by KD Miller
Catrina has breakfast with the children and learns about them. (Catrina's POV - 1904)
December 2, 1904
"More tea, dear?"
Frank picked up the kettle and poised it over Catrina's teacup. Tossing her long, auburn hair back and tightening the ribbon on her dress, she sat ramrod straight.
Catrina watched her husband elegantly pour the liquid. Puffs of steam rose up to meet her face. Her father had taught his son-in-law well. Frank's first lesson in proper business etiquette had been the correct way to serve tea. It took days of practice, but her husband was now an expert.
"If my brothers could see me now," he joked, placing the kettle back on the burner and returning to his seat. "They'd probably laugh me out of the state."
Placing her hand over her mouth, Catrina giggled. On the table, underneath her plate of poached eggs was a list she and Frank wrote up last night for the boys. It consisted of taking them down to the barbershop for haircuts and shave (if Theo and Francis were of age), a trip to the drug store for dental hygiene lessons (who knows the shape of their teeth), a month's supply of toiletries (castile soap, shaving brushes, powder, razors, hair oil, Ivory soap, dusting powder, toothbrush and toothpaste drops, ect.), lunch at Mazzo's Deli opposite the courthouse, a trip to the bookstore for elementary school primers and the latest children's book (they had no clue if any of them could read or write), return home for a nap.
With a sign of satisfaction, Catrina glanced over the list one more time as the door separating the dining room from the kitchen creaked open. Mrs. Coffey cleared her throat and raised her eyebrows.
"Ma'am," she stifled a laugh, "I have four visitors in the kitchen who refuse to join the two of you in the dining room for breakfast until you give them your permission."
Frank slapped his newspaper on the table. "What on earth," he stood up from his chair. "My goodness, bring them in immediately!"
Catrina also rose from her chair in alarm. She remembered informing the boys yesterday afternoon, before they succumbed to their all day nap, to come downstairs in the morning for breakfast. Why in the world were they hiding in the kitchen?
With an amused look on her roundish face, Mrs. Coffey held open the door, and ushered in the four boys. They slowly crept into the room, one by one, eyes on the floor, oldest to youngest. Catrina noted they were all wearing their new clothes, socks, boots and their hair had been brushed. Upon closer inspection she saw that they didn't wash it, but that's alright, they could all take baths again after their naps. In fact, she would show them how to operate the shower! It was a newfangled invention Frank brought home from the fair and had installed the same day. Catrina loved it so much she stood for an hour under the water, until Frank gently pulled her back.
With a smile frozen on her face, she then watched the boys approach her husband and stop. He turned to her, a confused look on his face. Catrina looked back. He husband was correct, what on earth?
"Sir," Theo stepped forward, his eyes on the Persian rug. "We were just wondering where to eat?"
"Where are you going to eat?" Frank placed his hands on his hips. "Why right here at the table with us!"
The little boys shrunk back at her husband's tone. Catrina knew he wasn't going to yell, that he was just stunned.
"Boys, did someone tell you that you couldn't eat with us?"
This time it was Francis who stepped forward.
"No, ma'am," he whispered, his eyes downcast, as he fidgeted with his fingers. "But, we figured you would want us eating in the kitchen, or outside, since we're your servants for three weeks. We understand yesterday we were sick and you took care of us. Now, we're all better and..."
"Boys, sit down with us." Frank interrupted.
Catrina's eyebrows rose up as she found herself sinking into her chair. Never had he raised his voice. The boys looked up and stared at him in shock. She couldn't tell if it was shock over his angry tone, or the fact he was allowing them to eat in the dining room. Frank pointed to the four empty spots, two on each side of the table. Without questioning him, the boys broke into groups, the twins on the left side, and the oldest on the right.
A deathly silence filled the room. Everyone watched as Frank folded his newspaper and laid it beside his plate. His hands gripped the edge of the table, turning the knuckles white. The twins resembled ghosts, their faces drained of all color, their eyes wide as saucers. With a pit of sadness, Catrina realized that the boys believed they were about to be hit!
"Boys, I want to tell you something important, so please hear me out," Frank's voice traveled over the room in a commanding tone.
"I want it to be known right now, that the four of you are not, and never will be, our servants. You're guests in our home. Yes, we had the displeasure of paying for you, and I wish to God I could have hit Mr. Woodrow in the face when I threw him the money, but he would have had me arrested. But, as guests in our home, you will be treated as such. You will never work. We have a cook, butler, gardener, blacksmith and a parlor maid who love their job and we treat them as family. What my wife and I expect out of the four of you is absolutely nothing. We want you to join us at the dining room table, sit and read with us in the parlor, and when we go out to eat or walk around the town, we want you to come with us. We will pay for everything, and expect nothing. If at any time anyone of you feels ill, you will return to bed at once. I want you to put your health over anything else. Is that understood?"
"Yes, sir," they answered together.
