CHAPTER SIX (latest posting–Scroll down for previous chapters starting from the beginning)

Sunday, November 26, 1899

Hands folded on kitchen table, holds back giggle.
Father and Stella say, “Amen.”
Shouts Stella’s church words. “Et cum piri to-to oh.”
“What in tarnation! Stella?”
Words didn’t make Father happy. Eyes follow hands to lap.
Nana’s eyes wait to see Caleb’s eyes. “That was almost the correct pronunciation, Caleb. With a little more practice, you’ll be able to recite the Latin response.” She looks at Father. “I want to impress the Benedictine Sisters when Caleb answers, ‘Et cum spiritu tuo,’ during Mass this morning.”
“Well, we don’t speak Latin at the breakfast table.” Father tears bread and smashes egg yolk. “Caleb needs to say it properly or remain quiet.” He stares at yellow goo dripping off bread. “Are you sure he’s able to sit still through High Mass? Or church at all, for that matter?” He sets bread down and wipes mouth with napkin.
Big golden eye on plate stares up at Caleb. Stabs it with fork. Yellow blood oozes. Tells Father, “Caleb can take Oma’s locket to play with in church.”
Nana’s hand tells Caleb to be quiet. “My mother and I took Virgil to Mass when he was only three.” She butters Caleb’s bread. “The sisters expect me to sing with them, and I don’t want him to stay in the house alone.”
Father stands. “I need to dress for eight o’clock early Mass.” He pushes chair under table. “We can discuss this further between services.” He opens kitchen door and turns. “I’m afraid I won’t have time. Do with him what you think is right.”
Nana calls after him, “Thank you, Father.” She smiles at Caleb. “I have a nice surprise after you finish eating.”
Oma coming home for Caleb’s birthday was nice surprise. Some surprises aren’t nice. Shakes head, makes bad surprise go away. Face smiles without telling it to smile. Earl’s mother gave Caleb a present. “Can I wear my new stockings?”
“Yes and some other new things. Finish eating the egg from Earl’s chicken.”
Stares at the yellow puddle from busted eye. Present from Earl’s chicken is broken.
Runs to couch and hides under Mother’s quilt.
“Now, what’s the matter?”

On top church step, Stella bends down and tightens rope around Caleb’s neck. Tugged it loose walking to church. “I know the necktie feels uncomfortable, but you’ll get used to it. I’ll only ask you to wear it to church and during dinner on special occasions like Thanksgiving and Christmas.”
“Good morning,” Stella.
Stella looks up and squeezes Caleb’s shoulders with both hands.
Won’t run away.
“Good morning, Sister Ernestine.” Black dress, white cloth wrapped around face and neck. Remembers penguins from Nana’s The Jungle Book.
“This is Caleb. He’s going to sit with us this morning.”
Sister Ernestine smiles. “Can you sing, Caleb?”
Takes big breath. “Et cum ’piri to-to oh.” Every word right, almost. Holds out hand and she shakes it.
“My goodness, you are a little gentleman.” She hides her hands behind black curtain in front of dress.
“The suit was his surprise. I ordered it from Sears and Roebuck for my kid brother, Virgil. My mother can take Virgil to Macy’s and select something he really likes for Christmas.”
Sister asks, “How old are you?”
Holds up open hand.
“Five years old. I’ll expect you in my first grade class next year.” She faces Stella. “Unless a farm family adopts him, and he goes to one of those little country schools.”
“Expect Caleb in your class next fall.”
Stella’s words make Caleb smile.
“Let’s follow Sister Ernestine to Holy Virgin’s altar.”
Stella’s brother, Virgil, has altar!
Sister’s arm comes out, waves them forward, and hides again. Stella takes Caleb’s hand and they walk to Holy Virgil’s altar.
Points to ceiling. “Look, S-stella. Pictures of angels in clouds.”
“I should have taken you inside the church ahead of time.”
“Just like pictures in Caleb’s coloring book.”
“You can look around, but please don’t talk.”
Counts windows. “What comes after five?”
“You know what comes after five.” She sits Caleb on bench next to Sister Ernestine. They kneel. Slides off seat and kneels, too. Points to statue of woman in blue dress. “She’s not holding real baby.”
Stella whispers, “She’s Mother Mary.”
“Your mother?”
“Everyone’s mother.”
“Virgil’s, too?”
“Of course. Now hush. Mass is about to start at Jesus’ altar.” She points. “It’s the big one in the center with all the statues.”
Two boys wearing white dresses come from behind big altar holding real long matchsticks. They light six candles. Caleb will be six years old in Sister Ernestine’s first grade. Buddy will be in second grade. Looks up at Sister Ernestine. Are black and white sisters nice like sisters-in-white?
Points. “Look. Father came out wearing a white dress, too.”
“That’s the door to the sacristy where the chalices and vestments are kept. And the sacramental wine.”
Oma says, “Wine only on Thanksgiving with turkey.”
“Are there turkeys back there?”
“Stop being silly.” Stella shakes finger. “Any more talking and I will take you back to the Rectory.”
Points and lips ask without making words, “What’s that?” Stella doesn’t look. Wants to know why lantern only makes smoke. Smells like Oma’s burning soldier. Stands on bench and looks back. “There’s Earl and his little sister.”
Stella says, “Sit.” She whispers, “We’ll talk to them later. When Father stands and sings, get ready to say your prayer.”
Screams, “Et cum ’piri to-to oh.”
Father stands in front of big altar with angry face. His mouth opens but doesn’t sing part like Stella said. Backs into Sister Ernestine and hides behind black curtain. Strings of beads wrapped around hands like when Nana whispered prayers. Fingers count Sister’s beads. She doesn’t push Caleb’s hands away. Stays behind curtain until tears stop. All sisters are nice.
Father sings funny words and waves smoking thing at people. Can’t use words to ask Stella in church. Father should go out door and let people leave. Wants to tell Earl and his little sister Latin words. Closes eyes. Thinks of Nana’s praying beads. Smiles.
After church, Caleb asks Earl’s mother, “Can Caleb pet your horse?” Didn’t want to say Latin prayer.
She tells Earl, “Take Caleb and Rose to the buggy while Stella and I talk.”
Stella doesn’t let go Caleb’s shoulders. “Maybe we should go with them.”
“I’m sorry, Stella. I forget that not all children are used to horses. We can certainly visit over there.”
“Better yet, why don’t you give Caleb a ride to the front of the Rectory so the children can come in and play for a while?”
“But, Father will be wanting his dinner.”
“It’s in the oven. He makes himself available for parishioners who don’t get to town often, and he has to close the sacristy. Won’t be ready to eat for at least an hour.”
Mary looks at Caleb. “Would you like a buggy ride to your house?”
Nods. Follows Earl to buggy and climbs onto front seat next to him.
Earl’s mother says, “Okay, Earl, you can take the reins, but go slow.” She points to the Rectory and sits in back seat with Rose.
Climbs down when Earl stops buggy and runs to tell Stella. “Caleb sat up front with Earl and helped drive horsey.”
“That nice. Now let me talk to Mary.” Nana doesn’t care. Feels sad.
“Caleb really did help.” Looks at shoes. “A little bit.”
“Take your friends into the living room.”
“Caleb stays with Nana.”
Nana looks at Mary. “I think church has him stressed.”
Shouts, “Et cum ’piri to-to oh.”
Mary and Nana laugh. Face feels hot.
Earl laughs. “You were funny, Caleb.” He tells little sister. “Caleb yelled those words in church, Rose.”
Little Sister giggles. “Say them again, Caleb.”
“Et cum ’piri to-to oh.” Caleb is funny like Buddy.
Stella says, “Show Earl and Rose your new bedroom.”
“Father calls it a kest room, S-stella.” He runs to stairs and yells back. “Up here, Earl.” Rose stands at bottom step. Caleb tells Little Sister, “Hold your brother’s hand so you don’t fall.” Eyes closed, one step at a time, thinks helping Little Sister up to Caleb’s bedroom.
Opens eyes. Earl holds Rose’s hand on the top step. “Wow. It’s big up here.”
Rose pulls hand away and pinches her nose, “Smells like cigars.”
Holds door open to Caleb’s room.
She sniffs. “Smells nice in here.”
Earl says, “That’s the fresh-cut wood smell, Rose.” He looks at Caleb. “Mama says she splits the firewood before bringing it into the kitchen for the aroma.”
Points. “Caleb’s bed will be in front of window.”
Rose blows specks of sawdust from glass. “That’s the cemetery out there. Why do you want to look at the place they put dead people?”
Face wants to cry.
Earl puts hand on Caleb’s shoulder. “Rose didn’t mean to make you sad.”
Rose hugs Caleb and presses her face to his chest. “I’m sorry.”
Pushes back sob. “Next to window…,” Sniffles. “In case of fire.”

