Friday, November 24, 1899
Crayons in box on table point to picture of Jesus. Want Caleb to pick color for Jesus’ beard.
Nana’s Jesus has a brown beard. Oma said Jesus beard should be black.
Doesn’t like black. Fire makes stick-soldier turn black. Asks Stella, “What color is Jesus’ beard?”
Stella turns from stove and points to brown and yellow. “Some shade between these two colors.”
Face wants to cry. Knocking on the kitchen door makes stomach jerk.
“Please see who’s there, Caleb.”
Voice shakes. “Maybe Papa.”
“I told you not to call him Papa. Besides, Father wouldn’t bother to knock.” 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 eyes on Caleb.
Whimpers and does slow walk. Opens door and sees lady with red hair from café. She grabs arm of boy bigger than Caleb. Boy’s lip curls, eyes glare at lady.
“Hello, Caleb.” She pushes boy into kitchen.
Backs into Nana. Looks up at her and points. “Oma.”
Boy slams door shut. Oma takes green and yellow candy suckers from brown purse. Boy grabs green one. She shows Caleb yellow one.
Shakes head. Wants green one.
She puts yellow sucker in her mouth. “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.” Yellow sucker between teeth, Oma grins. “Nana, I would like you to meet my son. Buddy, this is Miss Reinhardt, Father Busch’s house keeper.” She points at Caleb, teeth crush yellow sucker. “And this, I suppose, is your new brother, Caleb. He’s about your age.”
“Caleb is five.” Words left lips without permission. Sits and looks at Jesus’ beard with no color.
“Close enough.” Oma sets purse on table 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 cook.” 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 white lie.”
Oma tells Nana not to lie to Caleb.
“Sorry to barge into Father’s private quarters. I rang at the office entrance.”
“Caleb and I were involved in some serious art work, but I try to listen for visitors to the Rectory when he’s not here.” She frowns. “You rang the office bell knowing Father was out?”
“My first lie for the day. Okay?”
Oma says, “Don’t lie to me about my baby, Sean.”
“Am I forgiven? Nana?”
Nana? Not Stella?
“You’re forgiven, Emma. Take off your coats and sit down.”
Buddy drops coat on floor and sits on Father’s chair feet facing wrong way. “Buddy, please let your mother have that chair.” Nana moves chair too close to Caleb’s chair. “Sit here and I’m sure Caleb will share some of his crayons.”
Picks crayon from box. Colors Jesus’ beard green. Careful to stay inside the lines.
Nana shakes her head and turns away.
Shoves green crayon back and closes 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.
Slams coloring book shut. Wants Nana’s eyes to scold.
“Be nice to your new friend and share.” She pours Oma’s coffee. “Careful, it’s boiling hot.”
Opens coloring book to Jesus green beard. Shows Buddy other page. Pushes box of colors little bit closer.
Buddy dumps crayons onto pile. 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 her son. She pours coffee into saucer and sips. Tells 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 Mother’s quilt. “Father keeps you hidden away in this house.”
“I want to live with Caleb and Nana, but Sean keeps me hidden away.”
Nana moves crayons and sets down two glasses of milk with plate of cookies. Sniffs. Not cookie like Caleb’s real Nana made. Buddy grabs two cookies and dunks one with fingers into milk. He jams whole cookie into his mouth, licks fingers.
takes small bite and makes Oma’s eating-lemons face. Spits cookie into milk and pushes it down with finger. Nana doesn’t look at Caleb.
She tells Oma, “I just quietly do my job as Father’s housekeeper and avoid gossip, Emma.”
Buddy’s mother looks at his scribbly picture. 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 should tell Emma not to hurt Caleb’s feelings.
“Sorry I interrupted. You were describing the real world.”
Emma says, “Well, you won’t find it at the nunnery in Harrington. And not at the nun’s house here in Bovine.”
“Teachers here are Benedictines. I was preparing to be a Franciscan sister.”
No brown dress and bonnet. Not Nana. Not Fran…
Stella 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 ceiling. “After a few years of marriage, all women look favorably at chastity, can’t avoid poverty, and we should be used to obeying.”
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’s face is surprised.
“Before you became secretary, Father Busch kept the minutes, summaries he called them, until Cunningham got all uppity about rules of order.” Emma drinks from sauce and then blows into 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 again 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 with red hair 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.
“Mary had problems when she carried her last baby. She almost died giving birth to their daughter, Rose.” Emma whispers secret too loud.
Nana says Little Sister came out of Oma’s belly.
Picks up black crayon. Wants to scribble all over Jesus.
Man-in-Black said Little Sister died. Nana and Oma cried. Caleb cried, too.
Puts black crayon into empty box. Buddy off of his chair.
“Mary already had her son, Earl, who, by the way, is about our boys’ age.”
“Caleb, isn’t my… I mean I’m not his mother.”
“Of course not by blood. She sips coffee from cup. “You and Father are a family unit.”
“Just until Father finds Caleb a home.”
“Your boy can’t stay with his grandmother.”
“And after hell freezes over.” Emma sets her cup on dirty saucer. “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.” She smiles mean. “Avoid having sex for the rest of her life.”
Oma says sex is a bad word.
Stella Stands. She sits back down.
“Matt complained—a fist to the holy schnoz before their argument ended.” Another mean smile.
Buddy goes into living room.
“Ask Father about his crooked nose, some time.”
Stella goes to ice box, but just holds handle, doesn’t like Emma’s talk. She turns and asks Emma, “Will your step-grandson, Earl, start school next year with our…these boys?”
Emma says, “A welcome change of subject. Buddy will be in the second grade in town, and Earl will start at 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 couple years older than me and didn’t approve a teenager marrying his father. Before he died, Felix told him to take care of his young bride. Matt bought me off with a few sacks of oats and some bushels of potatoes.”
Oma says, “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 Caleb colored Jesus’ beard green.
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.”
Smiles at Buddy. He smiles back.
“I’m still under the vow of obedience.”
“Would it make a difference if I told you to come with us?”
“I am bound to obey Father.”
Father is Stella’s Papa?
“You get his permission and I’ll stop around noon tomorrow.” Emma gives Buddy his coat. Buddy puts hood on head and pulls sleeves under chin. He runs around kitchen making scary face.
Giggles. Buddy is funny.
Emma says, “Put your coat on the proper way.” She takes coat and picks up purse with no candy.
Buddy shoves arms in the wrong sleeves. “Button it in back, Ma.”
She laughs and pushes him out the door. She waves back at Caleb. “Don’t worry, we’ll find you a place to live.”
Lifts arm. Hand won’t wave back.
“Good Lord, what kind of mess did I just get into?”
Nana is sad.