Wednesday, November 22, 1899
The train slows. Jerks head forward and back. Sister Mary-in-Black grabs handbag and points at door. “This is where you get off. St. Cloud, Minnesota.”
“I’m afraid not. I’ve got quite a few more deliveries.”
“Caleb needs help.”
“We talked about calling yourself Caleb rather than saying me or I. You might want to practice that.”
Practice saying Caleb.
“You will meet some very nice people. I’ll find your contact priest and introduce you. Come along.”
Sister Mary-in-Black steps out of car onto platform.
Wants to stay on train.
“Come now. Careful. Fresh snow makes the boards slippery.”
Nana sings, “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star to Caleb.”
Pulls stocking cap down to eyes.
“Your legs might be a bit wobbly after four days riding three different trains.”
Could count to five. Maybe more.
Looks around. Kids come out of train. Some climb onto engine. Many big people stand and point. Should make kids come down.
“Those boys and girls are hoping for mommies and daddies to take them to a new home. They’re not as lucky as you.”
Not lucky. Wants Sister-in-White.
“Caleb is a special little boy.”
Not special. Hides under her black veil.
“Many Catholic parents will want you to be part of their families. Maybe even have a chance to pick a family you like.” She sets Caleb’s handbag in snow.
Wants back on train with other kids. Snow makes Oma’s locket cold, wants in Caleb’s pocket.
Sister Mary-in-Black pulls Caleb from behind her. “Help look for the priest who should be here to meet you. He’s described as tall with dark hair but no beard.”
Can’t see. Sky on fire.
She put hand over eyes. “Being a priest, he’ll be dressed in black.”
Nana and Oma don’t like Man-in-Black.
Covers face with cloth in front of Sister’s dress.
“Please don’t wipe your nose on it.”
Tongue finds snot. Snowflakes tickle.
She points. “There’s the priest.”
Man-in-Black! Tongue tastes Oma’s burning stick-soldier.
“Good afternoon, Sister.” Man-in-Black lifts hat. “Now who have we here?”
“He calls himself Caleb.”
“Nice to meet you, Cal.”
“He wants to be called Caleb. He’ll remind you.”
“Interesting name, for now. Has he been baptized?”
“No mention of it or very little else in his record. Lived with mother and grandmother, according to survivors of the tenement fire. No apparent father. Wouldn’t talk for over a month while in police care. Sisters at New York Foundling Hospital got him to say his name. Now he can’t stop using it.” Sister-in-Black smiles make believe.
Oma tells Man-in-Black, “Don’t give me that make-believe smile.”
I added a few comments about his train experience from New York.”
“How old are you, son? I mean, Caleb.”
Mitten off, hand up, fingers spread.
“Please find Caleb a good Catholic home, Father.”
Papa picks up handbag with Oma’s locket. “Come along, Caleb. The horse and buggy are right around the corner.”
Rubs nose with mitten. Runs to catch up. Milk Man’s brown horse?
On Nana’s knee, waiting for Man-in-White with brown horse.
No white wagon—no milk bottles—no Man-in-White.
Holds Nana’s empty milk bottle very careful. It would break if Caleb dropped it.
“Climb in back, Son.”
Papa calls Caleb son. Foot can’t reach step. Climbs spokes in wheel.
“Get comfortable under the quilt the Society of Christian Mothers made for you.” Papa makes cricket noise with mouth. Horse goes fast.
Pulls quilt over head. Horse’s clop-clop makes face smile.
Nana says, “Listen Caleb. I hear the milkman’s horse.”
Mother’s quilt doesn’t taste good. Wants hospital blanket.
Nana’s voice. “Close your eyes. Let the sandman come.”
Wrapped into Nana’s arms, Sandman creeps under Mother’s quilt.
Wakes. Has to pee. Crawls out of Mother’s quilt. Tugs on Papa’s gray scarf.
“Whoa.” Buggy stops. Horse lifts tail and pees.
“Caleb pee, too.”
Papa laughs and reaches back.
“Caleb gets down alone.” Slides over edge. Foot finds step. White snow sparkles under buggy lantern. “Where?”
“Wherever you want.”
Moon not so bright in New York.
“I won’t look, I promise.” Papa laughs again.
Pee won’t come out.
Papa says, “When you’re done, you can ride up here with me for a while.”
“Okay, Papa.” Climbs onto step.
“Listen to me, Caleb, because this is important. People call me Father because I am a priest. You don’t have a Papa.”
Crawls into back seat and hides under Mother’s quilt. Man-in-Black makes cricket sound. Horse’s clop-clop hurts Caleb’s ears.
Opens eyes. Papa? Sits up.
“Good morning, Dowdy.”
“Morning, Father.” Dowdy pats horse’s head. “You didn’t have to run Nellie all night. I wouldn’t charge for some resting time.”
“Needed to get back to say morning Mass. Already missed yesterday.” Papa steps down and reaches for Caleb.
Kicks off quilt. Climbs down alone. Arms pull coat tight.
Papa grabs quilt and sniffs. He ties Mother’s quilt into bundle with brown string from Dowdy.
Horse stomps foot and whinnies. “I know, Nellie. You’re tired.” Dowdy talks to Nellie.
Milk Man tells horse Caleb is good boy.
“An easy thirty miles trotting back didn’t hurt the horse. She spent Monday night in the bishop’s stable and rested while I spent most of Tuesday waiting at the railroad station.”
Dowdy climbs onto buggy. “The bill, Father?”
