Category Archive: Casey’s Stories

Gravity - By Casey Gauntt


By Casey Gauntt

Reader Alert—read The Letter, Impeccable Timing, For Jon and the Vern Case stories first
Flashback from The Letter, Impeccable Timing and For Jon

I left the shaft job and my new friends in Coalwood, West Virgnia in late August, 1968 and flew home to Chicago. Ten days later I was in Los Angeles starting my first semester at USC. The whirlwind began with fraternity rush. I gave a courtesy glance at the Phi Psi house, my dad’s fraternity at UCLA, a more serious look at the Phi Delts where my cousin John Hagestad was BMOC (big man on campus), and ended up pledging Delta Tau Delta—aka Delts— my brother’s house. Grover Cleveland Gauntt III was a senior and not active in rush or, more accurately, rushing me. My pledge nickname was “Big Grover” –my 6’ 3” to his 5’11”—only adding to his chagrin.

I regaled many with the stories of my summer in Coalwood and they seemed fascinated and slightly incredulous. I suppose I knew from the way I carried on about it that there was even more to the experience than I probably understood at the time. But that enthusiasm soon receded behind everything else that was going on—war raging in Vietnam, the country trying to heal from the assassinations of Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King, and Civil Rights riots and marches all over the country.

O. J. Simpson who won the Heisman TrophyUSC’s football team was dominant led by senior tailback O. J. Simpson who won the Heisman Trophy that year. In the swirl of the football games and fraternity-sorority parties one could almost forget USC was next to Watts and in the middle of a very bad, high crime, neighborhood. There were, however, sobering reminders. USC’s Alumni Club in Chicago was the second largest in the country, and thanks to the hard work of its members, including George Moody and my mother, a lot of kids like my brother and me came to SC from the Chicago area. One of them who entered SC with me was a very highly recruited swimmer from Barrington, right next door to my home town of Itasca. We met at a rush party at the Phi Delt house where he ended up pledging, and saw each other few times after that. One night in early October he was at the house and an active sent him to the parking lot to get something from his car. They found him a half hour later sprawled across the front seat of the car in a pool of blood. He’d been stabbed to death during what the police figured was an attempted robbery gone very badly.

In the early 1960s, Case Foundation was doing a lot of business in Central and South America and they formed a new company Case International de Panama, S.A. headquartered in Panama City. They teamed up with a Columbian, Mario Ospina, who ran the day to day operations. My dad got a piece of the company and oversaw the Case family’s interests. This was a dream come true for him. He loved Latin America, taught himself Spanish, and his study in our home in Itasca, Illinois was filled with Latin music and literature. My dad loved deep sea fishing and Mario and he frequently entertained clients on fishing junkets off the coast of Panama, Columbia and Cabo San Lucas, Mexico.

fishing junkets off the coast of Panama
Club De Pesca (Panama) 12-10-1964

By 1968 my grandfather, Vern Case, retired full time from the business and Mario and my dad bought out his interests in Case Panama for cash and a long-term note. Now it was their own baby to grow and prosper with some local contractors and investors. Around this same time the Case family-Vern and Henrietta Case, by mother and her brother Stan— sold Chicago-based Case Foundation to Bernie Mullen, John O’Malley and some of the other Case executives. That sale, too, was structured as an earn-out’ where the family would get paid from future profits of the company. Although my dad wasn’t one of the sellers or buyers he shouldered responsibility for the transition and looked after the Case family’s interests in the sale.

My dad had been a student of the stock markets for many years. He’d spend hours in his study manually charting several stocks with his fancy mechanical pencils and rulers. In 1969, with the help and encouragement of a young guy who was also a member of the Chicago Athletic Club, my father bought a seat on the Chicago Board of Trade and began to dabble in commodities trading. He so wanted to create something of his own and, finally, wean himself from Case Foundation.

I came home to Itasca in the summer of 1969. My dad got me a job with Tishman Construction working on the nearly completed John Hancock Tower in downtown Chicago. At the time this one hundred story structure, known as “Big John,” was the tallest building in the world. My job involved walking the building floor by floor and preparing punch lists of all the things the subcontractors needed to fix (repaint this, missing receptacle plate here, door doesn’t close properly there). It was tedious, boring and I was despised by the subcontractors. I welcomed any diversion including the first time I experienced zero gravity.

John Hancock Tower in downtown Chicago AKA Big JohnNot only was it the tallest building, but Big John’s express elevator from the ground floor to the restaurant being built at the top was the fastest in the world. The restaurant was named The Top of John Hancock. We construction men had a better name—Tip of The Cock. One day in the elevator lobby I ran into Paul, another young Tishman employee. He said “Come on, I want to show you something really cool.” We got in the cab of the express elevator and began the ascent. I couldn’t believe how fast the cab accelerated—the ticking off of the floor numbers on the LED display above the cab’s doors became a blur. All of my weight was crushed into the heels of my boots. Somewhere around the 70th floor the elevator reached its maximum speed and Paul pried open the elevator doors with his hands tripping the automatic breaking system. The cab’s massive inertia carried us up another ten stories or so, the cable no longer wrapping around the drum at the top of the building. At the moment the cab reached its zenith and began its descent into free-fall, our feet lost contact with the floor and we literally floated for a second or two an inch above the cab’s tiled floor. At that moment, Paul and I were commanders of our own space capsule just like the one Neil Armstrong and the other Apollo 11 astronauts had taken to the moon in July of 1969.


The exhilaration was instantly replaced by intense fear—mine—as the cab plummeted to earth. I quickly assessed the options. What if the cable snaps and we plummet all the way to the bottom? What if it doesn’t snap after we reach the bottom of the ten floors we floated up—same result, instant death upon impact. We’re fucked!! I screamed. Paul, the seasoned veteran, smiled. Apparently there was plenty of elasticity in the cable and as we reached and descended beyond the point where the doors were pried open it stretched like a bungee cord and we went down a few more floors before we were yanked back up. It went on like this— down and up—four or five times until we finally came to rest. That was by far and away the most exhilarating experience I have ever had in my life. I have bungee-jumped in New Zealand—it’s not even a close second.

Case Foundation put in the caisson foundations for Big John in 1966. This was a mammoth job. Fifty seven of the 239 ten foot diameter caissons went down an incredible two hundred fee deep. The foundations were designed to leave in place the casings—the steel tubes inserted into the holes while the concrete is poured.

John Hancock site 1966

caissons were ten feet in diameter and over a hundred feet deep

Generally the casings are pulled before the concrete hardens. However, at some point in the middle of the job somebody made the decision to start pulling the casings—maybe to save money. Shortly after the steel infrastructure for the building was coming out of the ground, problems surfaced with the foundation system. There were costly delays on the job while some of the caissons were redone. By the summer of 1969, litigation had been threatened against Case by the owner/developer of the project. I wasn’t aware of the magnitude of the problem, but I sensed my father was worried about it. As it turned out, and I will write about in a soon-to-come story, it was a big deal — so big the Chicago Tribune was still publishing stories about it 15 years later in 1985 [ City's Stately 'Big John' Gets Off To A Tipsy Start ]

I’d usually take the train from Itasca into Chicago’s Union Station and then grab a bus to the John Hancock building. Sometimes my dad would drive me if he was going downtown. During one of our drives he told me “Casey, don’t even think about getting into the construction business. It’s too volatile and unpredictable. It’s a boom—bust business that will only frustrate you.” I’d been working in the construction business the past nine summers—eight for Case— it was the only business I knew, and I had always assumed after college I’d go to work for my grandfather and dad and help build the company. Great—what was I going to do now?

Itasca Illinois

Flush with $1,830 in my pocket from my toils in Big John’s stairwells and elevators, I headed back to USC for my sophomore year. My brother spent his summer with the U.S. Postal Service before heading off to the prestigious Wharton School of Business in Philadelphia for his first year of a two year MBA program. Finally, one of us was going to an Ivy League school which, hopefully, pleased our father.

In April of 1970, U.S. forces invaded Cambodia, and America erupted. Student protests and riots began immediately and simultaneously on every college campus with the exception of the military academies. It was like spontaneous combustion. The opposition to the war had been growing and becoming more vocal and embolden over the previous several months. The opening of a new front against another country meant more boys would be drafted, killed or injured, and the war was far from over. That was the spark that ignited the whole thing. Two weeks later the Ohio National Guard was called onto the Kent State campus to suppress a student demonstration. The guardsmen opened fire on the students and killed four of them.

Four dead in O-hi-o

“Four dead in O-hi-o,” the chilling lyric in Neil Young’s anthem of the times “Ohio,” memorialized the tragedy. The volcano blew and things quickly got out of control. Students and professors across the country clashed with police and National Guard. There was a march and demonstration by hundreds of thousands of young people in Washington D.C. My brother was one of them.

Neil Young’s anthem of the times Ohio,memorialized the tragedy

Within a week there were so many classes cancelled due to professor and student absences, USC’s administration decided to give students the option of taking their midterm grades and “working for peace” in lieu of completing the term. I had straight A’s on my midterms and chose peace. All college sports were cancelled and several of us dedicated ourselves to playing over-the-line on SC’s baseball field several hours each day. It was eerily quiet on campus. I was neither aligned with the protesters nor blood-thirsty hawks. Our parents strongly encouraged us to believe that the folks running the show in D.C. were the most experienced in these things and, for the good of the country, we must abide by their decisions. I didn’t completely buy-in to that dogma, and I still harbored latent anxiety from the Cuban Missile Crisis as to whether our fathers in Washington really knew what was best. [ You might enjoy: Fallout Shelter, My Ass ] I didn’t’ feel that strongly one way or another about it to move me to march with the protesters or enlist in the Army. My brother was a different story.

I came home to Itasca for the summer. It would be my last one there. My mother had a friend from the Midwest Alumni Club who was the President of Baxter Labs, a big publicly held company that made medical instruments and supplies, headquartered in Mundelein, about fifteen miles north of Itasca. I went to work for his outfit as an assistant inventory control analyst in a group of about fifty that figured out whether the warehouse in Pascagoola had too few or too many tongue depressors relative to the pace of sales in that particular region. I got my first dose of big corporate ladders and office politics and didn’t like it. I found the entire experience depressing. It was like the popular television show “The Office,” only not funny—it was all too pathetically real.

Grover also came home that summer from Wharton. He was, in his words, ‘transformed.’ After our glorious trip to Panama for Christmas 1969, he boarded a plane for Philadelphia donned in a Chemise Lacoste polo shirt, penny loafers and a cashmere sweater wrapped around his shoulders and a crew-cut hair style. He returned six months later with hair below his shoulders, a full beard, bell-bottoms, tie-dyed Jimmi Hendrix t-shirt and beads. He was vociferously opposed to the War and all things establishment. He was reading and quoting the writings of Buddha, but that wasn’t new— Grover had been a student of Eastern religions and philosophy since high school. He spent hours in our back yard sitting in a lotus position and contemplating the beauty of a blade of grass. Our mother was worried about him, and our father was annoyed and made no attempt to hide his displeasure. “Are you using drugs?” Grover denied it, but I knew that wasn’t true. His girlfriend of two years at USC had started going out with another guy, which may not have been so bad if he wasn’t our cousin, John, the Phi Delt. It was a very difficult summer for and with my brother.

I drove back to SC in my dad’s 1968 beige Cadillac Sedan DeVille which he had given me. That was our deal—we couldn’t have a car in college until we were juniors.

Cadillac Sedan DeVille

Grover got an Austin Healey and sold it when he graduated from SC. He drove back to Philadelphia in our mother’s yellow 1966 Ford Galaxy 500. He left a letter addressed to us—mostly meant for our dad—apologizing for the summer’s acrimony and expressing his love and his gratitude for the love and support of our family. “It takes a lot of love and understanding to watch a child grow up and go through stages of change and experimentation,” he wrote. “The coming year will be great for all of us.” My brother is a lot of things, but he is not psychic.

1970 Yellow VW
My dad bought a yellow Volkswagen Bug to replace the Caddy he’d given me. It was obvious that he was extremely stressed and out of sorts that summer, and it had very little to do with my brother’s ‘transformation.’ It was business related and, as with other troubles in his life, he didn’t talk about it.

Once again my mother, bless her heart, keeps everything including a file containing some things my father wrote in December 1970. A year after Jimmy died, I took that file out of a box of my mother’s things we store in our attic and read it for the first time. My mother had shown it to me perhaps twenty years earlier, but I barely glanced at it. I couldn’t read it then—I didn’t want to know—I was afraid. I recently read an Eckhart Tolle book and embraced one of his mantras, I will be fearless in my life. I mean, really—at this point what could I possibly be afraid of? I’d already lived my worst nightmare–twice.

I read my father’s file several times. I also sat down with my mother and her brother, my uncle Stan, and talked with them at length about “What happened?”

Shortly after the sale of Case Foundation to the employees the company was beset with problems. The country was in the middle of a recession and the construction business was in another “bust” phase. The company was indebted to a couple of banks for around $400,000 and they were putting the squeeze on. In addition to the heavily depreciated equipment, the company’s major assets were a hundred acre farm across the street worth about $350,000, $60,000 of land in Detroit and our house in Itasca. I had not realized until I read the file that we didn’t own our own home. $400,000 of debt might not seem like a lot of money today, but here’s some perspective. Our—I mean the company’s—four bedroom house in Itasca with an acre of land on a private golf course was worth maybe $25,000. More importantly, $400,000 was a lot of debt for the company with no readily available means to pay it back. If the banks foreclosed Case was out of business and the Case family would get ‘goose-egg’—zero—from the sale of the company. My dad had lined up a buyer for the farm, but the sale fell through.

Yet this all paled in the shadow of the John Hancock building. By the summer of 1970 the original developer had lost the project to his lenders and filed a massive lawsuit against the company, the Case family and my father seeking damages in excess of $160 million.

Things in Panama were no better. In October of 1968, shortly after my dad and Mario bought Vern’s interests in Case International, there was a military coup in Panama led by Brigadier General Omar Torrijos. Manual Noriega, who would become dictator several years later, was at that time a young officer under General Torrijos. Panama became increasingly unstable politically and risky for business. My father took a trip to Panama in September of 1970. One of their projects was the development of a hospital clinic in Panama City and there were some “problems” with the permits. My father drew $17,000 of cash from the company account and handed it over to one their partners in the deal, who in turn gave it to a government official. “Problem” solved; just like doing business in Chicago. Before my dad returned home, Mario and he drew another $20,000 from Case International for my dad to invest in corn and silver commodities and make some money to cover their financial problems.

Thanksgiving 1970My parents and Laura came to California in late November. We spent Thanksgiving Day in Springville with my mother’s folks, Vern and Henrietta, and then drove back down to Los Angeles the next day. My dad was quiet and looked exhausted. That Friday my sister and I went to the USC-Notre Dame game at the Coliseum. Despite Joe Theisman’s monster game for the Fighting Irish throwing for a still-standing school record 526 passing yards, the Trojans prevailed 38-28 and accounted for the only blemish on Notre Dame’s otherwise perfect season. While the Trojans rained on the Irish’ parade, the LA skies poured down mightily on the fans with a torrential rain storm which lasted the entire game. Laura and I got soaked. After the game, I drove us to nearby Hancock Park where our parents were attending a party with several of their old friends from college. I got lost—typical—and by the time we arrived the party was in full swing. My sister recently shared with me her remembrance of what happened next.

“As we entered the house, soaking wet, Dad was standing by the door ready to leave, although the party was still going strong. I sat down, you stood next to him, and he said to you ‘You can tell me to dig a trench from here to there, and I could do that. But I don’t know a way out of the problems I have now.’ Of course that isn’t a direct quote, but it was something like that.”

I remember the football game, the rain, the win, and the trouble finding the house when we drove back. I remember my mother telling me Dad had not had anything to drink for a long time. Because of all the business problems he was afraid drinking might become an issue for him. I did not remember my father saying any words like that to me. Shortly after they returned to Chicago, my dad went back to Panama. On December 13, 1970 he made this handwritten note:

“The Baird & Warner time [his commodities trading] was not enjoyable. I realized that we were not going to sell the Myers farm (our 100 acres)- I felt I had to earn some money to pay-off the Beverly Bank—I had to do it personally because Case Foundation couldn’t. Also, I thought the price of silver was going up. I now realize what a con game gold, silver, platinum and palladium are. I am not a good trader—some where I miss it. I’m not disciplined enough-nor shrewd or quick enough. At first I thought I was good—I lost money from the first, but I had confidence that I’d win. I was influenced to think that money was going to get tighter and because of inflation, silver would increase in price. So I took a (too) large a position in a bull spread and silver broke down and by October 1 I was wiped out. I was in shock. I had lost $50,000 in a couple of days and faced with a lower market which would narrow the spread more, I shorted the market and figure I lost another $20,000 in the next two days as silver advanced. I still though (desperation)……….”

End of his writing. The last two lines were written with a feint, unsteady hand.

On December 15, he made a handwritten list of his personal assets and liabilities and his income for 1970—$55,336.47. On December 18 he neatly wrote a four page detailed summary of several outstanding matters involving the businesses and the various solutions he had attempted. He mentioned the $20,000 that Mario and he had pulled from the Case International account in September to be invested in silver. “I was trying to find a way to pay off the banks.”

The last sheet of his notes was dated “December 19, 1970-Saturday, Panama” and included a rough balance sheet for Case Foundation listing assets of $600,000 and liabilities of $612,000. At the bottom of the page he wrote and underlined “Washout.”

A flash of guilt hit me in the stomach. At some point during my sophomore year 1969-1970 I wrote a paper for a macroeconomics class about the silver market and I shared it with my dad. I, too, concluded the price of silver would go up in the long run because of an anticipated shortage of supply. I was so convinced I made my first stock purchase— ten shares of Hecla Mining Company, the largest domestic miner of silver. Did I ‘influence’ his thinking on the silver market? I will never sell those shares.

 ten shares of Hecla Mining Company

I flew back home from USC for Christmas vacation on December 21, 1970. My sister Laura and my mother were snuggled in our house in Itasca. My brother would be flying in from Philadelphia the next day. That night Laura and Mom were decorating the Christmas tree in front of the large living room window. I was out with some buddies from high school. Laura was very happy that it was beginning to snow. They both saw a yellow VW come around the corner onto Greenview Rd. and slow down in front of the house. The car did not stop and drove on by. Neither of them said anything. Laura thought to herself “Is it him? How could it be; he’s not coming home from Panama until tomorrow.”

The next morning Barb went to the Itasca Bank where she’d been working part time. I was still sleeping. Around ten a.m. Laura got in bed with me. She was shaking and crying. Our mother was leaning against the door of my bedroom, crying. Choking back her sobs she told me what she had just told my sister: “Your father is dead. Virginia [his secretary] found him in the bathroom next to his office when she got to work this morning. The police say he shot himself.”

Laura had awoken around nine. She made herself some breakfast and had turned on the television which had been moved upstairs from the basement. She heard a key go in the lock of the back door which connected the kitchen and the garage. She first saw our mother, ashen faced, and behind her were Virginia and two Du Page County police detectives. The three of them had gone to the Bank to deliver our mother the news. Laura and I hugged and cried together for awhile, and then I got out of bed, threw on some clothes and went into the living room. My mother was on the couch seated between the detectives. Virginia was standing helplessly nearby. One of the detectives repeated what they told our mother at the Bank. “Mr. Gauntt was found dead this morning at his office in Keeneyville. He had been shot in the head. There was a handgun next to him. We believe the gunshot was self-inflicted and our preliminary investigation indicates it was a suicide. Of course there will be a formal Coroner’s investigation within the next couple of days and you will be notified of the time and place should you choose to attend. I’m very sorry for your loss.”

It was 10:30 in the morning, a Tuesday, December 22, 1970. The steel gray sky had darkened and a light snow began to fall once more. I felt a numbness—shock—utter bewilderment— pain that I can’t begin to describe. The floor was disintegrating beneath our feet and we were falling. This time there was no cable attached. This was ground zero and we knew in our guts that our lives were shattered and drastically changed forever—yet we had no ability at that moment to comprehend the vastness and emptiness of it all. “Why?” we kept asking.

It was too late to call my brother. He was already on his way to the airport to fly home—pre-cell phones. My mother began to make “the calls”—those dreaded calls to her folks, her brother, my dad’s two sisters, close friends and business associates. Later that afternoon my friend and neighbor, Carter Nottke, drove me to O’Hare Airport to pick up my brother. I spotted him on the curb in front of baggage claim, waving and smiling at us. I got out of the car and as we hugged I spoke into his ear “G.G. I’ve got some bad news.”

It was 4:30 p.m., the snowfall had become much heavier and it was already dark. Very dark.

Living Large - By Casey Gauntt

Living Large

Living Large
By Casey Gauntt

Panama“Do you see anything?” the deeply tanned man at the helm softly called in Spanish down to one of the equally dark young men on the deck of the boat. “Nada.” Nothing. It was early in the afternoon and the sun was a fully engulfed barbeque turned upside down over the sleek sixty foot vessel. There were eight of us on board. In addition to the boat’s captain and two crew there were a couple of other young men, a woman in her forties smoking an unfiltered Chesterfield cigarette, a pre-teens olive skinned girl and a man in his late forties, early fifties. This man was a very fit six feet, 185 pounds— clearly in charge. He was taking a siesta on the rear deck of the boat. He had a cerveza in one hand and a very high tech camera in the other. It was December 29, 1969, and we were twenty miles off the coast of Columbia south of its border with Panama. We’d been doing lazy circles in the oil-slick Pacific for over seven hours. At least two of us were constantly searching the ocean with binoculars. Nothing. Nada. Only one boat had ventured remotely close to us and that was over three hours ago. It was a Columbian Navy patrol boat. To them we looked like a harmless fishing vessel and they moved on. “Where are they” I whispered to the young man standing vigilantly beside me. “Maybe they won’t show.”



We heard it before we saw it. It was a combination of a finger snap and an ear piercing “ping!” as the line snapped out of the clothespin holding it to the outrigger pole hanging off the starboard side of the boat. The captain and crew screamed in unison, “HOOK UP!!” and the boat sprang to life. The boss-man bolted awake from his nap and, as he leapt forward out of his chair to grab the wickedly bending pole secured in its stancheon, line flying off the reel, tossed his beer bottle over the side and shoved the days-old camera into the pocket of his shorts to free up his hands. Well, that’s what he meant to do. As soon as he grabbed the fishing pole he immediately realized what the rest of us had seen him do. In a foggy excitement he had thrown his brand new Minolta, James Bond-class, camera over the side of the boat and stuffed the half full beer bottle neck first in the pocket of his shorts which had quickly soaked the front as though he had pissed himself. My brother G.G. and I couldn’t contain ourselves and erupted in laughter. My mother, Barbara, flicked the stub of her Chesterfield King into ocean’s ashtray and joined in the gaiety.


The man holding the pole, my father, was for him in a rare state of indecision. Should he jump in the water and try for his camera? But he has some huge fish on the line—a marlin or a sail for sure— the only fish of any size that had hit the bait all day. ‘Fight the fish?’ In those split seconds of hesitation he failed to set the hook and the as yet unseen monster-of-the-sea spit it out. The line went limp and surprise and decision gave way to anger, for now he had irretrievably lost both camera and fish. He pulled the now empty beer bottle out of his shorts and threw it as far as he could into the ocean. I was tempted to say, “Maybe you knocked the fish out, Dad,” and quickly thought better of it. When the captain and crew began to giggle and joined the rest of us in guffaws my father relented, smiled and pulled a fresh set of beers out of the ice chest for all of us, except our twelve year old sister, Laura.

Two years ago we spent the 1967 Christmas holidays in Honolulu.

1967 Christmas in Honolulu

Now in 1969, our family spent the Christmas holidays in Panama and deep sea fishing off Columbia. I was nineteen and in the middle of my sophomore year at the University of Southern California. My older brother, Grover Cleveland Gauntt, III (aka “GG” also our father’s nickname) was twenty-two and in the middle of his first year of the MBA program at the Wharton School of Business in Philadelphia. My mother 48, Laura and 50 year old father, Grover Cleveland Gauntt, Jr., were living in Itasca, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago. We met at the San Francisco airport and flew together to Panama City a couple of days before Christmas.

My father was the President of Case Foundation Company owned by my mother’s father, Vernon D. Case. In the mid 1960s the company started Case International de Panama S.A. to do construction and foundation work in Central and South America. My dad had an ownership interest in Case Panama as did his partner and good friend Mario Ospina, a Columbian by birth who ran the operations in Panama.

El Panama Hotel
El Panama Hotel

We had Christmas dinner with Mario and his family at the luxurious Hotel El Panama. The day after Christmas we boarded the Manana IV, an exquisitely appointed sixty foot boat my father and Mario frequently chartered to entertain clients, and headed south for six full days in some of the most renowned deep sea fishing waters in the world. Christmas vacation, December 1969. For me, that was the best family vacation we’d ever had. It turned out to be our last.

Why I Believe in Angels and Miracles —Casey’s Epilogue

Why I Believe In Angels and Miracles—Casey’s Epilogue

This is a time-seasoned, deeply-felt response to Jeff Schwartz’s story
published six months back you can read here: Why I Believe in Angels

Why I Believe in Angels and Miracles —Casey’s Epilogue
By: Casey Gauntt

Jeff’s beautiful story deeply resonated with Hilary, Brittany and me. We too encountered some angels and miracles within the first few hours after our son Jimmy died. It was a Saturday, August 9, 2008. We were seated in our living room with the young woman from the San Diego County Medical Examiner’s office. She and the 30-something Deputy Sheriff—he was standing awkwardly behind her, perhaps at the ready to move in case one of us became hysterical-we didn’t—arrived on our door step a few minutes after 8 a.m. to let us know Jimmy and been struck and likely instantly killed by an automobile out on Del Dios Highway only a handful of miles to the east around 5:30 that morning. I asked where Jimmy was and the young woman said he was at the Medical Examiner’s Office in Kearny Mesa about 20 minutes away. “I want to see him,” I said. The M.E. told me “I’m sorry, but the Medical Examiner does not permit viewings. There will probably be an autopsy and then he will be released to the mortuary you select to receive his remains. Since today is a Saturday that may not be for another four or five days.”

One of the biggest regrets I carry with me is that I never saw my father’s body after he took his life in 1970. I went to the Du Page County Medical Examiner’s hearing a few days later with my brother Grover and Uncle Stan where a committee of three men reviewed the evidence to determine the cause of death—yup, “self inflicted gun shot wound to the head”—but I didn’t see him—nor do I recall wanting to. That was not going to happen this time.

After I called my sister Laura and brother to let them know what happened, the next call I made was to my law partner John Davies. John was one of my closest friends and was the ex-officio Godfather to Brittany and Jimmy. He was beyond devastated. In many ways John was the Marlon Brando kind of Godfather to hundreds—if not thousands—of people in San Diego and throughout California. In his unassuming and behind the scenes manner, John Davies got things done—good things—and was one of the most politically connected people there was. I told John what the Medical Examiner said to us and that I was desperate to see Jimmy. “Let me see what I can do,” he said.

Casey, Jimmy and Casey's law partner John Davies

PHOTO: Casey, Jimmy and John Davies (angel one)

Two hours later John called me back. “OK— I called Chalkie”- his good friend, and mine, Ron Roberts and one of the five San Diego County Supervisors. “He spoke with the M.E.’s office and they will be expecting you, Hilary and Brittany at 2:30 p.m.” I thanked John profusely, but he continued “Are you sure you want to see him? They told Ron he was badly beat up in the accident and … know what I’m trying to say.” I told John I appreciated that but “I’ve got to see him. Thank you for everything and please thank Ron, too.”

John was our first angel and he orchestrated the first miracle for us that day—getting us into the M.E. Office to see Jimmy.

My sister Laura and her husband Anton picked us up around 2 p.m. They had arrived from their home in Switzerland two days earlier with their children Leo and Claire for their annual visit and vacation. I was literally headed out the door to pick them up at the place they were staying to go on a hike when the Medical Examiner and Deputy Sheriff showed up.

San Diego County Supervisor Ron RobertsAs we were driving over to the M.E.’s office I got a call on my cell phone. It was John. “Casey, I just spoke with Ron. He just left the M.E.’s office. He went over to make sure everything was all set….he also wanted to see Jimmy—how he looked—before you guys got there. There’s a lot of bruising on one side of his face, but Ron thinks it will be ok for you to see him. He’s not so sure about Hilary and Brittany. He said you should see Jimmy first and then make the call. There’s a chaplain that works for the County—Joe Davis—he’s already there waiting for you.”

I was stunned! Who does something like that?! Ron Roberts was our second angel and he performed the second miracle for us that day—making the arrangements for us to see Jimmy where “viewings are strictly prohibited” and checking on Jimmy first to see how it would be for the girls!!

Chaplain Joe Davis - our third angelWe arrived at the early 1970s era single story cement block M.E.’s office building a few minutes before 2:30 and Chaplain Joe Davis was standing on the steps of the entrance waiting for us. He had the warm, kind, compassionate face and manner you would hope for in someone in his line of work. He told us he had worked several years as the chaplain for the M.E.’s office assisting with the “recently bereaved.” “On Saturdays?” I asked, and he said “Well, when a County Supervisor calls….I’m glad to help you.” He asked if it would be ok if he said a prayer, and we held hands and bowed our heads as he said some beautiful words I can’t remember.

He answered lots of questions about what would happen over the next few days— how to select a mortuary, obituaries, death certificates—the cold hard facts of the business of death. He said there would be an autopsy to determine if any drugs were involved—we would learn later only alcohol, as we already knew. He then asked me if I would like to see Jimmy first—as he and Ron had previously discussed—and he led the way down a sterile, drab, linoleum tiled hallway. As we walked, Chaplain Davis prepared me, “So, as you know, we are not set up for viewings here. We’re going into a small room around the corner—and there will be a glass window—Jimmy will be lying on a gurney on the other side of the glass. He’s in a large room where the recently deceased are examined—lots of instruments, tables and machines, but nobody else is in the room. The left side of his face is covered with scrapes from the road—I’ll go in with you—OK? Are you ready?” We walked in the five by five foot room barely room for the two of us—and there was Jimmy. It was Jimmy’s body, but I instantly knew he wasn’t there. He was already somewhere else. He was beautiful—his reddish brown hair was combed back away from his forehead—unusual since he liked to let in flop down—revealing that incredible face, the high cheekbones, long eyelashes, thin perfect lips, strong jaw and chin. His body was covered with a cream colored blanket pulled up to his long neck. He was lying so the left side of his face was facing the window—there were a lot of reddish scrapes and bruises as Ron and Joe had forewarned—but Jimmy was beautiful. The Chaplain asked me if I would like to be alone—I nodded—and then I spoke with Jimmy and cried with him. This was the last place I wanted to be and at the same time the only place I wanted to be. Does that make sense?

Chaplain Davis came back in a few minutes and took me back to the reception area where Hilary, Brittany, Laura and Anton waited, pensively. I looked into Hilary’s and Brittany’s imploring eyes and said “It’s OK. I think you should see him. It will be OK.” The Chaplain took the three of us back and, now the veteran, I prepared Hilary and Brittany for what they would see. The three of us walked into the room together—there was no room for the Chaplain.

That moment—that searing, electric moment—is too personal and private for me to share. I can tell you how proud I am of my wife and daughter and the courage they summoned to walk into that room. And I know we all felt it was very important for us to be there—to see Jimmy—of that we have no regrets.

Jimmy and LauraChaplain Davis brought us back after several minutes and then escorted Laura and Anton down the hall to see Jimmy.

He came right back, alone, and sat down with Hilary, Brittany and me. He became very serious—if it was possible to be more serious—and reached for Hilary’s and my hands.

“Look, I have to tell you guys something. The journey you began only a few hours ago is one of the hardest there is—losing a child is utterly devastating and your marriage and relationship is going to be severely tested. The statistics are not good—over 75% of couples who lose a child will divorce or separate within the first two years. Don’t be one of those statistics. You will have to work incredibly hard to be there for one another—support each other—love each other—stay together—whatever you do—stay together. I will pray that you do.”

Almost the same words Nurse Donna McBroom delivered to Jeff Schwartz moments after their daughter Julie died.

Chaplain Joe Davis was our third angel we encountered that day, and his miracle was the compassion and advice he gave to Hilary and me—the same miracle Nurse McBroom provided for Donna and Jeff.

When I first read Jeff’s Why I Believe In Angels and Miracles story I instantly knew what I wanted to do—but I waited until our webmaster Keith Bennett got the story ready to put up on the website, and then I sent this email.

Dear Chaplain Davis, I want to share with you a true story I recently posted on my website written by Jeff Schwartz from Maui. The message of this story is very powerful—and I should know because you delivered the same message to my wife Hilary and me over five years ago in August of 2008. You were the angel that appeared at our ground zero, only hours after our 24 year old son Jimmy was struck and killed by an automobile. You and Supervisor Roberts also performed a miracle that Saturday allowing us to see our son although viewings were strictly prohibited. We remain enormously grateful to you for that kindness and your comforting and tough advice… I wanted to let you know we heard you—like it was yesterday—and in August Hilary and I celebrated our 40th wedding anniversary, and our daughter Brittany—who was also with us that day at the M.E.’s office and heard your words—and her husband Ryan recently celebrated her 6th wedding anniversary and have two boys ages 3 and 1. Thank you Chaplain Davis for intersecting our lives at the precise moment we needed you. Thank you for the incredible work you do—we have enormous respect for you and what you do. God Bless. —Casey

I received this reply two days later.

Casey, I can’t put into words what your email means to me. There are many times that due to the tragic nature of what I do there is no feedback. You wrote me a letter about a year and a half after your son was killed that I have treasured. I felt your pain that day and have thought of your family over the years and wondered how you were doing. Your email and past letter are reward for me and a great motivation to move forward in trying to help people. Thank you taking the time to write me again and for sharing that story. Your friend, —Joe Davis

I am deeply grateful to the three angels who came to our side in those first, critical, horrible, hours after Jimmy died. Hilary, Brittany and I dedicate this epilogue to one of them—my partner, our dear friend, our Godfather—John Garfield Davies. We love you John, and thank you for keeping an eye on Jimmy for us.

John Davies and his sister Estelle Milch
Angel one:
John Davies & sister Estelle Milch
Supervisor Ron Roberts
Angel two:
Supervisor Ron Roberts

Further Reading on our third angel: Chaplain Joe Davis:

  1. San Diego County: A Comfort for Grieving Families
  2. ABC Channel 10 News: Leadership Award Winner Joe Davis
  3. Christian Examiner: Medical Examiner volunteer offers comfort and resources for the grief stricken
  4. Union Tribune – San Diego: Healing the bereaved – Chaplain lends hand at Medical Examiner’s Office
Suffering Is The Only Honest Work

Suffering Is The Only Honest Work

Suffering Is The Only Honest Work

By Casey Gauntt

Tom StricklerThis story is because of Tom Strickler and his drive, leadership, mentorship,  generosity and love for Jimmy Gauntt.  Jimmy first met Tom in 2006.  As a  founding partner of Endeavor—now William Morris Endeavor— one of the most powerful entertainment agencies in the country, Tom was a major force in Hollywood with a triple A client list of writers, actors and directors.   They were introduced by Jimmy’s very close friend and writing partner, Evan Nicholas, who went to work for Endeavor as Tom’s assistant right after college. Jimmy and Evan started at USC in 2002 as freshmen and pledges of the SAE fraternity, and they share an extraordinary thing in common. 

Evan told the story at Jimmy’s memorial service:

“Jimmy and I were born on the same day, November 8, 1983.  Since I met him, we’ve always had our birthday together and it’s been a really fun coincidence.  We were friends for months before figuring it out and I’ll always remember the way we made the discovery.  We were 19 and on our way into a local bar.  Jimmy was in front of me so he gave his ID to the bouncer first and then when I handed mine over the bouncer exclaimed, “Wow, you guys have the same birthday?”  Jimmy and I looked at each other a little unsure and shrugged, “Yeah, I guess so.”  So, the bouncer gave back my I.D. and sent us on our way.  Jimmy was still in front of me but he kind of hung back and when the bouncer was out of earshot said, “HEY, I THINK OUR FAKE ID’S HAVE THE SAME BIRTHDAY.”


Evan Jimmy 2006 23rd Birthday   Evan Jimmy 2006 23rd Birthday
Evan & Jimmy
23rd birthday

Valparaiso Chile 2006

Jimmy in Valparaiso Chile 2006

Tom had come to their 23rd birthday party in Los Angeles and mentioned he was training with some of the Endeavor agents to run the Los Angeles Marathon in March.  Tom asked Jimmy if he was interested.  Jimmy thought this would be a great way to get back in shape and it certainly couldn’t hurt to get to know some of the top agents in the entertainment industry.  “I might be interested in doing that.”  Tom heard “Yes, sir, I’m all-in”; and so he was.  Jimmy was always fast.  In high school he was a wide receiver and ran track—sprints and high jump— but he was not a distance runner.  I don’t think he’d ever run a 10K.  And Jimmy had gotten out of shape over the last few years.  He said he’d burned out from four years of high school football and year-round workouts.  He also started smoking in college, just like his old man.

Jimmy really enjoyed the training and shared with us lots of stories about the runs they took through the L.A. countryside including a particularly wild jaunt on the Saturday before Thanksgiving.  Tom, Jimmy and two other Endeavor agents, Bill Weinstein and Rich Cook— Evan had somehow eluded Tom’s marathon net—were halfway into a fifteen miler in the Malibu hinterlands when Rich slipped on the trail and fell hard. The other guys circled back to find Rich writhing in pain; his arm and shoulder at an odd angle.  He had broken his collarbone, badly.  They tried to get Rich up but the pain was too bad and the trailhead and ranger station were miles away.  Tom took charge.  Bill and he would run to get help and Jimmy was ordered to stay with Rich and keep the mountain lions at bay.  Rich later recounted Jimmy was a great comfort, patting his head from time to time as you would a lap dog. Over an hour later, Jimmy and Rich heard a WHUMP WHUMP WHUMP soon followed by the appearance of the hulking frame of a Los Angeles County Emergency Rescue helicopter.  The chopper touched down in a clearing nearby and two paramedics jumped out.  Tom and Bill were not with them.  They put Rich on a stretcher and loaded him in the helicopter.  Jimmy jumped in and they were airlifted to the beach several miles away where Tom, Bill and an ambulance were waiting. 


Tom and Evan
Tom and Rich

There would be no marathon for Rich, however the hard work paid off for the rest of the team and on March 4, 2007, Tom, Bill and Jimmy successfully tackled the ordeal with Tom notching a personal best marathon time.  Jimmy posted this email of his experience the day after the race.

On L.A. Marathon Day,

Golden-buddha-light-of-compassion shines through 26.2 miles of the
city. There is water for the thirsty, vaseline for the chafed, and
white boys are welcome on Exposition and Normandie. The song “I love
L.A.” plays before the gun is fired, which is apt.

We began next to Universal Studios. Soon I was on Hollywood Blvd.,
running beside Two Elvises taking turns pushing a boombox blasting the
King’s hits. I thought I would follow them the whole damn way, but
they were too fast!

On Rossmore Street, in wealthy Hancock Park, well groomed little kids
offered diced bananas under flowering trees. I took the last pieces
from a kid in a suit and tie, and looked back seconds later to see him
running into the house to dice some more. I’d remember this when I was
running through South Central. A very different way of life, but diced
bananas were still available.

I ran next to a black man in his seventies, in impeccable shape. The
back of his shirt said “Finisher of Marathon Races in all fifty states
including Washington, D.C.” I told him that was amazing. He thanked me
graciously, even though I was the five hundredth person to tell him
so. But if you put it on the back of a shirt…

I ran next to a man with great hair who had labelled himself “The Coat
Man.” Besides the coat, he carried a tray with a bottle of champagne
on it. He had the stink of fame about him. He finished a couple
minutes ahead of me. The bottle wasn’t broken.

In KoreaTown, twice I nearly ran into old ladies who had to cross the
street to get home with their groceries. Dodging marathoners seemed
the thrill of the month for them. Once they got across, they checked
their grocery bags (no broken eggs), then laughed and laughed (a knee
slapping laugh).

The best entertainments along the way included drums. Around the
half-way point, this great jazz drummer hammered his set for us.
BA-BOOM-BOO-BA-BA-BA! I felt like I was in the action sequence of a
Wes Anderson movie. The other drums came at mile 22 – Twenty kids
playing big Chinese drums. I felt like a Samurai.

At mile 18, best friends were there to support. John Dale offered to
run the rest with me, then disappeared as I considered the offer.
Friend and Marathon teammate Bill’s younger brother DID run the rest
with him at mile 18, and I luckily came across them round mile 20.
Talking to them kept me away from the wall. By the end I was running
as hard as I could, and running 11 minute miles.

The race concluded dramatically, between downtown skyscrapers, and
thousands of spectators. The Guatemalan runner’s club representatives
were at mile 26, handing out big flags for their countrymen to drape
round their backs as they finished. It made me wish I had a closer
identification with the old country.

Finish line – Even though 2115 people had run across that line before
I got there, the crowd was nice enough to make me feel like I’d won
something. They cheered on repeat, which was very generous. A
finisher’s medal was put around my neck, but it felt so heavy I wanted
to take it off. The thing must have weighed ten pounds to me, at that

That night, marathon personal record setter Tom Strickler took us all
out for Korean BBQ. The Kobe beef and Cow tongue were savory. It was a
great day.

I recommend the marathon to everyone. Just Run.

—Love jim


Jimmy 2007 Marathon   marathon finish 2007
Jimmy – 2,116th out of 20,016
Bill Weinstein, Tom Strickler and Jimmy


Eighteen months later………

It was a Thursday afternoon and I had come home early from work as I’d been doing each day since I’d gone back a month ago.  I could only focus for about four hours in the morning on my law practice before heading home, exhausted,  to be with my wife, Hilary.  I was in “Jimmy’s room” in our home in Solana Beach, California, going through and boxing up some of his things.  Even though the last two years he’d been living in Los Angeles pursuing a career in writing and acting and really hadn’t spent much time at home since heading off for college, it remained “Jimmy’s room.”  And, of course, it was his bedroom whenever he was visiting us, as it would have been that last Friday he came home.

I’d been going through his drawers, closets and book shelves a little bit each day— a “little bit” was my limit.  Our objective was not to erase Jimmy from the room—far from it—only to soften his overwhelming presence.   His things would remain close by, in boxes, in our third story attic.  As I sifted through thousands of his football, basketball and baseball cards, some repressed angst with my mother bubbled up for having tossed my collection after I left for college—a fortune surely lost.  Well, probably not.  I wasn’t even close to the collector Jimmy was.  That’s how he learned to read at the age of four—he desperately needed to know what was written on the cards—he drove himself that way.  I got into it for the bubble gum.

There were the ribbons, medals and trophies for races won, teams joined, most improved, best sport.  Diplomas, report cards, photographs of friends, crushes and happy times; essays, notes and his books.  The books.  Jimmy had hundreds of books in his room in addition to the hoard stashed in the house he was renting in Hollywood’s Laurel Canyon.  I suppose ‘house’ is a slight exaggeration—it was a four hundred square foot artist’s cabin, with a loft, teetering on the side of a hill accessible by a crumbling rock footpath through the backyard of an actual house owned by his landlord.  An aside worth noting about his place is that many years earlier one of its occupants, also a struggling actor, “paid” a couple months rent by using his carpentry skills to build a loft and some closets in this matchbox.  His name, Harrison Ford.  Jimmy summed up his workmanship: “Lucky for him he became an actor, because there is no way that day job would have worked out.”

Going through his titles made me feel—well—lazy.  Jimmy had all the classics: everything written by Shakespeare, Joyce, Tolstoy, London, Keats, Tennyson, Whitman, Hemingway, Updike, Kesey, Steinbeck, and all of the heavyweights in Spanish literature—in Spanish.  I thought of the books my friends and I were “forced” to read in high school and college.  Jimmy read those books voluntarily.  He actually kept a reading list throughout high school and college that he’d plow through during summer breaks and downtime in the school year.  He’d obviously read many of these tomes multiple times.  His books were full of margin notes—more like undecipherable scribbles—and dog-eared pages.  He worked these masterpieces and they worked him.  There wasn’t a title of “crap” among them.  Jimmy didn’t waste his time with best sellers or Oprah’s picks.  Nor did he turn up his nose up at the junk the rest of us were reading.  That wasn’t his style.

There was the frayed, well travelled, North Face backpack he’d tossed on one of the chairs in his room when he came home that Friday evening.  It had remained nestled in that chair, untouched, for several weeks.  I could tell without even looking there were clothes and books crammed inside.  Jimmy always travelled with books and those had packing priority over clothes.  He cared deeply about books—clothes, not so much.  Inside were the things he thought about that late Friday afternoon, that he touched and placed in the backpack.  They were a thread to him—a piece of the grand mosaic that was him.  These were his things—personal things— and we respected his privacy and the sanctuary that was his space.  There were lots of reasons and excuses to not open that door, but eventually I did.

Inside, on top, was a ball of clothing, including a pair of well-worn blue jeans, a couple of dark Banana Republic t-shirts, some boxer shorts that appeared to be clean, and a rumpled dress shirt and slacks he surely would have attempted to wear as-is to dinner one of the following nights with my sister’s family visiting from Switzerland.  There were no socks, swimming suit or tennis shorts. He’d borrow—he would have borrowed—some of mine.  The rest of the pack was filled with books I’d never heard of.

Buried in one of the pouches in the pack was a receipt dated May 24, 2008 for $7.87 from Roberto’s Mexican food take-out in Solana Beach.  Three rolled tacos, one bean burrito and a small beverage.   I wondered if this was from the last time he and Erik Shepner saw each other—when Jimmy asked him “Shep, write me something beautiful and send it to me.”  In one of the front pockets of his jeans were some crumpled debit card receipts from a Quiznos on Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood,  Santa Monica Liquor, and a Chevron station somewhere in L.A.—too faded to make out an address.  In a back pocket were two ticket stubs for the Wednesday, August 6, 2008, 10:30 p.m. showing of Pineapple Express at The Grove theatres on Sunset Boulevard only a couple of miles from Jimmy’s place in Laurel Canyon.  Two nights before he came home.  Who did he go with?

This particular Thursday afternoon in Jimmy’s room I looked for the first time in the night stand on the right side of Jimmy’s king size bed.  In the top drawer I found a watch— a very nice watch, in fact.  It was a Rolex Explorer.  We had bought him a watch for high school graduation and I was trying to remember, “Was it a Rolex?”  No way—a nice watch, but definitely not a Rolex.  I could not remember ever seeing Jimmy wear the Rolex or mentioning that he had it.  Was it his?  He would never buy something like this for himself.  He never wore a ring—no piercings or tattoos—and I rarely saw him wear a watch.  But there it was in the nightstand drawer.  A stream of questions raced through my mind.  When was the last time he wore it?  When did he place it in the drawer?  Was he wearing it when he came home that Friday?  Had he taken it off and placed it in the drawer before he took off for the party?   I had no answers and Hilary wasn’t home at the time so I couldn’t ask her.

Rolex Explorer

I took the watch upstairs and put it in a wooden jewelry box with a glass cover that I keep in my section of the walk-in closet of our bedroom.  The box contains Jimmy’s other things the San Diego County Medical Examiner had returned to us in a plastic bag:  wallet, keys and cell phone.  The three $20 bills he was carrying are still tucked in his wallet.

Tom Strickler drove down from Los Angeles the next day to have dinner with Hilary, Brittany, Ryan and me. We thought then—and now—how courageous and meaningful it was for Tom Strickler to want to be with us and talk about Jimmy.  Although we’d met Tom once before, he was Jimmy’s friend.  Most of our friends were struggling with what to say in a sympathy card—personal visits were not on their radar. We were like their kryptonite.

Towards the end of our dinner and after lots of “Jimmy” stories, some welcome laughter and more tears, Tom said “I hope this doesn’t come off as petty or materialistic, but I need to ask you something.  A few weeks after last year’s L.A. Marathon I gave Jimmy a watch to commemorate our achievement and friendship.  I do that.  I was curious if you’ve come across it.  It’s a Rolex and I’ve been worried Jimmy may have left it in his place at Laurel Canyon or it might have ‘wandered off.’”

Without an explanation I excused myself from the table and went into our bedroom closet.  I returned moments later and asked Tom “Is this it?”  Tom took it from me and after a quick examination confirmed it was, indeed, the very one.  Hilary, Brittany and Ryan were looking at me with this ‘What is going on?’ look.  I told them how I had found the watch in the nightstand beside Jimmy’s bed the day before and how perplexed I was about it.   None of us, other than Tom, knew anything about it nor had ever seen Jimmy wear it.   We were grateful to Tom for having connected the dots at least as far as who the watch belonged to.

One of the “Jimmy” stories Tom shared with us was about an article that appeared a year earlier in Fade In, a Hollywood magazine that caters to the film industry. It was a rather scathing and unflattering piece about Endeavor in general and Tom, in particular, and that Jimmy was the only person who ever said anything to him after it came out.   “Not a co-worker, client, colleague—nobody.  Everyone in my business reads that rag religiously, so I knew for a fact that practically everybody I know read that article.  That’s one example of why I considered Jimmy a good friend.”

A couple of days after our dinner, Tom sent to us the email exchange he had with Jimmy over the Fade In piece. 

Tom–My bro johnny [John Dale] (the dude who kicks me in the balls on cam. [Jimmy and Me comedy video posted on Funny or Die]) was running around CAA [Creative Artists] the other day, and I guess as they were running laps around their holistic achievement punch, they chatted to John about their plus-plus praise in the never-was screenwriters magazine “Fade In (ON WHAT?)” As a result of their positive ink, the CAA under-suits all got merit rhombuses for the afternoon, personally inserted in their group-ambition-cavities by CLEAR R. Lovett/ghost of Ayn Rand. I guess it’s all about them “working together” over there. But we all know we come alone. So John showed me this article, and as I read it I was alarmed at its contradictions to my experiential fact, mainly in regard to one Sir Tom. Apparently, to my intuition, some bloated, ass-clown producer of a “film” you likely fucked for good reason saw a nice opportunity to chip at your ass in print. The worst was when he said “he’s not a good person to be around”, or something or other. That pissed me off. You’re a jumbo bag full of carrots of fun to be around Tom, and don’t let the slighted producer of Rob Lowe’s straight to MySpace musical/noir release make you believe otherwise. VIVA RENO! Kanye or Fifty would tell you to clown this dude’s ass in print. Like find him, find who he is, find what puny shit he does, find the shit he wants to do but can’t, find the bitches he’s fucking, and fuck them with more alacrity…basically, expose this dude’s ass and tear it up…walk around inside of it. But I know you will sit and sit pretty. But reading all that shit made me angry, and I just wanted to vent and hope that it didn’t ruin more than one minute of the many days you’ve won and run for yourself. —x/o jimmy

‘A jumbo bag full of carrots of fun’? And such a mouth! Apparently that was nothing new—he reeled it in around his old man. I laughed so hard snot came out of my nose.

This was Tom’s reply:

“I’ve done a pretty good job of pretending I don’t care.  Moved into that “I’m tough as shit and don’t give a shit” mode.  General Tom.  Take the hill boys and don’t stop until you get to the top.  Of course, it’s a ruse!  It was painful to read and embarrassing to think that everyone in Hollywood was reading it.  And a shadow of doubt…Am I who I think I am?  But as you know Jimmy-I believe in pain.  The suffering of the 24th mile.  The dance of loneliness.  The death of loved ones.  It is never fun or desired-but it does bring great counterpoint to the giddy fluorescent dance of life in the age of anti-depressants.  And through the pain, we always learn more about ourselves and appreciate the richness of life!   —Tom

Tom’s words were hauntingly familiar and Hilary put it together, instantly. “Jimmy wrote that poem for Tom as a thank you for the Rolex!”  When he came for dinner, Tom brought with him the poem Jimmy wrote for him after the Los Angeles Marathon— the poem we heard for the first time when Evan Nicholas read it at Jimmy’s memorial service—this extraordinarily beautiful, powerful and omniscient poem.  More dots connected.

Suffering Is The Only Honest Work

By James Gauntt


Rich lay flat in the tall grass,
and you had a reason to run.
I’d stay with the writhing wounded,
Come help or a mountain lion.

Hope against panic, this was real,
A chance to make use of our bodies,
A chance to be men in the flesh.

And the joy in your step
As you bounded away
Took with it the shame of my joy.

We bonded in the fracture of a collarbone.


Suffering is the only honest work,
Pain’s wail the only song whose words
Can’t be gargled in the cynic’s throat,
Reduced to truth, then spat to the walls,
Bitter karaoke…

Thus, pain is irreducible, pain is true,
Suffering the only honest work.
False wisdom!  You showed me otherwise,
On the run…

Mile seventeen-point-two…
I can’t go on!
My lips are cold, and the sun is warm.
The wall, the wall, the fucking wall!
No more!  I can’t! Not any more!
(As six more steps plod the asphalt)
Interrogate the body!
Purge it of its false intelligence!


That the flesh is deceitful
Is divine consolation,
And in periods of keenest pain
I’ll know that I’ve run through walls,
That doubt is a bad idea,
And this death not even a trailhead
On the endless loop through ourselves;
That when my body lies flat in the tall grass,
The rest of me bounds up the hill.

Original poem given by Jimmy to Tom Strickler

Original poem given by Jimmy to Tom Strickler

Later that evening after Tom headed back to Los Angeles, I placed Jimmy’s watch back in the glass covered box with his cell phone, wallet, Roberto’s receipt, movie ticket stubs….

Five years later……

The Fraternity-Part 2

We now pick up where I left things off in The Fraternity.  At the close of that story I shared how a few days after the The Jimmy scholarship award presentations at Torrey Pines High School, Maya, one of the 2013 recipients, sent us a wonderful thank-you note.  In her email Maya mentioned Marinee Payne, a long-time teacher in the Theatre Department at Torrey Pines who Jimmy got to know when he appeared in some brief cameo roles in a couple of plays when he was a senior.  Maya wrote:

“Marinee has some words of Jimmy’s tattooed on her arm, and they have become a guiding mantra for me and other Torrey Pines Players, a “black boxism” that I will carry forward for life: Doubt Is A Bad Idea.

We were of course blown away that someone we hardly knew would be so inspired by Jimmy that she would get a tattoo on her arm of a line from his poem Suffering Is The Only Honest Work.  We also were desperate to see the tattoo.  Hilary asked Maya if she would reach out to Marinee on our behalf and a few days later we received this letter and photograph from her.

“Robert Petimermet, also a teacher at Torrey Pines, made a poster of this phrase soon after Jimmy died… we put it everywhere around the school.  It sparked many ‘teaching’ moments and provided a foundation for Artistic Courage.  It also gave me an opportunity to speak of my love, admiration and the legacy of Jimmy.  Ahh, so many warm and indelible memories of our brief time together. In 2009 I went through a “life challenge.”  I consistently would find myself echoing Jimmy’s words.  They are important enough I thought to carry them with me.  I decided then to have my first tattoo…These words serve me well, but most importantly they reach hundreds of students each year. Jimmy teaches beside me.”

As we were to learn, Marinee had not read Jimmy’s poem.  Mr. Petimermet, or perhaps his daughter Giverny, another good friend of Jimmy’s, heard Evan read the poem at Jimmy’s service.  Marinee also reminded us her daughter Taylor was one of the first recipients of  The Jimmy scholarship in 2009 and that she recently graduated from DePaul Theatre School in Chicago having majored in Costume Design and Technology.

Marinee Payne Tattoo

We couldn’t help but think of Ali Eastman. She and Jimmy were close friends in high school and a few months after Jimmy’s accident she sent us a photo of the tattoo  she had done on the inside of her wrist—one word, Love, in Jimmy’s handwriting copied from a letter he had sent to her.  The vision of the tattoo Jimmy’s good friend Steven Tran has on his forearm bubbled up—that will be its own story.  All words important enough to carry with them.

Three years ago I had some t-shirts made with Suffering Is The Only Honest Work, Jimmy stenciled on the back.  The words are in Jimmy’s handwriting and copied from the poem Jimmy had given to Tom Strickler.   I gave the shirts out to family, my work-out buddies and, of course, to Tom, Evan, Rich Cook and Bill Weinstein who proudly wore them at triathalon a few months later.  At the time I was pretty proud of the t-shirt idea, although I rarely wear mine.


In August of 2013, my new fraternity—Richard Page, Greg Post and I—had our first gathering at the Torrey Pines Lodge overlooking the magnificent Torrey Pines South golf course, the site of the 2008 U. S. Open, and the Pacific Ocean.  It is a spectacular piece of real estate owned by the City of San Diego.   


Torrey Pines Lodge and pool Outdoor dining and drinks at Torrey Pines Lodge Long view of Torrey Pines Lodge
Torrey Pines Lodge
The Fraternity’s venue
Spectacular views…

The three of us quickly slipped into the heavy conversations that only dads who have lost kids can have–those subjects you just can’t discuss with someone who hasn’t experienced this kind of loss and suffering.  At some point we got around to talking about tattoos.  I was telling Richard how Greg and I were back-to-back presenters at the Torrey Pines Awards night, and about Marinee Payne’s tattoo.  Richard put down his glass of Petron tequila he had bought for the three of us and rolled up the sleeve of his shirt.   On the inside of his upper arm in black ink is a tattoo of the letters AP, the initials of his son Alex Page.   I had not seen that before.  Richard explained its significance.

“Alex was home for the summer in 2001 after his first year at UC Santa Cruz.  It was a hot day and he left his a note that said “gone surfing.” The tattoo is of his signature on that note—a wave ending in his initials.  The next day we lost him.”

Alex Page Tattoo

Richard excitedly observed that “AP” are also the initials of Greg’s daughter, Amanda.  As if that was his cue, Greg proceeded to roll up the left sleeve of his shirt revealing a tattoo of a bold capital A, a red apple and Amanda Post—precisely the way she signed her name.

Greg Post art

Big Fish Tattoo - Dave HartmanTheir eyes turned to me as I pulled out my cell phone and scrolled to a photo.   I explained to Greg and Richard that I’d been thinking about this off and on, and when Marinee sent me the photo of her tattoo any doubt I may have had evaporated.  Having made up my mind I was anxious to do it right away.  I was at first disappointed when told no appointments were available for quite some time.  It looked like the first opening would be the evening August 8.   “Will that be OK,” proprietor Dave Hartman of Big Fish Tattoo in Solana Beach asked me?    I smiled, “That will be just perfect.”  The unveiling took place the following day at the beach in Del Mar where we go to remember that day the rest of Jimmy left us to bound up the next hill.   I couldn’t very well take off  my shirt—we were in a nice hotel—so instead I showed this photo to the boys.

Casey tattoo on phone


Pa and Hunter Unveiling   Original Poem opening
Pa and Hunter Ryan Kirby 8-9-13
Jimmy’s poem opening
Three fathers—three tattoos—all three in their children’s handwriting.
   I guess it’s a fraternity thing.
The Fraternity

Unveiling of the Tattoo – August 9, 2013

I can’t help but grin as the unearthly coincidences keep piling up. Seemingly right on queue, I am able to unveil the still sore and tender Jimmy tattoo that–just happened to be ready for our 5th anniversary gathering honoring Jimmy’s passing.

description="Unveiling of the TAT 8-9-13"

Yvonne's Story By: Roshi Genro Gauntt

Yvonne’s Story

Introduction of Roshi Genro Gauntt

This next leg of the journey led me—or rather I should say my older brother Grover, aka Roshi, Genro, Kamanzi and G.G.—took me to Central Africa. My brother, deep in his soul, has been a Zen Buddhist as long as I have known him, notwithstanding our centuries-long heritage of Anglo-Saxon Protestant and Pagan upbringing dating back to the highlands of Scotland and the lowlands of Lancaster, England. His roots go much farther back—deep roots he shares with his nephew, Jimmy Gauntt. My brother has dedicated his life to peace, healing and helping mankind suffer less. I can admit—now—I didn’t understand or respect his calling, his purpose, for a long time. I am happy and proud to say that I do now.

Grover at his USC Graduation in 1969   Genro Gauntt at the Entrance to Birkenau
Grover at his USC Graduation in 1969
Genro Gauntt at the Entrance to Birkenau
Roshi Genro Gauntt (AKA: Grover) and Caseycasey Roshi Genro Gauntt Roshi Genro Gauntt and Casey Gauntt
Grover (AKA Roshi, Genro, Kamanzi, G.G.) & Casey
Roshi Genro Gauntt
Genro & Casey

My brother is sometimes called Roshi, a title that is earned by those Zen teachers considered to have attained a deep understanding and expression of the Dharma. The Zen Peacemaker organizations with whom he works are immersed in the reality that mankind has a history-a proclivity-to do horrible things to their fellow man; as a species we have a natural tendency to quickly forget and drive into the subconscious the atrocities we have committed and, as a consequence, we leave a wake of damaged, frightened, lost and angry souls—living here and beyond—and an uncanny ability to free our conscious-selves to repeat the nightmares—over and over and over.

Bearing Witness— the fundamental mission of the Peacemakers—is to witness, remember, this fundamental flaw of our species—don’t forget—and help with the healing of those who have suffered these terrible things. “Those” include present, past and future generations of the ones who were massacred, maimed and brutalized as well as the ones who instigated the suffering. The Zen Buddhist will tell you they are one and the same.

My brother’s work takes him to the Lakota Indian Reservation in South Dakota, on the streets with the homeless in major cities all over the world, and to the killing fields where some of the most horrific atrocities took place. Every year since 1996 he has helped lead Bearing Witness retreats to the death camps at Auschwitz-Birkenau, Poland where over 1,000,000 people, mostly Jews, were killed by the Nazis during World War II.

4 Lakota women, 3 w/infants in cradleboards
Bearing Witness Retreat in Auschwitz-Birkenau

My brother and the Peacemakers started their work with Rwanda in 2007 when Dora Urugeni attended a Bearing Witness retreat in Auschwitz-Birkenau. The following year five more people from Rwanda attended the Auschwitz retreat, and they asked my brother if he would lead a similar retreat in Rwanda. In April 2010 he and several members of the Peacemakers Institute organized a retreat in Kigali during their national week of mourning the Tutsi genocide. In a three month period between April 6 and July 4, 1994 over 800,000 Rwandans—mostly Tutsis— were slaughtered by their Hutu brothers.

Nyamata Genocide Memorial – (Rwanda church where 10,000 seeking safe-harbor were murdered in 4 days)

Nyamata Church Service in 1992 Nyamata Church in 1994 ceiling with bullet holes 10,000 were killed - here are some of the victim's clothing on pews
Nyamata Church Service in 1992
Church in 1994 (Bullet holes)
Victim’s clothing on pews
Mass graves memorial behind church Stacks of femurs Racks of skulls
Mass graves behind church
Stacks of femurs
Racks of skulls

It was during this first visit to Rwanda that my brother stumbled on Yvonne’s Story. He has returned to Rwanda every year since to lead Bearing Wearing Retreats and help with the healing.

I am proud to share this amazing story from my brother.

I am proud of my amazing brother.


Yvonne’s Story

By: Roshi Genro Gauntt

Nyamata Genocide Memorial
Rwanda, April 2010

As we were listening to the story of the guide who was also a survivor at Nymata, he turned to Yvonne, a beautiful, warm, young Rwandan woman, and said “you look exactly like someone who died here in 1994. Were any of your relatives here?” Yvonne said yes, her grandmother and her grandfather, her mother’s parents, had both been killed here in Nymata. He said “you look exactly like your grandmother—please come back when you have some time. I would like to share some things with you.”

I and several other representatives of the Peacemaker Institute in New York were in the middle of a three week trip to Rwanda working with local organizations to learn and bear witness to the civil war and genocide that took place there in 1994 when 800,000 Tutsis and Hutus killed one another. This day we had come to the Nymata Memorial Site, a church where 10,000 Tutsis had died and over 40,000 of the dead are interred, many of them in open graves.

Yvonne was very excited and she called her mother on our way back to Kigali from Nymata. Our bus was alight with this miraculous happening; a welcome relief given a day in the ashes.

A week later, Yvonne, her mother and thirty two members of their family hired a bus and went back to Nymata to hear what the guide had to tell them. He shared some personal reminiscences of the two elders. The entire family with the exception of Yvonne’s grandparents had taken refuge in Uganda long before the 1994 genocide and returned immediately thereafter.

They had already somehow known the horrible details of the murders of the elders. Yvonne had recounted them to me early in our retreat. The grandfather had been a tall man; Tutsis are known for their height. The killers chopped his legs off slowly with machetes—first his feet, then methodically the rest of his legs, in increments, taunting him saying they wanted to see what a short Tutsi looked like. He died when the machetes reached his midsection. The grandmother was raped at least ten times before she was killed. I have heard many hard stories before, but this one was delivered by Yvonne in the midst of a seemingly benign conversation— and told calmly by such a sweet soul. I was shocked.

The astounding fact was that one of the killers was a prisoner at a camp not far from the Nymata site. The guide sent someone to fetch him. He was brought before Yvonne and her family and directly asked about the details of the murder. He admitted killing Yvonne’s grandparents and spoke his repentance. He also allowed that he knew where the bodies were buried. They immediately went to the location, unearthed the skulls and bones and collected them for a proper burial that would take place a few weeks hence.

When they returned to the church, the prisoner had one more detail to divulge. The grandmother had been pregnant when she was raped and killed—at least eight months pregnant. They had cut the baby out of her and placed it on the doorstep of a local priest in Nymata.

The family quickly found out that the priest had left Rwanda during the genocide. A neighbor had an address for the priest in Canada, but didn’t know if the address was good as it was from sixteen years ago.

Yvonne’s mother called Canada that night after the family returned home to Kigali. She called information and found the priest listed. She called him and told him what they had discovered hours before in Nymata. Did he have a baby?

“Yes,” he said “and she is now sixteen years old.” He told her he had indeed found her on his doorstep and that he and the baby fled Nymata immediately after the killings and moved to Canada. The girl was being raised by his family, and she had not been told where she came from or how she happened to be with her adopted family. Yvonne’s mother was beyond pale as she received this news of her sister. She asked the priest to go to the young girl, tell her the truth and ask her to expect a phone call from her family in Rwanda. The call happened that same night.

The priest said he hoped to bring the young girl to Rwanda in December to visit…and leave the rest to Providence.
What a day. The family cried all night and for the next two days.

My brother said the priest and Yvonne’s aunt have not returned to Rwanda. To this day they remain very afraid. The wounds have not healed.


Roshi Genro Gauntt LINKS:

The 1994 Rwanda Genocide in the Media

Frontline and BBC co-production TV Special - the infamous Canadian Lieutenant-General Roméo Dallaire who was in charge of the 2,500 UN Peace Keeping Troops during 1994 was abandoned by the world and, like Roshi Genro Gauntt, could only “Bear Witness” to the unchecked genocide in Rwanda (noted at 1:04:30).

Why would my big brother want me to join him on one of his annual trips to Rwanda? This powerful 2004 documentary, almost two hours in length, is a must watch. After you watch this, call me and when I go I’ll book you a seat too. —Casey

“Hotel Rwanda”- The well-know 2004 movie where actor Don Cheadle played the part of Paul Rusesabagina, the hotel manager, cooperating with a decimated UN contingent to house over a thousand Tutsi refugees.

Impeccable Timing By Casey Gauntt

Impeccable Timing

Impeccable Timing
By Casey Gauntt

December 22, 2010

A friend of mine sent me an email at my office. It wasn’t directed only to me—there was a gaggle (forgive me, James Lipton) of addressees:

I know a man who gave up smoking, drinking, sex, and rich food. He was healthy right up to the time he killed himself.Subject: Merry Christmas from Johnny Carson

Johnny Carson once quipped:

“I know a man who gave up smoking, drinking, sex, and rich food. He was healthy right up to the time he killed himself.”

The email hit my machine at 4:23 p.m., moments before I left my law office in San Diego to head to the airport. I laughed when I read it. I’m not sure I would have done that last year or five years ago. I’m absolutely certain no smile would have creased my face forty years ago. My friend, of course, didn’t know today was ‘the day.’

The last couple of days—hell, the last couple of years—had been filled with lots of energy or “things” as I sometimes call them; multiple connections from independent sources, with different times of departure— seemingly unrelated, yet all converging at one moment in time with an elegant cohesiveness and pre-ordained purpose. Call it what you want—coincidence, synchronicity—miracle?— or whatever.

Yesterday and today had been particularly busy in that regard. This morning as I was checking the status of my brother Grover’s flight from Newark, I had remembered that it was forty years ago today that I had left our house to pick up him up at Ohare Airport. Back then he was flying in from Philadelphia where he was attending Wharton’s prestigious graduate business school. He was 23, I was 20 and he did not yet know the significance of that particular day. I wondered if he would remember it today.

It had been raining the last five days in San Diego, and this morning the downpour was about as hard as I can ever remember since moving here from Los Angeles in 1979. The storm, known as a Pineapple Express due to its origins in the Hawaiian Islands, had blown through San Diego shortly before I left for the airport.

Pineapple Express storm that hit San Diego 12-18-10 through 12-22-10

The sun had emerged from behind the low, moisture laden clouds, and someone from an office down the hall from mine squealed “Oh my God! Look at that rainbow!” I looked outside my office on the fifteenth floor and there, no more than forty feet away, was the most magnificent rainbow I can ever recall seeing— including my two summers in 1971-72 on Maui picking pineapples.

Image of Holland America ms Rotterdam cruise ship in San Diego Harbor 12-22-10

The rainbow was very close to a full circle—I’d say 340 out of the 360 degrees—and the very bottom of it penetrated the playground of the day care center next door. It was so close to our building I felt if I broke a window I could reach out and grab it. What made it even more magnificent was that it was a double rainbow. There was a larger, equally prominent, rainbow encircling the other. The rainbows quickly disappeared as the sun continued its quick descent to the horizon.

Yesterday was the winter solstice coupled with a complete lunar eclipse, which we didn’t get to see because of the storm, an event last witnessed in North America in 1640. Today was the second shortest day of the year, or the second longest night, depending how one prefers to view these things.

Although it was rush hour, the traffic was pretty light from my office to the airport four miles away. I took Harbor Drive which rims San Diego Bay. The orange sky of the sunset reflected in its still, dark waters. A gigantic cruise ship was docked at the foot of Broadway, next to the retired aircraft carrier Midway, now a museum. Two active nuclear carriers were in their berths across the harbor. I suspect a lot of people didn’t come to work today because of the rain. The commuter trains were shut down because of flooding in the lagoons to the north. The usual horde of tourists were also absent—again the matter revolved around the rain.

Image of Midway Museum in San Diego, CA Image of Cruise ships in San Diego Harbor
My daily view from the 15th Floor of Allen Matkins The ships loom above your windshield on Harbor Dr.

Image of 501 West Broadway Building in San Diego, CA, 92101 and the 15th Floor of Allen Matkins Law Offices

I had called my brother from the car and we made a plan to meet in front of baggage claim at Terminal 2. As I approached I saw his thick, long white hair above a big smile. I pulled up to the curb, got out of the car and gave him a big hug. I spoke in his ear a line I’d rehearsed earlier in the day “Everything is good.” I didn’t get any particular reaction to it from him. We loaded his bags in the back and headed to our mother’s house in Encinitas twenty miles to the north. Shortly after we turned on Harbor Drive away from the airport I asked him “Do you remember what we were doing forty years ago today?” It obviously hadn’t been at the tip of his consciousness.

Image of Grover Gauntt and Casey Gauntt

I had come home to Itasca, Illinois from USC on December 21, 1970. My mother, thirteen year old sister, Laura and I had dinner together. My dad, also named Grover, was on a business trip in Panama and would be coming home the next day, a Tuesday—or so we thought. On Tuesday afternoon, around 4:30, our neighbor Carter Nottke drove me to O’hare Airport. This was tough duty for a nineteen year old, yet he would go on to become a paramedic. When we pulled up in front of baggage claim my brother was standing on the curb, smiling, adorned in thick, shoulder length dark brown hair, full beard and beads—his new look for the past twelve months. I got out of the car, gave him a bear hug and spoke into his ear. “Grover, I’ve got some bad news. They found dad in his office this morning. He’s gone. He shot himself.” It was gray turning to dark and snow mixed with some rain began to fall. I don’t remember what he said or anything else that may have been spoken thereafter that day.

“Oh my God. Is it today!? I can never seem to remember which day it was. It’s today?”


Dad, Casey and Grover on Mom's Lap 1951 Dad, G.G., Casey and Scott  in 1962 at the Chicago Athletic Club

We had a lively conversation about lots of things and it was pitch dark by the time we got to our mother’s house. She was very excited to see Grover; they hadn’t seen each other since last Christmas. My brother heated up a cup of coffee, he doesn’t drink anymore, poured glasses of wine for mom and me, and then made a toast. “To dad, Grover C. Gauntt, Jr. We miss you, are thinking about you and we love you.” I smiled to myself. This was a first. This was a big god-damn first! I don’t recall anyone in our family ever toasting our father on the anniversary of his death. This was not a day we feted. And then we did something even more extraordinary—we talked about him and about that day. We talked about how different things are now— the stigma isn’t so bad for someone to admit they have problems and ask for help for mental and psychological issues. And only if….

Grover Gauntt, Vern Case and Casey Gauntt
Grover recalled that the day before he came home forty years ago he had a horrible final in his finance class. He ended up getting a D in the class. I paused a beat before observing, “Well, at least you didn’t have to tell Dad.”

After another beat we all erupted in uproarious laughter. Another first.

Impeccable timing.


The Fraternity

The Fraternity
By Casey Gauntt

December 21, 2010

This day, forty years ago, my father took his life in his office at Case Foundation Company in a suburb of Chicago. In addition to the ones that spooled out and are described in this story, there is a whole bunch of other bizarre syncronicities that specifically revolve around the anniversary—I hate that word—we don’t celebrate death—of my father’s passing. Those will be in the story Impeccable Timing.

My Rabbit Hole file was open on my desk. This is where I keep the correspondence with David Lindsay-Abaire, the author of the play and screenplay of the same name, and the young man who was driving the first car that struck our son Jimmy on Del Dios Highway. The four letters—we call them The Rabbit Hole Letters — were exchanged over the period of May to August of 2009. I had sent the correspondence the night before to my friend, Theresa. She wanted to know if we had any contact with the drivers. No one had asked me that before.

In the file was a print-out of my email exchange with Richard Page in October of 2009. I keep it in this folder but not because I’ve sent Richard The Rabbit Hole Letters —I can’t, not yet anyway. In June, of 2001 Richard’s only son, Alex, was in a car heading home from a party. Alex graduated from Torrey Pines High School in 2000 and had just finished his first year at UC Santa Cruz. Brittany and Jimmy graduated from Torrey Pines in 1998 and 2002. Alex was nineteen years old, a rising star and the passenger. His friend lost control driving down a steep road in Solana Beach, the car struck a pole and flipped. The driver survived.

Richard called me the day after Jimmy died. The call was pretty much out of the blue. Our daughter Brittany played soccer with his daughter, Jessica, as young girls and we had dinner once with Richard and his wife years earlier. He too is a lawyer in San Diego and we had run into each other a few times. We of course knew about the loss of their son, but I never spoke to him about it. I didn’t say anything to my dentist after his four year old son suffocated to death while digging a cave that collapsed on him in their backyard. I found another dentist. Until nine months ago, I had never told my physician of over twenty five years how sorry I was that his teenage son had taken his life—or that my father had taken his.

I was crippled by the same misconceptions and bad assumptions that befell most of our friends and colleagues after Jimmy died: ‘I don’t know what to say. It will be too painful to Casey if I bring it up. I can’t bring myself to go there—it’s too dark—too frightening. It will be better for Casey if we don’t talk about it-like it didn’t happen- so he can move on and get on with his life.’ At the time I didn’t understand that the elephant is always in the room—and not talking about it makes it only harder and more painful for everyone.

There were a lot of phone calls and conversations with family and close friends who came over those first few days after Jimmy’s accident. I don’t remember very much what was said, but I remember Richard’s words. After he expressed his condolences he said “You are now a member of the fraternity-the shittiest fraternity there is my friend-the fraternity nobody wants to join, and God forbid they ever have to. I feel so sorry for you right now. You have no idea how hard it’s going to be. But I do, and that’s why I’ll be calling you every so often to check in and see how you are doing.”

And he did.

Hilary and I traveled to Coalwood, West Virginia in October 2009 to reconnect with Emily Sue Buckberry and attend the October Sky Festival where we met Homer Hickam and Steve Date. [That story here] While we were away there was another horrible car accident that struck close to home. Five kids from Torrey Pines High School had left a party in neighboring Rancho Santa Fe. Their car didn’t make a tight corner on the winding road and struck a tree. One of the passengers, a seventeen year old young man, also named Alex, was ejected from the SUV and died at the scene.

alex carpozza

Alex Capozza – Alex’s memorial website

I thought immediately of Richard and sent him an email: “This must have hit way too close to home for you guys and our hearts ache for you, again. Yet another tragedy that need not have happened, but did; and what will never be reported in the papers or on the television is the many lives that are now changed forever—as we know only too well.”

Richard wrote me back the next day. “The losses of angelic beings like Alex and Jimmy leave me with a profound sense of despair. Every time another needless death strikes our community, I go back down that rabbit hole.”

His words. I printed it and put it in the Rabbit Hole Letters file.

As I reread this morning that email exchange with Richard, I was reminded of some of our previous conversations about “the drivers.” He asked me early on if we intended to bring any legal action against the driver of the car that struck Jimmy. I told him “No. It was nobody’s fault. They were unfortunately at the same place at the wrong time.”

Richard’s situation is different, and I respect that. As I put the emails back in the folder I thought ‘It’s been over a year since I’ve had any contact with Richard—I should give him a call—but I probably won’t.’

A couple of hours later, my phone rang. It was Richard on his cell. He was upbeat. “Guess where I was? I just spent an hour having coffee with Greg Post. Do you know who he is?”

I didn’t know Greg, but I knew what happened. A little over four months earlier there had been another, even more horrific accident, this one involving some recent graduates from Cathedral Canyon, a nearby high school in Carmel Valley, who were returning home from a track clinic in Mammoth. Their SUV lost control coming south on 395, crossed the median, and collided head on with a van. Four died and the others were critically injured. Greg’s 18 year old daughter Amanda was one of those killed. Her boyfriend, Derek, was burned over 85% of his body and was somehow, miraculously, alive. [OC Register story here] The accident occurred on August 9, 2010—two years to the day of Jimmy’s death. Hilary and I talked about it a lot and we agreed that what made our bodies ache wasn’t just the incomprehensible loss of these young lives on this particular day—we can’t pin “anniversary” on that date. No, it was more than that—it was because it was their ‘day one’— the beginning of the nightmare for the parents, families and friends of those killed or barely hanging on to life— the day their lives were changed forever.

Derek-and-Amanda TN tn-dpt-accident
Derek Thomas & Amanda Post The crash on Highway 395 south of Bishop that claimed Amanda and spared Derek

Life changes fast.
Life changes in the instant.
You sit down to dinner and life as you know it ends.
The question of self-pity.

The Year of Magical Thinking (2006), —Joan Didion

Derek Thomas survived the crash.
Suffering Is The Only Honest Work —according to our poet, Jimmy.

Richard continued, “I don’t know Greg, either. But I called him up—as you know, it’s one of the things I do—and invited him for coffee. He’s only at the beginning and it is very rough for him. Like it was for you.”

I shared with Richard the uncanny timing of his call, but he didn’t seem too surprised by it. “Synchronicity,” he quickly interjected. “Karl Jung wrote a paper about it. Read it. You should also read Joan Didion’s A Year of Magical Thinking.” I reminded him that he mentioned her book in his email from last year that I re-read this morning. “Well, read the book. But the reason I called was to invite you to play golf with Greg Post and me in a couple of weeks. Are you up for that?”

“Yes, I think I am,” I replied. “Good” he said. “It will be the inaugural golf tournament of our fraternity.”

The golf game didn’t come together. I didn’t reach out to Greg Post. This story wasn’t over.

We pick it up two and a half years later

June 4, 2013

Hilary and I got stuck in some bad Tuesday rush hour traffic and we arrived at Torrey Pines High School only a few minutes before the program started. A covey of parents and students were anxiously waiting in front of the gym. We had asked the four recipients of this year’s Jimmy Scholarships to meet us outside so we could introduce ourselves: Charlie Yang, Blair Cannon, Judy Kim and Maya Pilevsky. We offered congratulations, took some pictures and then hustled inside. Bobbi Karlson who runs the high school’s foundation breathed a huge sigh of relief when she saw us come through the door. “You are the first presenters tonight! Where’s Ryan?” Our son in law Ryan Kirby had presented The James Tedrow Gauntt Memorial Scholarships—now known as The Jimmy—the past four years. The first year, 2009, Hilary and I could not do it. Jimmy’s death was too raw—we could not speak. Ryan stepped up to the plate, as he always has, and admirably represented the family—as he did the following three years—and as he would have done this night had he not been sick as a dog.

The day after Jimmy died, Brittany, Ryan, Hilary and I took a walk in the San Elijo Lagoon to get some fresh air- and steal a few moments away from the calls, the flower deliveries and the pathetically sad eyes of those who dropped by. We talked about Jimmy’s obituary that Ryan offered to write and what we should say about “instead of flowers, please make a donation to…” I suggested a charity I used to chair and for which Brittany and Jimmy had both interned. Brittany bluntly said, “No. We will set up a fund at Torrey Pines High School in Jimmy’s memory and award scholarships to seniors who pursue studies in the arts, music, literature, and theatre. That’s what Jimmy would want us to do.”

Within two weeks over $100,000 had been donated to Jimmy’s fund at Torrey Pines High School.


TPHS-Awards-Night-June-2013 The-Jimmy-TP-06-20-13
L to R: Casey, Hilary, Maya Pilevsky, Blair Cannon, Charlie Yang and Judy Kim Casey & Hilary

NOTE: The photo of me at the lectern, Hilary by my side–that photo was taken by Bill Harris who, unbeknownst to us, was sitting in the audience with his wife and daughter. “Synchronicity,” as Richard Page would say… (More about Bill Harris in a minute…)

As Hilary and I took our seats after handing out this year’s Jimmy Awards, the master of ceremonies announced the next award: “The Amanda Post Memorial Grant, presented by Greg Post.”

What?! Hilary and I exchanged a shocked glance and quickly opened our programs—maybe we didn’t hear that right. No—we heard it right – and Greg Post made his way to the microphone. Back to back. Two minutes—two years—nothing in the infinite scheme of things or separation. We were buckled by his openness and compassion, and stunned by his composure, as he described the amazing accomplishments of his daughter, Amanda—a track star on her way to Cal Poly San Luis Obispo on scholarship—and the horror of the tragic accident that took her life and nearly that of her boyfriend, Derek.


Torrey Pines High School Foundation Awards 2013 Torrey Pines High School Foundation Awards Program
Torrey Pines High School Foundation Awards 2013 Program Check out the first two presenters!

Amanda Post Foundation website

I sat there dumbfounded. Here was the guy Richard had coffee with over two years ago—the one I’d been thinking about contacting—but had not. His daughter didn’t even go to Torrey Pines—he was standing right in front of me—and I didn’t go up to him. We had to leave early—we had nowhere to go—we just couldn’t be there anymore. I could hear Richard yelling in my ears: “Greg just got up in front of all of these people he doesn’t know and who have no idea what he’s been going through, and you run out the door?! You are such a chicken shit!”

Back into the rabbit hole. Things rushing by.

We slinked back home and caught the sun setting in that particular pre-summer position into the smooth-like-glass Pacific. The humidity was such, the low clouds scattered so, the light refracted in a way we had not seen—or noticed—before. There’s a large painting hanging in our second story dining room Rod Knutson did for us in 2006—a family portrait of sorts. We had given Rod photos of our family, Hilary’s folks, my Mom and Ryan. Ryan and Brittany were not yet engaged but we felt odds were good we wouldn’t have to paint him out down the road. Rod said he tried to capture our traits and characteristics as opposed to doing portraits. The woman leading the sheep and the waiter on the far right are not family members—Rod just painted them in—or so he says. Each of the family is easily recognizable in the painting—everyone except Jimmy. Rod would share with Hilary a year after Jimmy’s death, “I couldn’t get him—he was changing so much.”

Rod Knutson Painting

Photo (normal) of Rod’s painting in Hilary and Casey’s dining room. – From Left to Right, the woman leading the flock of sheep–unknown, waiter standing, Ryan Kirby, seated Virginia Tedrow and Jim Tedrow (Hilary’s parents), Brittany Kirby. Waiter seated with book- Casey, standing in the doorway, Hilary in front, Barbara Gauntt (Casey’s mom) in back, waiter standing–Jimmy, other waiter standing-unknown.

Jimmy was 22 when Rod did the painting and well on his quest as a playwright. We had noticed before that Jimmy—the waiter with his hands on his hips standing under the umbrella— is the only one in the light, and the only sheep with its head up is looking at Jimmy. But tonight the orange sun was thrown upon the painting like a spotlight and Jimmy and the umbrella were on fire. They were shimmering—demanding our attention. That painting had been with us for seven years, and we have never-I mean never- seen it—him—lit up so. Hello! Of course he would be around this night! It took our breath away and a moment for the full effect to envelop us. I hastily snapped a few inadequate mementos. The tears patiently waited for me to finish.

Rods-Painting-06-04-13- no-2

We probably should have realized right then the portal had been thrown open once again. But it happens so fast and we were still reeling from the mountain of emotions pressing upon us from The Jimmy awards presentation- immersed in the bright light and sheer force that was and is him and the reason this award—and the one the USC Department of English has given out since 2010 in his honor to the top graduating seniors—is—ensconced with all of those other bright lights- and the overwhelming presence of Greg Post honoring his daughter Amanda—her bright light—in the same moment. It’s a lot—almost too much some times.

The day after the Torrey Pines awards I got a very unexpected email from Bill Harris. Bill started the San Diego office of the Allen Matkins law firm with me back in 1987. Jimmy as a wee lad got to know Bill and, like the rest of us, thought of him as one of the funniest guys there is, and moreover as one of those special people—one of the good guys. Bill started his own law practice several years ago and, although we run into each other on the rare occasion, I was surprised to get an email from him—and completely unprepared for what he had to say.

Hi Casey. I didn’t get a chance to say hello, but Susy and I (and Taryn, our senior at Torrey Pines) were at the TP awards ceremony last night. You spoke so eloquently of Jimmy and his award that my eyes were filled with tears. Jimmy accomplished so much in such a short time, including during his four years at Torrey Pines. Taryn is a go-getter like Jimmy was and, having seen how much time she has devoted to the school, I am amazed at all that Jimmy did in his days at TP. It occurred to me that he probably would have received or been considered for most of the awards they gave out last night. It is wonderful that you keep his spirit alive with The Jimmy. Hopefully the recipients are all inspired by it to do great things like Jimmy did. Your buddy, Bill.

And then he followed up with this oh-by the way.

PS I never told you but after Jimmy’s service I was home alone for a couple of days since the rest of the family was out of town. We were on vacation in Park City and I drove back to attend the service when I received the terrible news. I don’t do well with words (at least serious words) but I needed to do something beautiful in honor of Jimmy. There was an area on the side of our house that was in need of some tender loving care. That weekend after the service, from dawn until dusk, I created a little landscaped garden there in his honor. It is off our master bath so I see it every day. And I think of Jimmy and your family every day when I do. It has an angel’s trumpet tree—(intoxicating smell in the evening when it blooms) —lots of white roses and a little bird bath. It is between blooms now but in a few weeks when it looks great I will snap a picture of Jimmy’s Garden and send it to you. As long as we are in our house, I will make sure it lives on and thrives just as Jimmy and all his accomplishments (and great memories) will live on forever.

There go the tears again.


Jimmy's Garden 2a The-Jimmy-TP-06-20-13
Bill Harris: “I needed to do something beautiful in honor of Jimmy,” thus the Jimmy Garden Unbeknownst, Bill Harris attended Awards & took this photo.

My own tears cut loose immediately. I was absolutely stunned! I vaguely recall hugging Bill at Jimmy’s service— it was such a blur—and I definitely recall a few brief conversations Bill and I have had over the last several years about Jimmy—but he never told me about the Jimmy Garden! I was overwhelmed-and overcome- by this vision of Bill toiling in his garden, working out his pain and suffering and creating this beautiful and very tangible remembrance and tribute to our son. In a way that was doable for him. This also eerily reminded me of our recent re-connection with Dav Yendler and the Ginger Poet Adonis story he wrote and performed in Chicago at 2d Story in tribute to his friendship with Jimmy— and shared with us two years later—concerned that it might upset us—going through a mutual friend to find out if it would be “OK.” Oh yeah- it was more than OK!

The path lit up—no more thumps on the head required. I immediately sent an email to Bobbi Karlson and asked her if she had an email address for Greg Post. She got back to me within minutes and I sent this off a moment later:

Dear Greg- I wanted to commend you for standing up before everyone last night and honoring and remembering your daughter and her friends in such a moving and beautiful way. You displayed such courage and composure, and I know only too well how difficult that can be…Your daughter’s tragic death resonated very deeply with our family, and I think about you often, and always on one day in particular. Our son Jimmy also passed on August 9–2008. I’ve been meaning to reach out to you for a long time–but didn’t–and then there you are standing right in front of us last night–and I would have introduced myself, but we had to leave early for another engagement. [Author’s note-bull shit] So, I was wondering, do want to have coffee one of these days? We have some things we can talk about, I’m sure.


amanda Amanda Post Foundation Website
Amanda Post Amanda Post Foundation

Hilary and I had breakfast with Greg and Missy Post a few weeks later at Claire’s restaurant in Solana Beach. We spent two hours honoring our two kids who somehow had touched and changed the lives of thousands of people in their very short time with us—here; the ways we and others celebrate and remember them; the respect and love for the survivors—Derek, us parents, and our other children, spouses and grandchildren. We had more in common than we knew—or ever wanted—but it was good—more than that. Before we hugged and said goodbye until the next time Greg said to me, “I guess we’re in the same club, aren’t we? The one no one wants to be a member of and God forbid you ever have to join.”

His words.

I could hardly wait to tell Richard.


Alexander Byron Page  1982-2001 richard-page-fixed
Alex Page Richard Page


A week after The Jimmy Awards at Torrey Pines High School, we received this email from Maya Pilevsky, one of The Jimmy recipients.

Dear Hilary and Casey, Thank you for honoring me with The Jimmy this year. It is always rewarding to have my accomplishments as a student recognized, but it meant the world to me to have my accomplishments as an artist rewarded. When I tell people I have to be an artist, I am so often met with “Oh….but you’re so smart! Why don’t you do something better with your life?” and although it is never a struggle to explain my passion, it is always a struggle to get someone to listen and understand. It’s not about how much money I will (or will not) make or whether or not my job is “stable.” It simply would be an insult to my intellect to know what I love to do and run away from it out of fear of failure. Marinee has some words of Jimmy’s tattooed on her arm, and they have become a guiding mantra for me and other Torrey Pines Players, a “black boxism” that I will carry forward for life: ‘Doubt is a bad idea.’

I want to thank you, of course for the scholarship money, but primarily for believing in me and other aspiring artists who will find a future in these industries or make one. It is a choice that precious few people are willing to invest in, and that alone makes this scholarship unique, powerful, and meaningful. Your vote of confidence in me did not go unappreciated, and was a comfort and reassurance both to me and to my family.

From the bottom of my heart, thank you, thank you, thank you.

Very sincerely,
Maya R. Pilevsky
Torrey Pines High School Class of 2013
University of Pittsburgh Class of 2017

Maya R Pilevsky
Maya R. Pilevsky – 2013 Recipient of “The Jimmy”


What?!!!!! Hilary and I practically passed out. My first thought was ‘Jimmy wrote this.’ This is precisely how Jimmy explained his calling to be an artist to his family and friends. Maya had also just beautifully and eloquently validated the very reason why the Jimmy Award was originally envisioned by Brittany.

But the tattoo!!! This was completely and utterly out of the blue!! Marinee has been a teacher at Torrey Pines for several years—she’s an institution at the school and runs the theatre department. Jimmy didn’t get involved in theater until his senior year—and we always thought he did so to get out of running track—he was the best high jumper in the school and very fast, but was burned out from football and his starting wide receiver role the past year. He was becoming an artist. He was changing. He had not fully discovered this—not like Maya—but the caterpillar was spinning his cocoon.

Doubt is a bad idea is a line from Suffering Is The Only Honest Work, a poem Jimmy wrote in the spring of 2007—one of his most powerful writings. How did Marinee get that poem? Why had we not heard anything about the tattoo? What is it that compels someone like Marinee—and Bill Harris and Dav Yendler—to do these things? We were humbled—inadequate word choice.

Things were moving faster.

We will pick this up in the next story The Explorer-Suffering Is The Only Honest Work.


The Fraternity: Casey Gauntt, Greg Post and Richard Page at Torrey Pines Golf Course August 2013


We dedicate this story to the loving memory of our niece Morgan Melannie Case (1989-2013).

May the wings of a million butterflies carry you to that place of peace and eternal love.


The Rabbit Hole Letters

The Rabbit Hole Letters
By Casey Gauntt

[wpaudio url="" text="White Rabbit ~ Jefferson Airplane" dl="0" autoplay="0"]

Rabbit Hole: An entrance to a rabbit’s burrow or warren; a bizarre or difficult state or situation; a portal into a different, strange world; and all of the above.

David Lindsay-Abaire wrote the Rabbit Hole play in 2006 for which he won the 2007 Pulitzer Prize. This summary appears on the play’s back jacket.


David Lindsay-Abaire wrote the Rabbit Hole play in 2006 The Rabbit Hole Play by David Lindsay-Abaire My wife Hilary and I saw the play in April of 2009
David Lindsay-Abaire Rabbit Hole Paperback at Amazon North Coast Repertory Theatre Program

Becca and Howie have everything a family could want, until a life-shattering accident turns their world upside down and leaves the couple drifting perilously apart. Rabbit Hole charts their bittersweet search for comfort in the darkest of places and for a path that will lead them back into the light of day.

My wife Hilary and I saw the play in April of 2009. We knew what it was about. Becca and Howie’s four year old son, Danny, chased the family dog, Taz, through their front yard and into the street. Jason Willette, a 17 year old high school senior, jerked his car to avoid hitting the dog, but struck and killed Danny whom he hadn’t seen trailing behind. Nobody’s fault. The first scene of the play takes place eight months after the accident.

We knew it would be hard to watch, but we had no idea this play would send us down our own rabbit hole. Our journey is told through the letters we exchanged during the period of May through August of 2009 with David Lindsay-Abaire and Peter—the Jason in our all too real tragedy. These are our Rabbit Hole Letters.


July 28, 2009
Dear Mr. Lindsay-Abaire,

My wife, Hilary, and I want to thank you for your gift, Rabbit Hole. Last August, our twenty-four year old son Jimmy came home to visit us for a few days in Solana Beach, CA. He was living in Hollywood where he was a working writer. He developed a passion for writing soon after he started the University of Southern California, where he was a Trustee Scholar. He had five plays, four screenplays, and several poems and treatments under his belt. He absolutely loved to write, and had a gift for it. The night he came home he went to a party with some friends. He decided to walk home, and in the wee hours of the morning he was struck by a car driven by another twenty-four year old young man on his way to work at a nearby golf club. Our son was killed instantly. It was an accident; nobody’s fault.

You obviously had done a great deal of research, much of it painful I’m sure, preparing to write Rabbit Hole. You got it right. Grief, suffering and healing are complex and unique and personal to everyone who is touched by a loss. Each of us who has suffered a loss like this embarks (or descends) on a trail— a new dimension—that is unknown to us, out of sync with the paths of our friends, workmates and even our own close family members. We can’t see what’s ahead of us; we do our best to control our fear and work hard to stay in the light. Our friends and family know, with unequal levels of awareness, we are on a different road. Some are willing, a few, surprisingly, compelled (kindred spirits I believe they’re called), to talk about “it” and learn about our travels. Most can’t, or won’t. We understand. When our trails intersect or connect, no matter how briefly, remarkable things can and do happen. We commend you for being able, not having personally experienced this kind of loss (correct?), to get your arms around this subject and for your soft touch in exploring the depths of it.

At first, the thought of any contact with the young man whose car struck our son was too painful and out of the question; for both of us. We didn’t want to know who he was, or anything about him. We had no room for him on our paths. However, as the days and months unfolded, more light was thrown upon our paths and some rather amazing and magical things began to happen to us and around us. I described it to others (before seeing your play, by the way) as something like a portal that is opened to us by horrific tragedies like ours; and if you are willing (or coerced) to step into it, and follow it, these things can happen. Hilary and I began to talk about contacting the young man. In early April, one of my friends was playing golf at the club where the young man works. One of his playing partners pointed him out and said he was suffering greatly and having a very hard time dealing with the accident. We felt a need to contact him. Yet, we were unsure. “What if he doesn’t want to hear from us?” We procrastinated. We knew his name was Peter.

We went to see your play on April 26 at the North Coast Repertory Theatre about five minutes from our house. As we picked up our tickets, Hilary asked how much longer the show would be running. “This is the last show. You got here just in time.” After we took our seats we looked around the small theatre and observed we were the youngest people in the audience. We’re both fifty nine. During Act Two our eyes and ears were riveted on Jason Willette—the driver; as necessary and as critical a player in your story as any one of the others on the stage and off. We were consumed with his pain, his torment and his suffering; his desperate need to connect. We couldn’t help but think of the young man— the fifth character in our tragedy. We did our best to staunch the flow of our tears and control our sobs before we left the theatre with the rest of the red-eyed crowd. As we were climbing into my car Hilary yelled “Ow!” “What happened?” I asked. “I think a bee stung me on my neck.” I looked at her neck and saw the stinger. I pulled it out with my fingernails. “Are you allergic?” Hilary said she didn’t know, “I’ve never been stung before.” After pausing a few beats she continued “I think somebody’s trying to tell us something. This was the last performance of this play. Their son is killed accidently by a car driven by a young man eight months earlier. It’s been eight months since Jimmy’s accident. We’ve got to contact that boy!”


As soon as we got home, I went to the computer and wrote a letter to Peter. My son-in-law gave me his full name and he made arrangements with a gentleman at the golf club where Peter works to have the letter delivered to him on Friday, May 1. [letter to David Lindsay-Abaire continued below]

Our letter to Peter we enclosed with the letter to Mr. Lindsay-Abaire:

May 1, 2009
Dear Peter,

I’m Jimmy Gauntt’s dad and I’m writing to you personally and on behalf of my wife Hilary, our daughter Brittany and Jimmy. It is very important for you to know we are not mad or angry with you. We do not blame you for the accident. We do feel very sad and sorry that you and our son had to be on that road, at that particular place at that particular time. If we could turn back the clock and change something, or anything, so you weren’t there or Jimmy wasn’t there, at the moment, we would do it in a heartbeat; and we know you would too. Unfortunately we don’t have that power. We are truly sorry for you, truly sorry that you were the one driving that car.

A friend of mine was playing as a guest at the golf club a month or so ago. One of his playing partners pointed you out at the turn and said you were the young man involved in the accident with our son. He told my friend, who knew Jimmy well, that you were having a hard time with this. Hearing this made us realize that as difficult as it has been for us, trying to cope with our loss, it has been very hard for you, too.

We want you to know that Jimmy is doing OK, he’s happy and he’s in heaven. We also know that Jimmy wants you to know this, and he wants you to be OK, as do we. Please don’t beat yourself up about this. It just happened, and yes, it is very, very sad. We know Jimmy feels badly for us and for you. Each one of us has a full life to live, and we know Jimmy does not want this accident and his death to get in the way of us living our lives and smiling. That is the last thing he would want. And we have vowed among ourselves that we will not let that happen.

We can’t imagine what you have been going through. We are sorry that you’ve had suffer from this. I don’t know if receiving and reading this letter will be of help to you. We hope it is. If you would ever like to talk to us, if that would be helpful to you, please feel free to contact us any time. You are in our thoughts and prayers, and we want and choose for you to be well. Sincerely Casey Gauntt


This is the rest of our letter to Mr. Lindsay-Abaire:

On Tuesday morning, July 22, my assistant came into my office and dropped the mail in my inbox on the credenza in back of me. I didn’t look at it right away. I rarely get any “real” mail these days. It’s mostly interoffice stuff, newspapers or junk. All the good stuff is sent on-line. After thirty minutes or so, I rifted through the short stack and saw an envelope addressed to me in neat handwriting. I looked at the name and return address in the top left corner and froze. “Peter ______.” I closed my door, sat in my chair and opened the letter. I started crying before I finished reading it. I put the letter down and cried hard for five minutes. It was powerful, it was sensitive, it was healing and the enormity of the moment and this connection was nearly overwhelming. I called Hilary and told her what had just happened, and emailed her a copy of the letter. Our twenty nine year old daughter, Brittany, came by the house that evening and we gave her a copy of the letter. She went into another room to read it. When she finished she joined us on our deck. We talked, cried and laughed for several hours.

I’ve enclosed copies of our correspondence with Peter. If someone had told us a year ago we’d be writing and receiving letters like this, well, we would of course have thought we’d stumbled upon a hookah smoking caterpillar in a rabbit hole. Thank you for kicking us over the edge into ours. We are forever grateful to you. Peter is too; we’re certain of it. With warm regards and deep thanks. Sincerely, Casey Gauntt


The letter from Peter:

Because of our profound respect for Peter and his privacy, I will not share here the contents of Peter’s letter to us—except for this one paragraph.

“I would like to share with you a dream I had…My dream started with my getting out of my car that was on its side. I stood up and opened the passenger door to get out just like it really happened, but when I opened the door, there stood a middle aged woman with her arms wide open with love and care giving me help. I then turned to see Jimmy lying in the street calm and breathing with a middle aged man kneeling over him holding his hand and comforting him… You may interpret this dream any way you wish, but I felt that the woman was God assuring me that both Jimmy and I were not alone during the accident, and that the man was Jesus Christ comforting Jimmy and accepting him in his kingdom; so when you spoke of Jimmy being in a better place, I truly believe in my heart that he is and that in time we will finally meet.”


Letter from David Lindsay-Abaire:

August 11, 2009

Dear Mr. Gauntt –

I want to thank you for your deeply moving letter regarding your family and my play Rabbit Hole. Let me first offer you and your family my sincere and heartfelt condolences on the loss of your son Jimmy. He was clearly a talented, big-hearted and much-loved young man. I can’t begin to fathom the pain of your loss. The thoughts and prayers of my family are with yours.

Let me also thank you for your incredibly kind words regarding my play Rabbit Hole. They mean more than you could possibly know. You might be interested to know that the seed of the play first came to me while I was a student at Juilliard, and a teacher posed a challenge – If you want to write a good play, think of the thing that scares you most in the world, and write about that fear. It wasn’t until I became a father many years later, and I heard a few stories of children dying unexpectedly, that I was able to turn that challenge into what became Rabbit Hole. The mere thought of losing my son made me understand fear in a way I never had before. And so, while I had experienced death and loss, and dealt with grief to some extent, you’re correct in assuming that I hadn’t experienced the very specific loss that the family in the play, and your family in real life, had experienced. Which makes hearing from you that I “got it right,” all the more special to me.

As a writer, I hope to reach people, and to have my work connect with them in a significant way. I have no doubt that Jimmy hoped to do this in his work as well. It’s what we all try to do. This can be as simple as telling an engaging story that makes people laugh, or think, or reflect on their own lives. And certainly it’s always rewarding to listen to audience members as they exit a theater, whispering, “That was so funny!” or “We have to tell Lauren to come see this!” or whatever it is they happen to say (it’s not always nice, of course, but that too is part of engaging an audience.) Those responses in and of themselves are usually gift enough to any writer. I’ve been extra lucky to also receive some nice reviews, and some significant prizes. But even with all that, for as long as I’ve been doing this, I have never received something so humbling, and so gratifying, as the kind letter you’ve sent me.

Writing can be a very solitary act, as you can imagine. I hope that my plays are more than a fun night out, but writers can never really know for sure what people walk away with – if they walk away with anything in fact. Needless to say, it is an incredibly rare thing to have someone reach out and tell you that a play spoke to them in such a way that it actually helped them to take action in their lives and to do something they may not have done if they had not seen the play.

I can’t tell you how moved I am to hear that Rabbit Hole may have played a role in you and your wife finally deciding to reach out to the young man involved in your son’s accident. Thank you for including the correspondence you shared with Peter. I found it both heartbreaking, and uplifting. It was clearly important and helpful for all of you to reach out to one another, and I could not be happier that you’ve all found a little more comfort in doing so.

The play, in my mind, was always a story of connecting, and reconnecting, after an event has blasted a world apart. It is my deep belief that through connection we heal. It’s a simple idea, but an important one that runs through all of my work, and it’s what I hope to do in my life by creating theater. Your story is a testament to that idea. It’s also a testament to Jimmy and the legacy he leaves behind. He was obviously a special person who touched many lives. And by your sharing your family’s story with me, I too now feel connected in some way to the light that was and continues to be Jimmy. I thank you for that. It’s something I will cherish always.

All the best to you and your family,

David Lindsay-Abaire


We received David Lindsay-Abaire’s letter on August 11, 2009—two days after the first anniversary of our son’s accident. That day, August 11, was Hilary’s and my 36th wedding anniversary.

Nicole Kidman made the Rabbit Hole into a movie in 2010 starring her as Becca and Aaron Eckert as Howie.

CLICK HERE - If you would like a Specially-Crafted PDF version of this story for saving or printing.

Wheaton-The Bermuda Triangle

[Reverse SPOILER ALERT: Are you one of our many NEW weekend readers spending some quality time here? If so, I'd suggest reading some previously-published stories before continuing with this story --if-- you desire the "full effect." Those would be: McKenzie’s Field-Ole Ole Olsen, and Want To Go For A Ride?. Thanks, --Casey]

If two points are destined to touch,
The Universe will always find a way to make the connection,
Even when all hope seems lost.
Certain ties cannot be broken.
They define who we are,
And who we can become.
Across space, across time,
Across paths we cannot predict.
Nature always finds a way.

–From the T.V. Series Touch, episode Zone of Exclusion (initial air date May 3, 2012)

Wheaton-The Bermuda Triangle
By Casey Gauntt

MeganIn 2007 a young lawyer, Megan, came to work at my law firm’s office in San Diego. We spoke at her welcome event and I was somewhat surprised to find out she grew up in Wheaton, Illinois, only a few miles from my hometown of Itasca.  I told her where I went to high school and practically fell off my chair when she told me her father, Attila, was a teacher, soccer coach, dean of students and ultimately the principal at Lake Park High School from 1974 to 1992.  I had missed him by a few years, graduating in 1968.  Megan’s mother was also a teacher at Lake Park and that’s how she met Megan’s dad.  “Wow! What a strange coincidence,”  we both exclaimed.  Let me put this in perspective—in all the years since I graduated in 1968 I’ve never run across anyone who went to my high school.  Not one person.

Two years later Steve Date was in the middle of editing his film The Letter he shot in Coalwood, West Virginia, and he asked me for a picture of my high school that I mention early on in the film.  I climbed up to our attic and looked through my brother’s and my Lake Park Lancer yearbooks, which for years had been relegated to serving as hosts to mold spores, silverfish and dust mites.  I came up empty.  I then thought of Megan’s dad—he must have a photograph.  Megan gave me his contact info and I shot him an email.  He didn’t have any photos, but he was kind enough to put me in touch with some of the current administrators at Lake Park.  I reached out to them and even mentioned I graduated number two in my class and was voted most popular my senior year.  I never heard back—I gathered photo requests were honored only for valedictorians.

I had told Megan and her father I was working on a “family history project.”  I hadn’t mentioned anything about the story of The Letter.  About a month later I stumbled upon the 1967 yearbook from my junior year buried in a drawer in my law office.  On the inside cover was a fantastic wide lens photograph of Lake Park High School that made it into Steve’s film.

I’ve been keeping a journal ever since Jimmy died. Actually, I keep two: one is a small black notebook and the other a Windows Word document on my laptop.  I make entries into them indiscriminately, although I find myself writing in my “little black book” my vivid dreams shortly after I wake up, so I don’t forget them, and using the computer version for the more complicated entries such as the following one for Saturday, March 19, 2011.

Today began with an early morning dream of Jimmy.  We’re together on the top of the bunk bed in his room.  He’s a baby—maybe 11 months—too young for a bunk bed.  He’s rolling around, sitting up, and I’m guarding him so he doesn’t fall off—a gentle hand push here and there.  He lies back down on the bed.  I lean down and kiss his rosy right cheek and I gently scold  him “You be careful.”  He looks into my eyes and smiles.

I awoke, wide awake, at 6:30 a.m., a half hour before the time set on my alarm.  I love waking up from dreams of Jimmy.  It is usually a sign of a strong energy day,  and today we would not be disappointed.

George Blystone George BlystoneGeorge Blystone and I are to have our call at eight o’clock this morning to talk some more about the story Want To Go For A Ride?. George has promised to write his version of the story and he wants some guidance from me.   After breakfast I reviewed the story, our emails and notes of my previous calls with him.  I called George on his cell at the appointed time and got voice mail.  I tried him again at 10 and was  likewise sent to voice mail.  Hilary observed  “Maybe you guys didn’t get the time right.  Let’s go on a hike in the lagoon.”  I checked my email message to him from a couple days ago, and it was very clear—”11 a.m. your time.”  George is three hours ahead of us in Connecticut.

“I don’t know, maybe he thinks it was 11 California time.  Let’s hang around until 11- if he doesn’t call back, then we’ll go.”

He didn’t and Hilary and I went for a walk in the nearby San Elijo Lagoon at 11:45.  That’s very late for us to start a hike.  The sun was out, the sky crystal clear, and we sat on Jimmy’s Bench for a while and thought about things and him. The day after Jimmy died, Hilary, Brittany, Ryan and I  took a walk in the lagoon to try and clear our heads and slip into the eye of our hurricane, if for only a moment.  On that walk we made two decisions.  First, we would request that in lieu of flowers donations be made to a  James T. Gauntt memorial scholarship fund at Torrey Pines High School to help deserving students pursue the study of the arts in college.  This was Brittany’s idea and over $100,000 was contributed to that fund over the next few weeks.  And second, we would have a memorial bench placed along one of the trails in the lagoon where we could come and visit Jimmy.  That was Hilary’s idea.  Nine months and a significant donation to the Lagoon Conservancy later, Jimmy’s Bench came to be.


Daughter Brittany and her newborn, Hunter Ryan Kirby,  sit on her brother Jimmy’s Memorial Bench along a windy path at the San Elijo Lagoon. We looked back and coiled on the left side of the path was a very large rattlesnake, perfectly camouflaged by the brown dirt and green grasses. Casey’s cousin, Dave Case, and his wife Mary on Jimmy’s bench

This day, the waves were pounding the beach several hundred yards away, an osprey dove into the lagoon directly in front of us and emerged with a large fish in its talons and the Palomar Mountains, several miles to the east, were covered with fresh snow.  Simply spectacular.  As we continued our hike I told Hilary about my dream this morning of Jimmy.  Hilary lamented she’s only had a couple of fleeting dreams about Jimmy.  “All the moms say the same thing—they don’t dream about the sons and daughters they’ve lost.”

We talked as we walked about Austin Bice, the 22 year old Torrey Pines High School grad who had died two weeks earlier in Madrid.  Hilary said “His death is the most like Jimmy’s.  He’d been out drinking with friends.  He was refused admission at a bar so he split from his friends and walked home.  He was a walker, like Jimmy.  He fell into a concrete lined river— minimal fence or barrier—no signs of violence or a crime—his wallet, money and cell phone were in his pockets.  Another inexplicable, horrible accident.  He, too, was the youngest child and the only boy.”

Jimmy spent the summer after his freshman year at USC as a foreign exchange student in Madrid, studying at a university and living with a family.  He also loved to walk at night, particularly after an evening of revelry.  That poor family—they are only at the very beginning of their nightmare.

The Southern Pacific rattlesnake - If you encounter one basking on the trail, give it some space and it will slither away.We turned around at our customary halfway point—Hilary was on the far left of the path and I was on the right, as usual—and after we walked about thirty feet or so I heard a clicking noise and Hilary made a quick jump to the right.  “What was that?!” she exclaimed.  We looked back and coiled on the left side of the path was a very large rattlesnake, perfectly camouflaged by the brown dirt and green grasses.  It’s head was raised and pulled back, poised to strike—it’s tongue flicking in and out of its mouth.  I counted at least ten rattles.   We watched it for a couple of minutes as we waited for our heartbeats to return to earth. The serpent finally uncoiled and slithered back into the dense brush.  That was close.  We figured Hilary was no more than six inches from the snake when she walked past it.  It is a miracle she wasn’t bit.  We both said ‘thank you’ and pointed our fingers to the sky and also to Jimmy’s bench on the other side of the lagoon.

A couple of minutes before we almost stumbled upon the snake, Hilary had asked “How about Rubio’s?”  “Sounds good.”  We frequently make these spot decisions as to where or what we’re going to do for lunch after our hike.  I didn’t tell her I’d already been thinking about chicken quesadillas and carne asada tacos, my favorite Rubio’s take-out items.  But if I had she would have said “Of course you were.”  We’ve been married over 37 years.

We got to Rubio’s around 1 p.m. and after putting in our order I went over to the hot sauce bar. We got to Rubio’s around 1 p.m. and after putting in our order I went over to the hot sauce bar.  I saw some people come in the front door but didn’t really focus on them.   “Casey?”  I looked up and it was Megan, the young attorney from my office.  I said “Hi” and she said, “I’d like to introduce you to my dad.  Casey, this is Attila.”  We shook hands.  ‘You’ve got to be kidding me! I don’t believe this!’  I said to myself.  I reminded Attila I was the guy who had asked him for a photo of Lake Park High School.  He remembered and seemed equally stunned to run into me.

We talked for quite a while about Lake Park.  He started as a rookie teacher in 1974 and his first classroom was the windowless cavern that used to be the weight room.  He rattled off the names of several teachers and classmates, most of whom I recalled.  He told me that for many years, starting when they were very little, he used to take Megan and her brother to the school on Sundays while he did some work.  They loved to ride their hot wheels down the long empty hallways.  That brought to mind a couple of scenes from Steven King’s The Shining, but I kept that to myself.

I brought Hilary into the conversation after a minute or so and introduced her to everyone.  She mostly talked to Megan and her husband who are expecting their first child in three weeks.  Attila told me he is the superintendent of a school district in Wisconsin and was  in town for an education conference.

We said goodbye, picked up our food and when we reached the parking lot I said to Hilary “I don’t believe it!  I was thinking about Attila a couple of days ago and actually made a note on my To Do list to send him the DVD of The Letter film.  This morning I try to get a hold of Blystone, who is the only Lake Park classmate I’ve actually spoken to in over 40 years, and then the former principal from my high school shows up with his daughter at Rubio’s!?”

Hilary said “Oh, it’s a lot more random than that!  Megan and her husband live in Point Loma, twenty miles south and she thinks it is beyond strange we bumped into one another.  They drove up this way to see some friends, and as they were heading back on Pacific Coast Highway they spotted Rubio’s.  They’ve never been here before; they didn’t even know where they were.  And look at the time—it’s after one o’clock.  We are never here this late, and when we do come it is for maybe four or five minutes, tops.  So, that was your window of time to run into the principal of your high school that you reached out to one year ago for that photograph for Steve’s film.  That is beyond improbable— synchronicity has struck again!”

We talked about Lake Park and Coalwood—how both have so strangely come back into my life over the last couple of years.

George never did call me back and I thought out-loud: “I hope he’s ok.”  Hilary asked “Has it occurred to you that you might have spooked him with all this stuff about The Letter and The Ride?”

And I thought that was the end of the story—and it was a pretty good story running like that into the principal of my high school—but as it turned out this one had only just begun.

When I arrived in the office on Monday morning an email from George was waiting for me.  “Sorry I missed our scheduled call but I honestly drove over my cell phone after leaving the damn thing on my trunk.  Call me at the office.”

I’m sorry, but my first thought was ‘The dog ate the homework—really, dude?’

I sent Attila the film The Letter and a ‘sorry if this comes hard from left field’ letter, and George and I traded a few voice mail messages over the next few days.  By the end of the week we hadn’t spoken and I began to feel badly about the whole thing.  On Sunday I emailed George.  “I want to apologize.  I drag you into the middle of this and then I ask you to go deeper and write something about it.  Don’t get me wrong—I’m very glad we reconnected—but sometimes I forget that, even among our closest friends, many are not comfortable at all with whatever is going on here with our family—these random connections.  Hell, I even sometimes think it is all a bit nuts.  It is selfish and unfair of me to push you, somebody I’ve been out of touch with for all these years, further into it.   Let’s take a step off this ride and let it settle for a while and, when we do talk, I’ll tell you about how cute our grandson is and our recent trip to Maui.  Your pal.”

I felt better.

But first thing the next morning, there was another email from George.  “No apologies required. The only aspect of our reconnect that has been difficult is that the weirdness of these events revolve around the terrible loss you and your family have suffered.  I am not uncomfortable re-telling my minor role in this wonderful journey of events that appears to have brought a sense of clarity and closure to all those trying to process the pain of sudden loss.  Let’s definitely talk this week.”

I felt even better.

And then it got all weird again.

In 2009 I wrote McKenzies Field—Ole Ole Olson Free, a short story about growing up in the little town of Itasca, Illinois and playing Kick The Can and other games on hot, muggy, summer evenings.  One of the kids featured in the story was Buddy Wheaton.  We went all through elementary and high school together, played on the same little league teams and were good friends, but ever since we graduated from Lake Park High School in 1968 we hadn’t laid eyes or ears on one another.  There is a very tragic accident described in the story, and as I recalled it was Buddy that dodged a big bullet, but I wasn’t a hundred percent sure it was him.  I’d had on my To Do list for a long time to track him down and confirm that I got the story right.  In fact, the 1967 Lancer yearbook, the one in which I found the great photo of the high school for Steve’s film, was dedicated to the memory of Rodney Hendrickson and Gary Olsen, the two boys who were killed on the fateful toboggan tow ride that winter night—the ride I believed Buddy was supposed to be on.


 Buddy Wheaton. Rodney Hendrickson and Gary Olsen - Tragically killed in a toboggan accident. Buddy Wheaton was supposed to be there but for his girlfriend's plea... At left is Walter William Wheaton  - AKA: 'Buddy Wheaton'  -  2003 Lake Park High School's 35th Reunion since 1968 graduation

Over the next couple of days after my email exchange with George, I spent quite a bit of time, to no avail, Googling Walter Buddy Wheaton to find some contact information.  I didn’t have Emily Sue Buckberry’s luck when she searched for me to get my dad’s letter back to me.  And even if I did, I questioned whether I would have her guts to cold-call Buddy.  Three years ago before Jimmy died?—absolutely not a chance.  But I didn’t give up and I fired off an email to George and three other childhood classmates I’d also reconnected with over the last year.  I told them about our family’s recent trip to Maui and how we left the Kahalui Airport only a few hours before the behemoth, devastating, earthquake struck Japan and forced the evacuation of the entire shoreline of the Hawaiian Islands, including the house we rented for a week on Napili Bay, in anticipation of the tsunami racing eastward at five hundred miles per hour.  And then I wrote this: 

“Does anybody have current contact information for Buddy Wheaton?  I need to ask him a question about a story I’m working on—but not about the one below.”

In retrospect it’s a bit weird why I added that last phrase  “but not about the one below.”  We’ll get there.

I closed the email by sharing with them how two weeks earlier Hilary and I had run into Megan and her father at Rubio’s.

The only response I received was a week later—another email from George.

“Casey- I just talked with Gus Pasquini.  You aren’t going to believe it!  Call me.”

Gus Pasquini was Dean of Students at Lake Park when I was there and also the head football coach.Gus Pasquini was Dean of Students at Lake Park when I was there and also the head football coach.  George was the star quarterback for Lake Park until he blew out his knee his senior year.  George had previously told me he and Gus have remained good friends over the years.  I called George right away on the land line in his office—not wanting to take any chances with cell phones and backing-up cars—and got right through.  George was amped.

“Hey, pal.  OK, this is unbelievable!  I’m talking to Gus this morning, shooting the breeze, and I tell him about this email I got from you a few days ago—I’ve told Gus all about us reconnecting and your son Jimmy—and I tell him how you and Hilary ran into that young woman from your office—Megan?—and her father Attila in San Diego a few weeks ago.  Gus says he knew Attila well at Lake Park and heard that he had recently taken a position with a school district in Wisconsin.  And, Casey—I swear to God—these are the next words out of his mouth.

“You know, George, I think Megan dated or was even engaged to Buddy Wheaton’s son.  Buddy and his family lived in Wheaton as did Attila and his family.”

Of course they did.  Whatt?!!!!!

George continued, “Casey, I hadn’t mentioned Buddy during my call with Gus.  Gus was the one who brought him up.  The few hairs I have left are now standing straight up on the back of my neck and I’ve got goose bumps crawling up and down my arms.  I then read to Gus the other part of your email about looking for contact info for Buddy, and Gus says to me ‘Well, why don’t you tell Casey to just walk down the hall and ask Megan?’”

“Is this as strange as it sounds?”  George implored.

We laughed and then got serious.  I gave George the other details about running into Attila and Megan at Rubio’s.

“George, I don’t want to freak you out any more than you already are, but you need to know that once again you have landed square in the middle of this madness.  If you and I had spoken when were supposed to that Saturday, Hilary and I would have gone on our hike around 10 as we usually do, and we would have been at Rubio’s before noon, and we would have never run into Megan and her father.  But we did.  And then I tell you about it, and you tell Gus—the first person you’ve talked to about this—and then Gus tells you “Hey, I think Megan may have dated or was even engaged to Buddy Wheaton’s son.”   Buddy Wheaton!—who I just happened to ask about in that email I sent to you and the crew about bumping into Megan and her dad.  Really?  If you didn’t tell Gus about Attila, he never would have mentioned Buddy and his son’s connection with Megan, and I probably would have never found out about it.”

“Bermuda Triangle, Casey.  I told Gus that connecting with you is like going into the Bermuda Triangle.” George shared.


Postscript.  A couple of days after my call with George, I sent Megan an email congratulating her on the birth of their baby girl and popped the question:

“I have what I’m sure will seem like an off-the-wall Chicago question.  I recently reconnected with one of my best friends from Lake Park, George, who now lives in Connecticut.  We were talking about one of our classmates, Walter (we called him Buddy) Wheaton, and George thinks he and his family lived in Wheaton and that you may have known Buddy’s kids.  I apologize for this coming from left field, but it is even more strange how Buddy came up in the first place.  I’ll tell you later about that sometime.”

I received Megan’s reply two weeks later:

“Such a small world that you were friends with Bud Wheaton!  I knew him and his family very well because I dated his son Brad in high school and for quite a few years after too!  I’m not in touch with them anymore but I did hear through the grapevine that Bud retired from his job as an executive with one of  McDonald’s largest suppliers and is working in the pro shop of a local golf club in Wheaton.  He has two sons, Brad and Ryan.  Brad is my age and Ryan is a few years younger.  I can’t believe all these crazy Chicago connections we have!”

Neither can I.

Megan later shared with me that she and her family also knew Gus Pasquini very well.  Gus and her dad worked together at Lake Park for many years and Gus helped her family find their first dog. “And running into you that day at Rubio’s really was serendipitous.  We live in Point Loma and had come up to North County to see friends who just had twins.   We promised them lunch, but were running late and thought burritos were the fastest choice.  Guessing there was a place off the freeway in Solana Beach, we exited and found Rubio’s.  Really something.”


Postscript 2. In July, a few months after spinning into the discovery of the connection between Megan and Buddy Wheaton, I was on a run through the streets of downtown San Diego.  As I was returning to my office and the athletic club upstairs, a large moving truck blocked the street.  On the side of the van, in huge black letters, were the words  WHEATON VAN LINES.  As soon after I showered and got back to my office I called Buddy using a number I found in an on line phone book for Wheaton, Illinois.  Needless to say, Buddy was more than a little surprised to hear from me.  We caught up for a few minutes and then I told him about Megan from my office and how I had discovered through George Blystone and Gus Pasquini that Megan had dated his son Brad. Such a small world, and all that.  Buddy didn’t know anything about my son Jimmy, the story of The Letter or Want To Go For A Ride? and I didn’t mention any of that on our call.  I could tell Buddy was thinking ‘So, you called me just to let me know that Megan dated my son Brad?’  It was a bit awkward, but I plowed forward with the main purpose of my call.

The tragic accident back in the winter of 1966 that took the lives of Rodney and GaryI told Buddy I had written a story a couple of years ago about the tragic accident back in the winter of 1966 that took the lives of Rodney and Gary, and that I thought Buddy was supposed to be on that toboggan tow, but wasn’t absolutely sure.  Buddy confirmed that it was indeed him and he told me a lot more about what happened that night that I never knew.  How it was his then girlfriend, our classmate Kathy Wentzel, who had called his house as he was standing outside waiting for Rodney and Gary to pick him up.  How Buddy’s mom made him come inside and take the call.  How Kathy begged Buddy to bring over to her house his biology book so she could catch up on some homework having been out sick from school the last several days.  How Buddy was backing out of his driveway in his dad’s car to head over to Kathy’s as Rodney and Gary pulled up.  One phone call.

“I’ve never forgotten that, Casey, and I never will.”

Buddy told me a little bit about his sons, and what they were up to.  Neither of them were yet married and both were avid outdoorsmen living in Colorado.  I don’t recall  Buddy asking about my kids—or maybe I preempted the question by telling him about Brittany and our new grandson—don’t really remember.  Anyway, Buddy gave me his address in Wheaton so I could send him the story and we cordially wound up the call.

A couple of weeks after our call I sent Buddy the McKenzie’s Field story—at this point we hadn’t put the story up on the Write Me Something Beautiful website.  A few weeks later I sent Buddy the link to the website, and the story of The Letter.  As I did with George, I wrote and apologized for letting him know about Jimmy’s death in this way, but that I didn’t really know any “easy” way to do it.  I followed that up by sending Buddy drafts of the  Want To Take A Ride? and Wheaton-The Bermuda Triangle stories so he would have “all the pieces of the puzzle as to how I found out your son dated Megan from my office.”   A most circuitous route.  I went on to write:

“As I’ve told Blystone, I have no idea why we’ve reconnected after all of these years and in such bizarre ways.  I know this wasn’t any of your doing.  I apologize if this is upsetting for you.  I don’t mean to drag up unpleasant memories for you and I certainly don’t mean to drag you into the middle of ours.  But, it’s just so damned unbelievable and, well, I thought you should know about it.  Perhaps there are reasons—if so I’m pretty sure my brain isn’t big enough to figure them out.  Good health and good life to you, my friend.”

I never heard back from Buddy, and I can’t say that I’m surprised.  I imagined he must have thought, as any normal, rational, man would, ‘Poor Casey—he’s been hammered by the loss of his father, and now his son, and is desperate for any thread of hope or shred of something to make sense of it all.’

But, I don’t really know what Buddy thinks about all of this.


Postscript 3. Five months after my last email to Buddy, Megan sent me this note.

February 2012

“I wanted to stop by and tell you this in person but our family’s been hit with the stomach flu and I don’t know when I’ll be able to catch you this week in the office.  I heard over the weekend Bud Wheaton’s younger son, Ryan, passed away at the age of 30.   I don’t know what happened.  I’m sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but I thought you would want to know.”



  I heard over the weekend Bud Wheaton’s younger son, Ryan, passed away at the age of 30.On April 9, 2012 we published McKenzie’s Field- Ole Ole Olson Free on this site and dedicated the story to the memory of Rodney Hendrickson, Gary Olsen and Ryan Wheaton.

The Universe will always find a way to make the connection.

CLICK HERE - If you would like a Specially-Crafted PDF version of this story for saving or printing.


By: Casey Gauntt

In the days and weeks following Jimmy’s death we received hundreds—maybe even a thousand— cards, letters and emails from family, friends and colleagues, and also from more than a few people we didn’t even know, expressing their sympathies and condolences for the tragic loss of our son and their relative, friend or fellow human being.  Even though our lives had been completely turned upside down and our heads filled with tornadoes, Hilary and I made a point of reading everyone of them.  Many folks didn’t know what to say, beginning their messages scrawled with pain oozing from their pens with phrases like “I can’t find the words” or “Words are inadequate”—we understood.  Some had no words and deferred to the preprinted message in the card.  But that, too, was a powerful message for us—so consumed by devastation they couldn’t even attempt to write something.  Every card and message was filled with love, affection, compassion and support.  Every sentiment, no matter how it was expressed or delivered, was for us another sandbag thrown against the seemingly endless hole torn open in our lives and through which our energy, essence and sanity were being drained.

If someone says “it’s the thought that counts,” we can tell you for a fact that couldn’t be more true when someone suffers a loss.  What you do as a family member, a friend or a fellow human being to support someone in the depths of their grief—it does make a difference—it does count.  I won’t go so far as to say that we kept score, but I will never forget—but do forgive—a handful of folks that I thought my family and I were close (or close enough) with who to this day have never said one thing to us about the loss of our son.  Now, having spent more time on this side of the fence, I do understand how difficult, if not impossible, it can be for some to deal with loss and, particularly, the sudden and tragic death of a child or young adult.  Many of the cards and letters we received used the words “unthinkable” and “unimaginable” and I suspect for some they just couldn’t get beyond their own pain, fears, memories or themselves to write or speak any words—they couldn’t go there at all.

Delta Tau Delta fraternityIn the midst of the chaos, Hilary and I received several cards and letters that were extraordinarily beautiful and stood out as exceptional, but perhaps none more so than the letter we received in late September of 2008 from Chris Cox.  Chris and I were fraternity brothers at the University of Southern California.  We were members of the Delta Tau Delta fraternity—The Delts.  Chris was two years younger in age, one year behind in school and light years ahead of all of us in intellectual capacity and maturity.  Chris graduated in three years and was the smartest guy in our house—perhaps the entire university.

Chris has an enormous capacity for work and thought and I’ve never met anyone who could focus like he did.  Chris was also funny, outgoing, athletic, truly interested in what others were doing and just a pleasure to be around.  He was a good guy.  Within minutes of first meeting Chris, a native of Minnesota, he tagged me with the nickname “Vern Gania,” a clever parody of my real name, Vernon Gauntt, and based on Verne Gagne, a well-known professional wrestler back in the 1950s from Minnesota.  The nickname has stuck.  After college, Chris went to Harvard and collected a law degree and a masters in business in three years, taught tax at Harvard, joined a prestigious law firm and quickly made partner.  As though he didn’t have enough to do, in the midst of achieving superstar status at his firm, Chris and his father founded a company which produced daily English translations of the leading Soviet newspaper, Pravda.  Yes, Chris was fluent in Russian, one of his many majors in college.

Meeting with Former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger - Senators Jon Kyl (R-AZ) and Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX) are in the background. (Photo taken at Policy Committee meeting in the Capitol, March 19, 1999) Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld meets with Members of the Policy Committee - From Left to Right: Todd Tiahrt from Kansas, Heather Wilson from New Mexico (Chair of the National Security and Foreign Affairs Subcommittee), Secretary Rumsfeld, Chairman Cox, and Randy Cunningham from California. Picture of Chris while Chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission

Beckoned by ever demanding challenges, in 1986 Chris joined President Reagan in the White House as senior associate counsel, and in 1988 was elected to the United States Congress where he served as one of Orange County, California’s elected representatives for the next 17 years until President George W. Bush appointed him Chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission.  Chris was beginning his fourth year in this most prestigious and challenging of positions when he wrote us the letter.  This is a transcription of the card that Chris wrote by hand to us.

September 28, 2008

Dear Casey and Hilary,

The news of Jimmy’s loss is heartbreaking.  Please know that Rebecca and I are thinking of you, and that there is boundless love and prayer being offered for your family from this side of the continent, too.

Your quarter century with Jimmy is an incredible gift—I know you realize that, and will always be grateful for the way he served such a high purpose in life, including helping you both to grow and learn and to expand and absorb your capacity to love.

You have so much to be proud of in Jimmy’s life.  And you have made me and all who know you proud, too, because we can see so much of you both in Jimmy’s many wonderful achievements, and in his character, and sense of humor.  In this time of sorrow, mixed with gratitude for the sheer joy of Jimmy’s life, please know we are with you.

Chris and Rebecca


Condolensces from Chris and Rebecca Cox Former  Chairman of the House Policy Committee, Chris Cox and his lovely wife Rebecca took time to reach out at our time of need.

His words beautiful, his thoughts profound, the sentiments creatively crafted, his message an arrow launched from 2,685 miles away piercing the very depths of our hearts.  Chris’ letter was indeed extraordinary, but what elevated it to the truly exceptional pedestal were the context and circumstances under which it was written.

As we all remember—how can we forget—by the middle of September 2008 the capital markets and the financial systems of this country and around the world were in full meltdown and our economy and livelihoods were free-falling into the deepest recession or worse since the Great Depression.  These are some of the key events that occurred at that time, each day bringing another announcement of financial dread and woe more devastating and frightening than the day before:

  • ♦ September 7—Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac are taken over by the federal government
  • ♦ September 14—Merrill Lynch fails and Bank of America steps in to buy-rescue it
  • ♦ September 15—Lehman Brothers files for bankruptcy
  • ♦ September 16—AIG is rescued from collapse by the feds
  • ♦ September 25—The FDIC seizes Washington Mutual (the largest bank failure of all time) and the feds arrange a sale to J.P. Morgan
  • ♦ September 26—Chris Cox personally ended the 2004 program for voluntary regulation of investment bank holding companies, begun under SEC Chairman William Donaldson and then-Director of Market Regulation (later SEC Commissioner) Annette Nazareth.
  • ♦ September 29—U.S. Treasury Secretary Henry “Hank” Paulson’s bailout plan is rejected by the House.  The U.S. stock market drops 777 points, the largest one-day fall since the Dow Jones Industrial Average was first published in 1896—$1.2 Trillion of market value of American stocks erased in a single day
  • ♦ September 29/30—The Treasury’s $700 billion rescue plan is renegotiated, passed by the Senate on October 1, and subsequently ratified by the House and signed into law by President Bush on October 3.

At the same time millions of jobs were being lost, home equity value was evaporating by trillions of dollars and the fear, anxiety, anger and desperation of Americans were catastrophic.  As chronicled in Andrew Ross Sorkin’s book, Too Big To Fail, the movie of the same name, and On The Brink, written by former U.S. Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, there was a handful of federal officials and top executives from the private financial sector who were tasked with trying to grab hold of the reins of the runaway financial system and stop the wagons—our economy as we knew it—from being dragged over the precipice of the fast approaching cliff and into complete and utter oblivion.  A handful of minds who didn’t have weeks or months to figure this out—they had to do it in a matter of days and hours. Paulson, Tim Geitner and Ben Bernanke were in this group of federal officials.  In his role as the Chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission, so was Chris Cox.

September 29, 2008

The Dow fell 777.68 points, the most in any single day in history. (Source: CNN Money, Stocks Crushed, September 29, 2008)When we received Chris’ card I recall having a fleeting thought “He wrote this now?” but we were only six weeks into our nightmare and our minds were numb.  Hilary and I distinctly remember just two weeks later lounging before a fire in the living room of Mike and Carla Kirby’s townhouse in Park City, Utah with their son, our son-in-law, Ryan and our daughter Brittany.  It was a Friday and we were watching the evening news of the latest financial disasters, including the stock market suffering its worst week in seventy five years and the International Monetary Fund warning of a systemic meltdown, and thinking out loud “Isn’t it strange that we really don’t care?”

As bad as all this was for the economy and the country, we had no room or place in our minds or hearts to worry about it.  We were completely consumed by the loss of Jimmy.  Nothing could be worse—for us there was no greater pain or suffering—there was no bigger story.  Financial loss could never, not remotely, come close to the loss of our son.  It was blaspheme to even think it.  Chris Cox understood this.

A few days ago I found and reread the card Chris wrote to us four years ago.  Some time and distance have softened the pain, our minds have settled down, we are thinking more clearly, “tomorrow,” “hope” and “future” are words that have crept back into our vocabulary and we have a bit more perspective.  I just couldn’t get my mind around how Chris did it.

Chris and Rebecca CoxIn the very midst of one of the worst financial crises in our country’s history—on the day before the House rejected the rescue plan put forth by the Administration and sent the stock market into another deep nosedive—with no sleep, billions if not trillions of dollars in play on the table, and under unimaginable stress and pressure—on September 28 Chris Cox sat down at his desk and wrote in his own steady hand a letter to us.  A letter of only 149 words, each one a jewel, packed full of deep, penetrating emotion, caring, insight, advice and wisdom.  While he was plunging head forth into the teeth of the financial storm, he took time he didn’t have to walk with us in the midst of our pain—our misery, our desperation—and compose a letter that touched us as deeply as anything else we had received.

And another extraordinary thing is that Chris wasn’t even that close of a friend to us.  He is far and away tighter with several of our other fraternity brothers.  We hadn’t seen one another or been in touch for several years.  But he was there for us.  I mean, really, who does that? Who has that presence of mind, when all hell is breaking loose, to seize and penetrate a moment and frame and deliver a message of such power and poignancy at the precise time we needed it?  This was a gift forged by a very strong, deep, soul who was in complete control of his mind, his thoughts and, yes, also his priorities.

Chris Cox wrote Hilary and me something beautiful.  We will forever cherish his thoughts, his words and him.


So, the next time you have the opportunity to write a condolence card or message—and we will all have plenty more occasions to do so—that’s guaranteed— think about Chris Cox—and take a little more time to write something that will be remembered.  Write something beautiful.


Happy Birthday, Barb

Happy Birthday, Barb
By: Casey Gauntt and Brittany and Ryan Kirby

On Saturday, July 28, 2012, I was in the garage of our house in Solana Beach sifting through boxes of some of my mother’s things we had recently brought over from her house in Encinitas. I was specifically looking for some photographs of my mother to display the next day at a small gathering of family and friends at the beach in Del Mar to celebrate my Mom’s life and her 91st birthday. Mom had made it very clear before she began her next journey on June 11 what she didn’t want.

“I don’t want a funeral or any sort of memorial service. I want to be cremated and no fuss over the ashes. I’d prefer that you do nothing.” And she punctuated all that with ‘the look’ that meant she was absolutely serious.

Now that might seem a little strange or cold, but not for her family. When her mother, Henrietta, literally dropped dead from a heart attack at the age of 78, and her dad, Vern, joined his wife 18 months later after a brief and futile fight with pancreatic cancer, there was nothing—no services, no gatherings of family or celebrations of life, as they are now popularly referred to—no toasts. Nothing. Moving on. The bookends on that particular shelf of my mother’s life were the pathetically sad assembly of those few lost souls who showed up on December 24, 1970 at the Presbyterian Church in Itasca, Illinois in search of something—anything—that might erase some of the pain or provide a handhold in the aftermath of her husband Grover’s suicide three days earlier—it didn’t—and, 38 years later, as the 1,000 crushed and shattered assembled inside the Mandeville Auditorium on the UCSD campus in La Jolla, California to mourn the death of her 24 year old grandson, Jimmy.

I contemplated a compromise. We had thrown her a party at the Del Mar Turf Club last year for her 90th birthday. Mom loved the ponies and she had an absolute blast. After her first fall in December, we had floated the prospect of having a reprise of that celebration for her 91st birthday, and hoped that might be a carrot for her and us. Although she fought mightily, by the beginning of June, a few days before she died, she knew that, unfortunately, she was not going to finish that race. That’s when I asked her.

“What if we have a birthday party for you? Laura and her family are already planning to be here from Switzerland. Just a few friends and family. Would that be OK?”

She thought about it for a few seconds and then, with a wry smile, said “I suppose that would be alright.”

Mom passed away peacefully in the late afternoon of June 11. Hilary and I were by her side, holding her hands and talking to her as she began her next journey.

On my second pass through the boxes, I stumbled upon a 5” by 7” brightly colored cloth frame sitting on top of some photo albums. Behind a smudged pane of glass was something that had been written with one of the old-style ribbon typewriters. I briefly wondered how I had previously missed it. I began reading and was crying before I finished.

For Barbara———-July 29, 1955
We have a daughter fair and good
Who acts as every daughter should
A joy she’s been in every way
To us her parents old and gray.
We wouldn’t trade our interest there
For gold or fame or jewels rare
Her birthdays now are thirty-four
She has our love forevermore.
Now buy some shoes with this small check
Have fun be gay so what-the-heck
Life is for living says your mother
Your Dad your mate your sons your brother.
A great big kiss a great big hug
While parents’ hearts do feel a tug
To bring you near on this birthday
A fortune we would gladly pay.
Though you are there and we are here
We know you well and have no fear
For love does triumph over miles
A joyous day dear Barb with Smiles.
—Mother and Daddy


Barb’s mother, Henrietta, had written this birthday wish for her daughter’s 34th birthday—57 years earlier. Barb’s mother, Henrietta, had written this birthday wish for her daughter’s 34th birthday—57 years earlier. She and Vern were living in the Chicago suburb of Keeneyville, Illinois where they had recently relocated themselves and Case Foundation Company from Los Angeles. In July of 1955 Barb and her brood—my brother G.G. and me—were living in the Los Angeles suburb of West Covina where Dad was trying to make a go of it on his own in the housing business. Within a few months he would pull up stakes, move us to Itasca and, with hat in hand, go back to work for Vern Case and Case Foundation.

Henrietta was a talented and prolific writer of poems, short stories and even a book that Mom told me “she threw away before she would let anyone read.” I had seen alot of my grandmother’s work, but I’d never laid eyes on this piece. Not only was I struck by the shear serendipity of discovering this nugget on the eve of Mom’s 91st birthday, I was absolutely transfixed by the way Henrietta, particularly in her last verse, seems to be speaking in the present, right now, to her daughter and to those of us “there” who will be celebrating her daughter’s birthday. Henrietta was a philosopher and a profoundly deep thinker and her words “have no fear for love does triumph over miles” struck me as conveying so much more than simply the distance between Chicago and Los Angeles.

When I finished reading Henrietta’s poem, goose bumps coursed through my body—just as they had done after I got the call from Emily Sue Buckberry and she told me about the letter from my Dad she’d been safekeeping the last 40 years.


Vern and Henrietta Case at their daughter, Barbara's 1946 wedding. Henrietta, had written this birthday wish for her daughter’s 34th birthday—57 years earlier.  Henrietta was a philosopher and a profoundly deep thinker and her words 'have no fear for love does triumph over miles' struck me as conveying so much more than simply the distance between Chicago and Los Angeles. Vern and Henrietta Case —Mother and Daddy - in 1975

I read Henrietta’s birthday poem to the 35 family and friends assembled on Sunday afternoon at the beach house in Del Mar that our dear friends, Dana and Steve Gabriel, once again, so graciously let us use. My reading was punctuated with sobs of joy and wonder—mine and those of others—of what had been shared with us, and the timing of it all. A mother, here, sending a birthday wish to her daughter, there, as loving, affectionate and caring right now as it was 57 years ago. Here. There. I tried to express what has become an ever more clear reality for our family that there seems to be little difference or distinction between the two. “We are here and Mom, Jimmy, Dad, Henrietta, Vern and others close to us who have passed are there” as I pointed to a place inches from where I was standing. “They are right there. They are right there and with us here.”

Another message turned up two days before Mom’s birthday celebration. This one via the regular old U.S. mail from Pat Nottke who lives in Barrington, Illinois just a few miles from Itasca. Pat was a neighbor and one of the first people Barb met when we moved to Itasca in 1956, and they became and remained deeply close friends for the next 56 years. Pat is 92 and, although she could not attend Barb’s memorial in person—sorry, I meant birthday—she asked if I would read something that she enclosed. It was another poem, this one by A. K. Rowswell, entitled Should You Go First. I shared the last stanza.

Should you go first and I remain
One thing I’d have you do
Walk slowly down that long, lone path
For soon I’ll follow you
I’ll want to know each step you take
That I may walk the same
For some day down that lonely road
You’ll hear me call your name.

I also didn’t make it through this reading without breaking down. The image of Pat longing and calling for her old friend tugged hard at our hearts. However, there was one thing that didn’t sound right to me. I told the gathered revelers I didn’t believe my Mom’s road was lonely. “In fact, I don’t think she is on a road at all.”


Pat Nottke was a neighbor and one of the first people Barb met when we moved to Itasca in 1956, and they became and remained deeply close friends for the next 56 years. Pat Nottke and Barbara Gauntt Granddaughter Brittany Kirby with her grandmother Barbara Gauntt

I told them about a dream I had of my Mom three years ago—a dream about her after she died. I know—but remember Henrietta’s words “love does triumph over miles”—and perhaps time, too. Anyway, in my dream I’m with my spirit guide, Indian George, a real life 60s something weathered Yaqui Indian Hilary and I had met in Sedona in 2009 a couple of days before the dream. In the dream George had taken me through a portal of some sort—a razor thin pane of heavy shimmering air. On the other side were deeply forested mountains and at the top of one of them was a low slung resort made of the finest redwood logs. I entered alone and walked through a dark lobby into a neighboring brightly lit room. Inside were several women lounging on sofas and overstuffed chairs playing cards around an equally fine and glossy finished redwood table. There was quite a buzz in the room. Everyone was talking, laughing and having a grand time. As I entered the room one of the women, an immaculately coiffed redhead with a cigarette nestled between the fingers of her right hand, cards in her left, and seated with her back to me, turned around and met my eyes with instant recognition and love. It was my mother. She was young—in her forties—elegantly dressed and impeccably coiffed. She gave me a warm, knowing, smile and, without saying a word to me, turned around and went back to talking and playing cards with her friends.

‘A joyous day dear Barb with Smiles.

And I have no doubt Mom is keeping a seat at the table warm for her good friend, Pat.

The birthday party broke up shortly after a spectacular sunset, the kind where the sun expands and morphs into a huge blood-red atomic bomb-like mushroom cloud as it refracts, explodes and melts heavily below the horizon. As Brittany, Ryan and Wyatt were saying goodbye, Brittany, somewhat jokingly, said to me:

“It is so bizarre that only yesterday you found that poem Barb’s mom wrote for her on her birthday all those years ago—sitting in a box. Maybe when I get home I’ll rummage around and see if anything pops out.”

I laughed, knowing exactly what she meant. It was almost four years ago, now. I said something like, “Yeah, you do that—you never know,” and didn’t give it another thought.

That is, until two days later.

The next evening, a Monday, the Buties, Kirbys and my brother, Grover (fka G.G.), came over to our house for dinner. We talked about Mom, the birthday celebration and how wonderful the whole day had been. Brittany took Wyatt home to put him to bed around 8, and Ryan, who had driven separately straight from work left about an hour later.

I’ll now turn the story over to Ryan as for what happened next.

Happy Birthday, Barb
By: Ryan Kirby

When I got home Monday evening from dinner at the Gauntts, Britt was in bed watching TV looking really sleepy. She was wearing one of Barb’s pajama gowns—honest—and she looked so pretty, I even said so! Anyhow, we talked a lot about Barb, and about Hilary and Casey and the Buties, and how nice these past two days have been, to see everyone and all. But how strange too—Jimmy four years ago—like deja vu all over again in weird ways, and sad obviously, but better too. Then we talked about what a great event Sunday was and how much wonderful effort went into and how it was pure Barb. We talked about what Hilary and Casey, Grover and Laura said and how proud Barb must of been.

I walked over to the kitchen and fished out a bunch of documents I had to read before bed in preparation for a meeting in the morning. I always grab my trusty Torrey Pines Lodge pen for this task, but tonight I didn’t, and I consciously didn’t, but didn’t know why. I then went over to the bed and pulled the wrong drawer on my nightstand. It’s kind of a secret drawer, or supposed to be discreet—I don’t know. The point is it was the wrong drawer; one I never open. I found one pen in there but it was busted. I saw another, and when I pulled the drawer open further to get at it— right at the moment Britt was talking about her dear old Dad and how wonderful a son he is, and how she hopes one of our boys will love her for 62 years and take care of her like her Dad did for his mom, Grandma Barbie—that darn thin drawer fell out right onto the floor from my pulling.

I picked up what little was in there, and lo, there were about ten pictures. They were mostly of little baby Wyatt, infant Wyatt, but the one staring back at me was of Casey holding his three month old grandson feeding him his bottle. I took the photo and toss it at Britt, and say, “are you ready for this again?”

Of course I’m referring to six months pregnant Brittany, another baby boy on the way and a bottle. She laughs. Says how cute little Wy is, how small he is, particularly in his Pa’s arms. I put the drawer back in, get in bed with my legal papers and a working pen.

Casey holding his three month old grandson, Wyatt, feeding him his bottleThen Britt says, “Whoah…. Look!”

On the back of the photo, in Barb’s writing, with her ubiquitous red pen, is the date: July 29, 2010.

The picture was taken by Barb—her view—this precious snap shot with one of those classic Kodak disposable cameras she always toted around—a photo of her son and her great-grandson taken on her, matriarch Barb’s, birthday two years ago.

Her son Casey sitting on the couch with his grandson in his arms in his house where we were celebrating Barb that night—a very spry and vibrant Barb on her 89th birthday. In the window behind Casey and Wyatt is the ocean at dusk, and imposed on it in a single solitary flash of light, positioned right on the horizon like a star or setting sun, is the flash bulb pop that is the reflection of Barb—an orb of brilliant white light.

And to think, in all this modern digital mess, no one our age gets prints anymore, or at least rarely prints them—but not Barb! She would always send along her disposable camera work with a loving note of thanks and gratitude for including her in the festivities, even when it was her own birthday. And lo of all the ones we kept, to find this one, now!—two years later on the dot. Here, she still is. Very cool indeed.


Another message waiting patiently in a box for so many years turns up just in time for one more birthday celebration for a recently departed—this time Barb—and Brittany and Ryan rummage around their house only to uncover, yet again, a birthday gift from the guest of honor.

And Brittany called it!

I won’t even try to explain this.

I’ll just smile.

CLICK HERE - If you would like a Specially-Crafted PDF version of this story for saving or printing.

Princess Gantt—For The Birds

Princess Gantt—For The Birds

By: Casey Gauntt
January 6, 2012

I awoke—well I got out of bed, I’d been awake for a half hour or so—around 6:30. I went downstairs to turn on the heater (we hate the autopilot), got the papers and came back upstairs to make coffee. Dating myself, I know. We continue to receive daily delivery of two newspapers made from real paper and ink: the San Diego Union Tribune for local sports and news, and the Los Angeles Times, because the Tribune otherwise sucks. Jimmy’s 21 year old cat Princess was curled up under our kitchen table in the throw blanket from the couch we had placed her in the night before. She had spent most of yesterday in that same spot. She hasn’t been able to go up or down the stairs the last two days. Her food and kitty box are in the garage. She hadn’t moved an inch from the night before. Her eyes were half open. I thought she might be gone. I called to her—no response, but I momentarily forgot, she’s deaf—and then I touched her tail sticking stiffly out from under the blanket. She lifted her head sluggishly, made a woeful whimper and put her head back down on the throw rug.

Hilary got up about twenty minutes later. We had discussed the night before taking Princess to the vet this morning to have her put down if she wasn’t any better. I asked Hilary if that was still the plan. She resisted—was hesitant—”I’m not sure…” and then emphatically stated “I can’t do it!” I asked her if that meant she didn’t want Princess put down. She initially said she didn’t know, but then quickly added “No, it needs to be done, but I can’t go. I can’t do it. You’ve never been to the vet before—it’s horrible—she hates it, she moans and cries the entire time—I don’t want that to be my last memory of her. Most of my friends have their husbands do this.”

Ouch. I nudged, “So, you’re OK with it if I take her in and have her put to sleep?”

“I think so. I don’t know.” Hilary was very upset.

“I’m going to go downstairs and get on the computer” I said. “Have some breakfast and think about it.”


Academy Animal Hospital takes 'Mug Shots' of all their patients - this is Princess' Mug Shot Princess hanging out in Jimmy's saxophone case

I went downstairs and as I turned on the computer I could hear Hilary crying upstairs. It had already been a hell of a week. My 90 year old mother had fallen down in her house in Encinitas where she lives alone the day before New Year’s. I spent all night with her in the emergency room at Scripps Hospital in Encinitas and then Scripps Green Hospital in La Jolla where she was later transferred. She fractured her left arm and was having difficulty breathing. Two days ago we’d moved her into a skilled nursing facility in Del Mar where she was promptly diagnosed with pneumonia. I was shocked when they weighed my mom at the emergency room—108 pounds. She’d lost more than 30 pounds within the last year and at 5’9” she was literally skin and bone. Just like Princess.

As soon as I sat down at my desk in “Jimmy’s room” that we’ve kind of morphed into a home office, and flicked on my computer—within a matter of seconds— a little brown bird, a finch I think, flew up to the window pane in front of me, at eye level, and sat briefly on the narrow sill. He (maybe she) then flew back to a perch on a nearby hedge. A few moments later, the bird flew back to the sill of the same window, this time making a few pecks on the pane before buzzing off to the top of a tree trimming tool leaning up against the hedge. The bird was highly excited and possibly agitated. There was another finch, maybe a mate, flitting around but that one didn’t come up to the window. We have lots of finches around the house, particularly at the northern end of our property where we keep a regularly stocked bird feeder, and they hang out, and probably nest, in the eight foot ivy hedge that separates our back yard from our neighbor’s to the west.

In the three minutes I sat at my desk, this tiny brown bird flew back and forth to the same window pane at least twenty times. Trying to tell me / show me something?But the behavior of this particular bird—I had never seen anything like it. In the three minutes I sat at my desk, this tiny brown bird flew back and forth to the same window pane at least twenty times. Upon landing upon the sill, he (I don’t know why I assume it was a male) would peer in and look at me and peck on the window—completely unafraid. It was as though he was deliberately trying to get my attention—desperate even. I knew this wasn’t a coincidence. This had never happened before. Never has a bird flown up and sat on the sill, looked in at me and pecked away as though he was trying to get inside. Something was going on and I was quite certain it had everything to do with Princess.

“What is it?” I asked the bird. “What are you trying to tell me? Do you not want me to take Princess to the vet? Or do you want me to? What is it? Tell us what to do.”

I grabbed my camera from my desk, and when the bird flew back to the window I snapped off a couple of photos. I thought it might be important to keep a record of this.

I ran back upstairs and in a fit of excitement told Hilary about the bird.

“You’ve got to see this bird downstairs! I’ve never seen anything like it. I think I’ll take Princess downstairs to see it. Maybe Jimmy wants to see Princess.”

So I knelt under the kitchen table, and gently removed the blanket I had tucked around Princess the night before. Beneath her head was the partially digested cat food Hilary and given her yesterday afternoon. Hilary said she dragged her hind legs as she made her way over to the food dish she placed upstairs. Princess had thrown it up. When I picked her up her hind legs and forepaws were stiff and one was covered with vomit which Hilary quickly cleaned. “I think she’s paralyzed,” I said. I carried her downstairs to see the bird. We stood before the window for a minute or so, but the bird didn’t appear. Princess was having a hard time breathing and I could tell she was very uncomfortable with me holding her. I took her back upstairs.

Hilary was already on the phone to the vet’s office. It was now almost 8:30. Hilary cupped the mouthpiece and relayed that we could bring her in at 10:30 but I told Hilary I didn’t think she’d make it that long. Hilary asked-begged to bring her in right away. The nurse said she would call us back as soon as the doctor got in. I lay Princess back in her blanket. Five minutes later the vet called back and said they could see her now.

I went down to get the box—the dreaded box—we, that is Hilary, has used over the last twenty plus years to transport Princess to the vet or the pet ‘resort’ that she detests with equanimity. There was a strip of masking tape on the box that must have been put there by the vet or the resort-detention facility upon which had been written with a black magic marker “Princess Gantt.” Royalty. “Gant” is how our surname was spelled when the clan arose in Belgium in the 11th century. I never thought of Princess as having our last name. Neither had I seen before her misspelled name on the strip of masking tape, but then again, before today, I’d never actually manned-up to take Princess to her abodes of dread.

There was a strip of masking tape on the box that must have been put there by the vet or the resort-detention facility upon which had been written with a black magic marker 'Princess Gantt.'

There was a dish towel of some unknown vintage and level of cleanliness at the bottom of the box which I delicately removed. Hilary found a soft, blue blanket that had been given to us many years ago by Kit and Karen Sickels. I know that because it had their Lost Man clothing line logo emblazoned on a corner. I folded it up and placed it in the bottom of the box—never ‘her box’—Princess would roll over before staking a claim to this pathetic piece of cardboard with cute dainty paw prints stamped on the outside. The inside of the box was scarred with the scratches and tears fueled by terror. I gently lifted Princess and placed her in the box on the pillow-like blanket. She didn’t make a sound. She was in very bad shape. I carried her and the box downstairs, placed them in the back of my not even one month old black Prius IV and headed off to the vet only a few minutes away with the simple directions Hilary had supplied.

It seems strange to me that I remember every single detail of what happened over the course of the next twenty minutes—as if each moment was a singularly significant point in the continuum we refer to as time. Every moment as clear as a photograph in my mind—as if I was compelled to remember this—a compilation of memories inventoried for instant access—like my vivid dreams.

We were expected when we burst into the reception area of Academy Animal Hospital and it looked like we were the first patients. Dr. Lou Serrano immediately met us and took us back into one of the examination rooms. He quickly examined Princess and sadly surmised the obvious “She’s almost gone. Would you like for me to ease her suffering?” I did. He left the room for a moment. When he came back with the syringe and a vial of something he asked me kindly “Would you like to be here for this?” I did. He soothingly found Princess’ barely beating heart and deftly slid his needle in. Princess didn’t move and gratefully did not appear to feel a thing. Her heart stopped within seconds and peacefully slipped over to the next.

Dr. Lou Serrano - Academy Animal HospitalDr. Serrano put a hand on my shoulder and said softly “I am so sorry for your loss. It truly is remarkable Princess lived as long as she did. Would you like to be alone with her for a few moments?”

I barely got out a “Yes, please.” My throat was constricted and something was filling up my eyes. I wanted to tell him “I can’t believe I’m starting to cry. She’s not even my cat!” Dr. Serrano patted my shoulder again, closed the door behind him and I completely broke down into sobs. Everything flooded in. Princess and I had our routines—she depended on me for some things, and I her, more than I’d cared to acknowledge. We more than tolerated one another. She’d been part of our family for a long, long time and I already missed her. She was a Gauntt. She was family. She lived in our house longer than either of our children.

But of course there was a lot more going on—I’d felt it the moment I woke up and I really felt it now. I knew it instantly when the bird showed up and was flying back and forth to the window. Jimmy was all around us. Of course he would be here to help his Princess over and make sure she was taken care of in this momentous transition in her life. I cried because I so felt him and his love all around, and I missed him more than ever. But I was also happy that he and Princess were now reunited. I imagined her doing her coy little dance, Jimmy tracking her down and stroking her back, pressing his face into her fur and both of them grinning ear to ear. I admit I was envious. All in good time.

After more than a few moments, I wiped my eyes, composed myself and went back into the reception area. The two nurses-assistants were very consoling. They were genuinely sad. I filled out some paperwork and signed up for the private cremation option. The thought of Princess being cremated with several other animals I did not know was somewhat appalling to me. Dr. Serrano came out with Princess’ box and the blanket. I reluctantly took them. I thanked them all for their care and help and left. As soon as I got into the car I called Brittany to let her know what happened. I started crying again and she did too.

I came straight back to the house, threw the box and the blanket in the trash bin and went upstairs to be with Hilary. Hilary mentioned “That bird is still here. He’s been flying back and forth to that same window next to your desk non-stop since you left with Princess. It’s really unbelievable.”

I went downstairs and sat at my desk. Sure enough, within seconds the bird flew up to the same window, looked at me, pecked at the window several times and flew back to the hedge trimmer. Back and forth, back and forth…

What a morning! What a day, week….

But of course the story doesn’t end there.

After another hour or so, I headed downtown to my office. I first stopped by Emeritus in Del Mar to visit my Mom. The antibiotics seemed to be working and she was breathing better. But she was in a lot of pain from her broken arm and very weak and beat up. I’d never seen her like that in all of my almost 62 years- so fragile and vulnerable. I didn’t tell her about Princess—the similarities of their stage in life and disintegrating vessels were too obvious and raw. She sent me on my way after fifteen minutes she so detested being seen in that condition. I told her Hilary and I would be back around 5:30.

I spent a couple of hours or so at the office and can’t remember a single thing I did. More of a distraction than anything else, I suppose. I returned home in the middle of the afternoon. I was exhausted. I went to my desk and turned on my computer. The bird wasn’t around. I downloaded from my camera the photos I’d taken earlier of the bird onto my computer and gave them a quick look. I was disappointed. There was only one photo of the bird. I was too late with the others- the bird had already flown back to the hedge. Then something caught my eye in one of the photos. There was no bird in this frame—it was just window pane and ivy—something in the hedge on one of the leaves—framed by the same pane of glass the bird had been flying up to all morning. What is it? I wondered.


I zoomed in and my heart almost stopped. 'What the f____?' I said out loud. It was a man. Upon landing upon the sill, the finch would peer in and look at me and peck on the window — completely unafraid.

I zoomed in and my heart almost stopped. “What the f____?” I said out loud. It was a man. The head and face of a balding man, in his late 30s, early 40s I guessed, with a full beard and dressed in a collared shirt. I zoomed back out and I could still clearly see the face in the leaf. I zoomed back in and looked around to see if there were any others. Nope, just this one. I looked through my window pane and tried to find the leaf and the face. I didn’t see anything out of the ordinary. I ran outside and examined the ivy where I thought the leaf was. I looked and looked—nothing. No faces, no heads, only plain old leafs of ivy.

I summoned Hilary to my computer and shared the discovery. She was equally blown away and incredulous. So many questions and doubts galore. Was that why the bird was frantically coming to the window? To draw our attention to the leaf beyond? Was it a case of just too much magical thinking—wanting to see something that really wasn’t there? I’ve always imagined faces in the clouds or seen the outline of a face in a rock formation or things like that. Mankind has been doing it forever—seeing bulls and dippers and swords in the stars. A uniquely human trait. And maybe that’s all it was—just my imagination… running away with me. That would make a great line for a song.

But we didn’t imagine the bird or the passing of Princess. There was a lot of energy and emotion swirling around all day. And the thing of it is, I wasn’t looking for a face in the leaf. Usually I only see a face in a cloud or some other mosaic of images after staring at it for awhile—I’m working on conjuring up an image—I’m trying to see something. But in this case, it was the leaf—the face—that caught my eye—as though it/he wanted me to see him. He was looking for me.

Take a look at the photo and judge for yourself. I really don’t have the time or the energy to dwell too much on it. We lost one old Gauntt gal in our family today and I have to quickly refocus on the other one fighting for her life over at Emeritus. I told Mom we’d be there at 5:30 and it’s already 5:25.


The birds hung around for four months. They followed us around the house. When we were in Jimmy’s room they’d take turns flying up to one of the windows there—not necessarily the same one as in the beginning. When we’d go upstairs, they’d fly up and perch on the sill of the large picture window in our dining room, or one of the windows that is off our deck beneath the hummingbird feeder. One of the birds—has to be the same one I saw for the first time on Princess Day-the day that I have officially named to commemorate January 6—was rather maniacal in the way it would flit from one of the chairs on the deck up to the window pane—peck—and then fly back. It would do it hundreds of times, particularly first thing in the morning right after I got the papers. Like an alarm clock. I thought this little creature might be a tad insane.

A friend of ours said she read that birds like to fly up to windows because they are drawn by their reflection in the glass. I did observe on more than one occasion a finch flying up to the side mirrors on my Prius and pecking at its image.

Maybe that’s all this is- a couple of slightly crazy old birds bedazzled by what they so wish to be real.

But, once again, there’s the timing of the thing……

My mother, Barbara Case Gauntt, the regal Queen of our family, passed away on June 11, a few weeks shy of her 91st birthday. Like Princess, her body -but never their minds or spirits- finally gave out. Our next stories, “Happy Birthday, Sis,” and “Happy Birthday, Barb” involve, once again, some of the darnedest things that happen on Birthdays.

Princess Gantt- Postscript No. 2

We recently discovered that something else took place on Princess Day, January 6, 2012. There is frequently ‘one more thing’ that seems to unveil itself in these stories sometimes even months after we thought we’d reached the story’s “end”. This time it was our very talented webmaster, Keith Bennett, who uncovered this one. So, here’s what happened. After I finished editing Princess Gantt- For The Birds, and as I typically do, I sent Keith the story and some of our photographs that go with the piece. I included a couple of photos of Princess—we had surprisingly few— and of course the ones of the bird flying up to the window. I identified for Keith the photo where I spotted the face. Keith, as he does, ran with the story and found some other photos and pertinent information such as the photo of the vet, Dr. Serrano, who took care of Princess. Keith cleaned up the photos, creatively arranged the text and pictures, offered some of his own edits and sent me a preview of the post before publishing it on the site. We are a team.

Everything looked fine except for the photo in which I had seen the face. He had placed the caption that contained my quote from the story about when I discovered the face “When I zoomed in my heart almost stopped “What the f___!” under the wrong photograph. He had paired it with the photo of the little finch flying off the top of the hedge trimmer. ‘How unlike Keith to make a mistake like that’ I thought. I sent him an email pointing out that he had the wrong photograph, and to please call me if he had any questions. I didn’t hear back from Keith the rest of the day. He has many clients and gets very busy. I was in no rush and I wanted to get the post right.

The next day, last Friday, Keith published the post on the site and he had not corrected the photograph nor, as I had requested, zoomed in on the leaf that contained the image of the face I had seen. Rather, he had included some yellow arrows on the same photo of the bird flying from the hedge trimmer with my quote of surprise at discovering the face. I was a little miffed. Why did he post the story with this same mistake? Rather than email, I felt we needed to talk this through and try and get on the same page. I gave him a call.

I explained to Keith the problem I had with the post and that he had identified the wrong photograph. “Keith, that’s not the photograph with the face,” I reiterated. Pause.

“But, Casey, there is a face in that photo. I saw it immediately when you sent me those photos, and I was certain that was the photo and face you were talking about, “ Keith explained.


We both opened the photo of the bird flying from the trimmer on our respective screens. Keith tried to walk me through it. “Do you see the face? It’s soft-feint- and to the left of the bird as you look at the picture. I first saw his right ear—that is the clearest feature—and the mouth, jaw line, eyes looking slightly down and to his left. Do you see it?” he implored.

I looked and looked and I couldn’t see it. I then asked Keith if he saw the face on the leaf in the other photo I had sent him. “No. The only face I saw was the one in the other photo.”

Casey - I saw the MAN immediately! He's there just as you said! Right? How many MEN were there that day?I asked him to open it up so we could look at it together, but he couldn’t place his hands-mouse- on it. I said I’d resend it to him and suggested we each take some time studying the photos and figure out if we could see what the other had discovered. We hung up. My frustration had turned into more of a sense of incredulity. “What the heck is going on here?”

I went back to Keith’s photo and poured over it. He said the face wasn’t on a leaf—it was bigger than that. I looked and looked for at least a couple of minutes……and then I saw it. Oh my God!!! The face was soft and feint, just as Keith had said, but it was very clear. I had been looking for something smaller and more like the face I had seen on the leaf. This one filled up a large portion of the pane of glass through which I had taken the shot. There was the right ear—very pronounced—the mouth, closed lips, with a slight smile, the eyes cast down, wispy thinning hair, and what appeared to be a high collared shirt buttoned to the neck—an old fashioned style collar. Clean shaven- no beard. I did not recognize the face.

Before I could fire off an email to Keith, he had already sent me one including the photo I had sent to him which he had blown up and hi-lited the leaf with the face of the man I had seen. He found it!

I then sent my email to Keith congratulating him on his discovery. There was indeed another face. I also shared with Keith my observation regarding the face he had found.

“As I look at the face you found in the photo—the softness of it, so very feint— I’m looking at the photo from the very spot I shot it on January 6th—at my desk in Jimmy’s room where I’m sitting right now and writing you this email—and as I re-position myself, and move a few feet to my left, and look into the pane of glass, I see the feint reflection of my face—roughly the same size as the face in the photo you found—and it dawns on me that the face in the photo could very well be the reflection of a face of someone who was sitting next to me that morning Princess died, to my left, looking at the window pane, and watching with me the excited little finch flying back and forth up to the window.”

I was not alone that morning. At the time I felt it deep in my core with all of my senses. And I’m so grateful to Keith for his discovery of perhaps what might be just a little more proof of what I already knew to be true.

But there was something else about Keith’s discovery. I had so wanted Keith—and everyone else for that matter—to see what I had seen in the ivy. To be as amazed as I was—and not think I’m a little off my rocker. And Keith then stumbles into an altogether different face in a separate photograph. It was a validation to be sure of all that was going on that morning, that day, but also another reminder of how much we never see that’s happening all around us, and in my case that day, literally right in front of me. I was so grateful that I have Keith and his ever vigilant mind and eyes. And it makes me wonder: What if even just a few more of us paid closer attention and were not afraid or embarrassed to share what they see?

Postscript No. 3?

P.S. 3? Just as I finished writing Postscript 2 at 11:15 a.m. this Sunday morning, October 28, I looked down on our lawn and a black cat which could be Garfield’s twin strolled across our back lawn. I had my window open and called out “Garfield. Is that you?” The cat looked up at me casually with an attitude of slightly annoyed indifference. And perhaps there also a slight smile—no smile—just indifference. I lunged for my iPhone tethered to my computer for a charge to take a photo, but before I got the chance he had slinked through a hole in our back wall that supports the hedge and out of sight into our neighbor’s back yard. I’ve never seen that cat before—at least not for several years.

What is it with these Cats?

I’m not making this up, I swear.

Happy Halloween.

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Feline Portal Jumping

By Casey Gauntt
December 2011

I’m pretty sure our cat lost her hearing. I’ve been conducting a series of experiments over the last several weeks and the results all seem to point to a diagnosis of stone-deaf. Originally named ‘Prince’ by our kids until the vet upon closer inspection begged to differ, Princess is 21 years old. I’m not sure what that works out to be in cat years—it’s seven to one for dogs, I think—so if she was a dog that would make her 147.

When she was a kitten we thought she was mute—she never meowed—never made a sound. Perhaps that was in deference to Garfield, a slightly older and very dominant masculine feline. Garfield was all black with an attitude. He spent the night outdoors—a carouser—and would not hesitate to brawl with the other rascal cats in the hood or the occasional skunk, possum or raccoon. Garfield did not possess the longevity gene and died of natural causes about eight years ago.


Princess was the runt of her litter—small, grey, with white paws and a white star in the middle of her forehead—a princess. Garfield was all black with an attitude.

Princess was the runt of her litter—small, grey, with white paws and a white star in the middle of her forehead—a princess. She was not built to fight and was a full time house cat. That’s not to say she wasn’t curious. She’d sneak out of the house occasionally at night, but would soon climb the tree next to our house and make the five foot leap onto our second story patio—pretty impressive—and spend the night safely curled up on one of the padded chairs. We don’t think she can do that anymore.

Over the last several years, Princess developed an annoying habit of rubbing up against our bedroom door in the middle of the night and causing it to rattle and, as though on a timer, letting out body piercing wails at precisely 5 a.m. each morning. She spends most of her days sleeping in our bedroom in one of the easy chairs next to a sun-filled window—but not nights, and I suspect she is offended by that.

One might assume I like cats—or at least our cats—because I’m writing a story about them. And one would be wrong. I’m allergic to cats and thus have a natural aversion to the species, but I’ve developed an acceptable level of tolerance to their fur and dander if not their aloofness and independence. I never really liked Garfield, God rest his soul, and I am quite certain the feeling was mutual. On the rare occasion when I did feed him, more often than not he would nip at my hand to speed me up or get me out of his way. I honestly think Garfield thought of me as his butler. I gladly opened the door to let him out at night, and let him back in the next morning as I went out to retrieve the papers. That pretty much sums up the extent of our interaction.

My feelings towards Princess hover around neutral. She is sweet, passive and craves attention but, make no mistake about it, she was, and will always be, our son Jimmy’s cat. One hundred fifty thousand percent. They adored each other and were inseparable. Jimmy was even more allergic to cats than I, but he would nonetheless bury his face in her short fur and she slept with him every night curled up at his feet at the end of his bed. Even after Jimmy went to college at USC in Los Angeles, and then lived in Santa Monica and Laurel Canyon, Princess did not deviate one bit from her loyalty and affection for him. She would patiently wait for his return visits and they would immediately retreat to their rituals of affection—she performing a coy dance around him until she allowed him to catch her and rub her back with long, forceful strokes from her head to tail, forcing her tummy into the ground, her face grinning ear to ear.


she was, and will always be, our son Jimmy’s cat. Jimmy was even more allergic to cats than I, but he would nonetheless bury his face in her short fir and she slept with him every night curled up at his feet at the end of his bed.

Come to think of it, Princess began her nocturnal screams shortly after Jimmy died. We do not suffer alone.

So we began putting Princess in the garage at night. It was a logical choice since that is where her food, water and litter box have always been. I got a fluffy down sleeping bag from the attic and made it into a little bed for her. It looks cozy—she seems to like it.

I usually let Princess out of the garage around 7:00 a.m. when I leave for work. Typically she is curled up in a fetal position and buried down deep in her down bag, and when I open the door her head immediately pops-up, she rises into a nose down, tail to the sky stretch and lets out a hoarse, muted, screech, which I’m not sure whether to interpret as “good morning” or “thanks again, asshole, for imprisoning me in the garage.”

However, over the last month or so I’ve noticed that when I open the door from our laundry room to the garage, Princess either remains asleep or, if she is sitting up and facing away from the door, she remains in those positions and does not raise or turn her head even as I loudly say “Good morning, Princess!” She doesn’t rise or look my way until I approach her bed and get into her field of vision. At first I thought it was only more indifference to my presence.

A couple of nights ago I initiated the consummate test. Princess was dosing on Hilary’s lap on the couch in our living room upstairs. Hilary has admirably assumed the back-up position as a source of affection for Princess. It’s not the same, but Princess is nonetheless grateful. Among my many, but not well-known, talents is I can do a pretty good imitation of a bobcat in heat. It’s loud, resonates from deep in the throat, with close to perfect pitch and some spit thrown in. This sound would always send Garfield and Princess into a complete frenzy. Their ears would reach for the ceiling, the hair on their backs would stand up and a look of fear, or in Garfield’s case lust, would flash across their eyes. Without fail. This time Princess didn’t make so much as a twitch. She snoozed on. Hilary was the first to say it, “Princess is deaf.” That is also when I first took notice of her portal jumping.

As I was driving home from work earlier that evening, Hilary called and said she was really worried. “I let Princess out late this morning and I haven’t seen her since. I checked the upstairs patio but she wasn’t there.” She said a flash of fear seared her core. What if Princess had tried to make the leap from the tree to the patio and didn’t make it? “I got the flashlight and looked in the tree and on the ground beneath it and fortunately did not find a wounded Princess.” I tried to assure her, “I’m sure she’ll show up.”

There had been a couple of times during her teens when Princess ran away from home. One time she was gone for almost a week, and the other was over two weeks. Both times we thought the worst—coyotes or car. Before Garfield and Princess, we had another cat, Mr. Nichols, named by Brittany after her sixth grade teacher. Before he turned one, Mr. Nichols was run over by a car in the street in front of our house with Brittany and Jimmy both watching the whole thing. I was summoned from work with an emergency call from Hilary and when I got home I retrieved the lifeless Mr. Nichols from the street and performed a very emotional burial ceremony in our back yard. Brittany and Jimmy were devastated and they cried for hours on one of our sun-faded blue sofas in the upstairs family room.

Come to think of it, both times Princess took off Jimmy was living in Los Angeles. We seriously doubt she made it that far, but no one knows for sure. And then Princess would just show up. We expected her to be bloody and stick thin, but she looked perfectly healthy and as though she had not missed a meal or a good night’s rest. We never did figure out where she might have gone.

When I pulled into the driveway it was pitch dark and my headlights reflected in Princess’ eyes as she strolled on the walkway that leads from the street to our front door. I opened the garage door and got out of my car. As I walked towards her she seemed to not recognize me—she was wary and frightened. My voice did not soothe her—but then she’s deaf— and she acted like she was trying to follow the movements of my feet, or perhaps their vibrations, upon the stone walkway. “What if she’s going blind?” I wondered. She finally went into the garage and began her slow, arthritic, climb up the stairs to our family room. I shouted up to Hilary “ She’s home!” I found myself experiencing a mildly surprising sense of relief and gratefulness—not unlike both times she ultimately returned from her previous sabbaticals.

After the hearing test, Princess remained curled up sound asleep next to Hilary in their favorite spot on our couch in the family room. Our couch is L-shaped and wraps around a low slung solid oak block of a coffee table that most nights also serves as our dining table—we like to watch T.V. during dinner. I was in my brown leather recliner chair with the leg rest kicked up on the far side of the legless table looking over at the girls. And that’s when it first happened.

Princess stood up, stretched and then dropped down from the couch to the floor behind the table where I couldn’t see her. Hilary got up a minute or so later and headed into the kitchen. I remained reclining in my recliner. I waited for Princess to make her stroll between the couch and the table, slide under my footrest with her tail slightly brushing the underside of the rest and then make her way into the kitchen to see what Hilary was up to and get a drink of water from her bowl. Princess always does this—it’s her routine— and the same sequence is repeated two or three times a night. I suppose that is what grabbed my intention. I hadn’t seen her since she dropped off the couch a few minutes earlier. I called to Hilary in the kitchen, “Bun, is Princess in there with you?”

We call each other ‘Bun.’ It started on our honeymoon flight from San Francisco to San Juan Puerto Rico 38 years ago. We were both terribly hung over from our reception the night before and slightly blown away by the whole concept that we had just promised one another that we would be there for each other ‘forever.’ Forever? We were both 23. On the plane we were playing ‘the newlyweds’ and saying things to each other like, “Oh, honey bun I love you so much. Are you really my honey bun forever?” Stuff like that, and laughing hysterically. It got us a bottle of cheap champagne from one of the stewardesses (no flight attendants back then) who thought we were “so cute,” which was the last thing we needed. I recall leaving it on the plane. Over the years we shortened ‘honey bun’ to ‘bun.’ It stuck.

“No, she’s not in here.” That, too, was strange. I declined, got up and went to look for Princess in all the usual places—our bathroom upstairs where she frequently climbs up on the toilet seat and drinks out of the bowl—that’s another reason I never kiss Princess—our bedroom, Jimmy’s bedroom downstairs that we use as a computer room and home office, and the garage/Princess’ master bedroom. She was nowhere to be found. Strange. I came back upstairs, tilted the chair back and watched some news on T.V. Hilary remained in the kitchen making dinner. A few minutes later, Princess sauntered back into the family room, cruised under my footrest and prowled between the couch and the table. After she made her way to the other side of the table where I couldn’t see her, she sprung back up onto the couch, curled up in her spot and went back to sleep—or at least closed her eyes. And then it got really weird.

It wasn’t more than five minutes before Princess opened her eyes, stood up, stretched and, once again, slowly dropped from the couch and behind the coffee table. All of my senses were engaged—I was completely mesmerized by the whole scene—my hair was beginning to stand on end. I waited for no more than a few seconds for her to retrace her steps, and then when she didn’t I leapt from my chair and rushed over to where she had come off the couch half-expecting that she would be waiting there, licking a paw or something worse. Nothing. She wasn’t there! “What the f_____?” I yelled.

Hilary called from the kitchen “What’s going on?”

“Is Princess in there with you?”

“No, what’s wrong?”

“I’m pretty sure Princess is portal jumping.”

Then I explained to Hilary what had been going on the last ten minutes.

“I mean it’s happened twice now. The first time I wasn’t really sure, but this last time, I was completely zoned in on what she was doing. One second she’s there on the couch, and then she drops off and is gone. I mean ‘gone,’ like she is not in this dimension—completely disappears. She’s found some seam or crease or something in the cosmos. I don’t know what exactly.”

Hilary looked at me strangely as if she wanted to ask ‘Are you alright?’ I had shoulder surgery a few weeks earlier and was still in quite a bit of pain, but I only take the pain meds before I go to sleep. “I’m fine. I know this sounds insane, but you tell me: Where is Princess? Do you see her anywhere?” Hilary went off to conduct her own search and came back a few minutes later empty handed. “Do you think this is really possible?”

Thirty minutes later Princess came back into the family room looking quite pleased with herself. I thought she gave me this conceited look, “I know something you don’t.” She climbed back up on the couch and remained there on her spot for the remainder of the evening until Hilary scooped her up and carried downstairs into the garage.

I haven’t witnessed any more portal jumping by Princess, although I have seen her several times sitting in the middle of the family room and staring very intently at something—I don’t see anything—and she seems to be completely transfixed by whatever it is, or isn’t. It kind of freaks me out, to tell you the truth.

The other night I was once again in my recliner and Hilary was seated on the couch. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Princess walking behind by chair and then continue on the other side of the couch which backs onto the west wall of our family room facing the ocean. A few moments later, I watched as she peeled around from the back of the other end of the couch where Hilary was seated. Wait a minute. Is that what happened? When she dropped off the couch, did she slip around the back of the couch and exit the family room behind my recliner? My view of that corner of the couch from my recliner chair is blocked by the coffee table. Is that why I couldn’t see her? She never does that—I mean exit the family room that way— but let’s assume she did that night. Where did she go? Why couldn’t Hilary or I find this old gal— especially the second time when we were all over it? She doesn’t move very fast anymore, ok?

Perhaps it will remain a mystery, but I’m going to stick with my portal jumping theory for now.Maybe that explains what happened those couple times she disappeared for weeks at a time. Maybe she went through and couldn’t find her way back.

She continues to sit in the middle of the family room and stare intently at or into something. What is it? Where does it go? Maybe now it’s too hard for her to jump in and get back. Princess is over 147 years old, you know.

Oh, that’s right, I already mentioned that.

I’m pretty sure Princess is portal jumping.

Princess died the morning of January 6, 2012, a month after this story was written. An hour before she passed over—that is when the birds started to swarm the windows around our house. I’m pretty sure I know why, as I explain in our next story: Princess Gantt – For The Birds.”

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For Jon

For Jon

By Casey Gauntt

In the fall of 1973 during my second year of law school at the University of Southern California, as was the custom, I interviewed on campus with several Los Angeles law firms and was invited back for full day interviews to three or four of them.  Fortunately for me as it turned out, Ed Cazier did the on-campus interviews that day for his firm, Hahn Cazier Hoegh & Leff.  At one point during my allotted twenty minutes, Mr. Cazier asked me “Do you know George Moody?”  “Yes.”  I knew him very well, in fact.  George was a USC alum, lived in Chicago and served with my mother on the USC Midwest Alumni Club.  George was a fervent –strike that—fanatical USC supporter and, over the years, was responsible for hundreds of kids from the Chicago area applying and gaining admission to USC, including me.  Mr. Cazier exclaimed “My God, you’re the fellow he told me about!  George and I have been close friends since World War II.  In 1968 he called me and said ‘Casey Gauntt is coming to USC as a Trustee Scholar and if he ever decides to become a lawyer, Ed,  you have to hire him.’  That was over five years ago.”


George Moody was a USC alum, lived in Chicago and served with my mother on the USC Midwest Alumni Club. Horace Hahn in 1960 LT. Edward Cazier was already an attorney when he deployed to North Korea between 1952 and 1953.

Well, that couldn’t have gone any better.  Mr. Cazier invited me to visit his firm and the following week I had full afternoon of interviews with several partners and associates.  My last interview was with the senior partner, Horace L. Hahn.  Horace was at the time 60 years old (hard to believe my age now as I write this).  After we were introduced, I was seated opposite him at his leather topped desk occupied by a couple of neat stacks of papers and an ashtray full of butts of some unfiltered brand.  The walls of his corner office were paneled in dark oak and all of the windows covered with shutters made of the same wood.  He was ruggedly handsome with close-cropped reddish-gray curly hair, broad shoulders, military-like posture, and a deep booming voice and boisterous laugh.  Although I rarely pay attention to these kinds of things, I couldn’t help but notice the gold ring on his right hand—two eagles with their wings outstretched perched on a large diamond.  He spoke with an air of aristocracy.  I instantly liked him.  We chatted for a few minutes about this and that, I don’t remember what, and then he became very serious.  He leaned forward with his hands on his desk and, with his eagle-like eyes boring into mine, asked (more like a command) “Mr. Gauntt, tell me the worst thing that has  happened to you in your life.”  I was momentarily stunned by the question.

No one during all my other interviews, or ever before for that matter, had asked me that.  Looking back I’ve thought “What a good question to ask.”  Definitively more probing than, What made you decide to go to law school? or  What do you want to be when you grow up?  I now ask that question myself from time to time when interviewing attorney candidates.  The interviewee is likewise taken aback, their answers of course vary, and most are instantly forgotten.  “I didn’t get into Stanford law school” (who does?); “I didn’t make the varsity soccer team in high school;”  “I didn’t get as high an LSAT score [the exam you take for applying to law schools] as I would have liked.”  One response that did stand out was from a young, second generation, Vietnamese woman who said her grandmother, emigrated from Saigon in the 1970s,  passed away before she could see her, the first of her children or grandchildren, graduate from college.

There was no doubt what my answer would be to Mr. Hahn’s question—only hesitation at opening this basement door.

“My father committed suicide a few days before Christmas of 1970.  He shot himself at his office the night I came home to Itasca, a Chicago suburb, for the holidays.  We thought he was in Panama on a business trip and returning home the next day. My mother woke me the next morning with the news and I came out to the living room with my thirteen year old sister to meet with two DuPage County Detectives.  I was twenty years old and a junior at USC.”

I can’t specifically recall what either of us did or said.  He may have said something like “Thank you for telling me that,” and I might have said something to the effect, “I never talk about this and I’m not sure why I told you,” but I do know for a fact at that moment a bond was formed between us that would only become stronger over the many years to follow until he passed away in January of 2003.  Horace Hahn came close to being a second father to me.  I now wear his eagle ring every day.

Shortly after starting at Hahn Cazier as a full time associate in September of 1975, I began to work with Jon, a senior associate specializing in everything that wasn’t litigation.  Jon was a very bright, hard working, energetic and excitable lawyer. He was impulsive and prone to fits of temper. I worked closely with him and he trained and mentored me in a wide variety of matters.  One of his major clients was a chain of extraordinarily successful Mexican food/night club restaurants that had a number of interesting real estate and corporate matters.  One of its founders had a rather serious drug habit and had everything (meals, laundry, documents—everything) brought to his house by taxicab.


Hilary and Casey in 1974 Hilary, Ralph, Cassidy and Jon

Jon was intemperate.  He liked to get a drink or two after work and he asked/dragged me along many a time, much to my wife, Hilary’s, chagrin.  There really was no such thing as “one or two” with Jon.  More like ten or more,  and always scotch and sodas, tall.  However, this was invaluable time spent.  This is when I learned everything about firm politics, how the partnership worked, the compensation system, what you had to do to make partner, how the personalities of the partners shook out, who to work for and who to watch out for.  I also got all the gossip and details of what went on in the partners meetings.  Jon made partner about a year after I started.

Jon was also very ambitious.  He had landed a new client, Steve, about his age and also a lawyer, who was starting a new bank.  Jon often railed at how unjust it was that his clients were making so much money, far more than he was as a lawyer, when he was infinitely smarter and they were piggybacking on his intellect to make their fortunes.  Jon also did not hide from his partners, or me, his feelings that he was undercompensated and underappreciated by the firm. So, in 1978 Jon left Hahn Cazier and set up his own firm.  He continued to do a lot of work for Steve and the bank he helped him form and, shortly thereafter, quit his law practice and went to work full time for the bank and reap his fortune.  Hilary and I moved to Solana Beach, CA in 1979 and I went to work for Hahn Cazier’s recently opened San Diego office.  Jon and I lost touch.

Three years later in 1982, a Wednesday afternoon, Jon called me from out of the blue and he asked if I’d heard the news.  “Yes.”  I’d recently read in the papers that a seventy-two count criminal indictment had been filed by the U.S. Atttorney in Federal Court in San Diego against Steve, Jon and others involving misapplication of funds, check kiting and fraudulent loans by their bank.  He said he was  in San Diego and asked if I had time to get a drink.  “I’d really like to talk to you, but understand its short notice and all.”  There was something in his voice.

“Sure, where shall we meet?” I said

“Well, actually I’m calling you from the bar in your building. I’ve been here a while.”

When I got there a few minutes later, he was sitting at the bar and on the phone.  We shook hands and he gave me the “one minute” sign.  I found an empty booth in a corner and slid in.  When he got off the phone he came over with his drink (scotch rocks) and boomed “Casey Gauntt!  How the hell have you been?”  Jon ordered a back-up from the trailing waitress and for me,  the usual— Dewars soda, tall.

He asked about Hilary and our daughter, Brittany, who was three.  I asked of his wife, Rosemary, and their two teenage daughters.  They were still living in their fabulous house in Pasadena, a classic, designed by Green and Green.  We talked about Hahn Cazier and some of his former partners.  I’d made partner two years earlier.  Jon was smoking, Winstons as I recall, and I bummed from him the first of several that night.  “Gauntt, don’t you ever buy your own cigarettes?”  Sometimes.  In those days I liked to smoke when I was out for cocktails.

After a half hour of catching up, and a fresh round of drinks, the conversation turned serious and Jon proceeded to tell me what was going on.   Starting about a year earlier the bank began to have liquidity problems.  In an attempt to right the ship and keep the regulators at bay, some of the bank’s officers began to manipulate the bank’s accounts, make sham loans, and cook the bank’s books.  “At first I didn’t realize what was going on.  But then I did; and I became involved.  I should have quit right then.   I thought we could work the bank out of its financial problems and legitimately repair its books and balance sheet before the regulators figured out what was really going on.  It was stupid, wishful thinking.”  The bank was seized by the regulators, he was out of a job, and the criminal indictments had been filed against them.  A number of civil lawsuits had also been filed against Jon and other bank employees by disgruntled borrowers and shareholders seeking damages in the millions of dollars.  Jon was broke.  He’d already spent a small fortune, his savings, on his criminal defense attorneys and was afraid he was going to lose his house; everything.  Our waitress brought more drinks, and I reminded Jon “we” were also out of cigarettes.  He raised his eyebrow at me and asked her for a fresh pack of Winstons.

“Ok, here it is.  This afternoon my lawyers and I met with the U.S. Attorneys handling the case and we cut a deal.  I will plead guilty to some felony charges and cooperate with their investigation against the others and, in return, their office will recommend a sentence of 5 to 8 years.  It will be up to the judge–could be more, could be less–bottom line, I’m going to jail.”  His head and his shoulders slumped; he looked beat and defeated.  “When does this happen?” I asked.  He said it would take a couple of days for the plea agreement to be prepared and then several weeks before he went before the judge for sentencing.

“I’ll lose my ticket, you know.  When you plead to felonies like this the California Bar takes your license.  I’ll never be able to practice law again.  Hell, I’ll never get another job.”

Jon stared into his near-empty drink ( the back-up waiting on the table) for a long time and then looked sideways.  With the back of the hand not holding the cigarette, he rubbed away the tears that began to fall from his puffy eyes—his shoulders shaking.  “Casey, I fucked everything up.  I’ve thrown it all away.  Everything.  My girls—how can I tell ‘em?  How do I go home and look at my wife and my girls and tell them “Guess what?  Daddy’s going to jail.” Oh for Christ’s sake, how the fuck can I go to jail?  How do I do that?”  And then he got very quiet before he looked at me and said “I can’t do it.”  And it was the way he said it—the look— the hollow sound in his voice.  He had made a decision; one he’d probably been turning over in his mind for weeks.  I saw the cocktail waitress coming with another round.  I waived her off and she spun away on her heel.  We spent the next hour locked in the most serious conversation I’d ever had with somebody.

“Jon, I know this is bad.  It’s hard to imagine how you will ever be able to live with this or get beyond it.  I know you think this will never get better; it will only get worse.  But I need to tell you something and I’m speaking from experience.  You know my father killed himself—shot himself—in 1970.  Right?”  (he nodded)  “I was twenty, my brother was twenty-three and my sister thirteen, in the eighth grade.  My sister adored my dad; he was her favorite person in the whole world, and she was his princess.  Jon, I know you think if you check out that will make it better for your family; make it easier for them.  Take it from me, it won’t.  It makes it worse.  And it’s worse for a long, long time.  Rosemary and your girls will be hurt and embarrassed if you go to jail and they will cringe when asked by their friends “Where’s Jon?” “Where’s your dad?”  “What does he do?”  Most of them already know.  Bad news spreads fast.  And your daughters will eventually deal with it.  But Jon, they may never be able to deal with the loss, the emptiness, if you check out.  I haven’t, and its been twelve years since my dad took his life.  If you do this, you won’t go to prison.  But, believe me, you’ll be handing your wife and daughters a life sentence.”

I told Jon my dad’s and his company’s financial problems.

“I believe for my dad they became insurmountable and he was exhausted from battling them over and over in his mind.  As it turned out the “insurmountable” was resolved over the next few years after his death.  The company had to sell some assets.  The $160 million lawsuit brought against my dad and his company over one of its construction jobs was settled for $100,000 primarily attributed to the fact that in the plaintiff’s files was a letter from my dad  effectively absolving the company from wrong-doing.  All together, a couple of hundred thousand fucking dollars! That was the mountain that couldn’t be crossed.”

“Your problems are bigger than what my dad was facing. No question.  But bottom line, I don’t care how bad it gets for you.  It will never come close to the pain and trauma you will bring on your family if you do this.  Jon, your family loves you; they want you; the rest of this crap will fade away, and  you have to ride this out for your girls.”

We both were crying at this point.

We talked a little more and I encouraged—begged actually— Jon to check into the hotel next door.  I walked him up to the check in desk to make sure he did it and asked him to call me in the morning.  I drove home, a stupid thing to do given “the couple” of drinks I had,  but the adrenaline was pumping and all my senses were firing. I hoped I’d get that call, but I wasn’t sure what would happen.   I got to the house around midnight; my wife and baby were sound asleep.

The next morning I awoke exhausted and hung over and was back at the office around eight.  I debated whether to call or go down to the hotel and see if Jon was there or awake.  I admit a big part of me was afraid to find out and I ended up doing nothing, except worry.  A couple of hours later I got a call.  It was Jon and  he was back in Pasadena.  He said he got up early and drove home.  He had just finished telling Rosemary about the plea bargain, and they would tell the girls when they got home from school.  He sounded pretty good.  He said he’d probably be back in San Diego in a few weeks and maybe we’d get together then.  He signed off with “And thank you,……..for everything.”

The next time I saw Jon was in the Metropolitan Correction Facility (the Federal prison) in San Diego.  He’d been sentenced to three to five years and was spending a few weeks downtown until they figured out which prison facility to send him to.  He was trying to sort out all of the civil cases pending against him and figuring out ways to keep his house and a few bucks for his family. Bankruptcy was likely.  Jon looked good.  He’d lost some weight and had been off the booze for over a month.

Jon ended up serving a little less than two years in a minimum security prison in Boron, California.  I saw him a couple of times after he got out, the last at a retirement party for Horace Hahn at Olvera Street in Los Angeles in March of 1987.  Shortly after his release, Jon went to work for one of Hahn Cazier’s clients.  He had stopped drinking and looked as fit as I’d ever seen him.  Jon and Rosemary were together and his girls were doing well.  He seemed happy.  That was the last time I saw or spoke with Jon.  He died of pancreatic cancer in 2002.

At around 12:30 pm on Friday, August 15, 2008, Hilary and I exited the Mandeville Auditorium on the UCSD Campus in La Jolla, California.  The memorial service for our son, James (Jimmy), had just concluded.  We watched his friends, his pallbearers, lift his casket into the hearse parked next to the auditorium.  We tried to  greet and hug as many of the over one thousand family and friends in attendance as we could.  Our twenty-four year old son had been walking home from a party in the early morning six days earlier, was struck by an automobile and instantly killed.

There were several folks in attendance from my years at Hahn Cazier, including Ed Cazier.  A woman came up to me.  She appeared to be in her mid sixties.  I didn’t recognize her, but she looked familiar.  I went to shake her hand and she gave me a hug instead.  “You may not remember me.  I’m Jon’s wife, Rosemary.  Casey, I’m here for you today because you were there for Jon and us all those years ago.  Thank you and God bless you and your family.”

She walked away wiping tears from her eyes, as I did from mine.

A fortuitous addition to this story - About a year ago, the “Dawes” band played a show at the well-known BellyUp in Solana Beach. Ryan Richter, a good friend of ours and occasional sit in steel guitar player for Dawes, had called me a week before their show to encourage us to see these guys, and since we live about a five iron away from the Belly Up, I invited the boys over for one of Hilary’s fantastic meals before the show. Towards the end of their wonderful performance, Taylor Goldsmith, the lead singer, dedicated their song “A Little Bit Of Everything” to Hilary, our daughter Brittany and me at the show. We had never heard it before—we had never met Dawes before this day—but through Ryan, they had heard a little bit about us, and our loss of our son and brother Jimmy. We were deeply touched.

A couple of weeks ago, I was driving home from work. I had a CD playing and A Little Bit of Everything began to play. I’d been routinely skipping over this song. But I was having a heavy day and in the mood, I guess, for a heavy song. I started to cry after the first verse—did the cop talk him out of it? When I hit the off ramp at Via Del Valle, Taylor was singing about the man in the food line ordering his biscuits and beans—the man who’d lost his only son. I broke into full blown sobs by the time I hit the stop light at the end of the off ramp. Sitting on the corner to my left was a homeless man—shaggy long hair, maybe in his late 20s—hard to tell—so weathered by life. He was a holding a sign upon which he scrawled some message—I didn’t read it. We made eye contact and I motioned him over to my car. I reached into my console were I keep some emergency money and when he got to my window I handed him a $20 bill. He saw I was crying and as he took the bill he said ‘God bless you, man. It’s gonna be all right.” And he walked down the row of cars with a spring in his step.

As the light turned green and I pulled away, I wondered “who just helped who right then?”

The song played on. I had finally let it go deep into my heart. And I missed my dad, my son and my old friend Jon.

I’m humbled to share Dawes’ song with this story. It only took me a year and a deep connection at an intersection to figure out they were meant for one another.

Taylor Goldsmith is singing, and his younger brother, Griffin—the Art Garfunkel clone— and the drummer for the band, is sitting to his left. Tay Strathaim is on piano.

Lyrics to It’s A Little Bit Of Everything:

With his back against the San Francisco traffic,
On the bridges side that faces towards the jail,
Setting out to join a demographic,
He hoists his first leg up over the rail.
And a phone call is made,
Police cars show up quickly.
The sergeant slams his passenger door.
He says, “Hey son why don’t you talk through this with me,
Just tell me what you’re doing it for.”

“Oh, it’s a little bit of everything,
It’s the mountains,
It’s the fog,
It’s the news at six o’clock,
It’s the death of my first dog,
It’s the angels up above me,
It’s the song that they don’t sing,
It’s a little bit of everything.”

An older man stands in a buffet line,
He is smiling and holding out his plate,
And the further he looks back into his timeline,
That hard road always had led him to today,
And making up for when his bright future had left him,
Making up for the fact that his only son is gone,
And letting everything out once, His server asks him,
Have you figured out yet, what it is you want?

I want a little bit of everything,
The biscuits and the beans,
Whatever helps me to forget about
The things that brought me to my knees,
So pile on those mashed potatoes,
And an extra chicken wing,
I’m having a little bit of everything.

Somewhere a pretty girl is writing invitations,
To a wedding she has scheduled for the fall,
Her man says, “Baby, can I make an observation?
You don’t seem to be having any fun at all.”
She said, “You just worry about your groomsmen and your shirt-size,
And rest assured that this is making me feel good,
I think that love is so much easier than you realize,
If you can give yourself to someone,
Then you should.

Cause it’s a little bit of everything,
The way you choke, the way you ache,
It is waking up before you,
So I can watch you as you wake.
So in the day in late September,
It’s not some stupid little ring,
I’m giving a little bit of everything.

Oh, it’s a little bit of everything,
It’s the matador and the bull,
It’s the suggested daily dosage,
It is the red moon when it’s full.
All these psychics and these doctors,
They’re all right and they’re all wrong,
It’s like trying to make out every word,
When they should simply hum along,
It’s not some message written in the dark,
Or some truth that no one’s seen,
It’s a little bit of everything.

CLICK HERE - If you would like a Specially-Crafted PDF version of this story for saving or printing.

The Ghostwriter

The Ghostwriter

By Casey Gauntt

Ghostwriter: A professional writer who is paid to write books, articles, stories, reports or other texts that are officially credited to another person. [Source: Wikipedia]

Paranormal: Not scientifically explainable. [Source: Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary]

Over the 2009 Christmas holiday my older brother, Grover, came to visit us in Solana Beach, California from New York City. On Christmas Eve day we went for a hike up Mt. Woodson in nearby Poway. Halfway out the door I grabbed a disposable camera from a drawer in our kitchen and put it in my pack. I wasn’t sure how long that camera had been lying around or what might be on it. Didn’t give it much thought, really. At the top of the 3,000 foot mini-mountain crammed with cell-phone towers and T.V. antennae, my brother and I took some pictures of each other. It was a clear, crisp day, very beautiful, but the flimsy camera didn’t seem to be working as we snapped some shots— the film wasn’t advancing properly when we thumbed the wheel. You get what you pay for, I guess. Regardless, when we got back from the hike I took it out of my pack and tossed it on the kitchen counter.


In mid-January, my wife Hilary and I travelled with our good friends Frank and Penny Dudek to Death Valley for a weekend trip, the product of a question Hilary had asked me a few months earlier: “What do you want to do for your 60th birthday?” We stayed at the Furnace Creek Inn nestled up against the Funeral Mountains. Cheery. My parents honeymooned at the Inn in March of 1946, but none of us had been there before. In packing for the trip I found a new disposable camera in the same drawer where I stumbled upon the one I used at Mt. Woodson. Once again I threw it in my bag. Turns out Death Valley, despite its name, is actually quite picturesque; there’s the endlessly salt encrusted valley floor, to the west the snow-capped Panamint Mountains, 11,000 feet plus and jagged peaks, and the Funerals with slot canyon walls painted by a variety of colored minerals embedded in the rock, not to mention well-punctured by the holes and scars of abandoned borax mines. A strangely beautiful and inspiring place, put in perspective by vestiges of toil all around, that predominantly fruitless labor of men who worked their meager claims over a hundred years ago, their remnants palpable. I took several pictures of us with the disposable camera simply in the midst of these surreal settings and thought of my parents eyeing the same scenes some 65 years prior.


The week after we got back, and tip-toeing around my first colonoscopy (God help me), I began to focus on the film project I’d been working on with Steve Date. Steve is the 5th grade school teacher from Minneapolis and the documentary filmmaker Hilary and I met the previous year in Coalwood, West Virginia at the October Sky Festival; an annual event to commemorate the town’s celebrity, Homer Hickam, the author of his memoir The Rocket Boys and made into the movie October Sky in 1999. Quite unexpectedly, Emily Sue Buckberry and I told Steve the story of “The Letter,” the roots of which are also embedded in Coalwood, and he captured it on film. Steve mentioned he was getting close to finishing the first rough cut of the 10 minute piece and put me to work to find some still photos and home movies of our family that could be spliced in. He specifically asked for “photos and objects of your father and your son, Jimmy.”

Over the next several days I spent hours in our attic pouring through photo albums—and grocery bags of pictures that haven’t quite made it into albums—and pulled several to send to Steve. Thanks to a tutorial from Brittany, I learned how to use the scanning function of our Hewlett-Packard printer and email photographs. So much quicker and cheaper than taking the photos to CVS to have copies made and mailing them. Yes, I am a technology moron. At that time we didn’t have a digital camera, and although my cell phone had a camera feature, I didn’t know how to use it. We’ve since gotten slightly more with it.

As for objects for my dad, I thought of the Legion of Merit and Bronze Star With Cluster (i.e. two Bronze Stars) awarded to him for the two years of his nightmare spent in the South Pacific during World War II which, after gathering dust in a box of my mother’s things for over sixty years, are now prominently displayed in a glass framed case hanging in my law office. [Dad's Story HERE] And for Jimmy, the hard copies of his screenplays and plays came to mind. I had some film left on the disposable camera I took to Death Valley, and on the morning of Tuesday, January 26, before heading to work, I found and artfully arranged Jimmy’s mountain of scripts on the coffee table in our upstairs family room and snapped a few more pictures.

Hilary suggested “What about his saxophone?” Of course. I pulled the much travelled instrument, made by Henri Selmer in Paris, France and hand-picked by his sax teacher Anthony Ortega, out of its case, placed it on a maroon leather desk chair on our front lawn and photographed that. [Story of Anthony Ortega & Jimmy HERE] So artsy! I was on a roll now. Next day when I got to my office I took a couple of shots of my dad’s medals and finished-off the disposable camera.

When I got home that evening I put the used-up camera on Hilary’s desk in our kitchen. An hour or so later I was looking for something and spotted the older used-up disposable camera and put that on Hilary’s desk as well. On Wednesday January 27, Hilary took both cameras to CVS to have the pictures developed. I was hopeful at least some of the ones I shot of Jimmy’s scripts and sax and my dad’s medals would be good enough to forward to Steve.


Around 2 P.M. on Thursday, Hilary sent our daughter Brittany, her husband Ryan and me this email:

From: Hilary Gauntt
Date: Thu, Jan 28, 2010 at 2:02 PM
Subject: A bit of a shock…

“I just picked up some photos taken with the two disposable cameras that had been laying around. There were even some pictures from Prague. Then, there he was. Two of Jimmy in his favorite spot on the couch, wrapped in the blanket with Princess on his outstretched legs. Wearing a cap and a huge grin, snacks on the table and reading a book by Phillip Roth called “The Ghost Writer” of all things. He couldn’t look happier. It seems more impossible than ever. Love you all so much—H.”

I called Hilary right away. She was a little shaky.

“I was just so surprised. I wasn’t expecting to find a new picture of Jimmy. It was so out of the blue and so him.”

The pictures were taken with the old disposable camera I used on the hike to Mt. Woodson with my brother. The two photographs of Jimmy were bracketed by pictures from our trip to Prague with Frank and Penny in September, 2007, and some shots taken when Hilary and went to Borrego Springs in late January, 2008. There they were, sometime in between. It might have been over Thanksgiving or Christmas—hard to say.


Hilary thought she remembered taking them, but it was over two years ago. We were both struck by how he holds the book, The Ghost Writer written by Philip Roth, in front of him, so the title and author’s name are clearly displayed. Almost deliberate. He was reclined in “his spot” on the couch. Every visit home he would claim that spot. When Hilary, Brittany and I came home from our dinner with my sister and her family at Fidel’s on August 8, 2008, Jimmy, who had driven down from Los Angeles, was on the couch, in his spot, watching the opening ceremonies of the Summer Olympics in Beijing. These days when Hilary and I are in the family room talking about or to Jimmy, as we often do, we always look over to him, to his spot on the couch, and we acknowledge him. Always. We catch each other stealing glances to see if there might be a slight depression in the cushions where his head and shoulders have pressed against them.

We have other pictures of Jimmy that were taken after this. That’s not what is remarkable. For one, it was the timing of the thing. The past few days had been “heavy Jimmy days” as we call them. We’d been looking at so many pictures of him as a baby, family pictures with the four of us, birthdays, holidays, graduations, other achievements, happy times—trying to find just the right ones for Steve and the film. Lots of tears between us. I had watched Steve’s initial cut of the film several times since he’d sent it to me on January 23rd and, even though I know the story better than anyone and have shared it hundreds of times with others, I broke down every time.

These pictures, of course, captured the things we had completely overlooked: his precious cat, Princess—she has never been “our cat,” she was and will always be “Jimmy’s cat”; a book—he was always with a book in his hand and several in his backpack; his favorite blanket wrapped around his legs; multiple drink glasses and snacks; and, of course, his spot on the couch. These are Jimmy’s things. They define Jimmy.

I noted my very first reaction to the photographs in an email I sent to Hilary moments after I received hers. “I think it was a present for you—he’s happy—he wanted to reassure you.” That was surely part of it. But later that day I couldn’t help thinking ‘he knows what we’re up to’ and decided to provide some much needed input of his own in response to Steve’s request— “Hey guys. Don’t forget about these things!” We can see him smiling in the pictures as though he is sees the shock on our faces and the brightening of lights in our heads as we pieced it together.

Steve used The Ghost Writer photos of Jimmy in the film. Most of the ones I took and sent to him did not make the final cut.

And yet, as we are learning, there was a lot more to this story. More layers.


About a month after the arrival of The Ghost Writer photos, Hilary and I had a session with Mary The Coffee Reader. This was the “capper” of our weekend spent with Tarra and her Psychic Workshop held at the Marriott Courtyard Hotel in Solana Beach. Tarra is a well known and respected medium and psychic from Sedona with whom we’d worked and come to know quite well over the past year. [ Tarra of Sedona ] There were sixteen of us in attendance at the workshop including Robert, a retired and recently widowed physician from Del Mar, Nancy, an elegant lady and a hospice worker also from Del Mar, Andy, real estate consultant in his late 50s from La Jolla, and Mary, mother of three and restaurant owner from Coronado. Hilary, Brittany and I had met them four months earlier in Sedona at Tarra’s three day workshop focused on grief, connecting with loved ones who have passed over, ancestral spirits and ourselves, and so much more. Just another relaxing weekend. Kaye, Debby and Cathy were also at the Psychic Workshop. Hilary and these three women have too much in common: late 50s early 60s, live in north San Diego County within a few miles of each other, had lost their youngest sons between the ages of 18 and 24 under tragic circumstances within the past two years and continue to struggle and suffer mightily—together.

Mary “The Coffee Reader” is an immigrant from Iran, in her early 70s I would guess, and was accompanied to the hotel by her granddaughter. Mary has thick black hair that hangs heavily on her shoulders, a little over five feet tall and stout of build. She has coal black eyes, the deep hoarse voice of a heavy smoker and a strong, serious face that tolerates little laughter. Coffee reading is an ancient art that originated in the eastern part of the world. It involves the interpretation— a reading—of the coffee grounds that remain in a cup of strong Turkish coffee. Hilary and I had our reading together. First, Mary’s granddaughter brought each of us a small cup of very dark coffee and a saucer. We were still in the conference room where we did the workshop. Mary was doing the readings in a room down the hall. We were instructed to drink most, but not all, of the coffee and turn the cup upside down in the saucer and hold them tightly together for a minute or so. The granddaughter retrieved the cups and saucers and came back to collect us a few minutes later.

When we came into the room, Mary was seated at a table, her granddaughter was standing by her side and they invited us to sit in the two chairs at the table across from them. They both appeared agitated or excited—we weren’t sure which. The cups were upside down in their saucers on the table. Mary pointed to the cup and saucer to her left and asked “Who belong to this?” My immediate thought was “Damn! It didn’t occur to me to mark my cup—I had no idea.” Hilary said “That’s my cup.” Mary and the granddaughter looked at one another, their faces serious but with a slight suppression of a smile, and then at Hilary. Mary grabbed the bottom of Hilary’s cup and lifted it up; the saucer was stuck to the cup.


“This is very rare!” Mary exclaimed in a thickly accented voice. The granddaughter jumped in “This is very special! This has only happened a couple of times in the thirty five years my grandmother has been doing this!” Now we were excited. “What?” our faces implored. Mary looked at Hilary and said:

“You will get everything you wish for this year. This is the sign of good luck, and a good heart. You are very wise. It is all good.” Mary looked at me and asked “What do you do? Engineer?” I said I was a lawyer. With a withering look on her face Mary chastised me “You listen to this woman! You don’t know everything. She does. She is to be listened to.” Hilary smirked—she liked that.

And that was the end of Hilary’s reading. Ninety seconds, tops. Hilary had the winning lotto ticket of reading—a grand slam—hit it out of the park. Nothing more to be said.

Mary picked up my cup and the saucer remained fixed on the table as though a nail had been driven through it. There was a little puddle of thick coffee in the saucer. She lifted the saucer, poured the remnants onto a white napkin and then looked into the cup. After about thirty seconds she began my reading, but permit me to further set the stage. Mary’s English is not so good, ergo the presence of her granddaughter. Several times during my reading, Mary would look over to her granddaughter and say something in Farsi, which her granddaughter would translate for us. If Mary didn’t concur with the translation, she and her granddaughter would argue in Farsi until Mary was satisfied. OK—here’s what came out of all this.

“Something bad will happen on your job, but you will get past it; it will be ok. There’s a big problem, some big case with two big firms. Something with this job is making you upset or angry. Don’t finish it if its making you upset. Walk away. It’s ok. You will make good money this year. There’s three things involving money; one is your house. Three things—that’s good. Three is a lucky number. People are jealous of you at work, and some may say some things to you or about you. Ignore it—let it go. There’s a man, maybe he is a client. Be patient. He will want to argue with you. You are honest and people like and believe in you. You do excellent job. There’s a good meeting in Coronado. Go over the bridge into the village, and go to the meeting. More money.

You have two children, yes? Everything is good there. You and your wife will have a long life together. There’s a ghost in your house, but nothing to be afraid of.”

What? I looked at Hilary staring at Mary, her eyes bugging out. Mary didn’t pause,

“You and your wife will go on a long holiday—but not more than two weeks. Don’t go for more than two weeks.” Mary then looked at the napkin on which she poured the coffee and pointed to a pattern. “You see this? This is the sign of the dolphin. It is the big dolphin in the moon. This is a good sign—more money.” Mary then asked if we had any questions.

Uh…yeah. Hilary jumped right in, fighting back tears: “You said we have two children and everything is good. Eighteen months ago we lost our twenty four year old son.”

Mary drew in a breath as if Hilary had punched her in the stomach. “How did he die?” she asked, and Hilary told her. Mary reflected before speaking. “God gives and God takes. This can’t be explained. He’s the ghost—your son is the ghost in your house. He’s around you and this is good. Don’t be afraid. And you have another child?”

Hilary began to cry and told Mary “We know this—we feel him around—and we welcome his presence. And, yes we also have a daughter, Brittany, almost thirty, and she and her husband are expecting their first child, our first grandchild, a boy in May.

Mary emphatically interjected, “This baby is to have your son’s name. This is very important. And don’t worry. Nothing bad is coming your way. Only good things. It is ok.”

As we thanked Mary and her granddaughter and said our goodbyes, Mary took each of our hands and assured us “You’ll be OK. It will be alright.”

And more layers.


A few weeks after our Coffee Reading, Hilary, Brittany and I went to see the new film by Roman Polanski, The Ghost Writer. Although we didn’t really know anything about the movie or the book Jimmy is holding in his hands, we understood they were completely unrelated stories. It was a Sunday and my sister Laura had called from her home in Switzerland that morning and I mentioned we were going to see the movie. At the time Polanski was under house-arrest in Switzerland and it was there he finished this film. Since leaving the United States in 1977, Polanski had been living in France to avoid extradition back to the States for sex-with-a-minor charges. In September of 2009, he travelled to Zurich to receive a life-time achievement award and was arrested by Swiss police at the urging of U.S. authorities. Laura said she and her husband Anton had seen the movie the week before.


“It is a very good film but I need to give you a ‘heads-up’—the ending is very powerful and….well, I don’t want to say anything more about it…be ready.”

Huge understatement.

Polanski and Robert Harris, a best-selling English novelist, co-wrote the screenplay based on Harris’ novel The Ghost published in September, 2007. The film/novel is about a writer, played by Ewan McGregor, who has been hired to ghostwrite the autobiography of the recently retired British prime minister (starring Pierce Brosnan) and in the process of doing so uncovers an espionage conspiracy intended by powerful people in the U.S. and Great Britain to remain deeply buried.

The penultimate scene of the film takes place in Manhattan at a star-studded event celebrating the release of the new book. The ghostwriter, Ewan McGregor, is at the event and he passes a note to the widow of the recently assassinated prime minister—it turns out the wife had been a CIA operative during her entire marriage to the bloke—to let her know he has put together all of the pieces of this well-crafted puzzle. She is not pleased and begins to muster her co-conspirators.

Ewan promptly exits the party into the chilly, rainy, New York evening, the original six hundred pages of manuscript tucked under one arm. He steps into the apparently deserted street, his car parked on the other side. As McGregor goes out of frame to the right, the camera latches on to a dark, sleek sedan, headlights off, roaring with pace down the street from the left across the frame.The camera remains focused straight ahead; it does not follow the car to the right. There is only the sound……The sound a car would make if it hits a pedestrian travelling at a high speed. A brief screech of brake, followed by the throaty roar of the big engine sedan as it resumes acceleration. The camera remained focused straight ahead. Everything goes quiet for several seconds. A feint rustle emanates from the right; like large dry maple leaves scraping the pavement. And then, scores of pages of manuscript blow to the left across the frame, the camera following them as they cartwheel down the middle of the street, dancing in the air, propelled along by a freshening wind.


We sat rigid in our seats for what seemed like minutes; but likely only seconds. I grabbed Hilary’s leg and asked Brittany “Are you alright?” She and Hilary were in a state of shock—staring straight ahead—tears erupting from their eyes. The credits were rolling up the screen. All we saw was flashback.

Friday night, August 8, 2008—the last time the four of us were together. Jimmy had driven down from Los Angeles that evening to see my sister and her family visiting from Switzerland and to do some shopping with us to get ready for a two week sea kayaking trip to Southeast Asia he’d be making in a few days. Jimmy brought home with him the latest draft manuscript of Now’s The Time, the screenplay he’d been working off and on for the last two years. He placed our copy on the piano bench in our family room. He could hardly wait for us to read it and talk with him about it.

In a drawer in our bedroom lay his other plays and screenplays, including the other project he had been furiously working on the last nine months; a screenplay for a motion picture he and his best friend, Evan, had ghostwritten for a major Hollywood director.

That Friday night Jimmy left our house to meet up with some friends at a party. Early Saturday morning, after too many beers, he decided to walk home instead of drive. On the dark and winding Del Dios Highway he was struck by an automobile and instantly killed. That car flipped over but the driver, thankfully, suffered no physical injuries. Two other cars would hit him as he lay in the road, already gone, but they accelerated and left the scene.

Thousands of pages blowing across the screen.
Jimmy, stretched out on the couch, holding the book The Ghost Writer, big grin across his face—smiling—late 2007—now.
“Fuck me!” I succinctly summarized.
Hilary had already said it, better:
“It seems more impossible than ever.”

Later that evening, as Hilary and I debriefed the film experience over a glass of wine, we looked over to his spot on the couch, raised our glasses and toasted, once again, our beloved ghostwriter.

Fan’s Trailer:

Official Trailer:

Polanski Interview:


The “bad thing at work” began two days after our reading with Mary. I took her advice—it turned out ok.
Wyatt James Kirby was born May 14, 2010.
No meeting yet in Coronado—the Brinx truck hasn’t pulled in our driveway.
I listen to everything Hilary says.
We will always have two children.

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Want To Go For A Ride?

Want To Go For A Ride?
By Casey Gauntt

[Reverse SPOILER ALERT: Are you one of our many weekend readers spending some quality time here? If so, I'd suggest reading some previously-published stories before continuing with this story --if-- you desire the "full effect." Those would be: The Letter, McKenzie’s Field-Ole Ole Olsen, and our most recently-published Impossible Germany that has also become inexplicably intertwined. Thanks, --Casey]

I’m reminded these days of the movie Contact and the scene with John Hurt, an eccentric, reclusive billionaire dying from cancer and floating inside the Mir space station. He believes zero gravity will slow down the growth of the cancer cells. He’s on a video conference call with Jodie Foster and, after revealing to her that he has secretly financed the construction of a back up space-time travel machine (the other one Jodie was selected to go in having been destroyed by the maniacal preacher played by Jake Busey) asks her “So…….., do you want to go for a ride?”

Pinging The Universe Everybody has heard of this website—right?— the one that connects high school classmates from the past. Over the years I would get a random email from the website asking me if I wanted to find a classmate at my alma mater, Lake Park High School, in Roselle, Illinois from which I graduated in 1968. “How do they know where I am?” I’d wonder, and along with other ‘please join’ messages from Facebook and LinkedIn, I’d delete them. “No thanks.” I’d left Lake Park in my past many, many years ago. I had not kept in touch with anyone from there since 1970, and didn’t see any reason to do so. Well, there was one guy, but that was over twenty years ago.

I got another annoying email from Classmates in August of 2009. My initial reaction was to delete that one, too, but I hesitated. It had been almost a year since I got The Letter from my father, and I’d been thinking about that one guy, George Blystone. He grew up in nearby Roselle and we met over basketball at dueling junior highs. He was a star athlete and the funniest guy in school.

Back then there were the “hard guys”—aka “greasers”— the boys who wore their hair slicked back into a ducktail at the nape of their neck, below the waist leather jackets, tight black pants, ankle high pointed toe black leather boots with extended heels and Banlon shirts buttoned tight at the neck. Rodney Hendrickson and Gary Olson [Their story: McKenzie’s Field—Ole Ole Olson Free] were hard guys. Summer loafers-no socks, madras shirts, golf team and good grades swept me into the “rah rahs” crew—the west coast equivalent of “surfers.” Blystone was a cross breed.

George lost his father at an early age, several years before me and—I don’t know—I always felt there was a unique bond between us. So, I opened the friendly message from Classmates and was led to the message center. There were no messages for me, but I was prompted by the site to leave a message for a classmate. I typed something like “George Blystone, where are you? Casey Gauntt” and hit ‘send.’ Big mistake. I hope not for him.


Over the next several days I was bombarded with messages from Classmates inviting me to join as a member, enticing me with messages from classmates who wanted to contact me, if only I would sign-up. I slowly got sucked in. I’d check the website from time to time to see if there was a message from Blystone—anyone. Nothing. I took the bait of the ” free” 7-day trial membership. I figured, wrongly as it turned out, I had to join to actually receive any messages. I checked-in every day. Nothing. I made a note on my calendar and, Classmates having brought no fruit to me, I cancelled before my credit card was nicked for a roll-over one-year membership. Damn. What a waste of time. I gave up.

But Classmates did not give up on me! They patiently continued to send me messages “Casey-Two more classmates have signed your guestbook—see who signed.” So, in February of 2010 I gave it one more shot and, lo and behold, there were two messages for me: one posted in October, 2009 from a girl who’s name didn’t ring any bells and which I didn’t bother reading and—there it was!—a message dated January 19, 2010 from George Blystone who wrote: “Hey, where’s the 100 dollars I loaned you for that hooker 25 years ago?” Definitely Blystone.

But it was 22 years ago—no hooker, no hooker— that was the last time I’d seen or heard from him. George and a buddy had come to San Diego in January of 1988 for Super Bowl XXII to see the Washington Redskins trounce the Denver Broncos 42-10. He was living and working in advertising somewhere on the East Coast. We had dinner at the hotel where he was staying on Mission Bay. Hilary and our kids Brittany, then 8, and Jimmy 4, were with us. There was a fireworks show that the kids enjoyed, Jimmy ended up with a Redskins hat, and George and his pal went off to find the parties.

I immediately fired off a reply to Blystone, something to the effect “I invested the $100 in a start-up with this strange name Google. Where are you? Send me your email address—here’s mine;” and signed up for a one-year Gold Membership with—why not, they came through for me.

My message rattled around unanswered somewhere in cyberspace. Buoyed by this slimmest of contact with George, I uncharacteristically reached out and reconnected over the next three months with a few of my very closest childhood friends from Itasca and Lake Park High School. They were surprised, shocked more likely, to hear from me—but also pleased I think. Not having heard back from Blystone, I sent an email to my renewed old friends and asked them if they had any better way to contact him besides Classmates. Linda replied “I don’t, but Camille might. I’ll ask her.” Another Roselle girl.


His ears must have been burning, for that same day, a Monday April 12, I received an email at my office from George. It was vintage Blystone, as if the subject line wasn’t my first clue: “Can you have sex after 60 without chemicals?”

“Since I’m not a member of Classmates, I just today saw [my message to him of February 10] that you acknowledged that you took my money that I gave you for the sex change operation and put it to good use. I hope that you are in good health and that mentally remaining a man was not too difficult for you. Here are my phone numbers, email is attached, so get back to me and let me know [censored] and how all the Gauntt family are doing. I am going to Chicago on Wednesday to close on the house [where he grew up] in Roselle and [censored] with [one of my high school girlfriends and her sister]. [censored] George”


I LOL (laughed out loud for my contemporaries), and exclaimed “Thank you!” I truly had struck Gold—as in my membership. George used his business edress so I Googled his company’s website, a marketing firm in Stamford, Connecticut. I clicked on “Our People” and bingo—there was a picture of Blystone—or rather the head of an old, balding man—no hair piece or plugs, thank God—with a Cheshire cat grin above the name “George Blystone.” I presumed that was him. I’m kidding—but not about the hair or the grin. I would have recognized him anywhere. I pondered a reply.

I dismissed the phone call option. Sometimes it is unavoidable, as was the case with Emily Sue Buckberry. But I wasn’t going to put George in the awkward position of delivering a few ice-breaker cracks before the inevitable “So Casey, tell me, what’s up with your kids?” Later that same afternoon I sent him an email and attached the story of The Letter:

From: Casey Gauntt
Date: Mon, April 12, 2010 at 2:02 PM
Subject: Re: George –good (?) to hear from you.
To: George Blystone

“George –good (?) to hear from you. I hope the FBI isn’t continuing to monitor your emails. I’m so glad I signed up for the Gold Membership in Classmates so I could get stuff like this. I checked out your website… pulled up your picture… Jesus Christ, George–what happened to you? I’m going to call you, but I want you to read the attachment first. You will understand why. WARNING–do not read this at work and maybe have a scotch first. Let me know when you’ve read it, gotten your breath back (sorry about that), and then we’ll get on the phone. Hilary says Hi. –Casey”

I didn’t hear a thing from Blystone on Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday. I began to have second thoughts about sending him the story cold like that, and figured he didn’t know what to do or say. So, I called George on his cell phone Friday afternoon on April 16. When he answered I said something like “You either forgot how to read or you need some help with the big words, so I thought I better give you a call.”

“Casey? Oh man. I need to talk to you, but I’m just finishing up a meeting, so can I call you back in a few minutes?” And he did. George said he had just finished a business meeting in Chicago with, it just so happened, Jerry Huffington, another classmate of ours from Lake Park. George said he went into his office in Stamford on Wednesday morning to pick up some things before flying to Chicago. He saw my email message, ignored the disclaimer, opened the attachment and began reading.


“As I got into your story I was embarrassed by those idiotic emails I sent you. I knew the part about your dad’s suicide and how hard that was for you. I was there with you that Christmas [1970] right after it happened—remember?” I had forgotten that. “And then I read about your son, Jimmy, and what happened to him. Casey, I am so sorry, I don’t even know what to say –it’s the unthinkable, the unimaginable. When I got to the part about the lady from West Virginia who kept the letter your dad wrote you and then calls you 40 years later, the few hairs I have left stood up on the back of my neck— and that the letter arrived on your son’s birthday!—I started crying my eyes out. I completely lost it. I’m really shaken up by all this. It’s like my beliefs are turned upside down—not religion but— you know—like what happens next? It is so clear to me that your dad and Jimmy came through to you and were both telling you ‘ We’re here, we’re together, we love you and we’re giving this to you.’ By the time I stopped crying and got myself under control it was getting late and I had to hustle to get to the airport. When I boarded the plane my eyes were all red and I was still a mess.”

We talked for another twenty minutes about family, his three grown kids, our daughter Brittany and our work. We cut through everything quickly as only old friends can do and we both exclaimed, more than once, “why haven’t we stayed in touch all these years!?” We promised each other that we would talk again in a couple of weeks.

And I thought, well isn’t that nice—George and I finally made our connection and spoke after all these years—but this story was not over.

The Ride

In the early evening on the following Tuesday, April 20, the phone rang at our house in Solana Beach. I answered. The voice on the line sounded nervous—agitated.

“Mr. Gauntt? Hi, this is Dennis. Something really weird just happened.”

Jimmy and Dennis met at USC and became very good friends. Dennis attended USC’s prestigious film school and Jimmy double majored in English and Spanish and spent the bulk of his time writing plays and screenplays. Dennis grew up in Chicago and Jimmy enjoyed a long weekend there with Dennis and his family in 2006. Dennis went into the film business in Los Angeles after graduation and he and Jimmy stayed close and pitched each other with their avalanche of ideas for movies and plays. Dennis had come to Solana Beach a few times with Jimmy to have dinner with Hilary and me. We hadn’t seen or heard from Dennis for more than a year. Dennis continued:


“I got a call from my mother this afternoon from Chicago. She said that over the weekend she heard from a friend of hers an amazing story as told by a ‘George from Connecticut’ about a high school classmate ‘Casey’ whose son ‘Jimmy’ was struck and killed by an automobile, and some lady from West Virginia found a letter and 40 years later calls ‘Casey’ and tells him she has a letter from his father and she sends it to him on his son’s birthday!?”

“Oh my God,” I interjected, as Dennis frantically plunged forward.

“My mom is crying as she’s telling me all this and she asks me: ‘Jimmy— isn’t that your friend—the one who was killed – who came to visit us in Chicago?’ And I told her, ‘Yes, yes, that has to be him! His father is Casey.’

“Mr. Gauntt what’s going on here? What’s this story about a letter? It sounds so amazing. I’m pretty freaked out right now. Is this real?”

I think at this point I may have started to laugh. Hilary had been watching me during the call and I put my hand over the mouthpiece and said to her “You aren’t going to believe this.” I was also a little dazed and confused myself about what just happened. Dennis had blurted out so fast the conversation he’d had with his mother that I made him re-tell it to me, “this time more slowly.” I then tried to piece it together for him and me. I told Dennis a little more about the story of The Letter and the timing involved with that.

“But, Dennis, here’s the thing that blows my mind. ‘George from Connecticut’ is a guy I went to high school with in the Chicago area and I haven’t seen or heard from in over 20 years—that is, until a week ago last Monday.”

I told Dennis about how we had reconnected through, and that I’d sent George story of The Letter last Monday and spoke to him about it on Friday. I was still confused.

“Dennis, who told your mother about Jimmy and The Letter?”

“Some friend of hers—that’s all she said.”

Dennis and I spent a couple more minutes catching up with what was going on in his life and ours and I promised to send him the story of The Letter, which I did later that evening.

A couple of days later I emailed George: “When you were in Chicago last week, did you tell The Letter story to someone? It’s perfectly fine, but I’ve got another story that may blow your socks off.” George called me right back and filled in a few of the details he neglected to mention during our call the previous Friday.

“I didn’t tell you this because I couldn’t believe it myself at the time. When you called me on my cell I was in Chicago having a glass of wine with Jerry and was actually in the middle of telling him about you and the story of The Letter. He was the first and only person I’ve told your story to. As I’m talking about your son ‘Jimmy, who went to USC, was living in Los Angeles and was struck and killed by an automobile during the summer of 2008,’ Jerry’s mouth dropped open and he said ‘George! I already know about this. It has to be the same “Jimmy.” I heard about his death soon after it happened from a friend of mine who said her son, who lives in Los Angeles, was good friends with Jimmy. In fact Jimmy had come to Chicago for a visit a few years ago. She said her son was devastated by the death of his friend. His name is Dennis. This is unbelievable!’”

George said he then told Jerry about Emily Sue Buckberry and the story of The Letter. After their meeting, George flew back to Connecticut.

George continued… “The next day, Saturday, Jerry called me at home and said he had just got off the phone with Dennis’ mother. He told her about his meeting with me, that we were classmates with Casey, Casey is Jimmy’s dad, and the story about the lady from West Virginia who sent Casey a 40 year-old letter from his father that arrived on Jimmy’s first birthday after his death. She’s convinced Jimmy Gauntt was her son’s friend.”

I then told George about the call I got from Dennis on Tuesday.

“How is this f____ing possible?” George asked. “I read your story and learn of Jimmy’s death on Wednesday. I then go to Chicago—I haven’t even talked to you about it—and Jerrry, our classmate, and the first person I’ve spoken to about reconnecting with you, Jimmy’s death and the story of the letter, knows Dennis’ mother and already knew of Jimmy’s death; but Dennis hadn’t heard the story about The Letter—he hears about it from his Mom, who hears it from Jerry immediately after he hears it from me?! What are the odds of that?! I’ll tell you what I think—incalculable! There’s something going on here that is much bigger than you and me, my friend!”

We were both silent for a moment.

“George, I have no idea what’s going on and I can’t begin to explain it, but I think Hilary summed it up pretty well: ‘Dennis was supposed to get the story of The Letter.’ Maybe it’s just that simple.”

We again promised to stay in touch before another twenty two years went by and, before we clicked off, I managed to throw in “Oh, and to answer your question,’ no chemicals necessary.’”

But as we are beginning to learn, it’s never that ‘simple’ and this story was far from over.

Stay tuned for the next episode, The Bermuda Triangle.

Postscript. Although I started writing this story in May of 2010, I didn’t send it to Dennis until December. The title and opening reference to the film Contact have always been part of this story. In fact, immediately after my “Mr. Gauntt, something weird just happened” call from Dennis, I jotted down some notes while the facts were fresh including the lines about the movie that appear in the opening to the story. Dennis read the story for the first time upon his arrival at his home in Chicago, halfway into his move from Los Angeles to New York City. I too thought it ‘interesting’ that he would read this in Chicago, but as Dennis wrote in the email he sent me immediately after reading the story:

“What’s crazier is that I watched the film “Contact” two times in a row the night before heading off to Chicago. It’s one of my favorite films.”

Of course it is.

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Let It Be

Introduction. My wife Hilary has always loved music. There are three songs, in particular, that have been running in and out of Hilary’s life. Here’s her story about one of them.

Let It Be
By: Hilary Gauntt

Still deeply mourning our adored son Jimmy, we joined our friends Terri and Bill Stampley and Jill and Rich Murphy on a trip to Europe in May, 2009; hoping that a change of scene would provide a welcome distraction. After three nights in Paris, we trained to Brussels and then were driven to meet our luxurious barge The Golden Odyssey for a leisurely trip down the canals of Belgium.


There was a crew of four led by captain and owner Gregory Birra, and the six of us the only passengers occupying the three lovely staterooms. Some nights were spent in towns such as Brugge or Ghent, and others out in the country under the stars. Wonderful meals provided by Claudie the French chef and endless bottles of wine enhanced the experience of the easy cruising of the extensive waterways, with the amazing quality of light illuminating the clouds, grass and grazing cows. The rhythmic chugging of the engine felt like a heartbeat as we lay in our deckchairs, reading and gazing at the ducks and trees as we glided by.


In our cabin there were several pieces of art. The one I found myself captivated by was a beautiful Madonna and Child icon, with deep rich colors of blue and gold, hanging by a ribbon on the wall next to the bed. As a mother who now has also lost a beloved son, I was feeling a new connection to Mary; and found myself finding comfort in gazing at this picture every day.

One afternoon towards the end of our week, I got up from my chair on deck and went below to our cabin to use the bathroom. As I started to leave, I turned to look at the picture on my way out, and was surprised to hear the words to the song “Let It Be” come into my head as clear as a bell. I realized that this was the first time I had thought of this song since suffering our loss, and that Paul McCartney’s words were deeply meaningful and comforting and surprisingly appropriate.

Smiling, I climbed back up to the deck, said hello to everyone, and resumed my seat facing backward next to the side of the barge. As I was trying to remember all the verses of the song, I could hear a boat coming up on my right going the other way. We were out in the Belgian countryside, and passed very few boats at that point. I turned my head to look at the boat, which was a very large yacht. I leapt up out of my chair as I read the name of the boat, which was right at my eye level and written in very large script…….”Let It Be.”

I still feel as though I was being sent a sign and a message in the words of that song. After returning home I e-mailed our captain to ask where he purchased that Madonna and Child, and if he could help me find one similar. He said he also had been quite taken with it and purchased it at the Church of Our Dear Lady in Saint Quentin, France. I read the history of St. Quentin and the Church. The Saint who was born there and cared for the sick and poor was St. Godfrey (or Geoffrey) who died on November 8, 1115. Interestingly, November 8 is also my son Jimmy’s birthday.

In reading about how Paul McCartney came to write the song, I was surprised to learn that “Mother Mary” wasn’t referring to the mother of Jesus, as most people assume. Paul’s mother, also named Mary, died of lung cancer when Paul was fourteen. During a difficult time in his life years later he had a vivid dream that “my mother Mary came to me and whispered words of wisdom, ‘It will be alright, just let it be, let it be.’” He said that when he awoke from this dream, he got up and wrote down the words to this song.

Let It Be

[wpaudio url="" text="The Beatles - Paul McCartney Let It Be" dl="0"]

When I find myself in times of trouble, Mother Mary comes to me
Speaking words of wisdom, let it be

And in my hour of darkness she is standing right in front of me
Speaking words of wisdom, let it be
Let be, let it be, let it be, let it be
Whisper words of wisdom, let it be

And when the broken hearted people living in the world agree
There will be an answer, let it be
For though they may be parted, there is still a chance that they will see
There will be an answer, let it be
Let it be, let it be, let it be, let it be
There will be an answer, let it be
Let it be, let it be, let it be, let it be
Whisper words of wisdom, let it be

And when the night is cloudy there is still a light that shines on me
Shine until tomorrow, let it be
I wake up to the sound of music, Mother Mary comes to me
Speaking words of wisdom, let it be
Let it be, let it be, let it be, yeah, let it be
There will be an answer, let it be
Let it be, let it be, let it be yeah, let it be
Whisper words of wisdom, let it be

Upon returning home, I searched everywhere for a copy of the Mother and Child icon that was in our stateroom on The Golden Odyssey. A couple of months after I gave up the search, a package was delivered to our home. Inside was the Mother and Child icon from our boat—a gift from our wonderful Captain Gregory Birra. It now hangs by a slim golden ribbon in a place in our house for all to see, speaking words of wisdom, Let It Be.

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Class of 1939

Introduction to the Class of 1939

Anthony “Tony” Valdivia maintains a list of the “active” members of his graduating class from University High School in West Los Angeles —at least those that he’s been able to stay in touch with. He’s been doing this for 73 years as one of the principal coordinators of the reunions of the Class of 1939. Tony and the rest of the surviving Warriors are, or will soon be, 91 years old this year. Tony sends out his list every couple of years and I stumbled on the one he had recently sent my mother. Unbeknownst to Tony, his diligence spawned a rather unusual reunion between a couple of members of the Class of ’39 —and their offspring.

Class of 1939
By Casey Gauntt
March, 2012

I went to visit my mother, Barbara, late Monday afternoon at Belmont Village seniors community in Encinitas, California. She’d been in the assisted living wing almost two weeks, and things finally seemed to be calming down since her first fall right before New Year’s. We talked about events of the day. I ordered some more of the oxygen tanks that she’s been tethered to 24-7 since early February. She was sitting up on the sofa of her smartly furnished one bedroom apartment; a much welcome pose compared to the weeks she spent flat on her back during two separate stints at a skilled nursing facility in nearby Del Mar.

She reached over and picked up an envelope on the small table next to the sofa and as she handed it to me explained “I received this in the mail today from Tony Valdivia. He and I were classmates at University High in West Los Angeles.” Inside the envelope was a two page, handwritten list of names and addresses, a personal note from Tony and a copy of a clipping and photo from the Los Angeles Times reviewing the production of Spring Dance, a play performed in 1939 by some of the Uni High students and starring Tony and my Mom, then Barbara Case.


“Tony has been one of the key organizers of our high school reunions. Every few years or so Tony sends out a list of those of us from the Class of 1939 that are still around—at least those that he’s been able to keep track of. I think our graduating class was around 475 kids.”


There were 39 names on the list, including Anthony (Tony) Valdivia—all 90 plus years old now. Thirty-nine 39ers.

I quickly scanned the list and one of the names jumped off the page: John Gilchrist. Number 21.

“Mom—John Gilchrist? It says here he lives in Carlsbad.”

“I vaguely remember him.”

“Well, I know a John Gilchrist who lives in San Diego,” I said. “He was the President of The Hahn Company—a huge shopping center developer. Ernie Hahn’s company. They built University Town Center and Horton Plaza in San Diego and over a hundred more across the country. John’s a few years older than me. I wouldn’t be surprised if they’re related.”

I asked my Mom if I could take Tony’s letter and make a copy. She said “Of course.”

I brought the letter back to her the next day. She was having trouble breathing—more than usual. She complained “I can only take a few steps before I start panting.” After a brief visit she dispatched me back home “I’ll be alright. Go take care of what you’ve got to do.”

On Saturday, Hilary and I attended the wedding of the middle daughter of one of my good friends and clients. The ceremony was on the beach in front of the La Jolla Beach and Tennis Club.

It poured rain the weekend before. It would rain on Sunday. This late Saturday afternoon was perfect—crystal blue sky, the sun warming us well beyond the 59 degree temperature, scores of pelicans flying in formation back and forth over the smooth waters of La Jolla Cove sporadically breaking off to dive bomb onto some unsuspecting fish, skin divers emerging from the depths dragging their speared catch along the sand, and miles and miles of uninterrupted coastline running up to the low hills of San Clemente clearly visible fifty miles away. I frequently had to pull my attention back to the ceremony. The father of the bride is a courageous cancer survivor. In October he underwent 14 hours of surgery to remove malignant tumors from the left side of his head. The cancer destroyed the nerves and the left side of his face is paralyzed. The chemo and radiation treatments killed most of his hair follicles. If you ran into him on the street, and didn’t know him and love him as all of us gathered there do, you would gasp and quickly look away. He proudly walked his daughter down the isle of sand and in that moment all we could see was the sheer joy, glow and absolute love that radiated from and around them.

The reception was at the stately La Jolla Country Club perched on the side of a hill in the center of an emerald green golf course with 180 degree drop-dead views of the Pacific Ocean. In the packed foyer where cocktails and hors d’oeuvres were being served, I glanced over at the far side of the room and smiled.

I excused myself from the trio I’d been visiting with and walked over to say hello to John Gilchrist. After a brief greeting, I asked him “Is your father also named John?”

“Yes,” he said.

“Does he live in Carlsbad?”

“Yes. He’s at the La Costa Glen retirement community.”

And then the big one, “Did he go to University High in Los Angeles?”

“Yes he did,” John, ever the more curious, confirmed.

“Well, what do you know?” I exclaimed, “Your Dad and my Mom were classmates and members of the Class of 1939.”

He was as surprised as I was that we had this in common. I went on to tell John about the letter my Mom had received earlier that week from Tony Valdivia and the list of remaining classmates and that she was living in Belmont Village only a few miles away from La Costa Glen. John told me about how his Dad didn’t go to college right after high school and instead pursued his passion of baseball and signed on as an assistant manager for a minor league team back on the east coast. On December 7, 1941, he and the team were getting on a bus headed for the next day’s game when they got the news of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. Within a month the team disbanded and had enlisted in the armed forces. He recounted a couple of other anecdotes from his father’s early days and said “I need to write these down.” I promised to send John a copy of Tony’s letter and the list of 39ers so he could share them with his father.


I neglected to get John’s email address so on Monday morning I Googled him to find his contact information. In the process I discovered that John is the current Vice Chair of the San Diego Hospice and Institute For Palliative Care. I smiled again.

Three days earlier, I got a frantic call from one of the nurses at Belmont Village. My mother’s blood oxygen level was 85 and “Anything below 91 is considered dangerous. We’ve called the paramedics and they are taking her to the emergency room at Scripps Hospital Encinitas.”

This was the sixth trip for my Mom to the ER in the last 11 weeks. She was moved to Scripps Green Hospital in La Jolla several hours later —her third stay— and after “a very rough night” as explained by the nurse on duty, my mother’s breathing was stabilized. Before she was discharged late Friday, the doctors let us know that “her congestive heart failure, COPD and other lung disease are worsening and terminal. At this point we recommend comfort and quality of life measures be taken for her.”



That Saturday, the morning of the wedding, we enrolled my mother into hospice care. There were over thirty hospice care companies on the list given to us by Scripps Green Hospital. We chose San Diego Hospice and The Institute For Palliative Care.


One more Warrior passed away peacefully on June 11, 2012- a little over a month shy of her 91st birthday. This story is dedicated to the loving memory of Barbara Case Gauntt, a Warrior in life and in spirit. A beautiful lioness: San Diego Union-Tribune Obituary . My family is also deeply grateful for the professional, competent and compassionate care my mother received from the San Diego Hospice and Institute of Palliative Care. They are incredible! I truly don’t know what we would have done without them. Damien, Sherry, Carol, Paul, Anita, Tim–thank you, from the bottom of our hearts.

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We See Jimmy in Each of You

The third annual Jimmy Gauntt Memorial Award celebration remembers the alumnus, a poet, musician and playwright, while recognizing stellar undergraduate seniors in USC Dornsife’s Department of English.

By Michelle Salzman
May 9, 2012

The Jimmy Award, named in honor of alumnus Jimmy Gauntt, recognizes outstanding seniors in the English department who have demonstrated a commitment to the arts. The 2012 recipients pose with Gauntt's parents and professor David Román, who created the award. Clockwise from top left: Andrew Ramirez, Casey Gauntt, Hilary Gauntt, Diana Vaden, David Román, Aishlin Cortell, Sydni Chiles, Julia Cooperman and Billy Youngblood. Photo by Michelle Salzman.

The Jimmy Award, named in honor of alumnus Jimmy Gauntt, recognizes outstanding seniors in the English department who have demonstrated a commitment to the arts. The 2012 recipients pose with Gauntt’s parents and professor David Román, who created the award. Clockwise from top left: Andrew Ramirez, Casey Gauntt, Hilary Gauntt, Diana Vaden, David Román, Aishlin Cortell, Sydni Chiles, Julia Cooperman and Billy Youngblood. Photo by Michelle Salzman.


In a heartfelt celebration of writers and their mentors, six undergraduates in the USC Dornsife Department of English were lauded this May for their accomplishments and love of the arts at the third annual Jimmy Gauntt Memorial Award ceremony.

The Jimmy Award recognizes outstanding seniors in the English department who have demonstrated a commitment to the arts. Jimmy Gauntt, a USC Dornsife alumnus who graduated in 2006 with a bachelor’s in English, was struck by a car and killed in the summer of 2008. He was 24. The award, which includes a $500 prize, was created in his honor by David Román, Gauntt’s mentor and friend.

“It is an incredibly brave and bold move to announce oneself a poet or a writer,” said Román, professor of English and American studies and ethnicity in USC Dornsife. “As professors, it’s our job to let students know we value what they do.”

For this reason, Román chose to honor the legacy of his former student, who was a poet, playwright and screenwriter, by acknowledging the work of up-and-coming writers and scholars.

“This award honors those students who, like Jimmy, invest in the world of ideas,” Román said. “These are creative and intelligent young people whose commitment to the literary, visual and performing arts inspires those around them.”

The 2012 Jimmy Award recipients and their professor nominators are Sydni Chiles (David Román), Julia Cooperman (Kate Flint), Aishlin Cortell (Tania Modleski), Andrew Ramirez (Dana Johnson), Diana Vaden (Michelle Gordon) and Billy Youngblood (Mark Irwin).

Over dinner at Reservoir restaurant in Silver Lake, Calif., where Román in 2009 first announced to a group of friends he would launch the annual award, the awardees and their professors shared their academic and personal journeys as writers at USC.

The professors introduced the students they nominated then the students spoke about their experiences in USC Dornsife. The mutual respect between student and mentor was unmistakable.

“You don’t know this,” Gordon, assistant professor of English and gender studies, confided to Diana Vaden and the audience, “but I have waited four years for you to graduate so that I could nominate you for this award.”


At the award ceremony, the professors introduced the students they nominated. Michelle Gordon, who nominated student Diana Vaden (seated, far right), said that as a writer, dancer and actor, Vaden embodies a commitment to the arts and arts communities. “I just knew that she was exactly the kind of student that this award was about.” Photos by Michelle Salzman.

Gordon met Vaden when Vaden was a freshman. She was enrolled in the first class Gordon taught in USC Dornsife. As a writer, dancer and actor, Vaden embodies a commitment to the arts and arts communities, Gordon said. “I just knew that she was exactly the kind of student that this award was about.”

Award recipient Andrew Ramirez, also met his mentor Associate Professor of English Dana Johnson during his freshman year. Meeting Johnson was refreshing, Ramirez said.

“Like someone had opened the refrigerator door,” he said. “Like an instant cooling sensation. I had never felt more comfortable doing something as sticky and confusing as creative writing.”

Ramirez said that he loves being an English major. “After four years of being at USC I feel like I have my people now . . . I have a community.”

In introducing awardee Julia Cooperman, Kate Flint, Provost Professor of English and Art History, acknowledged that she has benefitted intellectually from the relationship with her mentee.

“Julia writes fabulously,” Flint said. “She is somebody who can turn a sentence to make you really rethink and re-examine a text that you thought you knew pretty well. I certainly learned from her about novels that I considered myself to be very familiar with.”

Each of the awardees said they were truly honored to be recognized.

“I am really inspired by everyone in this room,” awardee Sydni Chiles said.

Jimmy’s parents, Hilary and Casey Gauntt, also attended the award ceremony. Casey Gauntt told the students how proud he was of them.


Left to right: Dana Johnson, Andrew Ramirez and Casey Gauntt. Photo by Michelle Salzman.

“We see Jimmy in each of you,” he said in closing comments to the small group. “You’ve found your passion, you’ve found your purpose and hopefully this will just be more fuel to do unbelievably greater things than you’ve already done.”

He added: “As I listen here tonight I’m just thinking: Jimmy is loving this!”

For Román, the annual ceremony is an opportunity to shine a light on the importance of the student-professor relationship. While professors issue students’ grades, there’s a more subtle mentorship that takes place during office hours, e-mails or in the halls that makes a deeper impression, Román said.

“With this event, students can get a full sense of their impact on professors and get a full sense of their talents,” Román said. “What we want to do here is put a spotlight on the exchange between a faculty member and a student that’s about providing the student an opportunity to become whoever he or she sets out to be in the world.”

Learn more about the Jimmy Award.

From the article originally published on USCDornsife HERE

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McKenzies Field – Ole Ole Olson Free

This is another story about growing up in Itasca, Illinois in the early 1960s. Like Fallout Shelter, it’s a story of near misses and ‘what-might-have-beens’ in our lives, juxtaposed against the stark, sobering realities of the direct hits we usually never see coming. This is the first of a trilogy of stories about my reconnection, 42 years later, with some of my closest friends as a child and teenager. I wrote McKenzie’s Field nine months after our son Jimmy died, and a year before some of my old friends began dropping back into my life, and I into theirs. It would take another two years for the seemingly random pieces of these stories to knit themselves together and leave us all shaking our heads in utter disbelief—and shear wonder.

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The Sax Players — A Christmas Story

I answered the phone and, with voice shaking, he asked “Is Jimmy’s cell phone still working?” John Dale had left our house only a few minutes earlier. It was Christmas Day, 2008—our first without Jimmy. John had come by that morning to give us an almost surreal photograph of Jimmy playing the saxophone—one we’d never seen before. And then John got “his call,” followed by another bizarre one that I took several hours later. It was a day of amazing gifts and another peek into the “whatever it is” we experienced with The Letter several weeks earlier. The table for this day had been set a week earlier when we met and had our first reading with Tarra, a well know medium and psychic from Sedona. We knew the moment Jimmy was gone that we got kicked onto another railroad track and we could either go down it or pull off and languish on some siding. We chose to roll forward and see where it goes. This is a little story about photographs, phone calls, psychics and saxophones, with perhaps a little magic sprinkled on top.

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Henrietta-Ellis Case

Almost Ellisville

By Casey Gauntt

We are never completely free of the instruments that fashioned us.
–Henrietta Ellis Case (1952).

Henrietta Ellis Case is my maternal grandmother and was born December 28, 1897 in Glennville, a small farming town nestled between Porterville and Bakersfield in the heart of California’s San Joaquin Valley. She was a prolific writer and poet and once wrote “We are never completely free of the instruments that fashioned us and this holds true for me with the wild Ellis strain mixed with the prosaic Slinkard blood.” Here’s the story of how Henrietta was almost born in “Ellisville.”

Henrietta’s father, Alfred (Alf) Ellis, was born in Texas and the youngest of eight children of Radford (Rad) Ellis and Celia Ann Jones, both from Wilkinson, Missouri. In the 1850s Rad brought the family to Linn’s Valley, the area that would unfortunately become known as Glennville, and there he became a prominent cattleman. Alf was a troubled soul and something of a character, much of which can likely be traced back to the death of his father and the story of how the town got its name.

In the early 1860s Andy McFarlane and some partners decided to build a new road to replace the Bull Road over the mountains in nearby Greenhorn. McFarlane had come to California in the gold rush of 1849 and was known as a “might salty” individual. He hired the best civil engineer in the region and the founder of Bakersfield, Colonel Thomas Baker, to design the new road. Matt Glenn, a neighbor of Rad’s, wanted the road to go through his land, but McFarlane had already promised Rad Ellis it would abut his holdings about a mile and a half from Glenn’s place.

Rad was so sure the road would go through his ranch that he hired his own engineers to begin mapping out the town. At some point McFarlane and his investors ran out of money and, to save a few bucks, ended up putting the road through Glenn’s property instead of Ellis’s. A new town immediately sprung up on Glenn’s land and, what should have become “Ellisville,” was forever more known as Glennville.

Rad was furious with Andy McFarlane, and to make matters worse McFarlane built a large hotel and saloon in “Glennville” called the Toll House which hosted many dances and other boisterous activities. The noise from the nightly goings-on wafted up to Rad’s house and added more fuel to the fire raging inside him. Rad’s baby boy Alf, then fourteen, was eager to learn how to dance, and one evening he went down to McFarlane’s Toll House to learn how. Alf was barred entry at the front door because he refused to pay the $5 admission, so he snuck in the back. McFarlane spotted him on the dance floor and tried to sell him a $5 ticket. Alf said “No thanks.” McFarlane then asked Alf to leave, but Alf refused and continued to hop around the dance floor. McFarlane finally lost his patience and grabbed Alf by the collar and the seat of his pants. He carried him through the front door of the hall and, with the other patrons close behind, tossed Alf face first onto the dirt road.

The next morning Alf told his father what happened and supplied all of the humiliating details to his increasingly infuriated father. Rad immediately mounted his horse, put Alf behind him and, with his rifle resting on the pommel of his saddle, rode the short ways down the hill to McFarlane’s place. When they got to the Toll House, Rad shouted for McFarlane to come out. McFarlane emerged with a rifle of his own. He didn’t attempt to argue the matter—he never said a word— he just calmly shot Rad Ellis dead off his horse with Alf sitting wide-eyed on the back of the saddle. Rad was shot and killed on November 9, 1864—he was 55 years old. And so ended the feud between Andy McFarlane and Radford Ellis.

Alf married Elizabeth (Betty) Slinkard in 1873 in Glenville. He was twenty-three and she fifteen. Betty was the eldest of twelve children of Solomon Severe (Sol) Slinkard and Laura Ann Glass. In 1862 Sol moved the family from Los Angeles to Farmersville, close to Ellisville—I mean Glennville—and started a horse-drawn freight hauling company moving goods through the San Joaquin Valley. Sol was less than enthusiastic when Alf asked him for Betty’s hand and he cautioned his daughter “Betty, I know you haven’t too good a home, but I don’t think you are bettering yourself. However, if you make your bed, you must lie in it. Make the best of your marriage.” Having said his piece, Sol put on a fine wedding for his little girl. As her wedding present, Alf gave Betty a beautiful quarter horse named White Stockings, and after the reception they rode their horses by moonlight to their new home in Glennville.

Edward Slinkard

Ellis Family (1887) – Claude Alford “Alf” Ellis, Maude, Frank, Betty, Mildred

Alf’s and Betty’s children came right away with Pelham born first in 1873, followed by Henry and Frank over the next three years. Times turned hard. They had to sell the horses and in 1879 were struck by a horrible tragedy. An epidemic of diphtheria invaded the San Joaquin Valley and nearly every family lost one child or more. Their two oldest boys, Pelham and Henry, died a week apart—they were five and three. They were buried at night and no one was permitted outside except the men in charge of the burial for fear of contracting the deadly contagious disease.

Shortly after the boys died, Alf, Betty and two year old Frank moved to a camp near Bodie on the eastern slope Sierra Nevada mountain range in Mono County, California, about fifty miles southeast of Lake Tahoe, at an elevation of 8,369 feet where Alf took a job with a French-owned logging outfit. Bodie was a boom town in the heart and heat of the Gold Rush and boasted a population of ten thousand, sixty-five saloons and seven breweries. Bodie was also renowned for its wickedness and debauchery. A ten year old girl upon learning her family was moving to this remote and infamous town reportedly wrote in her diary “Good-bye God, I’m going to Bodie!” After an unusually harsh winter of felling trees, Alf and family moved back to Glennville where over the next seventeen years six more children were born with Henrietta ending the string in 1897.

You can visit the ghost town of Bodie, CA to see what the era housing looked like in the late 1800′s. (Click to Enlarge)

Three weeks after Henrietta was born, Alf was arrested for criminal libel. As reported in the Daily Californian, the trouble came about over some hogs Alf had slaughtered and was transporting by wagon to Kernville. He drove by the house of a Tulare County Supervisor, Henry Bohna, who thought Alf had stolen the swine. Bohna ran over to the nearby Sheriff’s office and swore out a search warrant. Constable Ed Potter hopped on his horse and caught up with Alf to investigate. He quickly discerned the pigs did indeed belong to Alf Ellis, but that did not end the matter. Alf was so incensed, he wrote out a sign of what he thought of Supervisor Bohna, tacked a sow’s ear on each side of it and posted it at a well-travelled intersection near the Supervisor’s house. Bohna got hopping mad and promptly swore out another warrant and had Alf arrested and tried before Judge Marion for criminal libel. I don’t know exactly what happened at the trial, but I suspect the judge ruled, as any reasonable man must, that Mr. Bohna could not make a “silk case from a sow’s ear”— or something like that.

Henrietta thought her father may have been a drunkard, but her mother, Betty, set her straight on the matter. ” Mother said he never came home drunk or kept anything in the house or at any of his jobs. He was a Saturday afternoon drinker but worse, in my mother’s opinion, a treater. He was always buying rounds of drinks for everybody in the bar. I think she needed the money so badly for her ever-increasing family, she resented money spent in a saloon. In my father’s defense, I know he tried to buy friends and importance this way because he was so unsure of himself. His father was an important man in the county but he was killed in a feud when Alf was fourteen, and from then on my father lacked direction. He was the youngest and drifted from one sister’s home to the other after his father was killed. He was tall, handsome, and had a good mind, but in those California foothills there was no schooling beyond the little one room grammar school.

He read everything historical he could beg or borrow, particularly Civil War history. Sam Houston was his hero. He admired him so much that he named our brother, born four years before me, Houston Calvin. He had tremendous pride in his personal appearance and would never wear bibbed overalls except for work. When he went to the village on Saturday, he would always wear a pair of suit trousers and a clean white shirt underneath newly washed overalls. Whether he rode or walked he would stop at the edge of town and take off the overalls. In telling this Mother always said ‘Had he had as much pride in paying debts as the false pride he had in his looks, it would have been a better life for us all!’ ”

And who knows how things would have turned out if only Andy McFarlane had put that darned road through the ranch owned by my great grandfather, Radcliffe Ellis.


Special thanks to H. Guy Hughes’ history of The McFarlane Toll Road, Lynn’s Valley Tales and Others (1976).

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Dreams Guitars and Highways

“I’m learning to pay attention to my dreams—especially the early morning ones that are too real to dismiss as just dream.” This story begins with Casey’s dream of his three month old grandson Wyatt James and a guitar. As he chases down the strands of the dream and some very real guitars and people associated with those instruments, Casey discovers uncanny connections among too many things previously thought as purely random that have occurred over the past several years, including some rather bizarre things he has in common with his muse, James Taylor. “It’s like connecting dots and finding out they were always right where they were supposed to be.” Here is Casey’s story about dreams, babies, James, guitars, highways and way too many coincidences.

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Fallout Shelter

Fallout Shelter, My Ass

The Cold War, U.S.S.R., Nikita Khrushchev, The Bomb, the Cuban Missile Crisis and Defcon 2—words that will still send a shiver up your spine if you were one of the Baby Boomers, that slug of kids conceived by the millions of soldiers who had returned home from fighting in World War II. Casey Gauntt was a Boomer and here is his flashback tale of being an eleven year old living in sleepy Itasca, Illinois, in 1961 and coming within a hare’s breath of an all-out—game over—nuclear war. Even if you had a fallout shelter back then, it wouldn’t have spared you from the fear the Boomers still carry with them, just beneath the surface, that with one push of a button we’re all gone. And folks wonder why so many of that generation dropped out and dropped acid.

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Vernon Drury Case

Vern Case

How does a boy from Willits, CA, with a 7th grade education, thrown out of his house at 14 by a man he was embarrassed to call his “father,” become one of this nation’s most successful deep foundation contractors and in the 1950s and 1960s help build much of Chicago’s impressive skyline? This is Casey’s story of his grandfather, Vernon Drury Case (1897-1977), a descendant of Scots and one tough, driven brawler. Vern Case was bigger than life and generous to a fault. Raised broke, he had no fear of losing it all—which he did many times. His style wasn’t for everybody, including Casey’s dad who worked for him a couple of years too long. Casey takes us through the scratch and claw— make your life better than the one before you—history of the Case family, and gives us an insider’s look into the remarkable life of his grandfather— a man who was admired, feared and also loved very much, especially by his grandson.

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Grover Cleveland Gauntt, Jr. (Part 1)


A couple of months after our son Jimmy died and a week or so before I got ‘the call’ from Emily Sue Buckberry, we were having dinner with our daughter, Brittany. She told Hilary and me that over the last year Jimmy had become very interested—actually, “obsessed” was the word she used—in finding out more about my father, his grandfather3. She said Jimmy spent a lot of time in our attic pouring through my mother’s scrapbooks we store for her looking for things about my dad. I couldn’t remember the last time I was up there. After Brittany went home, I went up to the attic and there on a small table, where Jimmy liked to write, was a large stack of photographs of my father and his family and over fifty letters he had written to his folks and my mother during World War II. I was stunned. Why had my son become so curious about a man he’d never met? Why hadn’t Jimmy asked me about my Dad? I knew the answer to that, of course. That was a topic I was very adept at avoiding. I left the piles on the table and came back downstairs.

A couple of months after I got The Letter, I returned to the attic and began to sift through the bits and pieces of information Jimmy had set aside. For me? In addition to the letters and photographs, I found three exquisite, pale blue, leather boxes which contained medals and the commendations which accompanied the Legion of Merit and two Bronze Stars awarded my father for heroic achievement and valor on the battlefield during World War II. From the commendations I was able to identify the battles my father and the Army’s 145th Infantry Division fought in the South Pacific and, through the Internet, was led to several enlightening books and articles describing in great detail the 145th’s campaigns.

As I plunged into my father’s formative years, I began to more fully understand some of the things he wrote about in The Letter. I discovered things about my father and his life I had never known. But then again it’s hard to learn anything when you run away from the truth. I learned that the 145th fought for two solid years in some of the most horrific battles of World War II’s Pacific Theatre. I learned my father was a hero and a natural leader of men. I learned he loved fighting. I learned that the things that happened to him, were done to him and that he did to others during the first 25 years of his life, and in particular his two years in the South Pacific, no one should have to experience.

I want to thank once again my mother, Barbara, who is 90, and her kid brother, Stan, only 82, for permitting me to subject them to countless hours of interviews to gather these insights into my father’s life and for going back and reliving the past—a lot of it good, some not. I also want to thank Patti Lambright Kluck from Athens, Texas, the keeper of all things known about the Gauntt clan, for assembling and sharing the family histories and photographs. I also want to acknowledge Rick Tischler, a fellow son of a soldier in the 145th whose father also received a Bronze Star for heroism on Mount Pacawagan in the Philippines, for compiling and sharing the histories of the 145th’s actions in the Pacific Theatre.

I am deeply grateful to my son, Jimmy, for beginning the search and showing me the path to my father. I am immensely proud of and honored to introduce you to Grover Cleveland Gauntt, Jr.–my father.
All love, Casey

Grover C. Gauntt, Jr.
By: Casey Gauntt

My father, Grover Cleveland Gauntt, Jr., was born September 22, 1919, in Fort Worth, Texas.

He was the only son of Grover Cleveland (“Bud”) Gauntt who was born August 12, 1888 in New York, Texas, which is about ten miles east of Athens in Henderson County and one hundred miles southeast of Fort Worth. Bud got a kick out of telling people he was born in New York and lived in Athens. Bud likewise was the only son of John Randolph (“Bob”) Gauntt and Nannie Zelda Curtis. Bob was slender and, for those days, a very tall six feet three inches. His nickname was “Daddy Grande.” We kids called his son Bud “Grand Daddy.” Bud had six sisters. The youngest, Lucy Jane, was born in 1905 and died of diphtheria in 1909.

Grand Daddy Bud moved to Fort Worth in 1904 when he was sixteen and went to work at the H. C. Meacham Department Store. He started at the wrapping counter and worked his way up to manager and part owner specializing in women’s ready-to-wear clothing. Bud married Frances Imogene Brooks in June of 1913. Bud’s and Frances’ two oldest daughters, Imogene (Didge) Brooks and Mary Jane, and their younger brother, my dad, were all born in Fort Worth.

Click any picture to enlarge…

In 1923 Bud moved the family to Oklahoma City where he became a partner in another women’s ready-to-wear store. The store went out of business one year later and they moved west to Glendale, California where Bud went to work for Webb’s Department Store in the women’s apparel department. Their youngest child, Anna Louise, was born the following year in 1925.

“My thought process has been prejudiced by a depression in my youth
and insecurity, by a religious mother who I could not reason with…”

In 1933, Didge and Anna Louise were stricken with diphtheria, a highly contagious, and once very deadly, disease that strikes the upper respiratory system and leads to the progressive deterioration of the central nervous system. In the 1920s, about thirty thousand people died each year from the disease. Children were most at risk. By 1933 a vaccine had been developed, but Frances and Bud were practicing Christian Scientists and did not believe in doctors or medicines.

They finally relented and took Didge to a hospital where she received the vaccine and recovered, but unfortunately it was only after Anna Louise had died at home two days earlier. She was eight years old. The family was devastated. My father was fourteen and his relationship with his folks was never the same after her death. He was extremely close to Anna Louise and he could never understand why his parents did not take her to the hospital and get her the vaccine. His father lost his own youngest sister to the same disease—how could he have let this happen? Anna Louise’s passing was contemporaneous with the Great Depression which was tightening its grip upon this country and this family.

After Anna Louise’s death, Frances became obsessed with another religion that may have had something to do with the Twelve Tribes of Israel. She would attend services Friday night and all day Saturday and Sunday twenty miles away in Inglewood. Frances didn’t drive so Bud had to take her. Frances wore no make-up and dressed plainly. Her new beliefs prohibited the display in their house of any photographs or pictures. She reputedly had some ability as a medium to communicate with those who had passed over. Others said she was strange and maybe not all there. She would go door to door in their neighborhood preaching her beliefs. The children were humiliated. Bud was travelling more on business including several trips each year to New York City to buy the latest women’s fashions for his store. Didge took over much of the role of mother to Mary Jane and Grover, Jr. This family was slowly being torn apart.

My father followed his sister Mary Jane to Glendale High School. She was a beautiful girl, a cheerleader, class officer and immensely popular. Didge, another beauty, was then a sophomore at UCLA where she became the school’s first homecoming queen. Perhaps this was a reason why so many of the upper classmen at Glendale High and UCLA befriended my dad. However, he didn’t have to piggy-back on his sisters for his popularity—he was an accomplished student, a good athlete, student body president his senior year and a very good looking guy. I guess it must be in the genes.

Click any picture to enlarge…

Upon graduating high school in 1937, he joined Mary Jane at UCLA. Apparently, money was tight and Bud gave him $27 for college to cover a couple of quarters of tuition. That was it. From then on he was on his own. He joined the Phi Kappa Psi fraternity and majored in geology and liberal arts. He worked all through college at a men’s clothing store near campus and delivered flowers and corsages to sorority girls before parties. He never worked in his father’s store selling women’s clothing. He also joined the Army Reserve Officers Training Corps (ROTC). Even though the United States was not yet in the war against the Germans and Japanese, most everyone thought it was only a matter of time before we were dragged in. My dad figured when America did get in the war it would be better to go in as an officer. ROTC also helped pay some of his college expenses.

Click any picture to enlarge…

In the spring of his junior year at UCLA, a fraternity brother, Frank Gehri, woke him up late one Saturday night and shouted “G.G. get up! I went out with this great gal tonight. She’s downstairs in my car and I want to introduce you to her. She’s a Pi Phi at USC.” My dad got up, a little groggy and grumpy, threw on his robe and followed his slightly inebriated pal downstairs. As he approached the car a long legged, gorgeous redhead climbed out. “Grover, I’d like you to meet Barbara Case.” My mother loves to tell the story of that first meeting. “I was a little flustered. There was something about him. I told a joke and he didn’t laugh; he just looked at me with no expression on his face. I was embarrassed and figured, well, he must not think too much of me.”

A few weeks later, Frank took Barbara to a dinner club in Santa Monica and Grover was there with a date at a nearby table. “At some point in the evening I looked over to your Dad’s table. He smiled at me and let a pea fall out of his mouth. He called me up a few days later and that’s how the whole thing started.” Poor Frank. Grover and Barbara dated off and on during his senior year until they had a dust-up over something and broke it off. It would take awhile for their relationship to kick back into gear.

My father graduated UCLA in May of 1941 and immediately joined the Army as a 2nd Lieutenant. For the next two and a half years he was stationed at Ford Ord on the beautiful Monterey Bay a hundred miles south of San Francisco, and then Camp Roberts in nearby San Louis Obispo. The Japanese Imperial Navy attacked Pearl Harbor December 7, 1941. The United States immediately declared war on Japan and Germany, and the training became intense.

Barbara had not seen Grover, Jr. for over six months since he joined the Army, but she heard from his sister, Mary Jane, that the Gauntt family was planning to be in Willits to spend Christmas of 1941. Barbara’s dad, Vern Case, grew up in Willits, about one hundred miles north of Camp Roberts, and he had a bunch of family there. Barbara begged her parents who were living in Los Angeles and they all went to Willits for the holidays. Barbara and Grover “bumped in” to one another and that’s where it began to “click” for them. My mother says it was “love at first re-sight,” and they were a couple from then on.

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Grover Jr. was promoted to Captain and commander of the Cannon Company of the 145th Infantry Division in April of 1943, and his unit continued to train in San Louis Obispo. By this time, almost all of my father’s fraternity brothers and good friends were in the service and spread across the four corners of the world. It was very difficult for them to stay in touch. In his letters to Barbara and his folks he would often ask if there was any word on a particular friend or friends. He specifically asked of his good friend Jim Simmons who had been sent to the Aleutian Islands off the coast of Alaska with the 17th Infantry Division (the one my father was originally assigned to). He was concerned because he’d heard the Army had underreported the number of U.S. soldiers killed on one of the islands, Attu. He found out a month later his pal Jim was one them.

In the letters between my mother and father there was more than worry of the unknown. There was love—head over heels puppy dog love! In January of 1943 he wrote Barbara “I want to see you more than ever before. Just seeing you for such a short time my last trip home made something pop. You are the only one.” And one month later “I’m thinking of you constantly, in fact believe me, you get in my way mentally. I often catch myself not working—my mind is playing with you.” Oh, brother!

They were young, my dad twenty three and she twenty one, and in love! They would write each other of their worry about the war and their friends and, without actually saying it, each other, and in the next paragraph speak only of the joy and bliss of their future together. Their longing for each other was urgent. There was nothing more important and present for them than that very next time they would be together. Their romance was mostly one of long distance— letters and an occasional phone call when one could get through. My father’s intense training regimen made personal visits difficult, and in March of 1943, that became even harder when my mother, recently graduated from the University of Southern California, decided to join the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps aka The WACs. The WACs were assigned to the jobs in the Army that didn’t involve firing a gun—clerical, administrative, equipment maintenance etc. The point was every job a WAC took on meant one more man that could be freed up and sent to the front lines to fight.

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The only problem was she hadn’t discussed this in advance with Grover, Jr. and, judging by the letter he sent to her shortly after he found out, he was not happy. Pissed, is more like it. After basic and officer training in Arkansas, she was stationed in Des Moines, Iowa, and they now had almost no chance of seeing one another. Of greater concern to my father was she could be shipped overseas to a danger zone. Biting his tongue he wrote: “I’m taken by surprise. I hope you will be satisfied. And think of the problem, it seems very complex, and I won’t formulate any decision. I do hope, Barbara, that you will be happy, and that you find all of your expectations.”

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Barbara was exhibiting the strength and independence she inherited from her parents and for which she is so revered by my family and her friends. She told me many years later, with steel in her eyes, “Look, your dad was going to be shipped out any day. I was not going to wait around in my parents’ house and sit on my hands with nothing else to do but worry about him and whether he was going to come home. I needed to do something. I needed to get involved in this thing, too.”

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Those two and a half years until my father and his division were sent overseas I believe were some of the most exhilarating times in my parents’ lives. They were young and intoxicated with their attraction and yearning for each other. They were living and fully engaged in one of the most dramatic periods of our nation’s and this world’s history. A life lived fully in the moment, because they did not know how many more there would be. They were consumed with the enormity of the task and risk in front of them and so very grateful to have each other to share their cascades of emotions, tragedies, joys and fears. This was the first true love for both of them. And though the work was hard and exhausting, my father relished his early years in the Army. He loved being a soldier, leading men, and taking on responsibility, and receiving the recognition by his peers for his efforts evidenced by his rapid promotions up the ranks as an Army officer. He was reaping from the Army and Barbara a love, respect and recognition he had not received from his folks. He was thriving in his young manhood, discovering himself and finding people who loved him and respected him for being that man.

Captain Gauntt received his orders to ship out in December 1943. Grover Jr., and Barbara were both able to make it home to Los Angeles to spend Christmas with their families. A couple of days later, Barbara drove him to Camp Roberts where they said goodbye. My mother drove back to Los Angeles alone, listening to Ma Perkins and stories of the war on the radio, tears streaming down her cheeks most of the way. Unknown to them of course at the time, they would not see, talk or hold each other for two years. The 145th Infantry Division boarded several ships in San Francisco on December 30, 1943 and headed west across the Pacific Ocean. Their destination was the Solomon Islands in the South Pacific, aka “Hell.”

[wpaudio url="" text="Ma Perkins - Radio Show dl="0"]

“My thought process has been prejudiced…
by a war in which I was in the infantry, and so forth.”

Bougainville-1944. In late January of 1944, my father and the 145th landed on Bougainville, one of the larger islands making up the Solomon Islands and located a couple of hundred miles to the east of New Guinea at the intersection of the Solomon Sea and the South Pacific. At the outbreak of World War II the Japanese seized the Solomon Islands as well as most of Southeast Asia. The U.S. war plan was to move north up through the Solomon Islands chain, clear out Japanese defense and air support and then attack the Philippines and finally Japan. In 1942 the Marines wiped the Japanese out of the first Solomon Island, Guadalcanal, and in 1943 the Army’s 37th Infantry Division captured New Georgia with over fifteen thousand Japanese soldiers killed and major losses of American lives. Bougainville was the last Japanese stronghold in the Solomons. The 3rd Marine Division and the Army’s 37th invaded Bougainville in November, 1943, landing at Empress Augusta Bay. They took control of six of the 250 square miles comprising this island and built an airbase to provide security and supplies for the convoys that would be assembled to retake the Philippines. They gave no thought of pushing across the island to take on the twenty five thousand Japanese dug in the mountainous jungles.

The Japanese soon realized the Americans weren’t coming for them and, if they wanted to take out the Americans’ newly installed airfield, they would have to bring the fight to them. The perimeter of the U.S. base was a series of valleys and small hills in thick jungle, laced with rivers and dominated by a towering land mass rising above it all known as Hill 700. The Japanese began its assault on Hill 700 on March 8, 1944 shortly after midnight, and thus began a series of attacks and counter-attacks over a period of three weeks, much of which took place in torrential rains and during the cover of darkness. The 145th Infantry Division took the point for the defense of Hill 700.

I don’t know specifically what my father did or saw during this battle. The historic accounts of the fighting, the staggering number of casualties, and the means used to cause those casualties render it a certainty that the men of the 145th, as their baptism in combat, witnessed a horror and a gore they could not possibly have imagined even in their worst nightmares. One American soldier described it like this: “It was just a wet, cold, muddy jungle with everything bad about it that could be bad. It was air raids that sent you from hammock or cot into a slit trench five or six times a night. It was the constant rumble of guns. It was myriads of snapping ants and mosquitoes and centipedes whose sting was so bad they made a litter case out of more than one man. For the line companies it was all that and worse. It was patrols over mountains and icy rivers and dripping jungles. It was being constantly drenched by rain, rivers and sweat. At night it was sleeping in water-filled slit trenches with a shelter half around your head to discourage the mosquitoes. It was also getting over the fear complexes.

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It was learning that the Japanese were not so hot after all…It was learning that the Jap soldier is, as often as not, cocky and foolish and will walk into an ambush. It was sitting behind your own perimeter and letting the Japs come up and then blasting hell out of them with 5,000 rounds of 105 mm and 155 mm in a single night. It was counting over 1,000 Japanese dead in half the concentration area the next morning.” [Yank Magazine, Sgt. John McLeod, August 1945]

Captain Gauntt received his first Bronze Star medal for heroic achievement for his actions on Bougainville. His commanding officer wrote in the commendation: “He led his company ashore in Bougainville under an enemy bombing attack and quickly organized and occupied advantageous positions which made possible maximum support to the regimental sector. He courageously accompanied patrols deep into enemy territory and largely due to his foresight and tactical soundness, the Cannon company was instrumental in repulsing the subsequent fierce counterattack of the enemy against the beachhead [Hill 700].”

Over the course of the three week Battle for Hill 700 and related fronts, Japanese casualties were estimated at more than 5,500 killed and 3,000 wounded. Three weeks. [Bougainville (1943-1945), The Forgotten Campaign, Harry A. Gailey]

On April 25, 1944, shortly after the Battle for Hill 700, my father wrote his folks: “I’m beginning to become restless and dream of pushing on. I have a fancy for fighting that you would never be able to comprehend or I explain. Maybe I will get my fill too soon. By the way, I had returned today a letter [he had written] from Gehri. There’s another one gone. The price of this war to me surpasses all monetary value. God bless you all.” Frank Gehri, my father’s fraternity brother who introduced him to Barbara, had been shot down and killed somewhere over the Philippines.

A month later he wrote Barbara a letter from Bougainville. I suspect he was hung over. He had been up all night with his buddies the night before and had “put away a quart of Rye.” Throughout his letter tenderness and lightheartedness are interlaced with tragedy and dread. He wrote of his longing to be with her and closed with this: “I received a letter from Jack Fredricks day before yesterday [good buddy of his in college and best man in his wedding]. He too was quite broken up over Hugh Bardeen’s death. He [Jack] is still Adjunct of his outfit and they have just moved to another field [airfield] somewhere in England He has decided that he won’t be worth a damn after this war is over, so he wants me to help him do nothing about it for a couple of years. You don’t know what you are getting into. After all the people have hated so much and so long, and after enough brave soldiers have been killed so that they can end the war for reason, I am afraid that I will be the most unambitious and laziest civilian that ever earnestly made a temporary profession out of the art of relaxation. I’m miserable and it is only for my strong love for you that I am forcing myself on.”

I gleaned from the letters some hope the war in the Pacific may soon be over. On June 6, 1944, D-Day, the Allies invaded northern Europe and the news reported good progress in pushing the Germans out of France and elsewhere. But, if there was any hope for the men in the South Pacific, it was short-lived. The 145th had eighteen months of fighting ahead of them—the worst was yet to come.

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The Philippines (1945). While still on Bougainville, the 145th trained for four months from August through November of 1944 for the Philippines Campaign. The men had to prepare for a variety of engagements: beach landing, jungle fighting, urban warfare in Manila, mountain assaults and long marches. Before leaving Bougainville, my father was promoted to Major, making him the youngest Army officer in the Pacific Theatre to achieve that rank. They shipped out on December 11 and made their way northwest to Luzon by way of New Guinea (Indonesia), Manus Island and the Surigao Straits.

Luzon is the largest of the thousands of islands making up the Philippines. It is in the north sector of the country and is home to its capital and largest city, Manila. During the month-long voyage they were repeatedly attacked by Japanese Kamikaze suicide bombers. They offloaded in the Lingayen Gulf on January 9, 1945, and began a 163-mile run south through the Luzon Valley. It truly was a “run,” with the troops making advances of sometimes twenty-five or thirty plus miles a day over very treacherous and sometimes virtually impassable terrain including fish ponds, rice paddies and flooded rivers. On foot! On the way they captured seven enemy airfields and inflicted heavy casualties on the Japanese. On February 3, the 145th arrived at the doorstep of Manila.

Twenty thousand Japanese troops were embedded in Manila with hundreds of guns of all caliber and thousands of mines entangled within an elaborate system of concrete bunkers, pillboxes and building fortifications. Virtually every house, hotel room, church, office and basement in each building, down to the crypts at the cemeteries, had been converted into fortified bunkers manned with heavily armed Japanese. The Japanese were determined to hold Manila and make it a turning point for the Battle For Luzon and the war. What ensued were twenty days of non-stop fighting, with the U.S. forces going house by house, building by building, floor by floor, room by room, crypt by crypt in hand to hand fighting. Manila was turned into a rubble pile. Over four thousand Japanese were killed, thousands more wounded, and the rest either captured or routed out of the city into the surrounding countryside. American casualties exceeded four thousand killed or wounded and forty percent of the 145th were either killed or otherwise rendered unable to fight. Some thought the Division was washed up and would be out of action for months. Five weeks later the remaining units of the 145th were attached to the 6th Division and sent to Mount Pacawagan, fourteen miles east of Manila.

Click either picture to enlarge…Pacawagan photos: Courtesy of Rick Tischler. Pictures taken by Rick’s father, Raymond.

Pacawagan was the most dominant of the three mountains in this region: each one over 1,500 feet and steeply sloped, with precipitous canyons and shear vertical peaks. Pacawagan was heavily defended by four thousand soldiers of the Japanese Shimbu Line and riddled with a maze of bunkers, caves, tunnels and trenches. There was an unusually high number of machine guns and mortars and one of the heaviest concentrations of enemy artillery in the entire Philippines. Sgt. Frank J. Ward of the 145th told Yank Magazine Mt. Pacawagan was worse than New Georgia, Bougainville and Manila combined. “You never heard of Mt. Pacawagan, did you? I guess no one has. While we were up there the war in Europe ended. I imagine people at home were too busy celebrating that to read about places with names like Mt. Pacawagan.”

The 145th began its attack on April 21, 1945. A daylight approach was impossible because of the enemy’s superior firing positions and the difficult terrain: “ducks on a pond.” The troops assembled in the dark at the base of the mountain and at four a.m. the 145th launched an intense artillery barrage on the mountain. In the pitch black they began the arduous climb up the mountain, groping hand over hand up slopes approaching sixty degrees (90 degrees is straight up), grasping the leg of the man ahead to maintain contact. As dawn broke, the enemy opened up with a withering array of machine gun, artillery and mortar fire raining down upon the advancing 145th. Enemy fire erupted from the caves, bunkers, pillboxes and gullies embedded in the mountain sides. Much of the fighting was hand to hand with the Americans routing the enemy out of their bunkers, nests and caves with rifle fire, grenades, pole charges, flame throwers and mortars. The 145ths progress was measured in feet and both sides suffered heavy casualties. Four days into the battle, two thousand American soldiers were now spread over the mountain and resupplying them with ammo, food and water was of critical importance to their survival.

The following is from Colonel Loren G. Windom’s History of The 145th Infantry Regiment, Philippine Campaign: “One event of tremendous importance occurred on April 25— the bulldozer supply trail was, after heartbreaking reverses, pushed to the top of Hill 1521 [the southwest summit of Mt. Pacawagan]. The average grade of the trail was 50 degrees. All supplies had to be hauled by lightly loaded tractors with a round trip time of three hours. From supply dumps near Hill 1521 they were then hand carried to the troops by elements of the Service and Antitank Companies assisted by native labor. Shortly after daylight April 27 following an artillery barrage and supported by the M-7 cannon of the Cannon Company, which had been dragged up the precipitous supply trail by tractors, the 3d Battalion assaulted and, in bitter fighting, captured the southern and western slopes of the mountain. That evening in the growing darkness the mountain was most picturesque. It was as if Mount Pacawagan itself had suddenly turned into a huge volcano and erupted with a series of explosions. The sky was brilliant with a myriad of fingers of tracer bullets of all calibers, the blinding flashes of heavy shells and the spectacular display of flying white phosphorous. The din of battle was deafening. Identification of friend and foe was nearly impossible in the darkness.”

Major Gauntt was in charge of the construction of this supply trail, one of his many actions on Luzon and Bougainville for which he was awarded the prestigious Legion of Merit. In recommending Major Gauntt for this medal his commanding officer, Colonel Windom, wrote this:

“For heroic achievement in connection with military operations against the enemy at Mount Pacawagan, Luzon, Philippine Islands from 27 April to 18 May 1945. Major Grover C. Gauntt, Regimental Supply Officer, 145th Infantry successfully supplied the regiment despite seemingly impossible supply problems. Before the operation Major Gauntt made a personal reconnaissance of the area over which supplies were to travel. Although unable to reach the mountain he was able to formulate a plan for a route which subsequently proved the only route that could be traveled without drawing enemy fire. As the troops advanced up the mountain, Major Gauntt repeatedly made personal reconnaissance for the extension of the road, and in so doing was often exposed to enemy rifle, machine gun, and mortar fire. When the troops reached the peak of the mountain, Major Gauntt had his supply road ready behind them. At the same time Major Gauntt organized and properly supervised a group of 600 civilian laborers for carrying parties to the front line units. This in itself was a very tedious job and took him away from his other duties several hours each day. By his untiring devotion to duty, knowledge of supply problems, and his courageous and effective solution of the problem, Major Grover C. Gauntt contributed immeasurably to the success with which the 145th Infantry operated.”

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For the actions taken by Major Gauntt a few days earlier on April 23, 1945, he was awarded his second Bronze Star medal for heroic achievement. The commendation reads:

“While two truck loads of natives were moving toward the supply point at the southwest base of Mount Pacawagan, several rounds of Japanese 75 mm artillery landed in the area, one round 10 yards from one of the vehicles, instantly killing two and seriously wounding fourteen. Quickly administering all possible aid and still under artillery fire, Major Gauntt reorganized the panic-stricken natives and successfully led them to their destination.”

Twenty five days after commencing its attack, the 145th ultimately captured all three mountains and the town of Wawa. General Douglas MacArthur, the Supreme Allied Commander in the Pacific Theatre, described the fighting as the “bitterest opposition in the Philippines.” The 145th suffered over seven hundred casualties during this battle and over three times that number of men had to be evacuated from the front lines either permanently or temporarily for noncombat injuries, sickness and psychoneurotic causes. The 145ths fighting strength had been reduced by fifty percent since they’d landed on Luzon. During this battle over 1,300 Japanese soldiers were killed by the 145th and hundreds of others annihilated by artillery and mortar fire.

From Pacawagan, the 145th joined up with other units of the 37th and with blazing speed cleared the enemy out of 225 miles of the Cagayan Valley over the next seventy five days. As chronicled by Sgt. McLeod in Yank Magazine, “Seeing the 37th move toward a new front was like seeing Joe Louis step into the ring after the preliminaries. It’s a big, tough, skilled division for a big, tough job. It’s a heavyweight.”

After receiving the order from President Harry S. Truman, two top secret bombs which had been prepared at the Los Alamos National Labs as the ultimate goal of the “Manhattan Project” – a huge secret project spread over 30 facilities in the US, Canada and the UK – were dispatched to the South Pacific’s Mariana Islands. The Manhattan Project, in the US, was a collaboration 130,000 Americans working on a top secret effort to potentially shorten the war -if successful. The “Little Boy” was sent by train from Los Alamos to San Francisco and loaded on the USS Indianapolis (made famous in the 1975 Movie “JAWS” Script Here) which transported this deadly package to Tinian Island where it had to be handled with great care.

The bomb was so unstable in the arming process that the entire island of Tinian, where 500 B-29′s were based, was at risk of annihilation if something went wrong. The Little Boy was fitted to the to the infamous B-29 known as the “Enola Gay.” On August 6, 1945 the Little Boy, a Uranium 235 atomic bomb, was dropped by the U.S. Air Force on Hiroshima, Japan. By the end of the day over 90,000 people in the city of Hiroshima and the surrounding area were killed. Three days later on August 9th, 1945 the “Fat Man,” a plutonium bomb named after Winston Churchill, was dropped over Nagasaki. On that first day in Nagasaki, over 70,000 people were killed. The Japanese surrendered on August 15, 1945 and all offensive action was stopped on Luzon. World War II was over.

During the previous seven months the 145th had taken part in three major campaigns—Manila, Mount Pacawagan and Cagayan Valley, and the human toll was staggering. Historians estimate the 145th killed over 7,400 and captured 510 of the enemy. Three hundred officers and enlisted men of the 145th were killed and over 1,400 wounded. Of the men from the 145th who landed on Luzon seven months earlier, over fifty seven percent were killed or wounded.

I was numbed by the statistics and tried to see beyond the cold numbers. I yearned to imagine what it must have been like for my father and his comrades. I perhaps gleaned a glimpse of this nightmare from the recent movies depicting the fighting on Iwo Jima, Flags of Our Fathers and Letters From Our Fathers, and Tom Hanks’ and Steven Spielberg’s series The Pacific on HBO. But as hard as it was to watch those images on the screen, I was sitting on my rear end in the safe confines of the movie theatres and my home, and I realized there was simply no way I would ever truly understand what my father and those men went through.

I do know that during those two years on Bougainville and Luzon, my father saw more death than any human being should ever have to. He witnessed too many men doing things that defy the characterization that we are “human” or “civilized,” and he himself did those things. He and the others of the 145th must have learned too well of the precious few degrees of separation between savage animal and human being, and those evaporated in a heartbeat in places like Bougainville’s Hill 700, Manila and Pacawagan. And I think what may have disturbed my father the most, and became frightfully obvious to me, is that he liked it—”I find I have a fancy for fighting that you would never be able to comprehend or I explain.”

The “scorecards” of the battles—two thousand troops killed and wounded here one day, a couple more thousand dead, captured or wounded another—were suffocating. I tried to comprehend the compressed violent death of these tens of thousands of soldiers. All of these young men, many in their teens and most still living with their mothers and fathers, who would not return home. Most were buried where they lay—many would never be found. There were the young men who came home permanently disfigured with burns and lost limbs, eyes, or pieces of their heads, and as many, if not more, with wounds that could not be seen, that escaped diagnosis and were never treated—the kind my father came home with. My father, as did every American and Japanese soldier who fought in those times, had many close friends and family who were killed in the War—those special friends and friendships you make as a child, in high school, college and the service. Those friendships that can never be replaced or duplicated. The enormity of that loss, grief and collective blow to the human spirit and consciousness is unfathomable to me.

Even though 66 years have elapsed since these battles of the 145th, and all of the scenes and scars now rebuilt, overgrown or washed away, the written memory of it, and the one I know was embedded in my father’s mind and that he shared with me and the rest of our family, whether or not he realized he was doing it, through his letters, photographs and just by being him, are painful to me. As immensely proud I am of my father and his heroic achievements in the War, I am so much more remorsefully sorry for him. That this twenty four year old had to do and see all of the things he did. It was too much. I collapsed in the understanding that my father’s words “My thought process has been prejudiced by a war” was a complete and utter understatement.

The war against Japan ended August 15, 1945, but my father and what remained of the 145th would remain on Luzon for another four months. He and his men were bored and anxious to get home. My father contracted malaria, another gift from the islands, and something else to fight while he awaited his orders to ship home. He wrote Barbara on November 1, 1945 “Still at Camp La Croix and will be here another two weeks. There isn’t anything to do, and I’ll be damned if I’ll go out of my way. I spend most of my time hoping that I’ll be home for Xmas. I miss you darling, and want to see you—month is a long time—keep your fingers crossed.”

My dad… arrived at Long Beach harbor on December 13, 1945, two weeks shy of two years from when he left.

Interesting note: Virtually every adult in America suffered or contributed to the war effort as did most towns and cities in America which participated collectively as well. For example, Long Beach, where dad’s transport ship docked, was one of three local Southern California cities where Douglas Aircraft (in partnership with Lockheed) built 5,745 B-17′s – many of them sent to the South Pacific. Boeing, in Seattle, built 6,981 more of these formidable planes. Between 1942 and 1945, Douglas built 29,385 airplanes — about 16 percent of all the U.S. airplanes produced — and peak wartime employment at Douglas was recorded at 160,000 workers. The largest Douglas facility was in Long Beach, CA, with more than 1,422,350 square feet of covered workspace. The plant was camouflaged with paint, patterns, trees and shrubs; was a “blackout” facility with limited, light-proof access; and was the country’s first fully air-conditioned factory. During peak production, the Long Beach plant produced an airplane an hour. It was an “interesting and energetic” time in American history!

My mother… had been discharged from the WACs on November 6 and was staying with her folks who were still living in Coronado. When they got word that my father would be landing soon, Barbara and her mother, Henrietta, booked into a motel in West Los Angeles. There wouldn’t be a scene of hugs and kisses at the dock as the men disembarked. Visitors weren’t allowed at the port. My mother doesn’t remember exactly how she and my father figured out where she was when he landed, but they got together at the motel and had their embrace and kiss there, and then stayed out most of the night sitting in Henrietta’s car talking and, well, getting reacquainted. Barbara remembers the next day Henrietta was furious with her for keeping my dad awake most of the night when he was exhausted and still getting over malaria. My mother recalls not feeling too bad about it. Two weeks later, over Christmas, Grover proposed to his best girl and they were married in Los Angeles on March 5, 1946. They were getting on with their lives.

Postscript. Shortly after writing this story, I took my father’s medals out of the boxes in which they’d been buried and, together with some photographs of his time in the service and excerpts from the commendations, had them professionally framed and they are now prominently on display in my law office. Anyone who comes into my office for the first time is immediately drawn to it and always asks “Who is this?” I tell them “That is my father, Grover Gauntt. He was a World War II hero and one hell of a fine man.”

Some additional Gauntt Clan History. The Gaunt clan originated in Flanders, now part of Belgium, in the city of Gent or, en francaise, Gand or Gant. In the middle ages Gent was one of the biggest cities in Europe and renowned for its textile industry. Around the 11th century some of the clan emigrated, or were forced to come, to England and work as skilled craftsmen to build cathedrals, castles and whatever. Some genealogists claim the Gaunts descended from royalty, including John of Gaunt, the Duke (aka the Black Duke) of Lancaster in the late 14th century, whose son Henry IV became King of England. . The clan can definitively be traced to Gilbert de Gant, a Lieutenant to William the Conqueror during the Battle of Hastings in 1066, and was later rewarded with several lordships and estates including Lincolnshire. In 1637, Peter Gaunt and his wife Lydia left Lincolnshire and settled in Sandwich, Massachusetts. One of Peter’s grandsons, Israel Gauntt, was a Patriot in the American Revolution and it was he and his brothers who decided to add another “t” to their name. According to family lore this may have been precipitated by a family feud. In 1850, John Washington Gauntt, one of Israel’s grandsons and Bud’s grandfather, moved his family by covered wagon from South Carolina to Henderson County, Texas.

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