Disclaimer: Don't own the Cartwrights, written for fun, not profit.

Thanks, teebs, for all the encouragement, providing endless hours of reading enjoyment on the Island, and introducing me to MAG and PINGER! I'll never look at G-Man the same way again! LOL!

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Reflections on a String Tie

"Joe, wake up! We overslept! Joe!"

He vaguely felt his wife poke him in the ribs and kiss him warmly before she jumped out of their bed and padded lightly across the bedroom to the pine wardrobe standing in the corner.

"Darling, are you awake?" she asked, glancing over towards him. Her enchanting Scottish lilt succeeded in pulling him up to dozy semi-wakefulness. Opening his eyes slowly, he peered at Elspeth, who was hurriedly slipping into her camisole and petticoat. Faint, golden sunlight was just starting to filter through the curtains of their bedroom window making lacy patterns on the floor.

"I think so," he mumbled. "What time is it?"

She sat on their bed and proceeded to pull on her silk stockings. "Half past seven if you can believe it - seems like we just went to bed. Your father and Hoss will be here in an hour's time and I don't want to keep them waiting like we did last Sunday. Oh, and I hope Hoss remembers to bring the penny whistle he was carving for Benjy. The lad's been looking forward to having it all week." Crossing back to the wardrobe, she put on her peach-coloured frock of fine wool and quickly began doing up the small pearl buttons in the front.

Joe watched her, a muzzy smile on his face. "Do you know how beautiful you are in the morning?" From the small sound of mirth he heard escape her lips, he knew instinctively she was blushing. "C'mere," he invited softly, holding his hand out to her.

"You're impossible," she chided, but there was no fire in her words, only a deep-seeded love that grew with each passing year they were together. "We don't have time for that now and you know it. Your dad will be very cross if we make him late for church again. Now get up, darling, and I'll see to Benjy."

With a disappointed groan, he rolled over and decided to allow himself five more minutes in the warmth of their bed before he made himself get up. There should be a law against getting up so doggone early on a Sunday, he complained silently. Within seconds he had drifted back to sleep only to be awakened some twenty minutes later by an exasperated Elspeth as she set a cup of steaming coffee on his dresser and placed a jug of hot water by his basin.

"Joe, if you're not up in one minute, I'm going to have your father see to you. You know what he'll do - he'll have your brother Hoss tip that jug right over your head."

The threat worked and he bounded out of bed like a scalded cat. "I'm up," he declared to no one in particular since his wife had already disappeared downstairs. He quickly washed, shaved, and tried to tame his springy hair all the while sipping on his wife's delicious coffee. She insisted her secret to making it taste like a slice of heaven was adding a drop of vanilla to the brew, but Joe had a funny feeling that there was a drop of something else involved. Well, whatever it was, there was none to compare as he savoured the last flavourful swallow.

He had donned his dark trousers and was just buttoning up his crisp, white shirt when he heard Elspeth call to him from the foot of the stairs. "Darling, Benjy's dressed, but I think he's having a wee bit of trouble with his tie. Could you help him please? I would, but I've had to bank the fire in the stove and my hands are in dreadful need of a wash."

"Sure. Where is he? In his room?"

"Yes," she replied before returning to the kitchen.

Joe turned to the mirror and as he began to tie his own tie, a memory stirred deep within him. Faint and blurry at first, it slowly came into focus as he stared at his thoughtful reflection. As if in a dream, he was suddenly transported to another Sunday morning and another little boy who was having his share of problems with his own string tie.

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Joe stood on a chair in front of the mirror on his dresser, tears of frustration coursing down his cheeks. "Darn it!" he cried angrily.

Adam heard the angry outburst coming from Joe's room just as he was finishing brushing down his suit jacket. The dark blue wool seemed to attract every fleck of dust within five miles, but what could he do? With a resigned sigh and a final appraising look in his mirror, he made his way to the youngest Cartwright's room.

"Joe? What's the matter?" Adam asked as he walked over to his little brother, gently turning his small body toward him. His only reply was a watery sniff.

Fishing in his pocket for his handkerchief, he proceeded to wipe the tears from his young brother's face. "Now blow," he instructed, moving the handkerchief to his nose, and the five year old dutifully complied. Satisfied the tears had stopped, Adam returned the handkerchief to his pocket. "So," he asked in a soothing, big-brother voice, "what's got the well running over this time?"

"Oh, Adam, it's this dang string tie. It just won't stay tied - look," and he held up a wrinkled end of the tie in each hand for his brother's inspection. "No matter what I do, it just falls apart." With unreserved contempt for the little black tie, he yanked it off and threw it on the dresser.

Hiding a smile, Adam nodded sympathetically as he picked up the offending bit of silk. "Well, there's no need to cry, buddy. We can fix this." He put the crumpled tie aside and rummaged in the dresser drawer for a fresh one. "I thought Hoss was teaching you how to tie your ties."

"He was, but I guess I didn't learn so good. It's too hard to remember all them steps. I guess I'm just dumb," he finished miserably as he let his eldest brother put a clean new tie under his collar.

Turning Joe back towards the mirror, Adam moved behind him and rested his hands lightly on the boy's shoulders while he casually asked Joe's reflection, "Have I ever told you the story of the Sidewinder brothers?"