“Send it to the bishop. The Orphan Train Program was his idea.” Papa walks away and turns. “Grab your bag. I got the quilt.”
Dowdy tosses bag down. “What’s your name young fella?”
Tells name to Nellie. “Caleb.”
“Want to rub Nellie’s nose?”
Shakes head. Looks for Papa.
“Come along, Caleb. The Rectory is just down the street.” He points. “You can see the church steeple from here.”
Nana’s church has two steeples.
Papa stops at big house. “This is the Rectory. You’ll be staying here for a while.” He opens door and goes into little room.
Stands and peeks into bigger room with piles of clothes and steam from kettle on stove. Nana in kitchen on wash day.
Papa takes off hat. “Good morning, Stella.” He calls Nana funny name.
She says, “Good morning, Father.”
“It’s Wednesday, not Monday, Stella.”
“With you gone for two days, I made myself available in your office. People sure are curious about the orphan.”
“I wouldn’t have mentioned my leaving to get the boy in Sunday’s sermon, but people have a right to be informed. Also, I had to cancel Tuesday’s morning Mass.”
“People left a couple of messages on your chalk board.”
Papa looks back. “Come in.” He pulls off Caleb’s stocking cap. “Here is our orphan. His name is Caleb.”
Nana claps hands. “I’m happy to meet you, Caleb.” She kneels and unbuttons coat. “You can call me Stella.”
“’Tella.” No bonnet. Not Nana?
She hugs Caleb. “Father, this boy is wet and freezing to death.”
Papa puts hat back on head. “I’m sure. You’ll need to wash the quilt, too.”
“I hope the Foundling Hospital sent a change of clothes?”
“Probably in his bag.” His foot pushes bag with Oma’s locket. “Any information inside goes on my desk.” He opens door. “I’ll be at the church saying Mass.” He turns head. “Wash his quilt and clothes separate from mine.”
Papa leaves. Slams door.
Nana pours hot water from kettle into washtub. “Take off those wet clothes. I’ll give you a bath right here in the kitchen where it’s warm.”
Nana pushes handle up and down to make water come out.
“It’s called a pump, Caleb. I suppose New York has water piped directly to kitchen faucets. My mother has it in Chicago.”
Lifts both arms. Nana pulls off shirt and Caleb takes off pants. Hands cover between legs.
“Don’t be bashful. I’ve bathed my kid brother, Virgil, many times before I left home to join the Franciscans.”
Sisters there are Franciscans. They wear brown dress and bonnet.
Not brown dress? No bonnet?
She points at tub. “Get in.”
“Nana?”Her eyes find Caleb. “If you are Caleb, who am I?”
“That’s better. We’ll work on the pronunciation. Who brought you here this morning?”
“You must say Father, Caleb. It is important you don’t call him Papa.”
Steps over edge of tub. Dips one toe, then the other. Plops down.
“After you warm up, I’ll suds your hair.” Stella takes string off quilt and rubs soap on brown marks. She points to big room not hiding behind wall. “After your bath, I’ll let you sleep on the couch in the front room so I can see you while I do laundry.”
Plays Nana’s game, Tug boat on the Hudson, with bar of soap on water.
“In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, Amen.” Not Nana and Oma praying words. Rubs eyes and nose. Tastes blanket. Not quilt from Mothers. Remembers, Father not Papa. Sits up, not in bed. Room not white like hospital. Sees kitchen but washtub gone. Sniffs. Smells meat cooking?
Oma says, “We’ll have turkey for Thanksgiving. I promise.”
Father’s voice from kitchen. “Stella, I think our orphan is awake.”
Caleb, not orphan no more.
Stella, not Nana, comes into big room. “Did you have a nice nap, Caleb?”
Nods. Looks around.
“This is the Rectory front room. It should be a dining room but Father never has dinner guests.” She sits on couch. “Maybe, now that you’re with us, it might be used for entertaining.” She points. “Here is your change of clothes from the hospital. Do you want help getting dressed?”
“Caleb dresses alone, ’Tella.”
Stella smiles and walks away. “When you’re ready, come to the kitchen.”
At table, Father says, “Good morning, Caleb. You almost slept through lunch.”
Not morning no more.
Stella cuts brown meat into small pieces. Adds corn and potatoes. She sets Caleb’s plate on table across from her. “Please sit. This will be your place from now on.”
“Just until the adoption, Stella.” Father’s eyes move from Caleb to Stella.
She pours glass of milk. “I hope you like fried liver.” She faces Father. “Matt Gerhard butchered last week, and his wife Mary dropped off some cuts of meat after church.”
Father doesn’t smile. “The woman knows her husband must repent before I can welcome him back into the church.” He pushes his chair back and stands. “The Parish board will meet in my office this afternoon. Tell the boy how to act in the presence of adults.” His face not happy. “Work on his table manners, too.”
Chews real hard. Can’t swallow. Drinks milk. Food splashes back on plate. Eyes and nose leak. Nana brings wet rag.
Papa says. “I think it best that we put off our council meeting until tomorrow. I need time to get my office back in order.”
Hides face in Nana’s apron.
“When you get this mess cleaned, come to my office. I’ll have notices of new meeting times for you to deliver to council members Emma Kroft at the cafe, Walt at Cunningham Implement, and Melvin Trask at The Bovine Journal in that order.”
She wipes Caleb’s face. “Would you like to go back to sleep on the couch or bundle up and walk with me to meet these people?”
“I walk with Nana.”
Nana smiles. Doesn’t make Caleb say Stella.