FORGIVENESS

A Jesse Wolford Story

“Boss?” said Mara…. Jesse Wolford looked up at the young woman hovering at the door and scowled. He was just in the middle of figuring out this hairy estate problem. The deceased, while well meaning, had multiple retirement accounts, various investments in land, and a number of squabbling heirs, all of whom wanted the estate finished yesterday. What he couldn’t seem to get through to them was that the estate would be finished next year. But they were anxious for their money. Too bad they couldn’t have been bothered to help the lady when she was alive. Yet she was generous, and left them all in her will. 

Still, it was complex, and he really didn’t need the interruption.

Still, his objections faded when he saw how pale Mara was. She looked like she was reluctant to bother, yet she was about ready to jump out of her skin.

“What’s the matter?” he said, looking up. 

“Um, boss, normally I wouldn’t bother you about a stray ghost…”

He closed his eyes. “What do they want now?”

“It’s not a bunch of ghosts, it’s just one. With another one waiting outside the office. And he insists on seeing you.”

“He isn’t in here yet?”

“He’s a very polite man.” She still looked quite pale. “He also seems to be one of our... older gentlemen. Not age-wise, but era wise.”

“What do you mean?” He made sure to stop his time on the computer. He wasn’t charging the family for time spent on personal — well, ghost matters.

“Like somewhere around the Civil War.”

“If I’m supposed to help solve his murder, then I think it’s about a century and a half too late.” He started piling up his papers, making sure to obscure any names. Not that he thought the ghosts would talk about any clients he was working on, but these cases tended to drag him away from his desk and he didn’t want to get reckless with client data.
With his sanity and his personal life, however… life seemed to think he needed a little stirring up. Especially since his wife died. He put that to the back of his mind. “Well,” groused Jesse. “Not that it makes any difference, because I wouldn’t know any better — but let him in.”

“You need to know...” she hesitated.

“What?”

“He looks just like you.”

“How do you mean?”

“I mean, he looks just like you, only older.” She shook her head. “Careworn is the word, I guess..”

Jesse blinked. “Like he’s related?” The only one of his family that he thought looked like him was a great-great-uncle. And he had passed away in the early nineteen-twenties.
Mara moved to one side. Jesse reflected that only a few months ago, he never would have thought that he would be politely addressing thin air. Still, if Mara said that the ghost was being polite, the least he could do was be polite back. “Good afternoon, sir. What can I do for you?” He glanced at Mara, who didn’t seem to be translating.

She was staring. “He didn’t expect you to look so much like him.” She hesitated. “He says that he believes that he may be related to you.”

“What is his name?”

“He says,” she hesitated. “He says that his name was Aaron Wolford.”

Jesse’s eyebrows raised. “I believe that I had a great-great uncle by that name. He was named after my great-great grandfather. He was...” He closed his mouth. “Ask him when and where he passed.”

“He said... he was killed in the War between the States. He was killed near Griswoldville, Georgia.”

Jesse paled. “That was the story I heard.” He thought a moment. “Still, that story can be found on the internet.”

“Boss, why would I prank you with a story like this?” She turned and looked like she was listening. . “He wants to show you something.”

“What?”

“A story.” Mara gently touched Jesse’s hand. An image flashed into Jesse’s mind… No, a story…

                                        ~~~~
The sounds of the Georgia night surrounded the two men. The younger of the two men took a drink out of his canteen casually.


“Kind of quiet around here, Mr. Wolford.”


The older man looked around. “Well, it’s winter. I liked the summer sounds. Crickets, grasshoppers, katydids, tree frogs… reminds me a little of a hot Indiana summer.” He fell silent. 


 “Are you missing them again, sir?” 


“Always, son, Always. My little Aaron was only a babe in arms when I marched away to defend the Republic.” He sighed again. “My wife Jane is a rock. I married her after my beloved first wife, Mary Anne, passed, and she always treated my daughter like her own.” He looked off into the distance. “I will never see them again.”