"Good," Frank sighed and sat down. "And, another thing. Since the four of you are my guests, Catrina and I have decided that you will all visit a doctor and a dentist for an examination. We understand you have never had any medical care. We're not doing this to be mean, or to tease, we're doing this because we care about your health. This decision has nothing to do with Mr. Woodrow. Before the doctor left last night, he cornered me in the parlor and said the four of you needed a check-up. I agreed with him. Today, you will see the dentist at the drug store, and he will inspect your teeth, and show you the proper way to take care of them. The doctor lives in the room above the drug store. He is booked solid right now because it seems everyone in Sherman is sick with colds. As soon as he has a spare hour, he will come to us and perform the exams. Once again, we're doing this because Catrina and I care for you, is that understood?"
"Yes, sir," the boys answered again. Catrina noticed the way Theo's hands began to shake as he hurriedly placed them in his lap. She also noticed how small they were. He's hiding something. Perhaps, she should have her husband politely talk to him?
"I'm glad we had this talk," Frank then turned around in his chair to address the closed kitchen door. "Mrs. Coffey please bring in breakfast, we have six starving people out here!"
"With pleasure," the door opened and the tiny cook came out wheeling a large cart. On top perched several silver-topped dishes. "I hope you boys like omelets, rice and tamales?" She asked, while stopping at each child and placing a covered dish in front of him. "Frank and Catrina wanted you each to eat a real Texas breakfast on your first morning here."
With a look of satisfaction, Catrina watched the boys gently remove the lids and stare down at the strange food before them. Even Frank looked to be amused. They had never eaten real Mexican food. The twins awkwardly reached for their silverware and Catrina had to fake a cough to stifle a laugh. She wasn't laughing at their horrible table manners, but at how serious they were to not make any mistakes. It had been so long. She remembered last night casting looks at Dylan. The boy shoved the bread into his mouth, licked the oil from his fingers. He probably would have licked the plate too if Theo hadn't shot him the death glare from across the room.
The poor children are used to eating with their bare hands. She wished she could tell them to relax. Glancing down at her list, she picked up her pencil and wrote, basic etiquette, to the bottom. She would have to teach them in the most polite way possible. Until then, perhaps they could copy her and Frank? Taking her cloth napkin, she placed it in her lap, picked up the knife with her right hand and fork with the left. Ever so delicately, she cut into her tamale, dipped it in the salsa and brought it up to her lips. Her plan worked. She saw the twins staring at her from the corner of her eye. On the other side, Theo and Francis kept eating. Eyes resting firmly on their plates.
She remembered last night slowly feeding Millen, perching next to him at the head of the bed, while Dylan ate at the foot. Slowly, scooping out the remains of the soup, bringing the spoon up to his mouth, he would clamp down on it like he hadn't eaten in days. When dessert arrived, Millen had propped himself up against the pillows. The look of disbelief, and joy on his face as she cut the apple slices into pieces, dipped them in ice cream and spoon fed the boy made her want to run from the room, lock herself in the bathroom and cry.
The four of them sat before her, looking a thousand times better. The morning light shining in from the east window brought their hair to life. Francis's Irish red hair seemed to explode as the reds, yellows and oranges sparked. The thickness of the lye soap brought out a natural blueness to Theo and Dylan's black hair. Catrina had never seen anything like it! She wondered what country they or their ancestors came from. Obviously, one side emigrated from Ireland, but what about the other? Poland? Russia? Sweden? Her eyes traveled to Millen, who, with a look of determination, cut a piece of tamale with his knife. Then it hit her like a punch in the face. How could she have missed it last night...he was Italian! His soft, dark hair fell over his thick eyebrows, his olive colored skin, blunt nose. The other side must be Italian! Catrina decided it was time to ask them about it.
Carefully, blotting her mouth with her napkin, she turned toward the older boys.
"I have a question" Everyone, even her husband, turned their heads. Catrina smiled. "Boys, I was just thinking, we know nothing about the four of you. Mr. Woodrow has said nothing. If you wish, and I ask this with all respect, we would like to know more about you. Where your parents are from? What was life like in New York? What year did you complete in school? Basic questions like that."
Theo turned to stare at Francis. The twins continued to eat.
"I think that's a wonderful idea," Frank pushed his plate away. "We're quite curious about the four of you. But, please, you don't have to tell us anything you don't want. We're here to help."
Millen and Dylan placed their forks on their empty plates and turned to Theo. Francis shot a half smile at his older brother. So, he must be the leader. Catrina paused to take a sip of English breakfast tea. With a deep breath, Theo turned to her, his voice soft.
"Our mother is from Ireland and our father came from Scotland. They met at a shirtwaist factory in Brooklyn and married shortly after in the Catholic Church, but we're not Catholic. Both of our parents died within months of each other. After momma died we lived secretly above a candy store and the wife fetched a police officer on us after six months. The husband, Mr. Tuscano, was nice and helped us. The wife not so much. We lived at the orphanage for about three months. Last week we were told to get on the train and a wealthy man from Texas had adopted us to be servants for his two sons. You know the rest. The twins never attended school, but they can read and write. Francis and I attended up until the sixth grade when we left to get jobs."
