Saturday, November 25, 1899
Fingers follow green swirly lines on Stella’s white tablecloth. She holds two plates. “Hands on your lap, Caleb. Make room for a breakfast delivery.”
Fingers walk to edge and off table. Giggles at funny stuff Buddy did yesterday.
She sets bacon and scrambled eggs in front of Caleb and Father. She didn’t tell Father to move folded hands.
Father says, “Let us pray.”
Stella takes Caleb’s hand and makes Sign of the Cross. Can do it alone. At end of prayer, signs fast without Stella’s help. Yells, “Amen.”
“A little softer with your amen, please.” Stella Pours Father’s coffee and cuts Caleb’s bacon into little pieces.
Knocking at the door makes Father groan. “Now, who is interrupting my breakfast?”
Stella sets her plate on table. “It’s Saturday, Father. Mr. Cunningham is scheduled to enclose Caleb’s bedroom.”
“It’s the guest bedroom, Stella.” Father yells at door, “Come in, Cunningham. I’ve been expecting you.”
Walt from council meeting stands in doorway holding hat.
Father waves hand over table. “Have coffee with us while we finish breakfast.”
“Clara prepared Quaker Oats for me this morning, so excuse me if I start to whinny.” Head back, teeth big, Walt laughs like Milk Man’s horse.
Stella says. “Room for a plate of scrambled eggs and bacon, Mr. Cunningham?”
“I shouldn’t.” Mr. Cunningham sits.
Stella pushes her plate to him. “Take mine while the food is still hot. I’ll prepare another.”
“Oh, I couldn’t take yours. I can wait.”
Mr. Cunningham can take Caleb’s.
Father breaks piece of bacon. “Will someone please join me?”
Takes sip of milk.
Oma says, “At least drink your milk if you’re not hungry.”
Two times someone knocks at kitchen door. Mr. Cunningham stands, piece of bacon stuck in teeth. “I’m sorry. Schmidt was supposed to wait outside until I called for him.”
Father puts fork on plate and drinks coffee. “Bring him in Walt, and let’s get on with it.”
Man comes in wearing apron with big flat pencil sticking out. Hammer dangles from loop in pant leg. “Which way to upstairs?”
Stella sets her plate on table. “I’ll show you, Mr. Schmidt.” Wipes hands on apron. “How is Mrs. Schmidt, this morning?”
Mr. Schmidt doesn’t like talking.
Mr. Cunningham stands. “I better show Schmidt what the committee has in mind for Caleb’s room.”
Father shouts, “It’s the guest room, Walt.” He pushes eggs around plate with fork and makes sour face.
Doesn’t like eggs, too.
Real horse, not Mr. Cunningham, whinnies three times.
Father says, “Sounds like Dowdy’s mare. What’s going on?”
Stella puts all plates into sink. Makes face smile. “Emma has changed her mind and wants to ask Matt and Mary Gerhard to take Caleb.”
No, Nana! Tears make eyes see swirly.
“She wants Caleb and me to ride out with her to their farm this morning.”
Father looks sad at table with no plates. “I must advise against such a plan.”
Nana fills Father’s cup. “Maybe seeing Caleb will soften Matt’s heart.”
“Let’s be practical.” Father holds fork. “The boy would be isolated. Even his teacher wouldn’t be able to stop by for a meal with the family, as I understand those country schoolmarms do.”
“Emma doesn’t really believe Matt will let Mary take another child.”
Father smiles funny. “A fool’s errand, Stella?” Father wants to fool Emma.
Nana opens door little bit and peeks out. “This isn’t a good time, Emma.”
Emma talks loud. “Are you and Caleb ready to ride along to Matt Gerhard’s farm?”
“Father thinks we shouldn’t—”
“Let me talk to him.” Emma comes in and steps around Nana. “Good morning, Father. Sorry to barge in like this, but Buddy’s outside holding Dowdy’s mare. She’s a bit frisky this morning.”
