The Day Eli P. Kingsley Came to Town
A Reflection by Dr. Daniel
Twenty-one years ago, 'round mid-August, a stranger came riding into town. He was in a sky-blue drop-top '68 Cadillac, and he eased down Carver Drive into downtown real slow, looking around, checking out the sights. He pulled into a parking space and got out, stretching his legs and running a hand through his hair. That hair of his was light brown, freshly cut. It was still damp, like it'd been washed just a minute before, combed straight back. He had on a big pair of sunglasses, tight bluejeans, a denim workshirt, and some high-priced boots that zipped up the side.
He strode into Bradley Realty and stayed a few mysterious minutes. Suddenly, the door opened, and Jesse Ray Bradley was tripping all over himself, escorting the stranger to his car. Jesse got into the Cutlass sitting next to them, and they drove off towards the lake. Jesse Ray was back in a half-hour, smiling like a possum eatin' a sweet potato, and drove straight to the bank. Five minutes passed, and Jesse Ray and Mr. Fleetman, the bank president, were speeding back out of town. They returned after a spell, all teeth and giggles.
As is the custom in small Southern towns, it only took about an hour for word to start spreading. The stranger's name was Kingsley, Eli P. Kingsley. He'd bought the old Bolander place out on the lake, and had paid Jesse Ray cash money for it, right on the spot. He sent Jesse Ray back into town to get Mr. Fleetman, arranging for some account transfers to be made to the Carver Point Farmers' & Merchants' Bank. He signed all the paperwork, and sent them on their way. As they were leaving, Stu Fleetman said he watched out the window of the car as Kingsley started unloading trunks and suitcases out of the old Caddy and carrying them into the house.
In the days that followed, Kingsley hired the boys from Hoyt's Fencing to put up a nice white picket fence around the whole three acre lot, and got them to frame out a little walkway out to the lake. The delivery boys from Markham's Grocery were pedaling their legs off, as Kingsley stocked every cabinet he could find. He ordered three huge freezers from the appliance store, and got Wally Duper, from Wally's Household Warehouse to order up an A-grade hi-fi set-up and three big color TVs for him. Wally himself delivered 'em, but he said that Kingsley took delivery at the front door and said he'd install them himself.
The whole town was buzzing. He had a couple of phones installed, but stood next to the phone guys as they put them in, only letting them in his office area and the living room. He ordered lots of carpet, but asked that only two men come to put it all in. He didn't mind the wait, but aimed to keep his home as private as possible. Carver Point being what is is, everyone agreed to leave him be, but there was no stopping the talk.
Once all the prettying up and redecorating was through, Mr. Eli came into town for the September town meeting. He sat in the back, and waited for all the old business to take place. When the floor opened up for discussion of new business, Mr. Eli P. Kingsley stood up and raised his hand. He was recognized, and walked slowly toward the front of the room. As he approached the podium, he smoothly swapped his sunglasses for a pair of reading specs. Clearing his throat, the new man in town pulled some notes from his shirt pocket and started reading:
Folks, my name is Eli P. Kingsley. I know I must be mysterious to you people, moving in here and acting all strange. You'll have to bear with me. I've been engaged in a kind of a dangerous living condition here lately, everyone watching my every move, following me, never a moment's peace. And it got to me. I left my home and landed here. I don't think I'll need to worry much about you folks though. You seem nice enough, and nobody's tried bothering me much. One little boy asked me if I wanted to go fishing with him the other day, when he saw me out in the yard. I liked that. Nobody's just asked me a simple question in years. I fished with that little boy all afternoon, and had the time of my life. I'd like to feel like that all the time. I'm going to be doing a lot of traveling for a while, on business, but, if you people will allow me, from this day on, I'd like to call Carver Point home. In return for respecting my privacy, I'd be grateful if you would let me contribute generously to the library fund and the hospital fund. I'll also invite every citizen of Carver Point over to my house each and every August for a celebration. We'll celebrate my return to a simple life. I leave it up to you folks.
With that, he returned his shades to his head, walked back and sat down. As he passed me, he leaned down and whispered, "You left your tackle box over on my dock. Come on over tomorrow and get it?" I nodded, "You bet, Mr. Kingsley."
"Call me Eli, son. I'm just Eli now...." He sat down.
Mayor Stowbridge stood up and said, "Mr. Kingsley, on behalf of the citizens of Carver Point, I welcome you to our town. You feel the need to contribute to the library or the hospital, you go right ahead, but it's not necessary. You're one of us now." Everyone clapped loudly, some whistled, and a few even stomped their feet. As the noise quieted down, he softly said, "Thank you. Thank you very much." There was a tear in his eye.
Nobody ever saw a lot of Eli. He was out of town a lot, and when he was in town, he stayed off to himself. I saw him sitting on his dock a lot, and I always smiled and waved. He'd always call me out and we'd talk and fish some. He always had a basket of sandwiches and bottles of Coke out there beside him, but it always seemed like he didn't eat hardly anything. I think he was always on some diet, but he wanted to have something fixed just in case company came over. He'd sit there, smoking on a cheap cigarillo with a plastic tip on it, and we would laugh about this and that. He had a loud laugh, and a shy, funny smile. When I turned fifteen, he gave me my first cigar and a silver Zippo lighter.
I was always curious about his past, but he never really wanted to talk about it much. I told him once about how much I loved movies, and he laughed and said he did too. He said, "I was in the movie business once. Never really liked it all that much. Too many folks trying to tell you how to do everything." He also hinted that he could play the guitar some, and I know he always sang in the choir on Christmas Eve. He never wanted to do a solo though. He said that his solo days were long gone. These days he preferred to be a voice in the crowd.
And, true to his word, every August, the town heads out to Eli's house. He has big tents put up, and everyone marvels at how much food he has brought in for the day. Folks swim in the lake, fish, and eat until they near about bust. he has three or four go-karts built like real cars and everyone races. The winners get big prizes, and the losers get something just for trying. Eli circulates through the crowd all day, making sure everyone has everything they need. When the sun goes down, everyone sits in the grass and Eli shows a movie on the side of a tent, always a great old classic, with cartoons and everything. It's always the happiest day of the summer.
Eli's getting older now. Mid-sixties, I'd guess. He never comes in for an exam, and I've never known him to be sick. His hair is mostly white now, and he wears it longer, but it's still swept back. He's getting a bit of a belly, but he refuses to allow himself to get fat. He works out all the time, and he swims a lot. He does let himself put on some extra weight near Christmas, though, 'cause he likes to look the part when he plays Santa Claus at the county hospital. He buys a gift for every patient, and every nurse and doctor, myself included, gets a watch, or bracelet, or something nice.
Nobody's ever asked him point-blank where he came from, or why he just showed up that August of 1977. All we know about him is that he's a nice old guy who was trapped in his day job, and decided to get out early enough to enjoy the rest of his life. There are times, though, when the sunlight hits him just right, and he has his sunglasses on and the wind in his hair, that he looks like somebody we all used to know. But, we all know that's silly, 'cause that person passed on a long time ago. Eli caught me staring at him once, about four years ago, when I thought I recognized him as that somebody else. He just smiled and said, "I bet I know what you're thinking, Vince. And I bet you might be right. But I bet you'd just as soon fish as think anymore about it. Right?"
I blinked at him for a minute. Then it all dawned on me. And I said, "Right. Who needs to worry about the past, huh? " And I flipped my line out into the water.
He smiled that shy smile and said, "Thank you, Vince. Thank you very much."