CHAPTER ONE (posted July 21, 2019)

Sunday, November 19, 1899

Oma in her white gown,
Holds red and black box in fingers.
“Never play with matches, Caleb.”
Shakes head “No, no, no.”
Oma slides red and black box open.
“Promise, my son.”
Nods “Okay, Oma.”
Oma’s fingers find stick-soldier with red hat.
Soldier’s red hat scratches side of box.
Fizzles. Flares. Mouth tastes smoke.
Stick-soldier touches fire to pretty green candles.
Flames dances on candles one, two, three, four, five.
Stick-soldier shrivels black and head falls off.
“Not four-years-old no more.”
Nana, brown dress and bonnet, smiles.
“Yes, my beautiful grandson is five-years-old today.”
Helped Nana bake Caleb’s birthday cake.
Oma back from hospital.
“Blow out the candles.”
“No, Oma.”
“Be a big boy and puff hard.”
“No Nana.” Eyelids squeeze shut.
Oma scolds, “Blow out the candles, Caleb.”
Eyes open wide. Deep breath. Blows hard.
One candle still on fire.
“Again, Caleb.” Nana smiles.
“Caleb doesn’t want to.”
“Just one more,” Oma begs?
Sobs. Blows.
Flames explode. Swallow Oma. Fire melts her smile. Nana’s lips move. “Caleb, Nana’s big boy.” Black dress turns orange. Red flames burst around Nana’s head, eats brown bonnet. Opens window. “My wonderful grand—”

Ears hear mouth scream. Eyes want to cry.
Sister-in-White wipes away tears. “You were just having a bad dream.”
“Oma. Nana.”
Sister-in-White claps hands. “You talked! Saints be praised.” She leans over bed. “The two women who perished were your mother and grandmother?”
Nods, rubs nose on white cloth. Eyes find wet spot.
“Don’t worry. My habit can be washed.” She whispers, “What boy misses Oma and Nana?”
Name stuck on tongue.
“Who are you?”
Caleb, Nana’s big boy.
Sister-in-White kisses hair and stands back up. “Oma and Nana want their big boy to tell Sister Mary Francis his name.”
Helped Nana bake Caleb’s birthday cake.
“Birthday.”
“Who had a birthday? Oma? Nana?”
“Not Nana. Not Oma.”
“Yes, yes. It must have been Oma’s son. Nana’s grandson.”
“Cake. Green candles.” Nana likes green.
“Yes, green candles. On whose birthday cake? Pretty green candles.”
“On fire.”
“How many candles are lit?”
Opens hand.
“Five years old?”
Opens other hand. “Big fire.”
“Oh, my goodness. You think your birthday candles caused the tenement fire?”
Nods.
“The gas cook-stove exploded. Men rescued you from the window ledge.”
Eyes find ball of fire on string.
“You are safe here at Children’s Hospital.” Bends down and whispers, “Sister Mary Francis wants to hear you say your name.”
Eyes won’t go away from fireball.
“Tomorrow you will be traveling with many children. Would be nice to tell everyone who you are.”
Pinches eyes shut. Fireball inside eyes.
“Were you staring at that light bulb?”
“Fireball.”
“You don’t know what an electric light bulb is?”
Shakes head.
Sister-in-White talks loud. “Turn of the century and tenement buildings have gas but not electricity.”
Fireball wants eyes back.
“Don’t stare at it.”
Eyes won’t obey.
Sister-in-White moves, hides light bulb. She reaches into bag on floor. “Show Sister Mary Francis your happy face.”
Oma’s locket.
“Your mother probably wore this on a chain around her neck.” Snaps open. “Fire damaged baby’s face on one side—”
Little Sister.
“But, the mirror on the other side isn’t broken. Whose face do you see?”
“Don’t know.”
“You know who the boy is. Now say his name.”
“Maybe, Caleb?”
“Say it again.” Sister-in-White scolds. “This time, make sure I hear it.”
“Caleb!”
“Don’t let anybody forget that you are Caleb.”
Sees happy face in Oma’s locket.
Cover closes. Caleb goes away.
“Say your name again.”
Whispers, “Caleb.”
“What is your last name?”
“Don’t know.”
“It will come back to you, just remember to use your words. If Caleb goes silent again, words might go away forever.” She pulls up blanket. “Sleep tight. Tomorrow Caleb will be on the Orphan Train to Minnesota.” She tucks blanket under…Caleb. “The sisters there wear brown and cover their heads with bonnets like the one they found on Caleb’s nana. They are called Franciscans.”
“Nana Fran…?”
“No. She probably thought older women should wear bonnets. We think Caleb’s mother might have been a nurse but not a sister.”
Oma wears white hospital gown at Caleb’s birthday.
“Little Sister died.”
“Caleb had a little sister?”
“Oma and Nana pray for her.”
“A family of three in heaven to watch over Caleb.”
Mouth chews corner of blanket.
“Remember, don’t go silent again. Everyone needs to know who Caleb is.” She pulls blanket under chin. “Your mother gave you such a nice name.”
“Oma.”
“Don’t forget Caleb, or Oma.”
Remembers Nana.
“I will add your name to the report in your handbag and that Caleb can talk, so don’t make people believe you can’t. I’ll also tell about Caleb’s mother and grandmother and sister. What was your sister’s name?”
“Little Sister.”
She kisses forehead. “A nun wearing a black habit will ride with you and the other children on the Orphan Train.”
Doesn’t like black. Likes boats, not trains.

