Monday, March 4, 2019

Will the Door Be Full of Holes Post Trump?

When I was bumming around Europe in 1957, I met a Scottish fellow who was upset about the failure of the U.S. to back up Britain, France and Israel during the Suez Canal crisis. The U.S. had threatened serious economic sanctions against those three countries –our allies--if they refused to withdraw from Egyptian territory along the canal. The Scot claimed that as a result of the U.S. action in Suez a breach had been made between the U.S. and Britain that could never be completely healed.  He told this story: 

A little boy, who was often naughty, was made to drive a nail into the barn door for each time he was bad. Soon the door was full of nails and the next time he was sent out to drive a nail, he returned and said to his mother, “I can’t drive any more nails, the door is full.”  

“Well, then,” said the mother, “from now on every time you are good pull out a nail from the door.” 

And after a long while the door was empty of nails and so the mother said, “Well, now we are back to where we started a long time ago.”  

“No, mama,” said the boy, “now the door is full of holes.”

Our friendship with our NATO partners Britain and France survived the Suez crisis. But now more holes have been punched in the relationships with our allies by Trump’s dangerous threat to withdraw from NATO and by his environmentally unsound withdrawal from the Paris Climate Accord. In addition, Trump's dangerous and treasonous love affair with Putin rips away at his duty to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution. 

He repeatedly attacks the Separation of Powers clause of the Constitution by maligning judges who rule against him and most recently by declaring a national emergency –which does not exist—in order to make an end around Congress’s refusal to authorize five billion dollars for an unneeded wall at the Mexican Border.

Let’s hope that we get rid of Trump and his sycophants in 2020 and get back to where we started before his election. 

Or will the door be full of holes?

Friday, November 30, 2018


Legs stretched out, I-Pad open to a page turner mystery novel, I sat in my roomy exit row window seat ready for a relaxing flight home from North Bend, a small town in Oregon.  It was takeoff time and I was congratulating myself for the good luck that the aisle seat was vacant and I would have plenty of elbow and shoulder room during the flight. I would read and maybe even doze a bit. The flight attendant shut the hatch behind the last passenger to board.   He was a tall man, about six feet three, 275 pounds, wide shouldered, in his mid-sixties.  He was casually dressed, jeans, red wool plaid shirt and Nikes.

The flight was not full. Indeed, the man passed an empty row as he approached. I wondered why he didn’t sit in that row, which he’d have all to himself.  But no, he continued down the aisle, eyeing the seat numbers beneath the luggage compartments and, yes, stopped at my row. He checked his boarding pass, uttered, “Ah, here I am,” and plopped down beside me.

Yes, here he was, his shoulder invading my space.  I leaned against the cabin wall and focused on my novel, praying I’d avoid a tiresome conversation. He opened a paperback book and started to read.  Relieved, I sighed a quiet “thank you Lord,” and returned to my novel.

We were about 10 minutes into the flight when he closed his book, looked my way and asked, "What brought you to North Bandon?" 

I considered but abandoned the smart-ass answer, "an airplane," closed my e-book and resigned myself to spending the flight conversing with this stranger. Think positive. He might be interesting. I might learn something, I mused.

“I’ve been golfing at Bandon Dunes. I’m on my way home to Oakland. Do you live in San Francisco?”

"Oh, no, I live in North Bend. I have a connection at SFO to San Diego.  I'm on my way there to help our new youth pastor move to North Bend.  I’ll drive a truck packed with his furniture.  He and his wife will follow along in their car.””

“A church in North Bend?”

“Yes, First Baptist Church.”

“Are you the pastor?”

“I’m a member.  Once I was a Baptist pastor.  For 25 years.”

Oh, my Gawd, I thought. I'm stuck on this plane for an hour with this red neck, right wing, small- town Southern Baptist who probably was defrocked. Probably a Trump supporter, too.  I have nothing in common with this guy. What in the world can we talk about?   I knew that for the next hour I’d have to keep my far-left mouth shut, refrain from politics and certainly not discuss my church’s open arms to the LGBT community.

