sheriff at times.

Chapter 1: Joseph's Adjustment

Four months after the children came to live with Ethan.

The early morning sun shines brightly through the front window as Ethan finishes his morning coffee and thinks of the ranch chores that need to be done that day. The four horses he bought last week are due to be delivered tomorrow. The barn needs to be cleaned out and the weeds in the corral need to be taken care of. All of this on top of the regular chores will make this be a busy day. He will need all of the children to help out today.

Ethan calls through the curtain separating the children's room from the rest of the small cabin, "Claire, Joseph, boys, time to get up and get moving. We have a lot of work today." Claire came out dressed in boy's clothes: pants, suspenders and a shirt.

"Good Morning, Uncle Ethan. What would you like for breakfast? Pancakes or the super Claire special?"

"Morning, Claire, I already had breakfast so just fix something for you and the boys. What is that you're wearing?"

"Uncle Ethan I can't very well clean out a barn and help outside wearing a dress. These are some clothes we got from the last missionary barrel we had back in St. Louis. We were saving them for Joseph to grow into. Is it alright for me to wear them?"

"I think you have a good idea. Maybe you shouldn't give them to Joseph. Are the boys up and dressing?"

"Ben and George are but Joseph's still in bed. I tried to get him up but he wouldn't listen." Claire answered.

She sees the frown on her uncle's face. She jumped as Ethan calls

"Joseph, it's time to be up as we have a busy day today." Hearing no sound of movement he calls once more "Joseph! Time to get up now. Everyone else is up and it's time for breakfast. Let's go!"

Waiting for an answer or sound to show his oldest nephew Is up and moving he hears no sound from behind the curtain.

"Joseph, I want to hear an answer! " Once again hearing nothing, Ethan's frown grows deeper as he calls sternly "Joseph, I'm counting to three then I'm coming in and I have a feeling you will not be happy when I do. ONE… TWO ..."

He heard a thump and then Joseph called out "I'm up now Uncle Ethan! No need to come in here all right? I'm up!" Ethan smiles to himself, remembering the lesson he had to administer to Joseph a few weeks ago and the problems that led up to it.

When Ethan received word that his sister had passed away and he was now the guardian of her four children he left Paradise, Colorado and traveled to St. Louis, Missouri to take custody of the children. By the time he received word and arrived it had been nearly two months since the children were left with family friends.

Still grieving for their Mother and only having met their Uncle once many years ago the children were unsure of the new relationship. Claire being the oldest continued to take care of the younger boys. Joseph, the oldest of the boys at nearly eleven was the one who was having the hardest time adjusting. No amount of talking and reassuring Ethan did seemed to help any. He had already had to spank the boy once for deliberately disobeying.

Joseph had become more irritable and snappish as the weeks went by. It seemed no one could do anything without him snapping or making some unkind remark. He was deliberately shirking his chores too. No talks Ethan had tried so far seemed to help with Joseph's anger and resentment.

Ethan realized part of Joseph's problems were his way of dealing with all of the changes that had been going on in the last few months. His mother's death, having to stay with strangers while Ethan was located, moving to Paradise, trying to fit into a new family life. Joseph was used to being the "man" of the family and not having to follow rules. His mother had relied on him to be more of an adult at times than a boy. Ethan had tried talking with Joseph but he was just turned away or ignored. He felt the time had come to have a family discussion.

flashback: two weeks earlier

Ethan calls all the children together for another talk about rules and responsibilities. The first one was held just after the children arrived. As a new parent, Ethan really didn't know much about setting rules and consequences at the time. Since then he has seen from some of the boy's behavior that there are several things he needs to discuss. He decided it was time to let Joseph know he would no longer accept the boy's behavior and attitude.

"Joseph, we are all in this together as a family. We all have to pull our share of the work to make this a running ranch. I expect you to do your share and do it without complaining or aggravating your sister and brothers. Part of being in a family is sharing in the work as well as the good times. Joseph, I have noticed that you have not been doing your share of the chores the past two weeks. I know we talked about this very problem just last week. If I remember correctly you said "you forgot" some of the chores. That excuse isn't going to work. Each of you has to do your share of the work or there will be consequences. I assure you boys, you do not want to experience those consequences."

"Joseph, your regular chores of helping to clean the chicken coop, feeding the cows and chopping wood are all things that help around here. George and Ben are also helping with the chickens and helping Claire with her chores. When we get the new horses later this week, you boys will be expected to take care of their stalls. Joseph you will help feed and water them. We will add new responsibilities as needed."

Joseph frowns at this bit of news. He feels he has too many chores already.

"How am I supposed to get to have any fun if all I do is work? He asked angrily. 'I'm not some dummy who wants to work all the time! Besides I didn't hire on here as a stupid ranch hand! It's NOT MY RANCH!" Joseph finishes loudly.

Ben pipes up then "Joseph, working around the ranch and with Uncle Ethan is fun. You would know that if you just did some of the work he's asked you to do. Instead of always moping around being hateful to everybody."

Joseph rounded on his little brother "Just Shut Your Mouth, Ben! You're nothing but a whiny baby so just shut your stupid mouth! I'm sick of you and your mouth! You don't know anything about anything so just leave me alone!" Joseph shouts standing up with his fist raised to hit his brother.