CHAPTER TWO (posted 8/11/2019

Wednesday, November 22, 1899

The train slows. Jerks head forward and back. Sister Mary-in-Black grabs handbag and points at door. “This is where you get off. St. Cloud, Minnesota.”
“You, too?”
“I’m afraid not. I’ve got quite a few more deliveries.”
“Caleb needs help.”
“We talked about calling yourself Caleb rather than saying me or I. You might want to practice that.”
Practice saying Caleb.
“You will meet some very nice people. I’ll find your contact priest and introduce you. Come along.”
Sister Mary-in-Black steps out of car onto platform.
Wants to stay on train.
“Come now. Careful. Fresh snow makes the boards slippery.”
Snow sparkles.
Nana sings, “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star to Caleb.”
Pulls stocking cap down to eyes.
“Your legs might be a bit wobbly after four days riding three different trains.”
Could count to five. Maybe more.
Looks around. Kids come out of train. Some climb onto engine. Many big people stand and point. Should make kids come down.
“Those boys and girls are hoping for mommies and daddies to take them to a new home. They’re not as lucky as you.”
Not lucky. Wants Sister-in-White.
“Caleb is a special little boy.”
Not special. Hides under her black veil.
“Many Catholic parents will want you to be part of their families. Maybe even have a chance to pick a family you like.” She sets Caleb’s handbag in snow.
Wants back on train with other kids. Snow makes Oma’s locket cold, wants in Caleb’s pocket.
Sister Mary-in-Black pulls Caleb from behind her. “Help look for the priest who should be here to meet you. He’s described as tall with dark hair but no beard.”
Can’t see. Sky on fire.
She put hand over eyes. “Being a priest, he’ll be dressed in black.”
Nana and Oma don’t like Man-in-Black.
Covers face with cloth in front of Sister’s dress.
“Please don’t wipe your nose on it.”
Tongue finds snot. Snowflakes tickle.
She points. “There’s the priest.”
Man-in-Black! Tongue tastes Oma’s burning stick-soldier.
“Good afternoon, Sister.” Man-in-Black lifts hat. “Now who have we here?”
“He calls himself Caleb.”
“Nice to meet you, Cal.”
“Not Cal.”
“He wants to be called Caleb. He’ll remind you.”
“Interesting name, for now. Has he been baptized?”
“No mention of it or very little else in his record. Lived with mother and grandmother, according to survivors of the tenement fire. No apparent father. Wouldn’t talk for over a month while in police care. Sisters at New York Foundling Hospital got him to say his name. Now he can’t stop using it.” Sister-in-Black smiles make believe.
Oma tells Man-in-Black, “Don’t give me that make-believe smile.”
I added a few comments about his train experience from New York.”
“How old are you, son? I mean, Caleb.”
Mitten off, hand up, fingers spread.
“Five?”
Nods.
“Please find Caleb a good Catholic home, Father.”
Papa?
Papa picks up handbag with Oma’s locket. “Come along, Caleb. The horse and buggy are right around the corner.”
Rubs nose with mitten. Runs to catch up. Milk Man’s brown horse?
On Nana’s knee, waiting for Man-in-White with brown horse.
No white wagon—no milk bottles—no Man-in-White.
Holds Nana’s empty milk bottle very careful. It would break if Caleb dropped it.
“Climb in back, Son.”
Papa calls Caleb son. Foot can’t reach step. Climbs spokes in wheel.
“Get comfortable under the quilt the Society of Christian Mothers made for you.” Papa makes cricket noise with mouth. Horse goes fast.
Pulls quilt over head. Horse’s clop-clop makes face smile.
Nana says, “Listen Caleb. I hear the milkman’s horse.”
Mother’s quilt doesn’t taste good. Wants hospital blanket.
Nana’s voice. “Close your eyes. Let the sandman come.”
Wrapped into Nana’s arms, Sandman creeps under Mother’s quilt.

Wakes. Has to pee. Crawls out of Mother’s quilt. Tugs on Papa’s gray scarf.
“Whoa.” Buggy stops. Horse lifts tail and pees.
“Caleb pee, too.”
Papa laughs and reaches back.
“Caleb gets down alone.” Slides over edge. Foot finds step. White snow sparkles under buggy lantern. “Where?”
“Wherever you want.”
Moon not so bright in New York.
“I won’t look, I promise.” Papa laughs again.
Pee won’t come out.
Papa says, “When you’re done, you can ride up here with me for a while.”
“Okay, Papa.” Climbs onto step.
“Listen to me, Caleb, because this is important. People call me Father because I am a priest. You don’t have a Papa.”
Crawls into back seat and hides under Mother’s quilt. Man-in-Black makes cricket sound. Horse’s clop-clop hurts Caleb’s ears.

“Whoa.”
Opens eyes. Papa? Sits up.
“Good morning, Dowdy.”
“Morning, Father.” Dowdy pats horse’s head. “You didn’t have to run Nellie all night. I wouldn’t charge for some resting time.”
“Needed to get back to say morning Mass. Already missed yesterday.” Papa steps down and reaches for Caleb.
Kicks off quilt. Climbs down alone. Arms pull coat tight.
Papa grabs quilt and sniffs. He ties Mother’s quilt into bundle with brown string from Dowdy.
Horse stomps foot and whinnies. “I know, Nellie. You’re tired.” Dowdy talks to Nellie.
Milk Man tells horse Caleb is good boy.
“An easy thirty miles trotting back didn’t hurt the horse. She spent Monday night in the bishop’s stable and rested while I spent most of Tuesday waiting at the railroad station.”
Dowdy climbs onto buggy. “The bill, Father?”
“Send it to the bishop. The Orphan Train Program was his idea.” Papa walks away and turns. “Grab your bag. I got the quilt.”
Dowdy tosses bag down. “What’s your name young fella?”
Tells name to Nellie. “Caleb.”
“Want to rub Nellie’s nose?”
Shakes head. Looks for Papa.
“Come along, Caleb. The Rectory is just down the street.” He points. “You can see the church steeple from here.”
Nana’s church has two steeples.
Papa stops at big house. “This is the Rectory. You’ll be staying here for a while.” He opens door and goes into little room.
Stands and peeks into bigger room with piles of clothes and steam from kettle on stove. Nana in kitchen on wash day.
Papa takes off hat. “Good morning, Stella.” He calls Nana funny name.
She says, “Good morning, Father.”
“It’s Wednesday, not Monday, Stella.”
“With you gone for two days, I made myself available in your office. People sure are curious about the orphan.”
“I wouldn’t have mentioned my leaving to get the boy in Sunday’s sermon, but people have a right to be informed. Also, I had to cancel Tuesday’s morning Mass.”
“People left a couple of messages on your chalk board.”
Papa looks back. “Come in.” He pulls off Caleb’s stocking cap. “Here is our orphan. His name is Caleb.”
Nana claps hands. “I’m happy to meet you, Caleb.” She kneels and unbuttons coat. “You can call me Stella.”
“’Tella.” No bonnet. Not Nana?
She hugs Caleb. “Father, this boy is wet and freezing to death.”
Papa puts hat back on head. “I’m sure. You’ll need to wash the quilt, too.”
“I hope the Foundling Hospital sent a change of clothes?”
“Probably in his bag.” His foot pushes bag with Oma’s locket. “Any information inside goes on my desk.” He opens door. “I’ll be at the church saying Mass.” He turns head. “Wash his quilt and clothes separate from mine.”
“Yes, Father.”
Papa leaves. Slams door.
Nana pours hot water from kettle into washtub. “Take off those wet clothes. I’ll give you a bath right here in the kitchen where it’s warm.”
Nana pushes handle up and down to make water come out.
“It’s called a pump, Caleb. I suppose New York has water piped directly to kitchen faucets. My mother has it in Chicago.”
Lifts both arms. Nana pulls off shirt and Caleb takes off pants. Hands cover between legs.
“Don’t be bashful. I’ve bathed my kid brother, Virgil, many times before I left home to join the Franciscans.”
Sisters there are Franciscans. They wear brown dress and bonnet.
Not brown dress? No bonnet?
She points at tub. “Get in.”
“Okay, Nana.”
“Nana?”Her eyes find Caleb. “If you are Caleb, who am I?”
“’Tella?”
“That’s better. We’ll work on the pronunciation. Who brought you here this morning?”
Papa?”
“You must say Father, Caleb. It is important you don’t call him Papa.”
Steps over edge of tub. Dips one toe, then the other. Plops down.
“After you warm up, I’ll suds your hair.” Stella takes string off quilt and rubs soap on brown marks. She points to big room not hiding behind wall. “After your bath, I’ll let you sleep on the couch in the front room so I can see you while I do laundry.”
Plays Nana’s game, Tug boat on the Hudson, with bar of soap on water.

