A HOMESTEAD REVISITED

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I was only ten years old,  but I remember a night  in November 1926 as if it were yesterday. My father Martin Christensen had just rented the old  homestead of John Hayse about ten miles east of Paris , Texas, making the negotiations with the old  man’s son Will.

We children first saw the large white farmhouse  about  sundown when Mother drove us into the yard in our old buck-board. We had to eat a cold supper because  the cook stove couldn’t be put up until Father went  to town for additional stovepipe.

The house had three bedrooms. Mother and Father  slept  in one, my two brothers in another, and the hired hand in the remaining bedroom. My sister Bertie Lou and I had to sleep in the front room.

Here we found a huge old sandstone fireplace with a long mantel, and from this room a wide door led on to a porch, which ran almost all the way around the house.  The door squeaked a little when it was opened or closed.

I had  suffered poliomyelitis and during my illness I had been pretty well spoiled. For one thing I would not sleep without a lighted kerosene lamp near my bed.

I’m sure this  annoyed my sister but she always let me have my own way.  On our first night in the new house, we could hardly wait for morning to explore the farm.

I was so excited  that  I couldn’t sleep but I could hear Bertie Lou’s  even breathing. I was thinking  of the fun we would have in the big barn.  Of course with braces on my legs I couldn’t climb but  I could watch my brothers and I felt this was almost  as good as getting into the hayloft.

I tossed until my sister awakened. “Are you all right?” she  asked.  “Yes, but I can’t sleep.”

She squeezed my hand and mumbled, “You’re just  excited . Go to sleep.”

Just then the door to the porch seemed to open. I grabbed my sister’s  hand and  we stared at the door. A little old man stood in the doorway. He was very thin  and, of all things, he was wearing white long johns! He had white hair, a small white mustache, and a trim little goatee.

We both noticed  the sharp,  curled-up points of his  mustache.  He stood in the doorway a few seconds, then walked  toward the fireplace. He was  so small  and the  mantel so high  that his hand was above his head as he reached for the ledge.

He looked into the small  fire my father had set for us. While my sister and I clung to each other, too scared to  make a sound, the old man slowly turned and walked toward the  foot of our bed.  As he stood looking at us I thought, “He isn’t  really seeing us; he’s looking through us!”  Now he slowly turned and surveyed the rest of the room  with a  rueful expression as if he were seeing it for the last  time.

He hesitated a few seconds more and then, with another glance at the fireplace, slowly made his way toward the door. We felt that the door opened and close but we knew this wasn’t so,  for we  would have heard its little  squeak.

With the old man’s disappearance my  sister  and I came  alive  and let out terrified screams. We both were  quite hysterical and we  couldn’t offer a believable explanation for  our state. After Mother calmed us a little we flatly refused  to sleep in the front room.

Mother offered  to let us  swap  rooms with the  hired man,  which we did with alacrity. The next morning of course we had to tell  what had  happened over and over again. We knew  we had   been awake for surely we couldn’t have had  a duplicate nightmare -or even a duplicate dream.

As we looked  back on the vision my sister and I agreed there was  little excuse for our terror, for the little old man surely meant  us no  harm.  He seemed only to be  viewing a  room  he had  known and  loved.  The next day my father  went to town for the  stovepipe.

He called at the local hardware store, owned by our  landlord’s son, Will  Hayse. He  found the store  closed and  a wreath on the door. Later in the morning he ran  across Will and offered his condolences  on learning  that John  had died the night before.

Something clicked in my father’s mind.  He suddenly  was struck by Will Hayse’s  remarkable resemblance  to the  description we had given of the little old man;  a mustache  with pointed, curled -upward ends, and a goatee.

Cautiously he inquired about the elder Hayse’s  appearance. Will volunteered the information that he bore  an uncanny likeness to his father, except that his father’s hair had  turned white.

Now my father told Mr. Hayse about our experience of  the night before and asked him to come  to our farm for  dinner. Bertie Lou and I were taking our afternoon nap  when my father and the  younger Hayse arrived.

My father gently awakened us and told  us to come into the  parlor.   Because of my braces he had to carry me. Mother was in  the parlor with a stranger.

“Mary,” my father said, “this is Mr. Will Hayse. He wants  you and your sister to tell him  what happened last night.”

I hardly heard his words, for I was staring at the stranger,  whose resemblance to the little old  white-haired man  brought back the  terror of the night before. He looked  much younger, with jet-black hair, mustache, and goatee,  but in size, features, and bearing he seemed to be a  carbon copy!

Mr. Hayse spoke first to my sister. “Tell me. young lady, what did this old man look like? Bertie Lou hesitated a moment and then answered, “He   looked just exactly like you, sir, but very much older- and  he wore- (she hesitated( a white union suit.”

“Yes.” I piped up, “a white union suit like papa wears.” Before Mother could reprimand  me Mr. Hayse opened a  large package. As he  help up its contents we all gasped. In a  large  frame was a picture of the little old man we had seen.  Mr. Hayse told us it was his father.

Then he asked my   father the time we had seen the vision  and Papa said it  must have been  about 9:30 pm. for we  had not  been in  bed very long. Will Hayse said sadly, ” That was just about the time my father died-and he died in the long white underwear he  always slept in during the winter months.”

Mary Starr

 San Luis Rey, California

October  1967

 

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