The misery on Joe's face was almost instantly replaced by curiosity as he shook his head. "No, I don't think so. What's it about?"

"Well, I'll tell you. It seems there were these two little snakes, sidewinders, that were brothers named…" He picked up an end of the silken ribbon in each hand and raised his eyebrows expectantly at Joe's reflection. "What shall we call them, Joe?"

The little boy grinned and promptly answered, "Hoss and Joe".

His brother nodded approvingly. "Hoss and Joe it is," he said, indicating that Hoss was the length in his right hand and Joe was the length in his left. Joe watched in eager anticipation.

"Well, every morning Hoss and Joe would pass each other in the hall," his actions illustrating his words as he crossed the lengths. "Hoss would just say 'hi', but Joe always wrapped himself around his brother and gave him a big hug," he continued, wrapping one length around the other and pulling the end through making the interlinked bit converge snuggly over the top button of his collar. "Now Hoss liked to look out the window to see what the weather was like, so he pulled himself up tall and looked out at the morning." He pulled up a loop and put Little Joe's thumb and forefinger at its base to secure it. The boy took his task seriously and pinched the bottom of the loop tightly.

Adam turned his attention to the other length of silk and continued. "Joe wanted to see what the morning looked like also, so he wrapped himself around Hoss and lifted himself up so he could see outside the window too." He twined his length around Joe's loop, pulled it through to make a loop of his own, then moved his little brother's fingers so he could hold the top of one loop while Adam held the top of the other. "They saw the sun was shining and Hoss Sidewinder said to Joe 'I think it's gonna be a beautiful day,' and they both went their separate ways to meet up again later at supper." As he spoke the words, he pulled his loop to the right and indicated for Joe to pull his to the left. The result was the perfect bow, stylish and dashing. "And that's the story of the Sidewinder brothers," he concluded.

Joe laughed with delight, admiring their handiwork with shining eyes. "Look, Adam! Look what we did!"

"Well, I'll be,' he said, his tone wondrous as if he'd just witnessed an honest to goodness miracle. "Now, let's try it again, only I'll tell the story and you work the sidewinders, okay?"

Joe bit his bottom lip, but nodded gamely, undoing the bow and smoothing the strings. "Okay, I'm ready."

Adam began to recite the story once again while Joe, eyebrows knitted in deep concentration, went through the steps with the sidewinders. His older brother's long, capable fingers patiently guided Joe's small, delicate ones when he fumbled until once again they had the perfect bow. Joe looked as proud as if he'd lassoed the biggest steer on the Ponderosa and begged Adam to go through it a third time.

"All right, but this will have to be the last time for now. Pa and Hoss will have the buggy out and the team hitched up any minute now, and you know Pa can't be late for the church dedication." The third time proved to be the charm as a triumphant Little Joe was able to complete the steps without help while Adam repeated his story.

Joe jumped up and down on the chair exclaiming happily, "I did it! I did it!"

"You sure did, buddy. Guess you don't think you're dumb now."

"No,' he shook his head with conviction. "No dummies in this house,' he smiled.

A deep, clearly annoyed bellow came barreling up from the yard through Joe's open window making them both cringe. "Adam! Joseph! You boys have exactly one minute to get down here or you'll be facing some dire consequences! Don't keep me waiting!"

Adam gave Joe a comical, exaggerated grimace and ran a brush through the boy's unruly curls. "Pa sounds like he means business. C'mon, pardner, hop aboard," and he swept Joe up on his back as the child squealed in delight. Pausing only to pick up Joe's hat and suit jacket, he proceeded to gallop down the stairs whinnying dramatically when Joe gently dug his heels into his ribs. The child began hollering with excitement before finally dissolving into joyful peals of unrestrained laughter.

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The scene faded and Joseph Cartwright's reflection began to blur with unshed tears as he tucked away the precious, painful memory of that special Sunday morning so long ago. He fingered his own string tie gently as a familiar, heavy sorrow descended and threatened to completely overwhelm him. When did memories become comforting? When would they finally start to bring light and pleasure back into his life? Pa said it took time, but dear Lord, how much time? How much could he stand?

"Oh, Adam," he sighed, trying but failing to keep his heart from shattering. The only thing that kept him from breaking down completely was the sound of his own small son's voice coming from his bedroom down the hall.

"Aw, shucks!" Benjy exclaimed.

He could plainly hear the irritation in the child's voice, so he quickly wiped his eyes, slipped on his suit coat, and went to his five year old son's room.

He found the boy perched on his bed, his string tie hanging loosely from his fingers, his head bowed in defeat. "What's the problem, young man?" he asked kindly as he squatted down in front of him and sat back on his heels.

"I can't tie this right, Pa. I don't know what I'm doin' wrong," the tow-headed boy answered dolefully.

"Well, you just come with me and we'll have a look." He picked up his son and carried him to his own dresser where he stood him on Elspeth's chair and gently turned him to face the mirror hanging on the wall. Standing behind him and placing his hands lightly on the child's shoulders, he smiled tenderly and asked in a voice filled with love, "Have I ever told you the story of the Sidewinder brothers?"