“Uncle Aaron,” the young man said. “The war is almost over. We’re driving the rebels to the sea! Of course, you’ll get back to your Jane!”


The older man smiled at the nickname. He did, indeed, feel like an uncle to the Indiana 101st regiment. “I fear not. You shall go home to your family, persimmon boy.” The younger man tried not to smile at his nickname, but failed. Aaron became sad. “The Holy Spirit has given me a vision. My fate is in these woods” He patted his pocket where he kept his testament. “I am ready. I know my reckoning is coming. I protected my children and my family, and I helped protect the Republic, but how many other men and women’s children have been killed? Worse, how many children have I killed?”


“They were all men.”


Aaron smiled sadly. “You are all children to me. I have children your age.”


“But Uncle Aaron,” said the young man. “They’re Rebels. They want to secede from the Union. They believe that keeping slaves is their God-Given right.” 


Aaron smiled. “You are young and see the world as good and evil. I see the shades in between, and I fear that I shall never be at peace again until I leave this world.”
The young man was silent. “Are you then so anxious to leave the world, Uncle Aaron?”
The older man chuckled. “Me? No. But I shall be leaving it nonetheless.”
“How do you know?” The younger man cried out.


“As I said, I have been touched by the Holy Spirit.” He looked troubled. “You will write Jane, will you?”


The young man scoffed. “There will be no need.”


“Promise.”


“Of course.”


“Send my Testament, my watch, and whatever money I may have. I hope my pension will see Jane though. My Jane is resourceful. She will be fine.”


“As I said, Uncle, there will be no need.”


“We shall see..”


                                        ~~~~

  
Jesse’s eyes popped open. The rest of the vision was just images. Aaron was shot the next day in a skirmish with some Rebel soldiers. As he looked over a log to see where his shot went, a bullet caught him between the eyes. 

Jesse rubbed his forehead. The pain was rapidly fading. “What… was that?”

“I didn’t think that would work like that.” Mara sat heavily in the other chair. “Nothing like that has happened to me before. But I’ve heard of it. Actually, Mom said something like this happened to her.”

“What?”

“Aaron just gave you a memory. I was the conduit.”

“A memory.”

“Aaron’s memory,” Mara said. She looked sideways and listened. “It was the night before he was shot by Rebels.” She listened again. “He doesn’t like the word ‘Rebels’. He says that the other army consisted of old men like him and young men like his companion. Teenagers.”

“Old men? How old was he?”

Mara grinned. “Forty.”

Jesse snorted. “I’m over fifty. Old, my…”. He suddenly felt a wave of disapproval.

“Aaron doesn’t care for bad language.”

“How did he know what I was going to say?”

Mara considered this. “You’re related. I think the connection between you and him is stronger because you are family. You can feel what he’s thinking; he knows what you’re thinking.”

Jesse considered that. It actually made sense, if anything of what happened in the past few months made sense.

“I give,” he muttered.

“Huh, boss?” 

“Nothing.”

She looked to one side and grinned.

“No making fun of me behind my back.”

Mara grinned again. “Moi? Never.” She smiled. “He hates my hair.” Mara’s hair was short today, and a bright green.

“So do I,” Jesse snorted. So we have one thing in common. He sighed. “What does my Great-great-grandfather need? It strikes me that he has fulfilled his life and can move on.”

Mara listened. “He has two unfulfilled requests. He realizes that you may not be able to fulfill them right away, and he will be patient until you can.”

Jesse sighed. It sounded like he wasn’t getting any work done today. “Well, I doubt if we can find out who murdered him.”

Mara blinked. “Actually, he already knows. He has met and forgiven the young man. He brought him along.”

Jesse raised his eyebrows. “We have a Union and a Confederate soldier in my office?”

“Yes.”

Jesse looked around. “I wish I could see that.”