“In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, Amen.” Not Nana and Oma praying words. Rubs eyes and nose. Tastes blanket. Not quilt from Mothers. Remembers, Father not Papa. Sits up, not in bed. Room not white like hospital. Sees kitchen but washtub gone. Sniffs. Smells meat cooking?
Oma says, “We’ll have turkey for Thanksgiving. I promise.”
Father’s voice from kitchen. “Stella, I think our orphan is awake.”
Caleb, not orphan no more.
Stella, not Nana, comes into big room. “Did you have a nice nap, Caleb?”
Nods. Looks around.
“This is the Rectory front room. It should be a dining room but Father never has dinner guests.” She sits on couch. “Maybe, now that you’re with us, it might be used for entertaining.” She points. “Here is your change of clothes from the hospital. Do you want help getting dressed?”
“Caleb dresses alone, ’Tella.”
Stella smiles and walks away. “When you’re ready, come to the kitchen.”
At table, Father says, “Good morning, Caleb. You almost slept through lunch.”
Not morning no more.
Stella cuts brown meat into small pieces. Adds corn and potatoes. She sets Caleb’s plate on table across from her. “Please sit. This will be your place from now on.”
“Just until the adoption, Stella.” Father’s eyes move from Caleb to Stella.
She pours glass of milk. “I hope you like fried liver.” She faces Father. “Matt Gerhard butchered last week, and his wife Mary dropped off some cuts of meat after church.”
Father doesn’t smile. “The woman knows her husband must repent before I can welcome him back into the church.” He pushes his chair back and stands. “The Parish board will meet in my office this afternoon. Tell the boy how to act in the presence of adults.” His face not happy. “Work on his table manners, too.”
Chews real hard. Can’t swallow. Drinks milk. Food splashes back on plate. Eyes and nose leak. Nana brings wet rag.
Papa says. “I think it best that we put off our council meeting until tomorrow. I need time to get my office back in order.”
Hides face in Nana’s apron.
“When you get this mess cleaned, come to my office. I’ll have notices of new meeting times for you to deliver to council members Emma Kroft at the cafe, Walt at Cunningham Implement, and Melvin Trask at The Bovine Journal in that order.”
She wipes Caleb’s face. “Would you like to go back to sleep on the couch or bundle up and walk with me to meet these people?”
“I walk with Nana.”
Nana smiles. Doesn’t make Caleb say Stella.

CHAPTER THREE (posted 8/25/2019)