Man-in-White says, “You can touch my horse’s nose, Caleb.”
Father says, “Stella and I discussed the situation, Emma. Going there would violate a papal ruling.”
Emma says, “It would be a business matter, not a social visit.”
Father glances up at ceiling. “That part would be acceptable.” His eyes move back to hand holding fork. “Would the rest of the Council agree with your action?”
Emma shakes red hair. “They didn’t reject the idea at the meeting.” She opens door. “I’ll be waiting outside in the buggy with Buddy.”
Father sets fork down. “It might soften Matt’s heart.” Father likes Nana’s idea. He picks up coffee cup and looks into it. “The kid would just be under Schmidt’s feet if he stuck around here.”
Not kid. Makes sad face.
Nana takes off apron. “Come on Caleb. We better hurry.”
Father makes the Sign of the Cross.
Wind stings face. Hides in back seat of buggy under Mother’s quilt.
Nana says, “Come out, come out where ever you are. You’re missing a winter wonderland out here.’’
Peeks out. Blinks away tears. Buddy’s mother holds hat with both hands. Rubs eyes and blinks again. “Nana, look. Emma isn’t driving the horse. Buddy’s got the reins.”
“She knows when to take over, I hope.” Nana tugs on Emma’s coat and talks loud. “Do we have to be in such a hurry?”
Emma says, “I promised to bring the rig back before sundown.”
Oma tells Man-in-Black. “If you take Caleb, I’ll hire a rig to bring him back.”
“But, so what if we keep it a bit longer?” Emma grabs Buddy’s hands. “The horse can find its way in the dark.”
Buddy yells, “Let go, Ma. I can do it.”
Buddy can do it.
Emma holds hat on head. “Don’t worry. The mare will tire and slow down any minute now.”
Slides off seat and stands. Tree branches drooping with snow whizz past. Looks for polar bears. Spots rabbit, maybe. Eyes closed, thinks sitting next to Buddy.
Emma grabs reins and buggy slows. She turns onto path, snow piled up on both sides. “Almost a month to go until winter officially begins, and already snow drifts block Matt’s driveway.” Reins pull Nellie’s head back. “I don’t imagine he ever shoveled his way out after last Valentine’s Day blizzard.”
Nana makes Sign of Cross. “Many people got lost during that storm and froze to death.”
Buddy can make horse find road back to Rectory.
Nellie stops by house, tops of other buildings peek over piles of white. Dog barks and horse rears.
Emma jerks reins. “Whoa. It’s only us, Rex. Crawl back into your dog house.”
Man in red and black shirt and gray suspenders comes out of house. He holds Nellie’s head, steam bursting from her nose.
“Hello, Matt.” Emma drops reins. “Rex must be pretty old by now.”
“You’re two dogs behind, Emma. Been ‘bout a dozen years since you and Pa got hitched.”
Their eyes stay together until Buddy stands. Emma says, “This is my son.” She grabs Buddy’s coat and yanks him back down. “Say hello to your uncle.”
Oma says Uncle is a bad man.
“Hello.” Buddy shakes uncle’s hand. He glares at Emma, jumps down into snow. He makes snowball, but white powder falls apart when he throws it. He kicks snow.
Buddy’s uncle looks hard at Buddy. “Lucky for me, you’re the spittin‘ image of Bud Kroft and don’t resemble Pa.”
Emma says, “Check your arithmetic, Uncle Matt.”
Matt is Buddy’s and Emma’s uncle? Maybe Caleb’s too. Caleb’s real uncle is mean.
Emma pulls off gloves one finger each. She shows open hands and hides one thumb. “It takes this many months to make a baby, and I lived with you and your sisters eight of them after Felix died. We’d had to have done it on his death bed.”
“As always, Emma, you’re such a soft spoken woman.”
Oma tells Man-in-Black, “I can no longer be that soft spoken woman.”
She points to back seat. “I don’t suppose you’ve met Stella Reinhardt, Father Busch’s housekeeper. I know Mary has spoken to her off and on.”
