Sunday, November 26, 1899

Hands folded on edge of kitchen table, Caleb holds back giggle.
Father and Stella say, “Amen.”
Shouts Stella’s church words. “Piri to-to oh.”
“What in tarnation! Stella?”
Nana was wrong. Words didn’t make Father happy. Eyes follow hands to lap under table.
Nana looks for Caleb’s eyes. “That was almost the correct pronunciation, Caleb. With a little more practice, you’ll be able to recite the Latin response.” She looks at Father. “I want to impress the Benedictine Sisters when Caleb recites, ‘Et cum spiritu tuo,’ during Mass this morning.”
“Well, we don’t speak Latin at the breakfast table.” Father tears bread and smashes egg yolk. “Caleb needs to say it properly or remain quiet.” He stares at yellow goo dripping off bread. “Are you sure he’s able to sit still through a High Mass? Or church at all, for that matter?” He sets bread down and wipes mouth with napkin.
Big golden eye stares up from Caleb’s plate. Stabs it with fork. Yellow blood oozes. “I can bring Grandpa Sturgis blocks to play with.”
“Hush.” Nana’s hand says Caleb be quiet. “My mother and I took Virgil to church when he was only three.” She butters Caleb’s bread. “The sisters expect me to sing with them, and I don’t want him to stay in the house alone.”
Father stands. “I need to dress for the eight o’clock Mass.” He pushes chair’s seat under table. “We can discuss this further between services.” He opens kitchen door and turns. “I’m afraid I won’t have time. Do with him what you think is right.”
Nana calls after him, “Thank you, Father.” She smiles at Caleb. “I have a nice surprise after you finish eating.”
…Oma coming home for Caleb’s birthday was nice surprise. Some surprises aren’t nice. Shakes head to make bad one go away.
Face smiles without telling it to. Earl’s and Rose’s mother gave Caleb nice surprise. “Can I wear my new stockings?”
“Yes and other new things. Finish eating your egg.”
Stares at the yellow puddle from busted eye. Ruined gift from Earl’s chicken.
Runs to couch and hides under Mother’s quilt.
“Now, what’s the matter?”

On top of church steps, Stella stoops to tighten rope around Caleb’s neck. Tugged it loose when walking to church. “I know this necktie feels uncomfortable, but you’ll get used to it. I’ll only ask you to wear it to church and during dinner on special occasions like Thanksgiving and Christmas.”
“Good morning,” Stella.
Stella looks up and squeezes Caleb’s shoulders with both hands.
…Wouldn’t run away.
“Good morning, Sister Ernestine.” Black dress with white around face and neck makes Caleb remember penguins from Nana’s Jungle Book.
“This is Caleb. He’s going to sit with us this morning.”
Sister Ernestine smiles. “Can you sing, Caleb?”
Takes big breath. “Et cum ’piri to-to oh.” Every word right, almost. Holds out hand and she shakes it.
“My goodness, you are a little gentleman.” Her hand hides with other one behind black curtain in front of dress.
“The suit was his surprise. I ordered it from Sears and Roebuck for my kid brother, Virgil. I’ll ask my mother to take Virgil to Macy’s for something he really likes for Christmas.”
“How old are you, son?”
Holds up open hand.
“Five years old. I’ll expect you in my first grade class next year.” She faces Stella. “Unless a farm family adopts him, and he goes to one of those little country schools.”
“Expect Caleb in your class next fall.”
Stella’s words make Caleb smile.
“Let’s follow Sister Ernestine to the altar of the Holy Virgin.”
…Stella’s brother, Virgil, has his own altar!
Sister’s arm comes out, waves, and hides again. Stella takes Caleb’s hand and they walk to Holy Virgil’s altar.
“Look, Stella. Pictures of angels on the ceiling.”
“I should have shown you the inside of the church ahead of time.”
“The windows are pictures like in my coloring book.”
“You can look around, but please don’t talk.”
Counts windows.
“What comes after five, Stella?”
“You know what comes after five.” She sits Caleb on bench next to Sister Ernestine. They kneel. Slides off seat and kneels, too. Points to statue of woman in blue dress. “She’s not holding a real baby.”
Stella whispers, “She’s Mother Mary.”
“Your mother?”
“Everyone’s mother.”
“Virgil’s, too?”
“Of course. Now hush. Mass is about to start at Jesus’ altar.” She points. “It’s the big one in the center with all the statues.”