Thursday afternoon, November 23, 1899

Hides behind Stella’s chair. Tugs on dress. “Caleb scared.”
She pushes Caleb’s hand away. “You can stay in Father’s office with the adults but you must be quiet.”
Doesn’t like big people.
Lady with red hair grabs Caleb’s arm and pulls. She tells Stella, “He might just as well stand between us where he can see what’s going on.”
Stella doesn’t push Caleb away. “Okay, Emma, but please help keep him quiet while I take notes.”
Emma laughs. “Maybe I should fill your mouth with cotton?”
“Please, don’t frighten him with silly threats.”
Likes Emma. She gave Caleb candy at café yesterday.
Father sits, hands folded, doesn’t see Caleb. He watches man holding cigar and making white words on black board. Man stops writing and sits other end of table facing father. He raises hammer.
Covers ears.
Hammer hits table. Man bites short cigar with big teeth. “Parish Council meeting will come to order.”
Council at police station wants to know boy’s name from fire. Can’t say Caleb.
Knows name now. Caleb!
Sister-in-White says, “Don’t ever forget Caleb again.”
Yells, “Caleb.”
Emma says, “Hush, or Stella will be mad at both of us.”
Man in blue shirt stares across table at Caleb. He lifts hand, points to man with cigar. “Special motion, Mr. Chairman.” Man-in-Blue keeps eyes on Caleb.
Oma tells Policeman-in-Blue, “Please don’t take my son away from me, too.”
Stella looks at Father. “Shouldn’t I read the minutes first?” Father’s eyes stay on his folded hands.
Mr. Chairman bites cigar. “What’s on your mind, Melvin?” He takes cigar out of mouth and looks at it. No smoke.
Emma makes eating-lemons face.
Man-in-Black smokes cigar in kitchen. Says Oma makes eating-lemons face.
Melvin says, “Let’s forget about Robert’s Rules of Order—make this meeting informal. There is only one topic on the chalkboard.”
First letter of word in white chalk is circle. Oma starts with circle, but only three letters.
Emma pulls pencil from red hair. Points across table at Man-in-Blue. “Melvin, you’re the only one who follows those rules, anyway.”
“Part of my English-Irish background.” Melvin smiles. “Is that a second to my motion, Emma?”
“If that what it takes to get the ball rolling.” Emma faces Mr. Chairman with cigar. “I second Melvin’s motion, Walt.” Emma calls Mr. Chairman Walt.
Stands on one foot. Points and counts white letters on black board. More than five. Wants Walt to write Oma with chalk.
Walt holds cigar. “All in fav—”
Melvin says, “Excuse me.” Not Melvin’s turn to talk. “I would like a chance to explain my motion, Walt.”
Walt throws wet cigar stub in waste basket. He looks mad at Melvin.
Points and counts five people at table. Forgets to add Caleb. Asks Stella. “Is Caleb six?”
Stella says, “You’re only five. Now hush.”
Counts fingers. Almost topples over.
Oma and Nana play All-Fall-Down with Caleb.
Stella says, “Stand still.”
Walt asks, “What’s there to talk about, Melvin?”
Melvin says, “A special motion allows discussion.”
Walt shows big teeth. “Okay, but keep it short.”
Melvin points across table at Caleb. “If we’re going to discuss this boy’s future—”
“Caleb, Melvin. His name is Caleb.” Emma remembers. Puts head on Emma’s lap.
“We might not want our discussion on the parish record for everyone to read.”
Emma says, “And you get to print your version in next Thursday’s edition of the Journal.” She points pencil at Walt. “I withdraw my second to Melvin’s motion.”
Melvin stares across table at Emma. He pulls pencil from blue shirt pocket. Waves it and writes in little black book.
Policeman-in-Blue shows Oma little black book. Oma’s screams.”
Walt hits table with hammer. “We will proceed with minutes as usual.” He points hammer at Stella. “Don’t record this discussion so far. Go ahead and read minutes of our last meeting.”
Stella stands.
Crawls onto Stella’s chair.
She reads, “Parish Council met on November 10, 1899. Members present: Father Alexis Busch, Emma Kroft, Melvin Trask, and Chairman Walt Cunningham. Topic of discussion, accepting one orphan boy for adoption.”
Sister–in-White says, “We’ll just call you Orphan Boy until you tell us your name.” Caleb can’t say words.
Tugs Nana’s dress. “Caleb, not orphan boy, Nana.”
“Sit and be quiet until I’m done reading. Remember to call me Stella.”
“Forgot.”
She reads, “Member absent, Felix Gerhard.”
Emma says, “Felix has been dead for years. I’ve remarried and have a kid, yet you still read my husband’s name just to embarrass me.”
“No one told me to remove it.”
Walt says, “Please continue, Stella.”
“Each parish in the diocese is expected to take one orphan child for adoption from New York Foundling Hospital delivered on the Orphan Train. The council agreed to a male toddler if we can be assured not to get a diseased or handicapped child.”
Eyes find light bulb on cord above table like at hospital. Has glass hat with many colors.
Nana sewed “C” and “D” with colored thread on Caleb’s new baseball cap.
Stella takes Caleb off chair and sits.
Light bulb with funny hat moves little bit.
Father stops looking at hands. Talks loud. “Let’s get to the business of finding adoptive parents for this boy.”
“He is Caleb,” Stella tells Father.
Shows Stella Caleb’s happy face.
“Caleb, of course.” Father does Oma’s make-believe cough. “Thank you for reminding me.”
Nana say Oma coughs just to get attention.
Opens and closes one eye then other eye. Colored light jumps.
“Father says, “The bishop expects us to place this young man in a Catholic family.”
Sister-in-White says, “Young man, you are going be with many children who will want to know your name.”
Pees tiny bit. Squeezes legs together. Shakes Emma’s arm. Whispers, “Gotta pee.”
Emma asks, “Can’t you go to the bathroom by yourself?”
Nods. “Caleb is a big boy.”
Oma on fire says, “Caleb is a big boy.”
Mr. Chairman raises hammer.
Covers ears. Runs.
Toilet door left open. Nobody waiting?
Nana says, “Always lock the bathroom door, Caleb.”
Reaches for hook.
“Mean men do bad things to little boys.”
No hook! Can’t lock door.
Sobs. Tinkles. Runs. Stumbles. Loses shoe. Carries it to table. No people! “NANA? PAPA? OMA?” Can’t breathe. Tastes Oma’s burning stick-soldier. Hears voices. Finds office door.
Papa’s voice. “The orphan can’t stay at the Rectory. What will people think?”
Man-in-Black tells Oma, “People in church will figure it out. They aren’t blind.”
Goes into office and stands between Oma and Nana.
Papa sees Caleb. Big smile. “What I mean is Caleb needs a family who will give him a place to sleep.”
Oma tells Man-in-Black, “Caleb sleeps at his home with Nana.”
Walt shows teeth. “A place in the county would soften the boy’s harsh city life.”
Shows shoe to Nana and Oma. They don’t look.
Papa says, “Farm folks are already burdened with large families. I can’t ask them to take another child.”
Shoe walks up and down back of Nana’s chair.
Oma stands and stuffs pencil in red hair. “If you’re looking for one of us to take him off your hands, count me out. With Buddy Junior about his same age…” looks down at Caleb. “How old are you, son?”
“His name is Caleb, and he recently had his fifth birthday, Emma.”
Nana scolds Oma.
“Just the thought of another child growing up in your café would exclude you.”
Shows Nana hand wearing shoe. Giggles.
“And, you settle down.” Nana sets Caleb on Oma’s chair. Puts shoe back on foot. “You must sit still. The meeting won’t last much longer.”
Oma looks at Caleb. “With my long hours and a husband never helping in the kitchen…”
Slides off Oma’s chair. Nana doesn’t make Caleb get back on.