“Pleased to me you, Mr. Gerhard.” Nana hides hand under Mother’s quilt.
Uncle Matt reaches and pulls arm back. “Miss Reinhardt. From our names, we must have a common ancestry.”
Emma blurts, “With her freckles and hair the color of a rusty milk pail, similar names is all you share.”
Nana hides face in the quilt.
Uncle Matt pulls quilt off of Caleb. “Now, who have we here?”
Grabs at Nana’s arm. Mittens slide off.
Man’s laugh like rumbling thunder. “The boy and Miss Reinhardt are a matched set. Could be brother and sister.”
Oma says Little Sister looked just like Caleb.
Emma says, “That’s Caleb. He doesn’t have a last name.”
“Still talking in riddles, Emma?”
“Can we go in the house and discuss a matter with you and Mary? She probably knows quite a bit about the topic already.”
“Come right in.” Shrugs shoulders. “I won’t mention your visit to Alexis Busch next time we casually bump into each other. Be aware, you’re risking the fires of hell.”
Oma says, “I’d sooner burn in fires of hell.”
Emma climbs down. “I ain’t the condemned one, too stubborn to meet with a priest. You know he only wants to save face.”
“Alexis Busch is always welcome out here at the farm if he wants to talk.” Uncle Matt looks at Buddy climbing gate but doesn’t scold. “Mary’s in the house and the kids are doing their chores.”
Emma’s head shakes. “They’re not even in school yet. You’re still the slave driver, making me and your sisters back then work our tails off.”
“When Pa died, we were mostly teenagers. Didn’t have a clue how to run a farm or a household.”
“You embarrass me. I’ll have you know, I was twenty when I moved to town to live on my own.”
And did quite well for yourself, Emma.”
Man’s arm reaches into the buggy. Nana pushes Caleb forward.
Nana doesn’t like Caleb’s new uncle.
He lifts and drops Caleb butt-first into soft snow. Big smile down at Caleb chases tears away. Wipes nose with back of hand. Mitten dangles from sleeve.
Emma says, “It’s all a matter of personality, Matt. I like to be with people, you don’t.”
Matt pulls Caleb out of snow and lifts high in air. He swirls Caleb around, belly tickles. Lands in soft snow.
Uncle Matt picks up Caleb and talks to Emma. “Don’t get many chances to socialize when anyone who stops to visit is condemned to hell.”
Oma tells Mean Uncle, “I’m already in hell.”
Emma pulls Buddy by arm to house. Uncle Matt jump-steps behind Emma, Caleb on shoulders. Nana climbs down from buggy and follows.
Uncle Matt asks, “Does Father Busch know you guys are violating the terms of my punishment?”
Oma says, “The hospital is punishment enough.”
“This is a business matter, not a social call.” Emma opens door to little room with table but no chairs. She taps on next door and goes in without being told. She says, “Hello Mary.”
Mary sits on rocking chair by stove. She sets down knitting needles and stands. “Hello, Emma. Nice to see you. And Stella, hello. Please take off your coats and sit down.”
Nana closes door and opens coat. “Thanks, but I prefer to stand.”
Room is warm and smells like baked cookies.
“Oma tells Nana, “You’ll spoil that boy with cookies.”
Uncle Matt sits on chair with arms. He says, “Maybe you boys should join Earl and Rose out in the barn.”
Buddy runs outside, slams door.
Grabs Nana’s coat. “I stay with Nana.”
Emma takes off coat. “Nana was Caleb’s grandmother. Sometimes we play make-believe and I am Oma, his word for mother.”
Emma not Oma.
She hangs coat on hook. “Might just as well let Caleb stay inside with the adults. We’ve talked openly in front of him so far, why stop now?”
Big people talk secrets.
