CHAPTER FOUR Friday, November 24, 1899
Holding the dark brown color crayon, Caleb hesitates.
Nana says, “Oma’s picture of Jesus with a brown beard is wrong. It should be black.”
…Doesn’t like black.
Asks Stella, “What color should I make Jesus’ beard?”
Stella leans across kitchen table and points to light brown. “Most pictures I’ve seen, His beard is this color.”
Puts crayon back in box. Closes coloring book. Face wants to cry. Knocking on the kitchen door makes Caleb’s stomach jerk.
“Please see who’s there, Caleb.”
Voice shakes. “What if it’s Papa?”
“Father wouldn’t bother to knock. And, I told you not to call him Papa.” She points. “Open the door and surprise whoever it is.”
“You can call me Nana, for now. At least until you learn to pronounce your ‘s’ words.”
…Nana keeps her eyes on Caleb.
Whimpers and does slow walk. Opens door and Faces lady with red hair from café. She grabs arm of a boy little bigger than Caleb. Boy’s lip curls. His eyes glare at lady.
“Hello, Caleb.” She shoves boy into kitchen.
Backs into Nana. Looks up at her and points. “Oma.”
Boy slams door shut. Oma takes two candy suckers from purse. Boy grabs green one.
Shakes head when she shows Caleb yellow one. She puts it back in purse.
…Wanted the green one.
“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.” Oma grins and winks. “Nana, I would like you to meet my son. Buddy, this is Miss Reinhardt, Father Busch’s house keeper.” She points at Caleb. “And this, I suppose, is your new brother, Caleb. He’s about your age.”
“I’m five.” Words left lips without Caleb’s permission.
“Close enough.” Oma sets down purse 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 housekeeper.” She licks finger and pats down bunch of boy’s black hair. It pops back up.
She brushes red hair from her eyes. “I could say we just happened to be in the neighborhood but it would be a lie.”
Nana tells Oma not to lie to Caleb.
“Sorry to barge into Father’s private quarters. I rang at the office entrance.”
“Caleb and I were engaged in some serious art work, but I try to listen for Father’s visitors when he’s not here.” She frowns. “You rang the office bell, knowing Father was out?”
“My first lie for the day. Okay?”
“The whole world lies to me, Sean.”
“Am I forgiven? Nana?”
…Nana? Caleb’s confused.
“You’re forgiven. Take off your coats.” Nana points. “Caleb, Sit back down while I get you and your new friend cookies and milk.”
…Opens book. Picks crayon from the box. Gives Jesus a red beard. Careful to stay inside the lines.
Nana shakes her head and turns away.
Shoves red crayon back into 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. Boy climbs on with legs facing wrong way.
“Buddy, please sit next to Caleb and let your mother have that chair? I’m sure he’ll share some of his crayons.”
…Slams coloring book shut. Wants Nana’s eyes to scold.
“Be nice to your new friend.” She pours Oma’s coffee. “Careful, it’s boiling hot.”
Opens book. Gives Buddy opposite page. Pushes box of colors between them.
Buddy dumps crayons onto table. 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. She talks to 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 the Mother’s quilt. “Always hidden away in this house.”
“I want to live with Caleb and Nana, but you keep me hidden away.”
Nana sets two glasses of milk and plate of cookies in front of Caleb and Buddy. Caleb Sniffs. Buddy grabs two and dunks one deep in milk. He jams all of it into his mouth. Caleb takes small bite and makes sour face. Spits cookie into milk and pushes it down with tongue.
Nana doesn’t look at Caleb. “I just quietly do my job as Father’s housekeeper and avoid gossip, Emma.”
Oma looks at Buddy’s scribbly picture. Just 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 tells Oma Caleb’s feelings are hurt easy.
“Sorry I interrupted. You were describing the real world.”
Emma—not Oma—says, “Well, you won’t find it at your nunnery in Harrington. And not at the Benedictine nun’s house here in Bovine.”
“Sisters here are teachers. I was preparing to be a Franciscan nurse.”
…Wear brown and cover head like Nana.
“My goal was to serve those who are sick and dying.”
Little Sister died and went to Heaven.
Stella—not Nana—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 nobody. “After a few years of marriage, all women look favorably at chastity, can’t avoid poverty, and we should be used to obedience by now.”
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 stammers, “I, I….”
“Before you became secretary, Father Busch kept the minutes, summaries he called them, until Cunningham got all uppity about rules of order.” Emma sips and then blows into her 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 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 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.
She whispers a secret too loud. “Mary had problems when she carried her last baby. She almost died giving birth to their daughter, Rose.”
Nana says Little Sister came out of Oma’s belly.
Picks up black crayon. Wants to scribble all over Jesus.
Oma said Little Sister died. Nana and Caleb cried.
Puts black crayon into empty box. Closes cover.
“Mary already had her son, Earl, who, by the way, is about our boys.”
“Caleb, isn’t my… I mean I’m not his mother.”
“Of course not by blood. She sips from her cup. “You and Father are a family unit.”
“Just until Father finds Caleb a home.”
“Your boy can’t live with his grandmother.”
“And after hell freezes over.” Emma sets her cup on the saucer with spilled coffee. “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.” Smiles mean. “Avoid having sex for the rest of her life.”
Stella Stands. She sits back down.
“Matt complained—a fist to the holy schnoz before their argument ended.” Another mean smile.
Watches Buddy tiptoe into living room.
“Ask Father about his crooked nose, some time.”
Stella goes to the ice box, but just holds the handle.
…Stella doesn’t like Emma’s talk.
She turns and asks Emma, “Will your step-grandson, Earl, start school next year with our…these boys?”
“Buddy will be in the second grade in town, and Earl will go to 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 year or two older than me and didn’t approve my marrying his father. Before he died, Felix told him to take care of me. Matt bought me off with a few sacks of oats and some bushels of potatoes.
“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 Jesus has a red beard.
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.”
Laughs at Buddy. He doesn’t look.
“I’m still under the vow of obedience.”
“Would it make a difference if I told you to come with us?”
“I never get to see Mother Superior. I am bound to obey Father.”
…Father is Stella’s Papa?
“You get his permission and I’ll stop around noon tomorrow.” Emma grabs purse and coats. Buddy puts hood on his head and pulls sleeves under his chin. He runs around kitchen making scary face.
Giggles. Buddy is funny.
Emma says, “Put your coat on the proper way.”
He shoves his arms in the wrong sleeves. “Button it in back, Ma.”
She laughs and pushes him out the door. Waves back at Caleb. “Don’t worry, we’ll find you a nice home.”
Lifts arm. Hand won’t wave back.
“Good Lord, what kind of mess did I just get into?
…Nana is sad.