Melvin in blue shirt points at Oma. “Other people in town have businesses, too, Emma. Except farmers like Hank Sturgis who retired and moved to Bovine.” Melvin laughs. “He voted for the town’s name change not knowing Bovine was another word for cow.”
Cow jumps over the moon. Little Dog laughed. Nana and Caleb laugh.
Melvin’s eyes find Caleb.
Giggles. Thinks Melvin and Emma jumping over moon.
“You’d like Hank as a grandpa. He has a white beard like Santa Claus.”
Nana and Papa jump over the moon holding Caleb’s hand.
Oma shakes finger. “Melvin Trask, why don’t you put those pretty blue eyes to good use finding a wife instead of nosing into other’s folks’ business?”
Counts five fingers. Counts other hand.
Melvin writes words and closes black book.
Policeman closes black book. “Caleb can stay just for his birthday.”
“I keep writing in my notebook, too, Melvin.” Oma taps forehead. “Up here.”
Walt peers into waste basket with cigar. “Emma, please.”
“Banging that gavel won’t shut me up, Walt.”
Hammer is gavel.
“We need to stay on track.”
“Sorry, Walt.” Oma smiles at Melvin. “An adopted son could get you a wife. Caleb could help you with typesetting.”
“No need for a wife, Emma. And, I can hire typesetters. Bring Caleb to the Journal and I’ll show him the printing press. Your kid, too.” He looks at Caleb. “Do you know your ABC’s?”
Pinches eyes shut, the colored light goes away.
Melvin’s voice. “Maybe Emma’s step children will take Caleb in memory of their father. Felix was a member of this board.”
Opens eyes, colored light comes back.
Oma stands. “As Felix’s widow, I suppose I am his adult kid’s step-mother. His daughter, Dory, is my age but she’s a nun. Her younger sister died in the ’94 Hinkley fire.”
Oma says, “Pray to your Little Sister in heaven.”
Oma glances around table. “I lived with Matt and the girls a few years before Felix died and a short time after. I doubt my step-son and his wife, Mary, will take another child.” Her eyes find Papa. “You know Mary won’t be making any more babies.”
Little Sister in Oma’s belly.
Papa clears his throat, puffs, but doesn’t talk.
Marvin says, “Matt married an orphan. Mary came from Germany, arrived alone by rail much like Caleb from Ireland.”
Papa says, “His family record only guesses Caleb’s nationality because the tenement housed mostly Irish immigrants.”
Melvin shakes head. “With those hazel eyes and facial features—”
“Caleb’s face, his eyes, the spittin’ image of his father. A ready-made scandal at St. Patrick’s.”
“I’ll never understand your interest in Irish politics.” Emma shakes her head. “You an Englishman with blue eyes.”
“You shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, Emma.”
Nana reads Caleb stories from jungle book.
Emma says, “Anyone who does morning coffee at the cafe knows your view on Irish independence, and we thank you for keeping the topic out of our local newspaper.”
“Wait for the boy to grow up and see what side he takes.”
“Enough of that kind of talk.” Chairman Walt hits table. “Emma, since you know the family, would you be willing to ride out with the boy and ask Matt?”
“I know Matt well enough not to go on a fool’s errand.”
Emma wants to fool Walt.
Papa raises his voice and slams table. “Matt Gerhard as father for Caleb is out of the question.”
“Is Papa mad, Nana?”
Nana whispers loud in Caleb’s ear. “You must call a priest Father, not Papa. And I am Stella, even if you have trouble with the ‘s’ sound.”
“However, other country folks might be possible.” Father—not Papa— looks at Stella—not Nana. “Check church records.” His fingers touch each other. Want to pray? “I believe most recent baptisms are from farm families.”
Kicks chair leg.
Stella puts Caleb on lap. “Now sit still. We’re almost done.”
Emma—not Oma looks at Chairman Walt. “I move to table this discussion until people get to know Caleb a little better?”
Walt shows teeth. “I’d like to tag on to that idea, Emma. The rectory was built with future bedrooms in mind. I move—suggest we convert one of the three upstairs dormers into a room for Caleb. I could send some of my crew to enclose the area.”
“Which dormer, Walt?” Emma’s grin gets big. “Not facing north?”
“Of course, not the north dormer. That’s—”
“Men’s secret place?” Emma laughs.
“Caleb has secret strawberry.” Tries to take off shoe. Stella pushes Caleb’s hand away.
Walt says, “I prefer we not discuss—”
Melvin laughs. “Stella knows, and Emma doesn’t give a damn about our cigar and poker night.”
Walt says, “Don’t write that comment in the minutes.”
Melvin smirks. “Why not the east window with its view of the graveyard?”
Oma says, “I’ll check every graveyard in New York for Caleb’s little sister.”
Walt says, “Maybe the west window facing God’s spectacular sunsets.”
“Like hot afternoon sun in summer?” Emma doesn’t like Mr. Chairman’s idea.
“Hot sun? Summer? Wait a minute.” Father isn’t happy.
Melvin in blue shirt shakes notebook at Emma.
Policeman waves black folder at Oma. “I’ll be back tomorrow for the boy.”
He says, “I agree with Emma. West would be a bad choice.”
Father starts to stand. “N-not just west but…” He drops back onto chair.
Walt shows teeth. “Even with its view of the cemetery, east dormer would be more sensible. In a few weeks the bishop will arrive for Confirmation of our seventh and eighth grade students, but Stella has taken over the spare bedroom.”
“I plan to sleep on a cot in the office when the bishop is here.”
Points at people. Lips count without words.
“Perhaps, we enclose two dormers. East and west.” Melvin grins. “With smoke-tight doors.”
“Only one, please.” Father sits back on chair. “And not just for the short time the boy will be staying.”
Walt says “East dormer it will be. I can get the walls up by this weekend.” He faces Stella. “Write this down. Cunningham Implement Company will supply materials and labor to partition the east dormer and create a bedroom for the orphan—”
Man-in-black says, “The boy should sleep in his own bedroom, not with his nana.”
Father says, “Not just for the orphan, please.”
Father forgets Caleb’s name again. Stella doesn’t tell him.
“And other guests such as…”
Slides off Stella’s lap.
Walt’s eyes and teeth show bigger. “What other visitors might we expect to spend a night at the Rectory?”
Emma waves her arm. “Just call it a guest bedroom, Walt, and get on with your generous offer written into the minutes.”
Walt’s eyes close and lips cover teeth. “I’m trying to think of the proper way to show our having important guests.” He faces Stella. “Read what I have so far.”
“Oh, for God’s sake, Walt.”
“Emma, please, no blasphemy.” Father isn’t happy. “Write what Walt just said but leave out the orphan part.”
Not Caleb’s bedroom?
“Please add that it will be done this weekend, Stella.”
Emma smiles. “Nice touch for the record, Walt.”
Walt wipes forehead with white cloth. “The upstairs is already plumbed for steam heat, but plastering will have to wait for warm weather.” He glances around the group. “No need to write that into the minutes.”
“Don’t forget the door, Walt.”
“Of course, Emma.” A big-tooth smile. “I’m sure Ben over at York Mercantile would give the parish a good deal on some bedroom furniture.” Teeth hide and eyes find hands. “Ben and I have had problems over the past decade, and it’s about time we bury the hatchet.” Walt faces Father and waits for Father’s eyes. “Father Busch, I recommend we ask Ben York to join our council as Felix Gerhard’s replacement.”
“B-but the b-boy…” Father’s tongue is tired, wants to nap.
Emma says, “Bang your gavel, Walt. I gotta get back to the café.”
Gavel hits table. “Adjourned.” Walt stands at chalk board and wipes off word that starts with Oma’s letter.
“What about Caleb, ’Tella?”
“You stay with Father and Nana.”
Stella smiles.

