Monday Afternoon, November 27, 1899
Caleb listens for tingle-tingle when Stella opens the door to Emma’s café. Eyes find shiny bells when door closes. Two ladies stop talking and look up. They like bells too.
Stella pulls Caleb to ladies’ table. “Hello, Mrs. Cunningham.” She pushes Caleb too close. “Hello Mrs. Sturgis.”
“Please call me Betsy. I’ve been plain ole‘ Betsy for over seventy years. Mrs. Cunningham and I just came from a Christian Mother’s wake.” Her eyes find Caleb. “Poor woman left an adult son that isn’t quite right in the head.”
…Did he get Mother’s quilt, too?
Other lady says, “You and the boy may join us until our husband’s arrive.”
…Stella doesn’t say his name is Caleb.
Stella takes off Caleb’s coat and cap. She pulls out a chair and reaches.
Climbs up by himself.
Lady slides purse away from Caleb.
…Wouldn’t touch it.
“You must be the orphan Mary Gerhard told us about.”
“His name is Caleb.” Nana sits. “Say hello to Mrs. Cunningham and Mrs. Sturgis.”
Counts fingers touching each other. “Hello.” Nana pushes hands off table.
“You can call me Grandma Betsy. Mary told us how well you got along with her children.”
Puts hands back. “I rode Earl’s calf.”
“That’s nice.” Grandma Betsy’s eyes go away. “It’s a shame Matt won’t let Mary keep Caleb.”
“I stay with Nana.” Ladies look surprised at him.
“Nana?” Mrs. Cunningham shows sour face.
“Nana is his sometimes nickname for me”
“Interesting.” She looks at door.
…Mrs. Cunningham doesn’t like Caleb.
“Walt and Hank should be here by now.”
Emma holds three plates of food. Nothing falls off. “Where’s Father?”
“Said he had some stops to make.” Nana’s head turns one way and then back. “May we save him a place with us?” Emma doesn’t hear.
Betsy says, “Oh, he’ll sit wherever he takes a notion.”
Mrs. Cunningham says, “Without the boy would be better. He might want to discuss what our husbands learned at the convent in Harrington.”
…Adults have secrets.
Emma comes back without plates. “Come with me. Buddy needs help.” Buddy stands holding bowl of potatoes. “Table number three, Buddy.” She hands Caleb basket of bread. “Follow Buddy. I want you to take this to the same table.” She gives little push. “You know Melvin Trask and Frank Lorenz. The woman is Mrs. Lorenz.”
“If they talk to you, just say hi.”
“Buddy can do it.”
Emma says, “I see Father joined the women and their husbands. Take the bread to Stella’s table.”
“Okay.” Carries basket with both hands.
Man with white beard at table asks, “What have we here?”
“Bread.” Looks down. “No apple butter and jelly.” Finds man’s eyes. “I rode a calf.”
“Did you, now.” Hand reaches out. “I’m Grandpa Hank. What’s your name?”
“Caleb.” Shakes his hand.
…Man-in-Blue at the meeting Caleb would like Hank as a grandpa.
…Wants Grandpa Hank to hold him.
Father points. “Other tables need their bread, too.”
“Buddy will do it.”
Nana says, “You better help him. The adults want to talk.”
“Okay.” Looks at Grandpa Hank. “I’m the ginker bread man.”
Mrs. Cunningham opens her purse. “Other documents—”
“One moment, Clara.” Father waves his hand. “Scoot. Your friend needs help.”
Follows Buddy with baskets of bread to three tables. Looks for Nana’s table.
…Chair is empty. Voice won’t talk.
Father holds brown packet. “I agreed to this meeting with the Franciscans about the orphanage, but not at the Rectory.” He gives packet to Mrs. Cunningham. “The boy has caused enough of a scandal.”
“Here you are, Caleb.” Nana’s voice from behind. “I lost you in the crowd.” Makes face smile. “Sit, Mr. Gingerbread Man. Your food is getting cold.”
Father smiles too big. “Hello, Caleb.”
…Already said Hello.
Mrs. Cunningham puts packet in purse. “One more thing, Father—”
“Tomorrow at the Rectory would be a better time and place to discuss the matter.” His eyes play dodge-ball. “You may bring Mrs. Sturgis along, if she makes you more comfortable, Clara.”
Mrs. Cunningham tucks yellow strand of hair under comb stuck there. “I do not need support of a friend to speak to the pastor of my church.”
Mrs. Sturgis says, “I would love to go with you, Clara. After all, we Christian Mothers have supported the bishop’s plan from the start.” She glances at Clara. “At least most of the women do.”
“But none have stepped up to the plate.” Clara peeks into purse and clicks it shut.
Grandma Betsy puts her hand on Grandpa Hank’s hand, She looks at Caleb.
…She likes Grandpa Hank, too.
“He made some building blocks for you to play with. I’ll bring them to the Rectory when Mrs. Cunningham and I come to see Father.” She looks at Father. “When would you like to meet?”
“If tomorrow, I’m busy all afternoon.” Mrs. Cunningham didn’t wait her turn.
Father says, “Morning will be fine. Perhaps ten o’clock.”
Mr. Cunningham shows big teeth. “I think I can find a cast-iron horse and wagon from our boys’ toy collection.”
Mrs. Cunningham shows him sour face.
He smiles back at her. “Caleb can use them to haul Grandpa Hank’s blocks around the Rectory.”
“Not in the office.” Papa and Nana talk together. They laugh.
“I like horses.”
…Hopes the wagon is white.