DINNER AT THE PONDEROSA
The television western series Bonanza ran for 430 episodes from 1959 – 1973. From the age of 5, this Belfast kid was hooked.
Following Hoss Cartwright’s lead, I tucked the napkin into my shirt,
Just under the top button and waited for Hop Sing to appear
With a feast of Ponderosa beef and a cauldron of potatoes and gravy.
Ben, the head of the house, said grace in a solid, authoritarian tone,
Joined by sons, Adam, Joe, Hoss (nee Eric), and me, heads bowed: “Amen”,
The cue for chief cook, waiter and dishwasher, Hop, to start serving.
The Cartwrights raised a glass to the prize draw winner in their midst,
Guest star in their grand house on their grand ranch eating grand food,
Their Ponderosa where horses, cows, waifs, strays, vagabonds and villains
Traipsed in and out of hundreds of episodes. I was in none of them
But I was in all of them, on the horse-arm of a chair, riding their range,
Now here, with this my extended family via the time tunnel of a TV set.
In between chews and slurps, trips down memory lane, so many tales
From a rose for Lotta to a death at dawn to a showdown with Sam Hill,
Smiling gunslingers, miracle makers and an earthquake called Callahan.
I looked at the four who had been shot, stabbed, punched, kicked, run over
By wagons, thrown from horses, abandoned in deserts and down mineshaft,
Kidnapped, arrested, robbed, tied-up, called out for fast-draw duels, spurned.
Little Joe remembered loves at first sight, kisses, hugs and hands he held:
“She walks in beauty,” he sighed to himself, looking hurt, then embarrassed
As his table audience stared, smiled, laughed and remembered with him.
Adam mused: “We are what we are and where we are, fortunate sons,
Different pines but the same winds, matters of circumstance, patchwork men
Woven into the fabric of the West, this boot-on-its-back shaped Ponderosa.”
Ponderosa, a chunk of land surrounded by Reno, Virginia City, Carson City,
Lake Tahoe and pines, lots and lots of pines, straight, ready for any season,
To interrupt breezes, to slice up sunrays, to stand in beauty, model sentries.
Hoss, prompted by my Irish lilt, recalled his adventures with leprechauns.
“I’m from the north,” I said but he waved his hand and carried on with a burp
And a wheeze or two, breaking off to laugh with those heaving shoulders:
“That’s the truth of it. Really happened, the little guys, the gold, the magic,
It really did happen. Made me lose that granddaddy fish though, scallywags.”
The delight on his face changed to sadness, cured by a third helping of beef.
Ben Cartwright filled his glass, stood up and boomed: “A toast, gentlemen.
To you Adam, Hoss, to you Little Joe, to our new friend, to this ranch’s
Heart and soul, to the goodness in all of us, our absent friends and family,
To loyalty, to agreements and disagreements, to forgiveness and compassion,
To strangers welcomed warmly, the abandoned, the wounded, the helpless,
To those who overestimated and underestimated us, to odds and justice.”
Ben shook my hand, Adam put his arm around me, Little Joe patted my back
And Hoss hugged me as only a giant could. I gave Hop Sing the thumbs up.
Much as I loved this family feast of fine food, tall tales and cowboy wisdom,
Come sunrise, I had to leave, to get home to the wildness of my own west.