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.
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.”
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.”
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.”
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.”