CHAPTER FOUR (posted 8/25/2019)

Friday, November 24, 1899

Crayons in box on table point to picture of Jesus. Want Caleb to pick color for Jesus’ beard.
Nana’s Jesus has a brown beard. Oma said Jesus beard should be black.
Doesn’t like black. Fire makes stick-soldier turn black. Asks Stella, “What color is Jesus’ beard?”
Stella turns from stove and points to brown and yellow. “Some shade between these two colors.”
Face wants to cry. Knocking on the kitchen door makes stomach jerk.
“Please see who’s there, Caleb.”
Voice shakes. “Maybe Papa.”
“I told you not to call him Papa. Besides, Father wouldn’t bother to knock.” She points. “Open the door and surprise whoever it is.”
“But, Nana.”
“You can call me Nana, for now. At least until you learn to pronounce your ‘s’ words.” Nana keeps eyes on Caleb.
Whimpers and does slow walk. Opens door and sees lady with red hair from café. She grabs arm of boy bigger than Caleb. Boy’s lip curls, eyes glare at lady.
“Hello, Caleb.” She pushes boy into kitchen.
Backs into Nana. Looks up at her and points. “Oma.”
Boy slams door shut. Oma takes green and yellow candy suckers from brown purse. Boy grabs green one. She shows Caleb yellow one.
Shakes head. Wants green one.
She puts yellow sucker in her mouth. “Good morning, Stella. Who the hell is Oma?”
“Good morning, Emma. “Oma was Caleb’s mother. I’m Nana, his grandmother. We can deal with it later.”
“I’ll rather like the idea of role-playing his mom.” Yellow sucker between teeth, Oma grins. “Nana, I would like you to meet my son. Buddy, this is Miss Reinhardt, Father Busch’s house keeper.” She points at Caleb, teeth crush yellow sucker. “And this, I suppose, is your new brother, Caleb. He’s about your age.”
“Caleb is five.” Words left lips without permission. Sits and looks at Jesus’ beard with no color.
“Close enough.” Oma sets purse on table and takes off boy’s cap. He sticks out green tongue.
“Father Busch isn’t here, Emma. He’s in Harrington making his rounds at the hospital.”
“I know. Every Friday morning after Mass. Father used to stop at the café for breakfast before you became his cook.” She licks finger and pats down bunch of boy’s black hair. It pops back up.
“Then why…?”
She brushes red hair from her eyes. “I could say we just happened to be in the neighborhood but it would be a white lie.”
Oma tells Nana not to lie to Caleb.
“Sorry to barge into Father’s private quarters. I rang at the office entrance.”
“Caleb and I were involved in some serious art work, but I try to listen for visitors to the Rectory when he’s not here.” She frowns. “You rang the office bell knowing Father was out?”
“My first lie for the day. Okay?”
Oma says, “Don’t lie to me about my baby, Sean.”
“Am I forgiven? Nana?”
Nana? Not Stella?
“You’re forgiven, Emma. Take off your coats and sit down.”
Buddy drops coat on floor and sits on Father’s chair feet facing wrong way. “Buddy, please let your mother have that chair.” Nana moves chair too close to Caleb’s chair. “Sit here and I’m sure Caleb will share some of his crayons.”
Picks crayon from box. Colors Jesus’ beard green. Careful to stay inside the lines.
Nana shakes her head and turns away.
Shoves green crayon back and closes box. Makes eating-lemons face.
“Cookie for you, too, Emma? With a cup of coffee, perhaps?”
“Aha, a peace offering. Yes, I drink it black.” She drapes coats over back of Father’s chair.
Slams coloring book shut. Wants Nana’s eyes to scold.
“Be nice to your new friend and share.” She pours Oma’s coffee. “Careful, it’s boiling hot.”
Opens coloring book to Jesus green beard. Shows Buddy other page. Pushes box of colors little bit closer.
Buddy dumps crayons onto pile. He doesn’t color careful. His mother should tell him to color inside lines. She says, “Buddy, tell Caleb thank you.”
Buddy colors with crayon in each hand. He doesn’t say thank you.
Oma should scold her son. She pours coffee into saucer and sips. Tells Nana. “I came to apologize for my rude comment yesterday.”
“I don’t know what you’re sorry about, Emma.”
“Having been with Father Busch barely a year, you aren’t aware of local gossip.” Oma’s eyes find the couch in living room with Mother’s quilt. “Father keeps you hidden away in this house.”
“I want to live with Caleb and Nana, but Sean keeps me hidden away.”
Nana moves crayons and sets down two glasses of milk with plate of cookies. Sniffs. Not cookie like Caleb’s real Nana made. Buddy grabs two cookies and dunks one with fingers into milk. He jams whole cookie into his mouth, licks fingers.
takes small bite and makes Oma’s eating-lemons face. Spits cookie into milk and pushes it down with finger. Nana doesn’t look at Caleb.
She tells Oma, “I just quietly do my job as Father’s housekeeper and avoid gossip, Emma.”
Buddy’s mother looks at his scribbly picture. Smiles?
She faces Nana. “That’s not how the real world works, Stella.”
“I’m just Stella now, not Nana. Done role playing with names?”
“I was only trying to amuse the kids. With adults, I’m still Emma and you’re Stella.” She looks at Caleb, “Kids will say anything to get attention.”
Nana should tell Emma not to hurt Caleb’s feelings.
“Sorry I interrupted. You were describing the real world.”
Emma says, “Well, you won’t find it at the nunnery in Harrington. And not at the nun’s house here in Bovine.”
“Teachers here are Benedictines. I was preparing to be a Franciscan sister.”
No brown dress and bonnet. Not Nana. Not Fran…
Stella looks sad at Emma. “Until Mother Superior made me drop out before taking my final vows. Told me to serve God as a lay person. She felt I wasn’t ready for the cloistered life.”
“Amen to that.”
“I still feel bound by chastity, poverty, and obedience.”
Emma waves her hand at ceiling. “After a few years of marriage, all women look favorably at chastity, can’t avoid poverty, and we should be used to obeying.”
Policeman says Oma must obey the law.
Stella says, “I’m still wondering how you were rude to me yesterday.”
“I accused you of keeping my dead husband’s name on the record.” Emma takes a big breath. “I was your age when we married, Felix was in his sixties.” She pauses. “Thank you for not gasping.”
Stella’s face is surprised.
“Before you became secretary, Father Busch kept the minutes, summaries he called them, until Cunningham got all uppity about rules of order.” Emma drinks from sauce and then blows into coffee cup. “I imagine that’s how his wife, Clara, runs her household. I’ll have to admit, meetings have gone much smoother since.”
“Back in high school, those rules of order were barely mentioned. Teachers enforced rules, and in the convent, Mother Superior—”
Buddy’s mother slaps the table. “That’s the kind of top-down thinking that we have to put up with when dealing in church matters. Case-in-point, the Orphan Train business.” Lady with red hair pours hot coffee into saucer again and slurps from it. “Dumping New York street kids on us.” Café Lady looks angry. “And the Matt Gerhard matter.”
“Father Busch just wants Matt to repent.”
Lady with red hair smiles funny. “It’s more serious than that. Even the pope got involved.”
“I’ll take it all the way to the pope.” Man-in-Black laughs.
“Mary had problems when she carried her last baby. She almost died giving birth to their daughter, Rose.” Emma whispers secret too loud.
Nana says Little Sister came out of Oma’s belly.
Picks up black crayon. Wants to scribble all over Jesus.
Man-in-Black said Little Sister died. Nana and Oma cried. Caleb cried, too.
Puts black crayon into empty box. Buddy off of his chair.
“Mary already had her son, Earl, who, by the way, is about our boys’ age.”
“Caleb, isn’t my… I mean I’m not his mother.”
“Of course not by blood. She sips coffee from cup. “You and Father are a family unit.”
“Just until Father finds Caleb a home.”
“Your boy can’t stay with his grandmother.”
“And after hell freezes over.” Emma sets her cup on dirty saucer. “Unless Matt and Mary adopt Caleb. They can’t have any more children.”
“Oma won’t give you another Little Sister.”
Stella lifts her cup but doesn’t drink. “Can’t have?”
“Matt had some surgeon fix his wife to never have any more babies.” Emma shakes her finger. “Father Busch handed down Mary’s penance.” She smiles mean. “Avoid having sex for the rest of her life.”
Oma says sex is a bad word.
Stella Stands. She sits back down.
“Matt complained—a fist to the holy schnoz before their argument ended.” Another mean smile.
Buddy goes into living room.
“Ask Father about his crooked nose, some time.”
Stella goes to ice box, but just holds handle, doesn’t like Emma’s talk. She turns and asks Emma, “Will your step-grandson, Earl, start school next year with our…these boys?”
Emma says, “A welcome change of subject. Buddy will be in the second grade in town, and Earl will start at a country school where they hardly even count grades. Every cluster of farm families built their own one-room school house. Except for church on Sunday, those kids don’t get to town much.”
“At the Council meeting, you didn’t sound too hopeful about presenting the idea of adoption to…your step son, Matt.”
Plays peek-a-boo with Buddy behind Mother’s quilt.
“He’s a couple years older than me and didn’t approve a teenager marrying his father. Before he died, Felix told him to take care of his young bride. Matt bought me off with a few sacks of oats and some bushels of potatoes.”
Oma says, “You can’t buy me off with some crazy promises.”
“I’m okay with the deal. I got Bud and the café to keep me going. And my son, Buddy.” Emma smiles big. “I was hoping Caleb and Buddy might strike up a friendship. Do some playing together.” She looks surprised at Buddy’s empty chair and his colored-up picture. She doesn’t see Buddy wearing Mother’s quilt like a cape.
“Oh my gosh, Emma.” Stella’s eyes move from Buddy’s picture to Caleb’s. “What have we been saying in front of the boys?”
Stella is sad that Caleb colored Jesus’ beard green.
Buddy runs and slaps his mouth. Makes woo-woo-woo sound. He drags Mother’s quilt. Emma chases him and takes it away. “That’s Caleb’s. Gives it to Stella.”
Buddy’s game with Mother’s quilt is funny.
Stella folds it and puts it back on the couch. “I’ll be glad when Caleb gets his own room.”
Oma says, “Caleb sleeps in his own bed.”
Emma tells Stella, “I have an idea. Let’s drive out to Matt’s farm. Give our boys a chance to burn off some of their pent up energy.”
Smiles at Buddy. He smiles back.
“I’m still under the vow of obedience.”
“Would it make a difference if I told you to come with us?”
“I am bound to obey Father.”
Father is Stella’s Papa?
“You get his permission and I’ll stop around noon tomorrow.” Emma gives Buddy his coat. Buddy puts hood on head and pulls sleeves under chin. He runs around kitchen making scary face.
Giggles. Buddy is funny.
Emma says, “Put your coat on the proper way.” She takes coat and picks up purse with no candy.
Buddy shoves arms in the wrong sleeves. “Button it in back, Ma.”
She laughs and pushes him out the door. She waves back at Caleb. “Don’t worry, we’ll find you a place to live.”
Lifts arm. Hand won’t wave back.
“Good Lord, what kind of mess did I just get into?”
Nana is sad.

CHAPTER FIVE (posted 9/22/2019)

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.
Whispers, “Amen.”

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.”
Whispers, “Caleb.”
“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.”
“Thank you….”
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?”
Shakes head.
“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—”
Whispers, “Caleb.”
“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.”
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.”

CHAPTER SIX (posted 10/6/2019)

Sunday, November 26, 1899

Hands folded on kitchen table, holds back giggle.
Father and Stella say, “Amen.”
Shouts Stella’s church words. “Et cum piri to-to oh.”
“What in tarnation! Stella?”
Words didn’t make Father happy. Eyes follow hands to lap.
Nana’s eyes wait to see Caleb’s eyes. “That was almost the correct pronunciation, Caleb. With a little more practice, you’ll be able to recite the Latin response.” She looks at Father. “I want to impress the Benedictine Sisters when Caleb answers, ‘Et cum spiritu tuo,’ during Mass this morning.”
“Well, we don’t speak Latin at the breakfast table.” Father tears bread and smashes egg yolk. “Caleb needs to say it properly or remain quiet.” He stares at yellow goo dripping off bread. “Are you sure he’s able to sit still through High Mass? Or church at all, for that matter?” He sets bread down and wipes mouth with napkin.
Big golden eye on plate stares up at Caleb. Stabs it with fork. Yellow blood oozes. Tells Father, “Caleb can take Oma’s locket to play with in church.”
Nana’s hand tells Caleb to be quiet. “My mother and I took Virgil to Mass when he was only three.” She butters Caleb’s bread. “The sisters expect me to sing with them, and I don’t want him to stay in the house alone.”
Father stands. “I need to dress for eight o’clock early Mass.” He pushes chair under table. “We can discuss this further between services.” He opens kitchen door and turns. “I’m afraid I won’t have time. Do with him what you think is right.”
Nana calls after him, “Thank you, Father.” She smiles at Caleb. “I have a nice surprise after you finish eating.”
Oma coming home for Caleb’s birthday was nice surprise. Some surprises aren’t nice. Shakes head, makes bad surprise go away. Face smiles without telling it to smile. Earl’s mother gave Caleb a present. “Can I wear my new stockings?”
“Yes and some other new things. Finish eating the egg from Earl’s chicken.”
Stares at the yellow puddle from busted eye. Present from Earl’s chicken is broken.
Runs to couch and hides under Mother’s quilt.
“Now, what’s the matter?”