“Well, this boy is getting warm.” She opens Caleb’s coat and pulls off stocking cap. Shakes loose other mitten. They dangle from yarn Nana strung through sleeves. She takes coat to oven door. Clumps of snow drip and sizzle. She comes back and kneels. “Now, I want you to tell me your name.”
“That’s a lovely name. I’ll tell the other Christian Mothers.”
Nana takes Caleb’s hand away from coat. “Thank Mrs. Gerhard for the Mother’s quilt.” She tells Mary, “We cuddled under it on the way out here.”
Mary says. “And, now you’re looking to join a family.”
Shakes head. “Caleb’s family in heaven.”
“I’m sure they want you to find another one to live with.”
“No.” Stamps foot.
Oma says she put her foot down.
Yells, “Caleb stays with Father and Tella.”
Nobody talks. Says again not so loud, “S-stella.”
“I agree with Caleb.” Uncle Matt stands and claps hands. “The business part of this meeting is over.” Big smile. “Now, if you’re willing to risk going to hell, Mary can serve some of that fresh bread Caleb’s been sniffing.” His eyes find Caleb. “Maybe a glass of eggnog. After all, the holiday season is just around the corner, Thanksgiving next Thursday.” He picks up Caleb and swings him around. “Have you ever been to Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve?”
“Well, you’re in for a real treat, if you can stay awake. I’ll be there.” His smile goes away. “Just outside the door. I arrive a little late and leave a little early to miss the crowd coming and going.”
Emma says, “You have the best seat in the house.”
“Not in the house, but out on a snow bank.”
“Now for that bread and eggnog Matt offered.” Emma sits at the table without being told.
“I think Father Busch needs to hear Mr. and Mrs. Gerhard’s answer right away.” Stella looks at floor. “So he can come up with another plan.”
“Stella, sweetheart, you are plan “B” even if you and the priest don’t realize it.” Emma cuts slice from loaf Mary set down on table. “Breaking of bread could be considered part of our business.” Her eyes find Mary. “We haven’t heard from Mrs. Gerhard yet.”
“I would love to take the boy—”
“I’m sorry. Already, I hurt his feelings. I’m afraid Caleb staying with us would isolate him. We already fear for Earl and his little sister.”
“Why don’t Caleb and I go outside and join the kids?” Stella glances at coat on oven door. “You have a lot to talk about, and we’ve never experienced a real farm.”
Puts on coat without help. Mary pulls yellow and brown scarf from box by her chair. “This matches your hair and shows off those pretty green eyes.” She covers mouth and nose and ties it in back.
Uncle Matt stands by door. “The path to the barn is the one with the rope. Didn’t need it during this recent storm, but last February it was a life saver. Farmers couldn’t find their barns.”
Outside, Stella tells Caleb, “I remember that blizzard. Father even missed morning Mass. Much worse out here in the country.”
Stands on tiptoes. “Can’t see.”
She laughs. “Even these drifts are taller than you. There’s a patch with hardly any snow.” She points. “That double door must be for horses. Hoof prints are leading up to it.”
“Caleb likes horses.”
“We’ll probably see them inside.” She lifts lever on a smaller door. Only top half opens. “Well, of all things.”
A child’s voice from inside. “Just reach over and pull up the hook. I have to lift Rose to open it.”
The bottom half of the door swings out and warm, moist air hits Caleb’s face. Yanks scarf down and pinches nose. Eyes water. Gags. Through floating dust specks, sees two kids holding hands.
Stella says, “Wait a minute until our eyes adjust. The afternoon sun is still quite bright out there.”
“I’m Earl and this is my little sister, Rose.”
Stella opens Caleb’s fingers grabbing her coat. “Earl and Rose, this is Caleb.”
“My Little Sister died.”
“Golly, that’s sad.” Earl drops Rose’s hand and puts fists on hips. “I would never let that happen to Rose.”
Stella’s hand touches Caleb’s shoulder. “We can’t always control certain things.” She peers into dark barn. “Where’s Buddy?”