"Joseph! This behavior has gone on long enough! You are not to even act as if you plan to strike your brother! This behavior of yours today is unacceptable! I have been as patient with you as I can. I have talked to you several times about speaking to your brothers and sister rudely. I've told you I expect you to speak to everyone in a polite way. I know your Mother did not allow you to snap at people or to ignore people when they said something you disagreed with." Ethan tells Joseph as he sees the boy turn his head away and refuse to look at his Uncle.

"I want to hear you apologize to Ben right now in a way that I know you are sincere! If you don't, I have a cure for your attitude that I will be administering. Let's hear that apology Joseph." Ethan says sternly.

Joseph looking at him with that smirk he often has, answers defiantly as he gets up and begins to stomp across the room to go outside, "It doesn't matter what you say. You're not my Father! I can talk anyway I want too! I say Ben is a whiny baby and he is!"

"Joseph! STOP!" Ethan replies, his voice deep and stern. Seeing the boy has stopped temporarily, he walks to him. Taking no chances that Joseph will defy him, he takes the boy by the arm and walks him back into his bedroom, shutting the door behind them.

Ben, Claire, and George stay in the main room "Oooh, he's really mad" whispers George to Ben.

"Yeah, I know. You can tell by looking at his eyes. When they get that dark and his eyebrows go down he's mad. I'm glad I'm not the one he's that mad at! What do you think Uncle Ethan's going to do to him?" Ben asks Claire.

About that time they hear Joseph say "I'm sorry Uncle Ethan. I won't talk like that anymore. I'll be good, Please don't…." then they hear. "Smack, "OW!" smack. "OW, That burns! I'll behave! I promise Uncle Ethan!" Smack, "Please stop! Your hand hurts, Please, I'm sorry!." Followed by four more smacks and the sound of sobbing.

"You do not talk to your brother or anyone else in the tone of voice I just heard. You will treat people respectfully or I will turn you over my knee again!" Ethan says as he smacks his nephew's backside. "If you need me to remind you again of how you are to behave, I will. The next time you may not feel my hand. It could be my belt. Do you understand me, Joseph?"

"Yes Sir, I'm sorry. I won't be like this anymore. I'll be good. Please Stop!" Joseph replies, sobbing quietly.

"You will do your chores, follow the family rules which include: getting up when called, being respectful and polite to all people just as I know your mother taught you to be. I'm sorry your Mother died. There's nothing I can do. I miss her too. We can just remember her as we go on with our lives and be the people she would want us to be. When you feel angry our upset at your Mother's dying come talk to me. Don't take out the anger by being hateful to others. You are a better person than that."

"How did you know I was angry? " Joseph asks, wiping tears away as he sits up.

"I may not be your Father, Joseph, but I know you pretty well. I love you and want the best for you. I will treat you exactly the way I would treat you if you were my own child. With love and when you deserve it, punishment." Ethan says as the boy leans against him now sniffling just a little.

"If you had handled yourself with the maturity I know you have instead of screaming and threatening your brother you would not be sitting here with a sore backside. From now on you need to think before you act." Ethan tells the boy as he gently puts his arm around him.

"So young man, do I make myself clear to you of how you are going to behave from now on or should I put you back over my knee for a few more reminders? " Ethan asks teasingly.

Wide eyed and not sure if he's being teased or not Joseph answers "Yes, Sir. I understand very well. I don't need you to remind me anymore Sir, I don't. Your hand is very hard and I don't want any more swats!"

"Good, because I love you very much and don't want to have to paddle your backside. I will though anytime I feel you need it. I'm going to raise you children to be the best people you can be. If that means an occasional trip to the barn or over my knee then that's what we'll do. You'd best remember what I tell you because I mean what I say."

Ethan reaches out and pulls Joseph into a tight hug. He expects Joseph to pull away from him and stomp off to his room as he usually does after being scolded. Instead, Joseph hugs him back crying softly into Ethan's shoulder for several minutes.

Then Ethan hears, "I love you too. Uncle Ethan and I am sorry for acting so hatefully. I'll tell Ben and the others I'm sorry too. I won't be like this anymore. You were right I need to talk to you when I get upset. I promise to try to do that. "

Ethan, following Joseph into the front room, is pleased when he hears Joseph talking to his brothers and sister. "Claire, Ben and George, I've been really angry since we moved here. I have been ugly to all of you and I shouldn't have. I'm sorry. I'll try not to be so mean from now on. Will you forgive me, please?"

"Yes Joseph and I do understand. I miss her too." Claire says giving her brother a hug.

Ben looks at George and when George nods his head he says "Joseph, you've been really mad and mean to us but George and I will forgive you this time. Next time you're mean we're going to tell Uncle Ethan on you."

"Thanks guys for not being mad at me. I promised Uncle Ethan I'd be better and I will." Joseph says.

"Is it because you don't want him to wallop you again, Joseph?" George asks.

"Yes, that's one reason, George! Another is because I shouldn't act like that to start with. I know better!' Joseph answers seeing his Uncle standing in his bedroom doorway. There's a big grin on his Uncle's face.

"Good job, son. Apologizing and promising to try to be better shows you are growing up. Let's continue this day with all getting along as your Mother would wish."