On top church step, Stella bends down and tightens rope around Caleb’s neck. Tugged it loose walking to church. “I know the necktie feels uncomfortable, but you’ll get used to it. I’ll only ask you to wear it to church and during dinner on special occasions like Thanksgiving and Christmas.”
“Good morning,” Stella.
Stella looks up and squeezes Caleb’s shoulders with both hands.
Won’t run away.
“Good morning, Sister Ernestine.” Black dress, white cloth wrapped around face and neck. Remembers penguins from Nana’s The Jungle Book.
“This is Caleb. He’s going to sit with us this morning.”
Sister Ernestine smiles. “Can you sing, Caleb?”
Takes big breath. “Et cum ’piri to-to oh.” Every word right, almost. Holds out hand and she shakes it.
“My goodness, you are a little gentleman.” She hides her hands behind black curtain in front of dress.
“The suit was his surprise. I ordered it from Sears and Roebuck for my kid brother, Virgil. My mother can take Virgil to Macy’s and select something he really likes for Christmas.”
Sister asks, “How old are you?”
Holds up open hand.
“Five years old. I’ll expect you in my first grade class next year.” She faces Stella. “Unless a farm family adopts him, and he goes to one of those little country schools.”
“Expect Caleb in your class next fall.”
Stella’s words make Caleb smile.
“Let’s follow Sister Ernestine to Holy Virgin’s altar.”
Stella’s brother, Virgil, has altar!
Sister’s arm comes out, waves them forward, and hides again. Stella takes Caleb’s hand and they walk to Holy Virgil’s altar.
Points to ceiling. “Look, S-stella. Pictures of angels in clouds.”
“I should have taken you inside the church ahead of time.”
“Just like pictures in Caleb’s coloring book.”
“You can look around, but please don’t talk.”
Counts windows. “What comes after five?”
“You know what comes after five.” She sits Caleb on bench next to Sister Ernestine. They kneel. Slides off seat and kneels, too. Points to statue of woman in blue dress. “She’s not holding real baby.”
Stella whispers, “She’s Mother Mary.”
“Your mother?”
“Everyone’s mother.”
“Virgil’s, too?”
“Of course. Now hush. Mass is about to start at Jesus’ altar.” She points. “It’s the big one in the center with all the statues.”
Two boys wearing white dresses come from behind big altar holding real long matchsticks. They light six candles. Caleb will be six years old in Sister Ernestine’s first grade. Buddy will be in second grade. Looks up at Sister Ernestine. Are black and white sisters nice like sisters-in-white?
Points. “Look. Father came out wearing a white dress, too.”
“That’s the door to the sacristy where the chalices and vestments are kept. And the sacramental wine.”
Oma says, “Wine only on Thanksgiving with turkey.”
“Are there turkeys back there?”
“Stop being silly.” Stella shakes finger. “Any more talking and I will take you back to the Rectory.”
Points and lips ask without making words, “What’s that?” Stella doesn’t look. Wants to know why lantern only makes smoke. Smells like Oma’s burning soldier. Stands on bench and looks back. “There’s Earl and his little sister.”
Stella says, “Sit.” She whispers, “We’ll talk to them later. When Father stands and sings, get ready to say your prayer.”
Screams, “Et cum ’piri to-to oh.”
Father stands in front of big altar with angry face. His mouth opens but doesn’t sing part like Stella said. Backs into Sister Ernestine and hides behind black curtain. Strings of beads wrapped around hands like when Nana whispered prayers. Fingers count Sister’s beads. She doesn’t push Caleb’s hands away. Stays behind curtain until tears stop. All sisters are nice.
Father sings funny words and waves smoking thing at people. Can’t use words to ask Stella in church. Father should go out door and let people leave. Wants to tell Earl and his little sister Latin words. Closes eyes. Thinks of Nana’s praying beads. Smiles.
After church, Caleb asks Earl’s mother, “Can Caleb pet your horse?” Didn’t want to say Latin prayer.
She tells Earl, “Take Caleb and Rose to the buggy while Stella and I talk.”
Stella doesn’t let go Caleb’s shoulders. “Maybe we should go with them.”
“I’m sorry, Stella. I forget that not all children are used to horses. We can certainly visit over there.”
“Better yet, why don’t you give Caleb a ride to the front of the Rectory so the children can come in and play for a while?”
“But, Father will be wanting his dinner.”
“It’s in the oven. He makes himself available for parishioners who don’t get to town often, and he has to close the sacristy. Won’t be ready to eat for at least an hour.”
Mary looks at Caleb. “Would you like a buggy ride to your house?”
Nods. Follows Earl to buggy and climbs onto front seat next to him.
Earl’s mother says, “Okay, Earl, you can take the reins, but go slow.” She points to the Rectory and sits in back seat with Rose.
Climbs down when Earl stops buggy and runs to tell Stella. “Caleb sat up front with Earl and helped drive horsey.”
“That nice. Now let me talk to Mary.” Nana doesn’t care. Feels sad.
“Caleb really did help.” Looks at shoes. “A little bit.”
“Take your friends into the living room.”
“Caleb stays with Nana.”
Nana looks at Mary. “I think church has him stressed.”
Shouts, “Et cum ’piri to-to oh.”
Mary and Nana laugh. Face feels hot.
Earl laughs. “You were funny, Caleb.” He tells little sister. “Caleb yelled those words in church, Rose.”
Little Sister giggles. “Say them again, Caleb.”
“Et cum ’piri to-to oh.” Caleb is funny like Buddy.
Stella says, “Show Earl and Rose your new bedroom.”
“Father calls it a kest room, S-stella.” He runs to stairs and yells back. “Up here, Earl.” Rose stands at bottom step. Caleb tells Little Sister, “Hold your brother’s hand so you don’t fall.” Eyes closed, one step at a time, thinks helping Little Sister up to Caleb’s bedroom.
Opens eyes. Earl holds Rose’s hand on the top step. “Wow. It’s big up here.”
Rose pulls hand away and pinches her nose, “Smells like cigars.”
Holds door open to Caleb’s room.
She sniffs. “Smells nice in here.”
Earl says, “That’s the fresh-cut wood smell, Rose.” He looks at Caleb. “Mama says she splits the firewood before bringing it into the kitchen for the aroma.”
Points. “Caleb’s bed will be in front of window.”
Rose blows specks of sawdust from glass. “That’s the cemetery out there. Why do you want to look at the place they put dead people?”
Face wants to cry.
Earl puts hand on Caleb’s shoulder. “Rose didn’t mean to make you sad.”
Rose hugs Caleb and presses her face to his chest. “I’m sorry.”
Pushes back sob. “Next to window…,” Sniffles. “In case of fire.”