CHAPTER NINE

CHAPTER NINE

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.”
“Nana?”
“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?”
“Yes, very.”
“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?”
“Okay, S-stella.”
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.
…Wants Nana.
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?”
“You’re welcome.”
Brown sisters aren’t nice like black ones and white ones.

CHAPTER TEN

CHAPTER TEN Wednesday, November 29, 1899

Caleb sits up on the couch. Rubs his eyes. Peers into kitchen. Stella and Father eating breakfast.
…Has to pee. Goes to bathroom.
Stands behind Caleb’s chair at table.
Stella says, “Good morning, Caleb. You’re awake just in time for breakfast?”
Father shoves plate back and takes paper from pocket. “Yesterday after the meeting, Mrs. Cunningham and I went through the list of country folks you submitted. She decided to present Caleb to… I better check my notes.” He squints at the page. “Yes, one Sylvester Rastner, recently married, no children, but an adult retarded brother. Sounds like a good home for Caleb.”
Looks at Nana and shakes head. Lips want to say no.
Father says, “Sit down and eat so Stella can get you dressed.”
Sits. Watches Nana put bacon on his plate. Looks at it.
Nana pours Caleb’s milk.
Father holds out cup. “We need to demonstrate to the bishop that we are pursuing adoptive parents.” Nana pours Father’s coffee. He sips and his eyes find Caleb. “Mrs. Cunningham could be here any minute to take you to meet some nice people.”
…Doesn’t want to go with Mrs. Cunningham.
Father shakes head. “It’s probably a fool’s errand.”
“Is Emma going along?” Nana cuts Caleb’s bacon into bite-sized pieces.
“Of course not. Whatever gave you that idea? While they’re gone, you can catch up with your duties without the boy distracting you.”
…Nana didn’t remind him to say Caleb.
She looks at her feet. “Please tell me which duties I have been neglecting since Caleb moved in with us.”
“He hasn’t moved in, just a temporary stop; certainly not beyond the first of the year.”
“Please, may I accompany Mrs. Cunningham and Caleb?”
…Nana goes too. Lips won’t make words.
“She suggested you not go.”
“Why, may I ask?”
…Nana’s eyes want to cry.
“No, you may not question my decision.” Father peers into coffee. “As a matter of fact, Clara was quite clear…”
Stabs bacon with fork.
Nana closes eyes and folds hands. “My vow of obedience is being tested.”
Father makes squishy face. “What’s that all about?”
“I’m still bound by obedience, but to you not Mother Superior.”
…Nana likes Father more than Sister-in-Brown.
“Then obey my demand to explain how you are being tested.”
“Caleb left our meeting with Mother Superior without being excused.
…Sister-in-Brown wants to take Caleb away from Nana.
Father says, “And I told you to punish him. Did you?”
…Nana’s eyes want to hide.
“I might have rewarded him with a hug.”
“Why would you do that?”
“I felt bad about Mrs. Cunningham’s cruel and unnecessary questions.”
…Nana and Caleb feel bad.
“What was cruel about her line of questioning?”
“Her asking about the disaster.”
“Those were relevant facts. Caleb suffers permanent psychological damage. He witnessed his mother and grandmother burn to death.”
“Don’t make me do a terrible thing.”
Hand drops fork.
“Caleb! What’s wrong?”
Hears Nana’s voice. Can’t see her. Arms won’t move.
Fire eats Nana’s dress.
“Nana, come with me.”
“Jump!”
Men below hold kids’ bouncing thing.
Oma scolded, “Never play with those Darkies’ toys.”
Men yell, “Jump, we’ll catch you.”
Too scared.
Nana crawls to the window. Pushes Caleb.
Bouncing thing comes up to catch him.
He goes up and up, sailing wind on Nana’s magic carpet over Hudson River.
Holds Nana’s hand?