Mara nodded and sat down in the opposite chair. “Aaron said he can manifest if he uses some of my energy.”

“Don’t…”

Mara closed her eyes. In front of Jesse appeared two men. The taller of the two men reminded him of pictures he had seen of the younger Aaron Wolford: medium height, skinny, kindly looking, with a mustache and a long face. And himself, if he were honest — and grew a mustache. The other man was barely a man — he looked fifteen, if that. Aaron nodded at Jesse, smiled, then faded.

Jesse sat back in his chair. Had he just seen that?

“Boss,” Mara said weakly. “May I have a glass of water?”

Jesse hopped up and got her a water from the cooler. “Anything you want, Mara. Anything you want.”

“So — do you believe?”

Jesse considered his answer. “Mara, I never thought that you lied. But believing and seeing are two different things. However, I know I’ve been poked and prodded enough by… those needing our help.”

“Thank you, boss. I know they’ve appreciated the help.”

Jesse tidied up his paperwork and looked around. “What can I do?”

Mara took a long drink of water. “Aaron says that his companion’s name is Sylvester Hebert. His family was originally from Louisiana, but had settled in Georgia. He wants to take confession, but he knows that this is not possible, so he would like a mass said in his name, and have you attend.” She paused. “He died at Griswoldville, also.”

“I’m not Catholic,” Jesse protested. “In fact, I’m not really church-going.” He felt a tinge of guilt. He had stopped going when his wife died.

“I’m not Catholic, either,” Mara said calmly, “but I know the local priest plays pickle ball at the soccer complex. I’ve played him.”

“Oh.”

“I’ll introduce you.”

“Oh,” Jesse said again. “Does he know your… other occupation?”

Mara winced. “Yes and no. I told him, but he doesn’t quite believe me. He keeps an open mind.”

“All right,” Jesse said. “I’ll agree.”

“And… Aaron has a request.”

“Oh?”

“His body is laid and lost in a Georgia forest, so he could not be laid to rest beside his wife.” She grinned at the air. “Really?”

“What?” Jesse was sure he wasn’t going to like this.

“He would like you to bury a lock of your hair by her tombstone.”

Jesse felt what little hair he had left. “You don’t need to look so amused. I have some left.”

“Me, boss? Not me.” She grinned at the air again.

Jesse frowned. “But I don’t know where Aaron’s wife is buried.”

Mara snorted. “And… that’s why we look on the internet.” She turned to the side. “He looks rather puzzled. He has no idea about the internet. What was your wife’s maiden name?”

“McKibben,” said Jesse.

She stood up shakily and moved to her desk. “There’s a website for that.” She laughed. “Aaron is asking about spiders.” She started typing. “Jane Wolford… there’s a Jane McKibben Wolford at Miller’s Cemetery in Shipshewana, Indiana. There’s also a Robert and a Mary Ann.” She looked up. “I’m sorry.” She smiled sadly. “You have a point. It is 2022.”

“What?”

“He pointed out that everybody he knew had long since passed away. And that he hopes to see them soon.”

“Sir?” Jesse said. “You stayed around just for your murderer?”

“He seems a little offended. He says that he stayed around for a young man who didn’t know any better and who was caught up in a war of politicians who cared less about humans and more about property.”

“Philosophical for a farmer.”

“He’s had a long time to think about it.”

Jesse inclined his head. “Agreed.”

“He would like you to do the mass, first.”

“Agreed,” Jesse said. “Can you arrange it?”

Mara grinned. “I guess I had better go to church.”

“You’re sure your priest friend will go for it?”

“I think he’ll be cool.”

“He doesn’t believe in life after death?” Jesse smiled ruefully.

“No, he’s not so sure about ghosts.”

“Interesting. Have you ever approached him with the idea as the ghosts being in purgatory? Neither in Heaven or in Hell?”

“No,” Mara said. “But I should.”

“Just my thoughts.”

Mara nodded. “He doesn’t know, but Aaron agrees.”

