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Tuesday, November 15, 2011

A Visitor from My Past

By Earl Gates, 2008
I sensed someone standing at my front door: the doorbell didn't ring; no knock, but I knew someone was there. I looked up, and through the full-length plate-glass door, I saw a stranger, a strange looking man standing on the front porch. He peered into the house a bit and then looked behind him as to make sense of where he was.
I rose from the dining room table where my genealogy papers littered the table, went to the door, opened it and asked if I could help him. His striking wardrobe was from a completely different era, and not a costume. His clothes were like those I've seen in historical movies and 19th century albums and genealogy magazines.
Genealogy! Suddenly, the room began to spin and I grabbed the back of a chair. A light bulb in my mind slowly grew brighter. "Oh my," I said under my breath when the light shone bright, "Are you John Gates from Mississippi?” I whispered.
"As a matter of fact, I am," he said as he doffed his hat. "And may I have the pleasure of making your acquaintance?"
"Of course," I said. "I am Earl Gates, Your great-great-great-great grandson. Won't you please come in?"
"What?" He took a step backward. "I have no grandchildren."
"I am the descendent of your son William L. Gates born in 1815."
"I do not understand," he said, sounding frustrated and fascinated, like he had entered a time machine.
"Please come in and sit," I said. I showed him to the best chair in the room. "Let me put the kettle on or would you prefer coffee?" I was talking too fast and the pitch of my tone was much too high. I consciously tried to lower it.
"Coffee would be most enjoyable, "he said, adding quietly, "I don't think I've had a cup for quite some time." His forehead was a map of frown lines.
"Please let me try to explain," I said after I put the coffee maker on. I sat on the sofa near him. "I am a genealogist and I have been steadily working on you for the past two days." Then I laughed. "Please excuse my poor choice of words. I have been thinking how wonderful it would be to spend sometime with you and show you some of the changes -- the innovations -- that have taken place since your lifetime."
"Now comes my question," he said, his voice filled with anxiety. His eyes looked deep into my eyes. Not at my eves, but in them, where he might have found my soul.
"Pray tell me, what is the present year?"
"It is 2008," I said quietly, fearful he might faint. "It's been 163 years since you died in 1845, when you were 65 years old. I cried when I read your death listed in the family bible," I told him." It was so sad to think that as a young man with a family of 5 you helped tamed the Mississippi Territory in the early 18--'s. I choked up and tears spilled from my eyes. The coffee pot was telling me coffee was ready. "Would you like your coffee black or with cream and sugar?" I asked.
"Oh, white, with a spoonful of sugar."
"White?" I queried. "Oh, with cream.l" I retrieved the pint of half-and-half and poured it into his cup until his coffee was white. "Would you like some cookies? Sorry, but they're store-bought, not homemade."
"Store-bought? You bought cookies at a shop?" He looked at his mug covered with Shakespearean quotes. "I read all of Shakespeare's works as a young man," my ancestor said, "but I would never have thought to put his words on coffee cups." He laughed.
That reminded me that I wanted to ask him who his parents were, where he met and married his wife Rebecca, what my ancestor William L. Gates middle name was, but now did not seem like the time to ask. As we drank our coffee he noticed I was still in my pajamas. "Should you be in the field working on the crops?” I said, we don't have a field; and this is what I sleep in. It certainly is far less clothing than all the layers you are wearing. Is this what you would have worn in Mississippi.
"Yes," he answered. "This is my good suit, my Sunday-goint-to-church suit, and, I suspect, my burial suit."
"Do you have paper and pencil, so I could make some notee?"
I gave him a ballpoint pen, which amused him to no end. After he had written a good while, I interrupted and said, "There are so many questions I want to ask you about your time on Earth: I have many holes in my genealogy that I know you can fill. I want to know more about your life."
"Certainly," he said, tucking his notes into his breast pocket. "Ask away."
"First, I cannot tell you how much I love you," I began. "My dad told me stories about you, and your legend lives on in our family because I have told everyone about your accomplishments and your death, and I have written that story down for future generations." "I stopped speaking, looked at him and rose from my chair, walking slowly towards him. He stood and opened his arms as if to welcome the hug I wanted to give. But in a heartbeat, he was gone. Gone! I was astounded. I stood there, feeling foolish with my arms wide open for no apparent reason. My ancestor John Gates was gone.
I felt someone shaking my shoulder. "Earl," my wife said. "You have to come to bed. It's two in the morning and you're sleeping at the table. Come on. This will all be here tomorrow.
"By the way, did I hear you talking to someone’?"

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