“He’s ridding a calf. I showed him how.” Faces Caleb. “Do you want to try? It ain’t really ridding. The calf just stands dumb-like. But you can pretend.”
Stella says, “I’m not sure Caleb is up for it. He’s from a big city.”
Rose puts hands on hips like Earl. “Momma says he’s an orphan from New York.”
Shakes head. Not orphan.
Stella asks, “How old are you, Honey?”
Earl grabs Rose’s shoulders. “She’s four. I’m just about six.”
“Your Daddy said you two were doing chores. What sort of jobs do you have?”
Rose talks and Earl’s head nods. “Feed the calves and put straw under the cows’ bellies. Sometimes they push it away and sleep in their own poop.”
Shakes Stella’s hand away and points at two big horses. “Caleb wants to ride horse.”
“Only the calf without Pa going along.” Hand-in-hand, Earl and Rose lead past row of cows’ with heads locked in. Buddy stands by table with small cross of Jesus.
Rose pushes Buddy away. “That’s Pa’s altar. He doesn’t pray in church.” She looks up at Stella. “Tomorrow, when Ma takes Earl and me to High Mass, he’ll say his prayers out here in the barn.”
Oma tells Man-in-black, “You can’t keep Caleb away from Mass at St. Patrick’s.”
Stella says, “I sing there with the sisters. Caleb will be with me. Maybe we’ll see you.”
“If you take Caleb to church, people will begin to suspect.”
Earl points. “You’ll have to set him on the calf.”
Stella watches feet. She lifts Caleb onto calf.
Earl grabs his sister’s hand. “You guys want to help me and Rose gather eggs in the hen house?”
Buddy yells, “Yippee,” and follows.
Slides off calf into Stella’s arms. She says, “I think we’re ready to retire to the house. We’ll each certainly need a bath when we get back to the Rectory.”
Stella taps on kitchen door. She opens it and peers in. “Caleb and I will wait out here in the porch.”
Mary says, “No such thing. You come inside where it’s warm. I’ve prepared apple-butter and strawberry jelly sandwiches.”
Stella says, “I’m sorry, but I must wait in the buggy.”
Mary opens her mouth and Uncle Matt holds up hand. “Stella has to do what she thinks is right.” He chuckles. “I think the boy made a few decisions today that could affect the rest of his life.”
Okay Uncle Matt didn’t say Caleb this time.
Uncle Matt grabs two pans stuck together from stove. “I understand your situation living with a priest. Father Busch will expect to hear your Confession tonight after Devotions tonight.” He hands Stella funny pans. “Use this bed warmer on your quilt. I’ll fetch it when I bring Caleb out.”
Takes off coat and cap. Sits at table next to Emma.
Emma says, “Better grab a sandwich before the gang gets here.”
Tells Mary, “Caleb has strawberry.”
Mary says, “Take one with apple-butter, too.”
Forgets strawberry is Caleb’s secret.
Door opens. Wind is cold. Earl and Rose come in with bucket of eggs.
Buddy says, “Catch, Caleb!” Egg lands on floor and rolls under table.
Mary says, “Matt, either stuff something into that crack in the henhouse wall or move the nest away from it.” She taps egg on table. “Frozen solid.” She shows Caleb. “Would you like to take this for your breakfast? It’ll thaw by morning.”
Touches cold egg. Wipes nose on sleeve and looks around. “Nana?” Wants to cry.
Uncle Matt says, “Stella’s outside waiting. I’ll take you to her when you finish eating.”
Mary lifts her apron, wets corner with mouth, and wipes sticky jelly tongue couldn’t reach. “I have just the thing for the cold egg.” She smiles. “Two things.” At the bag of yarn near rocking chair, she finds two brown and yellow stockings. “I knitted these to match the scarf I gave you.” She holds one in each hand. “Carry the frozen egg inside one of these. Or would you like to wear them now?”
“Okay.” Lifts legs. Wants Mary to take off shoes and put on new stockings. “I show Nana.” He giggles. “S-stella.”