Caleb sits with Grandpa Sturgis’ blocks between his legs. Four walls stand ready for the roof. Checks for Stella watching from the kitchen. House doesn’t fall down. She stopped looking. Follows her eyes to see Sister-in-Brown coming from Father’s office.
…Different kind. Not black. Not white.
She stops and peers down at his house.
“Mother Superior!” Stella’s loud voice makes ears mad. She kneels and kisses Sister’s ring.
…Mother Sister even more special than Father?
Knocks house down. Sister-in-Brown looks little bit.
“Stella, my dear, I had to take this opportunity to visit with you.” She finds Caleb’s eyes. “You must be the problem orphan I’m here to discuss.” Her eyes go away.
Stands. “Nana’s house broke.”
“When Caleb gets stressed, he sometimes calls me Nana. We think it means grandma.”
“Quite an honor, I must say. Especially since you’re not yet twenty one. What about his mother?”
“Oma. A name Caleb bestowed on the mother of an older boy he plays with. It’s an ethnic version of Mother. Irish, I believe.”
“You needn’t lecture me on Irish ethnicity.” Her eyes find Caleb again. “Has the Foundling Hospital determined his nationality? Or, even that he is an immigrant?”
“No, but he could pass for my brother.”
“So I see.”
…She doesn’t see Caleb.
“We’ll be settling such matters as soon as Mrs. Cunningham arrives. Father and Mrs. Sturgis are waiting in his office.”
“This morning, Grandma Betsy delivered those blocks that Grandpa Hank made.”
Picks up two blocks to show, but Sister’s eyes stay on Nana.
“Grandma Betsy! Grandpa Hank! Seems everyone is intimately involved.” Sister-in-Brown looks at Caleb little bit. “Except serious adoptive parents.”
“I stay with Nana.” Drops blocks back on pile.
Sister-in-Brown turns away and hides Nana. “Tell me about yourself, Stella. Almost a year since Father Busch selected you as his housekeeper. He seems pleased. Are you content?”
“With an orphan to care for?”
Whispers, “Caleb.” Foot kicks blocks. Lips say “Caleb” without making words.
“He’s no trouble. My brother—”
“Yes, I am familiar with your family. Your mother and I decided the Herrington Franciscans would be a better match for you than any in your home city, Chicago, or even St. Paul. We have ten years of history and a convent of sixteen sisters. Unfortunate that you didn’t fit to become number seventeen.”
Builds house again.
“Perhaps there is still hope for your vocation. God works in mysterious ways.”
“I am serving God in this capacity.”
“For now, you are serving the parish of St. Alphonse. But, I suppose, God indirectly.” Sister-in-Brown moves but Nana’s eyes don’t see house. “Well, our convent has a new mission as of the first of the year, a matter I’m here to discuss with your pastor.”
“I’m sure you will meet the challenge, Mother Superior.”
“Not for you to assess.” She glances back toward Father’s office. “Yesterday, Mr. Cunningham and Mr. Sturgis suggested we meet at the convent, but I surprised everyone by having the hospital’s driver bring me here this morning.”
Oma says, “The hospital’s driver brought me home for Caleb’s birthday.”
“I wanted to see how you are doing. I still communicate with your mother.” Sister-in-Brown hides hand behind front curtain with other one. “I hope Father will accept my invitation to Thanksgiving dinner at the convent.” She turns and goes back toward Father’s office.
“How about some cookies and milk?” Stella doesn’t pick Caleb up. “You didn’t eat much for breakfast this morning.” She lifts Caleb onto chair at table.
Sticks finger and thumb into the glass for broken cookie. Looks up. Mrs. Cunningham stands looking down.
Nana said Oma’s Face eats lemons when Caleb is naughty.
Cookie slips back into the milk Wipes hands on pant leg.
…lips think go away.
“Stella, Father Busch wants Caleb in his office. You may come along.” Mrs. Cunningham walks away.
…Gets what Caleb wants.
“Tell him we’ll be right there.” Stella’s eyes follow Mrs. Cunningham and come back. “Want to peek at Caleb again?”
She takes Oma’s locket from apron pocket. “Except in Father’s bathroom for shaving, mirrors aren’t allowed in this house, but my little man needs a touch of vanity.” She opens it and asks, “Is Caleb happy or sad?”
Holds Stella’s hand. “Not sad.” Blinks. “Not happy.” Face in mirror tries to smile.
“We’ll call it frowning when you’re between feelings.” She pulls locket away and sad face goes back into apron.
…Face wants to cry.
Stella stops Caleb outside office door. Mrs. Cunningham’s brown envelope from cafe sits on Father’s desk.
Father says, “I’m sure the bishop will understand our difficult situation with placing a New York orphan.” Looks at Caleb and does make-believe cough. “Stella, bring Caleb in and set him on the chair between Clara and Mother Superior. Stand by to interpret if needed.” Looks at Sister-in-Brown. “The boy speaks broken English.”
Climbs up chair by himself. Fingers touch and count each other.
Mrs. Cunningham asks, “Caleb, are you sad that your Mommy died in the fire?”
Oma, please don’t make me blow out the candles.
“Do you ever wake up crying in the middle of the night?”
Nods head. Sleeve wants to wipe snot.
Stella comes close and wipes Caleb’s nose.
Mrs. Cunningham’s lips curl into smile. She writes on piece of paper. “I think the boy’s own words will support our opinion.” She slides the paper into brown envelope and gives it to Mother Superior. “Just in case the bishop should happen to question our decision.”
Grandma Betsy says, “Won’t he just send another boy not as nice.” She wipes her eyes with a white hanky. “If only Hank and I weren’t too old to be parents.”
…Grandpa and grandma?
Eyes find Caleb. “Are you sure there is an age limit?”
Father says, “Unstated but certainly implied.” His eyes meet hers. “If your son and his wife are interested in another family member…”
“Oh, gosh. Already six kids and counting. Hank and I had to move to town for want of a bedroom at the home place. And everyone busy with the farm and the dairy business.”
Father’s eyes move from Betsy to Mother Superior. “We’ve contacted the most likely candidate families and were turned down cold. Isn’t that right, Stella?”
“I guess so. I made the list of rural families fitting the criteria you requested last week.”
“List? I requested?”
“At the church council. It’s on your desk.”
Father nods. “Ah, yes. Those families with means to support an orphan. I don’t believe any of them came forward.”
“Forgive me, Father. I wasn’t aware you wanted me to contact them.”
Mother Superior stands. “Perfect. That gives us some wiggle room while you prove to the bishop that you are still looking. Our mandate from the diocese to accept orphans is not effective until nineteen hundred, year-of-our-Lord, and we need time to prepare the facilities. That is, if our contractors live up to their commitment. Nothing ever goes as planned anymore.”
She faces Caleb. “Little Lamb, you will have the honor of being our first resident. Doesn’t that sound exciting?”
Slides down from chair. Creeps away and hides behind door.
Father yells, “Stella, go after him.”
Mother Superior says, “Don’t bother. His presence isn’t needed here any longer.”
Father says, “See that he is punished for his attitude.”
Mother Superior raises her voice. “Not only the boy who needs correction in that department.” Her head peeks through doorway. “This behavior is not helpful for any second chance at your vocation, Stella.”
Nana hugs Caleb. “Thank you.”
..Nana is happy.
“What do you say when someone thanks you?”
Brown sisters aren’t nice like black ones and white ones.