Two boys wearing white dresses come from behind big altar holding real long matchsticks. They light six candles. Caleb will be that many years old in Sister Ernestine’s first grade. Buddy will be in second grade. Looks up at Sister Ernestine.
…Wonders. Are black and white sisters as nice as the all-white sisters in New York?
“Look, Stella. Father came out of that door on the side. He’s wearing a dress, too.”
“That’s the door to the sacristy where the chalices and vestments are kept. And the wine.”
Oma says, “Wine only on Thanksgiving with turkey.”
“Are there turkeys back there?”
“Stop being silly.” She shakes finger at Caleb. “Any more talking and I will take you back to the Rectory.”
Points and lips ask “What’s that?” without making words. Stella doesn’t even look. He will ask later about lantern that only makes smoke. Smells like Oma’s burning soldier.
Stands on the bench and faces back of church. “There’s Earl and his little sister.”
Stella says, “Sit.” She whispers, “We’ll talk to them later. When Father kneels and sings, get ready to say your prayer.”
Screams, “Et cum ’piri to-to oh.”
Father stands in front of big altar showing angry face. His mouth opens but he doesn’t sing his part like he should. Caleb backs into Sister Ernestine and hides behind her black curtain. Grabs string of beads like Oma wrapped around her hands and whispered words. Sister lets his hand hold the beads and hides his face until he stops crying.
…All sisters are nice.
Father sings funny words and waves smoking thing at people. Caleb decides not to ask Stella about it. Wishes Father would go back to sacristy and let people leave. Wants to say Latin words to Earl and his little sister.
After church, Caleb asks Earl, “Can I pet your horse?”
…Didn’t want to say Latin prayer.
Earl’s mother tells Earl, “Take Caleb and Rose to the buggy while Stella and I talk.”
Stella says, “Maybe we should go with them.”
“I’m sorry. I forget that not all children are used to horses. We can certainly visit over there.”
“Better yet, why don’t you give Caleb a ride to the front of the Rectory so the children can come in and play for a while?”
“But, Father will be wanting his dinner.”
“It’s in the oven. He makes himself available for parishioners who don’t get to town often, and he has to close the sacristy. Won’t be ready to eat for at least an hour.”
Mary looks at Caleb. “Would you like a ride to your house?”
Follows Earl to buggy and climbs onto front seat next to him. His Mother says, “Okay, Earl, you can take the reins, but go slow.” She points to the Rectory and climbs into the back seat with Rose.
At the Rectory, Caleb runs ahead and opens the kitchen door. “I got to sit up front with Earl and we drove the horse.”
Stella says, “That nice. Now let me talk to Mary.”
…Nana doesn’t care. Starts to feel bad.
“I really did help.” Looks at shoes. “A little bit.”
“Take your friends into the living room.”
“I stay with Nana.”
Nana looks at Mary. “I think church has him stressed.”
Shouts, “Et cum ’piri to-to oh.”
Mary and Nana laugh. His face feels hot.
Earl laughs, too. “You were funny, Caleb.” He takes Rose’s hand. “Caleb yelled that in church, Rose.”
Little Sister giggles. “Say it again.”
Et cum ’piri to-to oh.”
Stella says, “Show Earl and Rose your new bedroom.”
“Father calls it a kest room, S-stella.” He runs to the stairs and yells back. “Up here, Earl.” Sees Rose at bottom step. “Better hold your brother’s hand climbing the steps.”
…Eyes closed, one step at a time, helps Caleb’s Little Sister up the stairs.
At the top, Earl lets go of Rose’s hand. “Wow. This is big up here.”
Rose pinches her nose, “Smells like cigars.”
Opens door to room that is Caleb’s. Leads them inside.
“Smells nice in here.”
Earl says, “That’s the fresh-cut wood smell, Rose.” He looks at Caleb. “Mama says she splits the firewood before bringing it into the kitchen for the aroma.”
“I’m going to put my bed here by the window.”
Rose blows specks of sawdust from glass. “That’s the cemetery out there. Why do you want to look at the place they put dead people?”
…Face wants to cry.
Earl puts his hand on Caleb’s shoulder. “Rose didn’t mean to make you sad.”
Rose hugs Caleb and presses her face to his chest. “I’m sorry.”
Pushes back a sob. “By the window…,” Sniffles. “In case of fire.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *