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Family juggles everyday life and home tours

NATCHEZ — Michael Cates stands at the door in period costume taking ticket stubs in one hand as tourists pass into the house. In the other hand, he has a frantic, writhing black cat, Roro, who is desperately trying to run into the house.

Eugenie Cates is explaining a few pieces of furniture to tourists as the house telephone begins to loudly trill.

Ten-year-old Devereaux Cates bursts in through the front door wearing jeans and a New Orleans Saints T-shirt, excitedly telling her mother about what happened at school that day. She drops her bookbag, sneaks past tourists and clambers up the stairs to get to her room.

Living full-time in a historic home that’s on tour during Pilgrimage can oftentimes result in a clash between touring life and reality.

Michael, Eugenie and Devereaux are a typical family. Amid fine china and antique furniture in their late 1700s home — Gov. Holmes House — there are DVDs, snack food and sneakers.

“We literally live in every single room,” Michael Cates said.

For the most part, the way the house looks off tour is the same as it does on tour, he said.

But sometimes there is the unexpected surprise.

One time during a tour, Michael Cates was in the front room explaining to tourists how the wrought iron wall oven works. He opened the heavy-handled door and at once, the tourists began laughing.

“Everybody started cracking up and I thought, ‘What, is my fly down?’” Michael Cates said.

Then he turned to look at what was causing the ruckus.

“In the wall oven, there must have been 100 naked Barbie dolls,” he said.

He had discovered, and in front of many tourists, Devereaux’s secret hiding place.

Overall, the Cates house isn’t a historic home. It’s a family home.

Michael Cates said he thinks being a live-in family in the home is one of the appeals of his home to tourists, that there is a trend to know how people live in the grandeur, historic homes.

People love the houses and the history, he said, but it’s the human interest that really clenches it.

Large portraits of Devereaux hang on walls in each room, and tourists will ask about her.

An armoire in the formal living room swings open to show gowns Devereaux has worn in previous Natchez Historic Pageants.

And, Michael Cates said the tourists are even allowed to get a peek at her room, “which is definitely not antebellum.”

The effect touring has one the Cates is not overwhelming, and it’s something they adjust to.

Devereaux Cates said it mostly wrecks her Saturdays.

“I’m very lazy on Saturday morning, and (my parents) wake me up early and put me in a big hoopskirt,” she said.

But Michael Cates said she gets to run around with her friends, also in period costume, chiming in with tidbits for the tourists.

“Devereaux knows the history really well,” he said.

Another minor downfall was spring break had to be postponed because of Pilgrimage.

“I was so sad,” Devereaux said. “Everybody else got to go to the Bahamas or at least Baton Rouge for a shopping spree.”

Michael Cates said living in the historic home in general can be a different way of life.

The Cates have lived in the house since 2001, so Devereaux has basically grown up there.

He said growing up in the historic home had such affects as Devereaux learning certain etiquette — a politeness the other receivers in the home are quick to point out.

She has also developed an interest in architecture and design, Michael Cates said.

And as far as throngs of tourists tromping through the family home, fingering walls and furniture and asking questions, Eugenie Cates said it’s nothing she minds.

“The people are always so nice, friendly and appreciative,” she said.

Also with Spring Pilgrimage’s rotation, the Cates home is only shown every four days.

“So we still have a life,” Eugenie Cates said.