CHAPTER ELEVEN NOVEMBER 30, 1899: Thanksgiving
Huffs and puffs to see steam come out of mouth. Snuggled under Mother’s quilt in buggy back seat tells Stella, “I can see my breath a little bit.”
She tucks quilt tighter. “If your nose gets cold, I’ll cover your face with the scarf Earl’s mother knitted.”
“Nose won’t make steam.”
“On the way home when the sun goes down, you’ll be thankful for the scarf.”
Horse stops in front of café. “I knew Emma wouldn’t be ready.” Father reads sign on door. “Closed. I don’t know why she should ride along to Harrington in the first place.”
Stella leans forward. “Mother Superior’s invitation specified not Mrs. Cunningham but hopefully Mrs. Sturgis. Both are spending Thanksgiving with their families.”
Sits up. Hopes to see Buddy.
“But, why Emma?”
Emma is Stella’s friend.
“She’s available. The café is closed and Buddy’s going hunting with his father.”
…Buddy is Caleb’s friend.
Stella leans forward. “Mother Superior invited four of us to join an equal number from the convent for a Thanksgiving dinner. She’ll have her table set for eight.”
…Mother Superior is nobody’s friend.
“I better pull the rig around back where Emma can see us from upstairs windows.” Father snaps the reins.
Stands and hold on to front seat. Looks for Buddy. Smells smoke. Pinches nose.
Man-in-black lights cigar with stick match. Oma gets mad.
Stella pulls him back. “Hush.”
Father yells. “Hello, Bud.” He chuckles. “Clearing a path to the outhouse?”
“Morning, Father. Just a dusting of snow from last night. Gets me out of the house. You know how Emma feels about cigar smoke.”
Father chuckles again. “Her same complaint with Walt at our meetings.” He waves to Caleb. “Come up front and let Emma sit with Stella.”
Looks surprised from Papa to Stella.
She says, “Father wants you to sit with him. Must be the holiday spirit.”
“Just an awkward situation. I can’t drive off right in front of a man with his wife by my side.”
Crawls onto front seat. “Hold these reins, Caleb, while I visit with Bud.”
Buddy can see Caleb driving horse from upstairs window.
Horse jerks buggy. Stella jumps up and grabs reins.
“I can do it, Ma!” Shakes head. “I can do it, Nana.” Not Nana! “S-stella.”
She laughs. “You think you’re Buddy now?”
Wants to talk something different. “Do you like cigar smoke?”
“Not really. Smoking is something men do when they get together.”
“I don’t want to smoke cigars when I grow up.”
Man-in-Black blows smoke at Oma. “And a little holiday wine won’t hurt the boy.”
“Or drink wine.”
“I should hope not.”
“Hello, Caleb.” Emma looks up at him. “Should not do what?”
Morning Emma. “Caleb and I were just discussing men’s vices.”
“I can add a few to that conversation.” Emma puts foot on buggy’s front step. “Just ask me.”
“I sit up here with Papa.”
“Now it’s Papa again.”
“He’s just excited. Father will correct him if it matters.”
Emma climbs into back seat. “Men up front just as God created the world.”
“Papa wants me up here with him.”
“First Papa, and now God?”
“Emma don’t tease.” Stella leans forward and covers Caleb’s nose with scarf and ties it in back. “Come back with us it gets too windy.”
Papa climbs onto seat and snaps reins. “Hang on. About an hour’s ride to Harrington.”
Nana says, “When the big hand moves to this number, Oma will be home from hospital.”
Closes eyes and sees hands on Nana’s clock. Horse’s feet make clock’s tick-tock on the road. Pretends to drive horse.
Stella’s voice. “Are you getting cold up there?”
“I stay with Papa.”
“Please call me Father, and I’ll call you Caleb.”
Says what Papa wants. “I stay with Father.”
“Good Caleb, Father.”
“We each forget sometimes, Caleb.”
Pulls cap down to eyes. Watches birds and looks for animals. Eyes want to shut.
Father puts an arm around Caleb and slows the horse. “Since we’re a little early for Mother Superior to receive us, let me point out some of the highlights of Harrington.”
Wants to hold reins again.
“Would you like that?”
“Yeth.” Reaches for reins.
…Father forgets to say Caleb.
“Over on the left, see that big building?”
…Not tall like New York.
“It’s the county court house.”
Oma says, “I’d take you to court if those nuns would let me out.”
“This is where legal matters are settled and records over the past century are kept.” He makes a Jiminy Cricket sound and horse moves.
“Is there a statue of ‘iberty?”
Father frowns. “Not that I know of. Look over there. The Barney Burton Clothing Store. Much bigger than York’s, don’t you think?”
“Bigger than New York?”
“I mean Ben York’s Mercantile back in Bovine.”
Nana says, “New York is too big. Not like town back in Ireland.”
Emma yells from back seat. “I think you missed the turn back there, Pap—Father.”