“Humph. I believe that the church requires a donation. I will cover it,” Jesse said.

“Thanks, boss.”

“Now — the second request. That’s going to require a trip. Shipshewana is not exactly around the block. But I should be able to go there and back within a day.”

Mara looked to one side. “I’m going, too. May I bring my Mom?”

“Your… Mom?” Suddenly, Jesse remembered that Mara’s Mom, Jamie, was psychic, also. “Sure. The more the merrier.” He looked around, suddenly realizing who he was doing this for. “I didn’t mean it like…”

“He knows, boss, he knows.”

                                        ~~~~

Jesse and Mara sat in the back row of St. Mary’s church when he felt Mara stand up. “Mara,” he whispered. “We’re not Catholic. We’re not supposed to go up for communion.”

“I know. But Sylvester wants to go up, and I figure we can block anything that happens from the congregation.” She smiled. “Aaron is walking him up.”

Jesse sighed. They got up. He stood behind Mara, and, when the line had reached the front, he stood to one side. He saw young Sylvester materialize in front of him, and the priest’s eyes widened. Then he smiled, and placed a wafer in Sylvester’s hand. Sylvester smiled and swallowed it, then disappeared. The priest stared wide-eyed at the spot, then regained his composure and blessed Mara and Jesse, still standing in front of him. “You were right,” he muttered lowly to Mara. He nodded to Jesse.

Mara smiled and they went back to their seats.

The mass concluded with the words “go in peace, to love and serve the Lord.” A bright light glowed beside Mara, then disappeared. Mara’s eyes watered, and she smiled. “He has passed through the light. Aaron is joyous.” 

As the priest passed, he glanced at Mara, and she nodded, smiling. “Bless him,” the priest said. “I’ll talk with you later.”

She nodded again.

“Is Aaron sure he still needs to go to Shipshewana?” Jesse muttered.
She nodded.

“I’ll pick you and your Mom up early tomorrow morning.” 

                                        ~~~~

The drive over was not nearly as bad as Jesse thought it might be: Shipshewana was not too far from the Indiana toll road, and Jamie, Mara’s Mom, had them laughing all of the way over with her stories. More than once, she interpreted some of Aaron’s stories of life at home and life in camp, once he got over his apparent reluctance to talk “man-talk” — so he said — in front of the women. 

“I have one question,” Jesse said. “It’s a long way from Georgia. How did you find me?”

Mara and Jamie sobered. “He will not say. He said it was God’s guidance, but he says he won’t go into specifics.”

“From what I’ve heard, I can’t imagine him doing anything shameful.”

“He did not. He assures you of that.”

Jamie said lowly, “he says that his guidance came in the form of one of God’s saints.”

“A saint?”

“One who has passed.”

“What would a saint have to do with me?” Jesse wondered, then a truck cut in front of him, causing him to brake.

He remembered the question as the three of them stood silently over the grave, then shrugged. He was never going to get an answer. He reached into his pocket, and pulled out a small trowel and a tissue containing a small bit of his hair. Leaning over, he dug a small hole beside the stone and placed the hair in the hole. He straightened up. “I hope this finds you at peace, great-great-grandfather.”

For a moment, he saw Aaron smiling at him, then Aaron looked up and smiled as a bright light covered his face. He smiled broadly, then was gone.

Jesse felt tears on his cheeks. “Let’s go home,” he said brusquely. “We have work tomorrow.”

Jamie smiled at him. “I’ll treat you to supper,” she said. “Then we can go home.”

“Humph,” Jesse said. But, surprisingly, he felt some of his tension cease at Jamie’s suggestion. I hope you don’t mind, my wife, he said to his wife in heaven.

Why should I mind? He could almost hear her say.

He smiled.

__________________________

Note:  This work of fiction was based on an article I discovered in an inheritance.  See the picture, below.  Aaron Wolford was my great-great-grandfather.
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