Sunday, November 26, 1899
Hands folded on kitchen table, holds back giggle.
Father and Stella say, “Amen.”
Shouts Stella’s church words. “Et cum piri to-to oh.”
“What in tarnation! Stella?”
Words didn’t make Father happy. Eyes follow hands to lap.
Nana’s eyes wait to see 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 answers, ‘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 High Mass? Or church at all, for that matter?” He sets bread down and wipes mouth with napkin.
Big golden eye on plate stares up at Caleb. Stabs it with fork. Yellow blood oozes. Tells Father, “Caleb can take Oma’s locket to play with in church.”
Nana’s hand tells Caleb to be quiet. “My mother and I took Virgil to Mass 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 eight o’clock early Mass.” He pushes chair 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, makes bad surprise go away. Face smiles without telling it to smile. Earl’s mother gave Caleb a present. “Can I wear my new stockings?”
“Yes and some other new things. Finish eating the egg from Earl’s chicken.”
Stares at the yellow puddle from busted eye. Present from Earl’s chicken is broken.
Runs to couch and hides under Mother’s quilt.
“Now, what’s the matter?”
On top church step, Stella bends down and tightens rope around Caleb’s neck. Tugged it loose walking to church. “I know the 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.
Won’t run away.
“Good morning, Sister Ernestine.” Black dress, white cloth wrapped around face and neck. Remembers penguins from Nana’s The 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.” She hides her hands behind black curtain in front of dress.
“The suit was his surprise. I ordered it from Sears and Roebuck for my kid brother, Virgil. My mother can take Virgil to Macy’s and select something he really likes for Christmas.”
Sister asks, “How old are you?”
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 Holy Virgin’s altar.”
Stella’s brother, Virgil, has altar!
Sister’s arm comes out, waves them forward, and hides again. Stella takes Caleb’s hand and they walk to Holy Virgil’s altar.
Points to ceiling. “Look, S-stella. Pictures of angels in clouds.”
“I should have taken you inside the church ahead of time.”
“Just like pictures in Caleb’s coloring book.”
“You can look around, but please don’t talk.”
Counts windows. “What comes after five?”
“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 real baby.”
Stella whispers, “She’s Mother Mary.”
“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 six years old in Sister Ernestine’s first grade. Buddy will be in second grade. Looks up at Sister Ernestine. Are black and white sisters nice like sisters-in-white?
Points. “Look. Father came out wearing a white dress, too.”
“That’s the door to the sacristy where the chalices and vestments are kept. And the sacramental wine.”
Oma says, “Wine only on Thanksgiving with turkey.”
“Are there turkeys back there?”
“Stop being silly.” Stella shakes finger. “Any more talking and I will take you back to the Rectory.”
Points and lips ask without making words, “What’s that?” Stella doesn’t look. Wants to know why lantern only makes smoke. Smells like Oma’s burning soldier. Stands on bench and looks back. “There’s Earl and his little sister.”
Stella says, “Sit.” She whispers, “We’ll talk to them later. When Father stands and sings, get ready to say your prayer.”
Screams, “Et cum ’piri to-to oh.”
Father stands in front of big altar with angry face. His mouth opens but doesn’t sing part like Stella said. Backs into Sister Ernestine and hides behind black curtain. Strings of beads wrapped around hands like when Nana whispered prayers. Fingers count Sister’s beads. She doesn’t push Caleb’s hands away. Stays behind curtain until tears stop. All sisters are nice.
Father sings funny words and waves smoking thing at people. Can’t use words to ask Stella in church. Father should go out door and let people leave. Wants to tell Earl and his little sister Latin words. Closes eyes. Thinks of Nana’s praying beads. Smiles.
After church, Caleb asks Earl’s mother, “Can Caleb pet your horse?” Didn’t want to say Latin prayer.
She tells Earl, “Take Caleb and Rose to the buggy while Stella and I talk.”
Stella doesn’t let go Caleb’s shoulders. “Maybe we should go with them.”
“I’m sorry, Stella. 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 buggy ride to your house?”
Nods. Follows Earl to buggy and climbs onto front seat next to him.
Earl’s mother says, “Okay, Earl, you can take the reins, but go slow.” She points to the Rectory and sits in back seat with Rose.
Climbs down when Earl stops buggy and runs to tell Stella. “Caleb sat up front with Earl and helped drive horsey.”
“That nice. Now let me talk to Mary.” Nana doesn’t care. Feels sad.
“Caleb really did help.” Looks at shoes. “A little bit.”
“Take your friends into the living room.”
“Caleb stays with Nana.”
Nana looks at Mary. “I think church has him stressed.”
Shouts, “Et cum ’piri to-to oh.”
Mary and Nana laugh. Face feels hot.
Earl laughs. “You were funny, Caleb.” He tells little sister. “Caleb yelled those words in church, Rose.”
Little Sister giggles. “Say them again, Caleb.”
“Et cum ’piri to-to oh.” Caleb is funny like Buddy.
Stella says, “Show Earl and Rose your new bedroom.”
“Father calls it a kest room, S-stella.” He runs to stairs and yells back. “Up here, Earl.” Rose stands at bottom step. Caleb tells Little Sister, “Hold your brother’s hand so you don’t fall.” Eyes closed, one step at a time, thinks helping Little Sister up to Caleb’s bedroom.
Opens eyes. Earl holds Rose’s hand on the top step. “Wow. It’s big up here.”
Rose pulls hand away and pinches her nose, “Smells like cigars.”
Holds door open to Caleb’s room.
She sniffs. “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.”
Points. “Caleb’s bed will be in front of 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 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 sob. “Next to window…,” Sniffles. “In case of fire.”