“I want to show Caleb the new Northern Pacific Railroad Bridge.” Father stops buggy. “There she stands. If time permitted, we’d wait for cars filled with lumber or grain to cross on their way to St. Paul and points east.”
Emma says, “Two or three trains a day. Could be sitting here a long time.”
“Would be worth it, Emma, for something Caleb hasn’t seen.”
“He rode trains all the way from New York, Father.”
“Yes, but not a four-four-two workhorse pulling cargo cars loaded with Minnesota products.” Father snaps reins and Caleb slides back on seat. “Maybe a single Pullman car attached. I still don’t know why the Orphan Train couldn’t have stopped here in Harrington rather than force me to chase all the way to St. Cloud.”
Remembers Sister Mary on orphan train.
“Had to drive all night to get back in time for Mass.”
…Peed in buggy on Mother’s quilt.
Emma talks loud and Sister Mary goes away. “The bishop is located in St. Cloud. That’s why, Father.”
“Then the boy should be his problem, not mine.”
Papa’s eyes find Caleb’s sad face. “Some problems are nice problems, Caleb.”
…Caleb is a nice problem.
Father points. “See the water over there? Looks like a lake but it’s the river backed up from the dam.”
Oma said she wouldn’t give Man-in-black a dam.
“In spring, logs float from up river and completely cover the water. A man could walk across just like over the ice in January.” Father turns his head and talks loud. “We have one of very few dams on the river all the way to the ocean.”
Eyes open wide. “Is this Hudson River?”
Nana says, “Hudson River flows into the ocean and goes all the way to our real home.”
Father says, “Something like that.”
Emma says, “It’s the Mississippi River, Caleb.”
Father says, “I was sparing our ears the boy’s pronunciation.” He pulls one rein and horse sidesteps until buggy faces other way. “That building over there is where we get our electricity.”
“Does a ’letricity man bring it in a wagon like Milk Man and Ice Man?”
Father chuckles. “It comes through a very long cord strung over wooden poles.”
“Nana hangs my clothes to dry on a long cord.”
Stella says, “I think Caleb means Nana back in New York. I’ve seen pictures where women hang laundry on rope strung through pulleys between tenement buildings, sometimes even across the street.”
Nana lets negroes use her rope.
Nana says, “Don’t tell Oma. She doesn’t like dark people.”
Father says, “Let’s keep it simple so not to confuse the boy. The river goes all the way to the ocean, and Bovine gets its electricity through a wire.”
River goes to Hudson River in New York, then to Nana’s real home across ocean.
Father points. “Those mansions are where rich folks live. Their trees block our view from the road, but they can enjoy the river from their upstairs bedrooms.”
“Do they smoke cigars up there?”
“Why, I suppose they probably do. What made you think of that?”
Emma laughs. “I guess you guys will have to find some other attic to pursue your bad habit.”
Father does make-believe cough. “The convent is coming up. It’s the three-story brick building on the left.”
Sits between Stella and Emma on chair propped with pillow at Mother Superior’s table. Three sisters-in-brown across table looks at their hands. Mother Superior tells Father at other end of table, “It is indeed an honor to share our Thanksgiving meal with you and your friends, Reverent Busch.”
Doesn’t say Father.
“Too bad Mrs. Sturgis and more of our sisters couldn’t join us, but our patients require twenty-four-hour care. Father, if you would be so kind to give thanks to God for our food.”
Father reads without book.
…Sits in tug boat to Hudson River and across ocean to Nana’s real home.
Sister keeps hands folded. “I would like to add to that blessing a thanks for the opportunity to create a home for God’s orphans.” She hides her hands and talks loud. “Now, if our resident volunteers would be so kind as to serve our dinner.”
Man and woman come in carrying trays of dishes. “Are big-people orphans, too? Points at red berries on Caleb’s plate.
Emma says, “Cranberries, Caleb. Don’t see them too often back home.”
Mother Superior’s eyes find Emma. “I hope we didn’t violate some local tradition by having our cook carve the turkey in the kitchen.”
Emma raises fork. “As long as we get the food along with something to eat it with.”
“I’m disappointed Mrs. Sturgis was unable to come.” Mother Superior puts napkin on her lap. “It’s nice that you could get away from family to join us, Emma.”
Emma says, “I take every opportunity that comes along.”
“Of course.” Mother Superior lowers eyes. “God works in mysterious ways.”
“Mystery solved.” Emma sips coffee from cup, not saucer. “Betty Sturgis and I are both against putting Caleb in your new orphanage. Her mind might be easier to manipulate than mine.”
Father says, “I apologize for dragging our local politics into your presence. I hope after dinner you will show us the facility in progress.”
Mother Superior’s face pops back up. “We received some exciting news from the bishop just yesterday.” She looks from Father to everyone at table, eyes stop at Caleb.
Spoon busts dam Stella made in Caleb’s mashed potatoes. Gravy spills onto red berries. Takes bite of turkey. Makes sour face.
Nana says, “In America, turkey with wine is special for Thanksgiving.”
…Turkey, no wine. Only Father drinks Jesus wine in church. People eat bread without apple butter and strawberry jelly.
Emma asks, “Does your exciting news have anything to do with your orphanage?”
Mother Superior’s eyes move to Emma. “As a matter of fact, yes. The official opening date is still scheduled for the Feast of Christ’s Circumcision, but the bishop will allow us to accept a few orphans as of the Feast of the Immaculate Conception.”
“And, according to the calendar ordinary people use?”
…Emma doesn’t like Mother Superior.
Mother Superior smiles. “Emma, ordinary Catholics would understand that we can accept orphans on December eighth, and the dedication of the orphanage will occur January first of the new century.”
…Mother Superior doesn’t like Emma.
“Will your facilities be completed that soon?” Father pushes his empty plate away.
“We’ll use the new wing added to the sisters’ dormitory. Perhaps God will deliver both populations, orphans and novitiates, with increased numbers.” Her eyes find Stella. “More vocations to meet the need of increasing numbers of orphans.”
Emma says, “God sends orphans by the train load, much faster than girls with vocations.”
“Couples like Hank and Betsy Sturgis could serve as volunteer grandparents. Mother Superior looks at Emma. “Something we could have discussed if she were with us today.”
“Instead of the thorn in your side?” Emma smiles. “I believe the image is Biblical.”
“One thorn does not a crown make.” Looks back at Stella. “We may reconsider your vocation, especially since you will have experience working with an orphan.”
…Not orphan no more.
Father says, “Take away Stella, my housekeeper?”
…Nana stays with Papa and Caleb.
“Let God do the calling. We can only facilitate.”
“God will tell Stella what is in her heart.”
“God talks to Nana?”
“I believe Nana…” Mother Superior’s eyes find Caleb, “The boy’s real grandmother, cooperated with God’s plan when she saved Caleb’s life. Through her, we will have our first God-sent orphan.” She faces Papa. “You’ll still have a full week for the child to be adopted. Be advised, Harrington has ten times the potential for enlightened parents than Bovine will ever have.” Her eyes find Caleb. “If you could have one wish, what would it be?”
“To drive the horse home.”
Mother Superior makes Oma’s sour lemons face.
Papa talks to ceiling, “Oh, that my wish were that easy to achieve.”
Whispers to Stella. “Will Papa let me drive?”
Papa says, “Yes, we can manage with Caleb until the Feast of the Immaculate Conception.”
…Caleb is happy.
Emma glances at Sister-in-Brown. “Just one of God’s too many feasts.”
…Emma is funny.
Clip-clop of horse makes Caleb’s eyes open. Sees fire. Blinks. Flame won’t go away. Squints at red sun peeking through Emma’s hair. “Where’s S-stella?”
“I’m right here. You fell asleep across both our laps.”
“Father let me drive the horse. Just a little bit because I was tired.”
Father says, “Whoa.”
Slides off Emma’s and Stella’s laps and tries to stand.
…Legs want to lay back down.
Father says, “Stella, take Caleb into the Rectory while I give Emma a ride back to the cafe.”
Caleb whispers. “I helped Father drive the horse.”
…Stella doesn’t listen.
Emma says, “Father, you’ve done your duty for the day. I’ll drive myself home and Bud can return the rig to Dowdy’s. The walk back will do him good.”
“Bud’s been in the woods all day. He’s as exhausted as any of us.”
“Then, Buddy will take care of it.” Emma stands behind front seat.
Father doesn’t look at her. “I cannot pass my responsibility on to a child.”
“You are passing the responsibility to me, and I will take care of it.” She climbs over and sits next to Father. She takes reins from him.
Father steps down. “I am relinquishing control confident that you and Bud will use common sense. He turns to Caleb. “Come buggy driver.” He lifts Caleb off seat and down to ground. Holding Papa’s hand, they follow Stella into house. “Please make Caleb and me sandwiches with the turkey Mother Superior sent home with us.”
Whispers to Stella. “Don’t like turkey.”
Stella says, “I’ll spread some honey from Grandpa Hank’s bee hives on the bread. I think you will like that with a glass of milk.”
Papa says. “That sounds good. I’ll have the same.”
Stella makes sandwiches and empties the milk pitcher into two glasses. “I’ll have to walk to the dairy before breakfast tomorrow. Sturgis doesn’t deliver on Fridays.”
Papa says, “After we eat, I’ll take you upstairs to your new room. Mr. York delivered a nice little surprise while we were gone.” He picks up his sandwich. “Driving back home certainly builds an appetite.” Papa takes a bite. “Doesn’t driving the horse make you hungry, too, Caleb?”
Grandpa Hank’s honey makes turkey taste good.