“He’s waking, Father. Squeezed my hand a little.”
A blurry face. “Papa?”
“Not Papa. I am Father Busch.”
Blinks. Another blurry face. Closes and opens eyes.
…Mrs. Cunningham?
“Caleb sometimes confuses my title. Papa instead of Father.”
…Father remembers Caleb’s name.
“Lie still for now.” Nana kneels by couch. “At least until you’re fully awake.” She looks up at Mrs. Cunningham. “He passed out at the breakfast table.”
“A tantrum. I’d recognize it anywhere. Wally Junior had them when things didn’t go his way.”
…Mrs. Cunningham’s eyes scold.
“Press a wet towel to his forehead and give him a drink of water. Dowdy’s Nellie is hitched outside, and I’m prepared to take the boy to the Rastner place.”
…Eyes stops looking at Caleb.
“I’ll join Father for a cup of coffee while you dress the boy.” She talks to Father. “Mr. Cunningham needed our horse and buggy for sales calls.”
…Nana looks sad at Papa. Doesn’t want Caleb to go.
Father shrugs and follows Mrs. Cunningham into the kitchen.
…Mrs. Cunningham doesn’t like Caleb.
***
Caleb leans forward from the back seat as the buggy slows and turns. Mrs. Cunningham steers horse into drive way. Not Earl’s farm. Dog barks and Dowdy’s mare rears. Man pulls horse’s head down and whispers in her ear.
Milk Man told his horse to be nice to Caleb.
Mrs. Cunningham says, “Thank you, Mr. Rastner. I have control now.”
Man spits and walks fast into barn.
“Well, that was rude. I’ll just wait. Mrs. Rastner must have heard us arrive.”
Different man comes out of barn door. “Hello, Mrs. Cunningham. What brings you out this way?”
“So, you are Sylvester Rastner. I’ve seen you in my husband’s shop from time to time. It’s nice to finally meet you.”
Crows caw-caw and fly away from top of barn. “That’s just my brother, Arnie. Hides up in the cupola some times when he’s agitated. Promised Ma before she died that Elizabeth and I would take him in. I apologize for his behavior.”
“No need to be sorry. After we Christian Mothers said the rosary at your mother’s wake, we discussed our concern for your brother Arnie.”
…Arnie wants a Mother’s quilt, too.
“My family appreciates your support. Ma had been ill for a long time, but it’s still hard to come to grips with her being gone.” He glances at barn. “Arnie misses her the most. He was her special child. Of course, he’s a grown man now, couple years older than me, but there’s still that child inside.”
…Can’t have Caleb’s quilt.
Man’s eyes find Caleb. “Who have we here?”
“Caleb, this is Sylvester Rastner.”
Man’s eyes smile. “So, you’re the orphan I’ve been hearing about.”
“I’m Caleb.”
“My friends call me Svez.”
…Tongue can’t say Svez.
“My wife tells me you guys are having some trouble placing Caleb.”
…Sister-in-brown wants Caleb in home for orphans.
“Elizabeth and her sister go to Sunday Mass when the roads are open.”
Dog shows teeth. Svez kicks frozen horse poop at it. Dog barks and jumps, wants Svez to do it again.
“Just bought the farm this fall. Lots of work to get ready for spring planting.”
Mrs. Cunningham reaches for Caleb. “I get down by myself.” Feet on ground, dog jumps on Caleb. “Help.”
“Rex won’t bite, just being friendly.” The man rubs Rex’s neck.
Reaches for Svez. “Hold me.”
Svez points and Rex goes into little house. He lifts Caleb onto shoulders.
“Look at me, Nana.”
…Forgets Father didn’t let Stella come with Caleb.
“Who’s Nana?”
“Occasionally, he says and does strange things. Has some issues from his background.”
“Well, this horsey will help you forget your problems.” Horsey Man waves cap and gallops. Rex comes out and joins fun.
Grabs Horsey Man’s hair. “I like horses.”
“My kind of boy.”
“Like dogs, a little.” Rex jumps and tries to bite toes. “Giddy up, Horsey Man.”
Horsey Man trots to house. Rex and Mrs. Cunningham follow. Caleb ducks head through doorway. “Liz, look what I got here.” Sets Caleb down. “This one ain’t but half grown.”
Mrs. Cunningham closes door so Rex can’t come in. She puts hands on Caleb’s shoulders.
Horsey Man combs hair with fingers. “This is Mrs. Cunningham. She was here with the Christian Mothers to say a rosary at Ma’s wake.”
“My sister, Martha, told me they arrived after we left with Arnie. He’s joining our family, too.” She pats big belly.
Mrs. Cunningham gasps. “I didn’t know.”
Wild Horsey Man says, “Just nature’s way of making up for people we lose, Ma this time.”
“I’m sure you can assume why we are here.” Mrs. Cunningham opens Caleb’s coat. He wiggles free, and she holds it.
“I rode Wild Horsey.”
“I think he means me.”
…Tongue looks for right place to say Svez.
“Well, what do you think of…” Mrs. Cunningham looks at big belly. “An older brother for your child?”
“Your Little Sister died when she came out of Oma’s belly.”
Svez smiles. “We’re from the old school. Want to build our own family.” He looks at Caleb. “But you are welcome out here any time to ride this wild horse around the yard. Stay overnight, if you like. Maybe even ride a real horse. Play with Rex.”
Reaches up. “Horsey ride, S-thez.”
Svez smiles. “Put your coat and cap back on, and I’ll rough-ride you to the barn and back to your buggy.”
Caleb grabs coat from Mrs. Cunningham. Slides arms through sleeves and faces Svez.
Svez buttons coat and pulls cap over Caleb’s eyes.
Yells, “Can’t see.” Pushes cap up. “Does Arnie talk to horses?”
“Well, let’s go out to the barn ask him.” He puts Caleb back on shoulders. “He’s in the barn, probably talking to the calf born just this morning.”