Catrina leaned back in disbelief. Everyone in the room looked stunned. No one had heard Theo speak two words, not even yesterday afternoon. She stared back into his deep eyes, while he didn't break contact with her own. He resembled someone much younger than sixteen years of age. I wonder if he's lying about his age.
"Well," Frank stood up from the table. "That's an interesting story and Catrina and I appreciate you telling us. We have something special planned for the four of you."
"Yes," Catrina took the piece of paper. "Frank has to return to work, but I will walk you down to the barbershop, then the drugstore and the bookstore. How's that? Oh, we will be having lunch at the deli in town."
Glancing over the sea of faces, she found the kids staring blankly back at her. Frank had walked back through the kitchen doors, leaving them alone.
"Momma read to us," Millen's tiny voice broke the silence. Catrina couldn't help but notice Theo's eyes growing large at his brother. She wondered what the faux pas was.
"I mean," he looked down at his lap. "She read to us every night after she returned from work...I miss it."
"I see," Catrina picked up her list, folded it and tucked it in her pocket. It was time to tell the boys a bit about her, and then perhaps Theo would stop glaring at everyone.
"Frank and I are avid readers," she began her voice clear. She had prepared to be a school teacher; she could handle four young boys. "I graduated from Cannon Seminary west of Van Alstyne, Texas with my teaching certificate after years of strict boarding schools up north. I taught for one year and then married Frank. We met when I took the train to Denison to pick up some nursery supplies that had mistakenly been dropped off at the nursery he worked at. Father's errand boy was sick, so I volunteered to take his place. That exact same day, hours later, Frank and I found ourselves having lunch at the hotel. Father was in an uproar when he found out and believed my teaching career to be ruined. But, I believe in the newfangled rules of courtship, and so does Frank. Father actually called for my brothers to "have a talk with me." They promptly laughed at him, and told him they had spoken to Frank and found the boy 'extremely charming and with good intentions.'
We married a month later. I now dedicate my time to Sherman's current events, The Women's Suffrage Movement, and in my spare time I help decorate houses. While attending school up north, I took several art and architecture classes. I also spent a spring in Paris. The women of Sherman and Denison have fallen in love with my artwork and they occasionally call on me to help them decorate their homes. Frank and I love to learn and experience new things. He plans on purchasing an automobile soon and wants to learn how to repair it, as well as I. We hope the four of you love living with us. We will do everything in our power to make everything right with Mr. Woodrow."
Frank chose that exact moment to enter the room, wearing his hat and camel coat. "And, I would like to conclude that I was not born into a wealthy family. My parents were farmers and I never finished high school. Up until the day I married Catrina, I believe I had a nickel to my name. I didn't marry her for her father's money; I married Catrina because she is without a doubt, the most intelligent, bold, daring, gorgeous woman in the state of Texas. When she walks on stage to give speeches on why women should be able to vote, I fall in love with her all over again. Why in the world she fell in love with the son of a poor sharecropper is beyond me, but I thank God everyday he sent her into the nursery I worked at. Now, that we've told you about ourselves, I think it's time for Catrina to take you all up to the barbershop, followed by hot chocolate at the drugstore. How does that sound?"
Millen giggled and placed his elbows on the table, resting his chin in them. Once again, Catrina couldn't help but take note of the ebony hair, piercing eyes and Mediterranean skin tone. There was no way one side of their family came from Scotland. Catrina had studied abroad long enough and met many people of different backgrounds to understand the boy was half Italian. But, why lie about their background? Perhaps, it was "safer" to suggest their father came from Scotland and not Italy? She didn't know much about their lifestyle in Brooklyn, or the orphanage they stayed at, but, perhaps Italians were looked down on? Ridiculed or threatened? And, why didn't the other children inherit their Italian roots?
Francis looked and talked every bit Irish. Dylan and Theo also took on a ruddy complexion. They possibly tanned easily and couldn't be out in the sun for long without turning red as lobsters. A problem, her husband informed her about with some farmers. Their ancestors sailed over from the British Isles and brought with them their delicate skin. It was extremely frustrating when you were born to be a farmer, and not a banker, and were forced into a life of working in the fields, when your skin burned like a lobster. Thankfully, Frank didn't inherit that, but his father did. The man still had to work sunrise to sunset, but he wore giant hats to protect himself from the humidity and long, cotton shirts, even in the summer, so his skin wouldn't crack and peel.
"Alright, then," Frank walked over to kiss Catrina goodbye, causing the twins to giggle again. Francis brushed invisible crumbs off his sweater and Theo kept his eyes on the floor, mouth turned down in a small snarl. She really wished he would relax.
"Come boys, your coats, gloves and hats are in the parlor. Let's go have fun today!"
Hopefully, by nightfall, Theo would open up to her.