So, I proceeded safely.  "My son was a youth pastor. Now he’s the senior pastor at a Presbyterian church in Corvallis.”

Perhaps that information made him feel comfortable and safe to volunteer what I found to be really surprising.

 “Our new youth pastor is married to a Jamaican woman.”

 "Is she ...?"  I had stupidly nearly asked if she were black.  Of course, she was black.  "I mean, does the congregation know she’s black?"

“Oh yes. The congregation voted overwhelmingly to call this young man to shepherd the youth of our church.  We’re really excited to welcome him and his wife.”

This revelation put the lie to my biased pre-judgment of this stranger as a small-town bigot with whom I had nothing in common. Now I felt safe.  I told him that I had adopted black twins, had a black grandson and had been a civil rights lawyer for 40 years. Then we proceeded to chat about his church and North Bend and I learned, happily, that the pastor’s wife would not be the only black in North Bend.

After the plane landed and we were collecting our things, I turned to him and said,
“I’ve got to confess something.  When you told me that you lived in North Bend and were a retired Baptist preacher, I figured you for a small town, biased, right-winger. I decided that we had nothing in common, nothing to talk about. I apologize. I was so wrong. The fact is that I learned something important about me by talking to you.
“What was that?”

“That I, not you, was the biased one.”

“Well,” he said, smiling, “We haven’t talked about Trump.”

“And that’s a blessing,” I replied. 

We laughed, shook hands and went our separate ways.

(c) Kerry Gough 2018

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Tuesday, April 17, 2018

The Kiss and the Kill


                               Indelible Memories from My Childhood

                                                        The Kiss

We had just spent the day at the beach.  I was as happy as a ten year old boy can be. After two years in Alaska, my dad, who always saw the grass as greener across the fence, had packed us up, hooked up a used 15 foot house trailer and hauled all of us off, mom, my older brother and younger sister, down the dusty and sometimes muddy Alcan Highway back to the land of our origins, Southern California.  I, for one, even at my young and adventurous age, was delighted to leave Alaska for I loved sunny California and its beaches.  To run and jump into the cool ocean and then to lie in the sun, listen to the surf and enjoy the soothing warm ocean breeze caressing my body was heaven. 

Dad still had his 1941 four door Chevy, the one we’d driven from Alaska.   He was driving.  Mom was in the middle and next to the door was Audrey, wife of Chili West, one of Dad’s best friends from childhood.  I have no recollection why Audrey was on this family outing to the beach, but she and Chili and their kids were long time family friends, so her being along wasn’t strange or unusual.
I was sitting in the middle of the back seat between my brother and sister. It would have been just another drive home from a nice day at the beach, with nothing particularly memorable about it, until I did something that I cannot forget.

An arm lay across the top of the front seat.  Tiny, tiny bits of salt sparkled among the colorless, nearly invisible fuzz on that lightly tanned arm.  I must have assumed it was mom’s arm because, for some reason, and I have no recollection why, perhaps just being a kid loving his mom for taking him to the beach, but anyway, I leaned forward and I kissed that arm.

Audrey turned her head, smiled at me and said, “Kerry, how sweet.”
To my horror, I had kissed Audrey’s arm!   I sank back into the seat. If only I could have disappeared into it. My face burned with embarrassment.  I could not escape. I sat there, trapped between my smirking siblings, suffering Audrey’s repeated exclamation, “Oh, Kerry, how sweet, how sweet!”

                                                       The Kill

We returned to Alaska two years or so later, back up the Alcan Highway, this time in Dad’s 16 foot Federal truck loaded with all our belongings and equipped with a small sleeping and cooking space at the rear of the flat bed.  Dad loved to hunt, and to hunt was a major motivation to abandon his friends and relatives in Southern California and return to Alaska, the last frontier, where we would last a year or two before he would tire of the cold dark winters and pack us up to head back to good friends and the warmth of Southern California.

One year during caribou season dad took me along on the hunt. We left Anchorage and drove a hundred miles or so north on the Glen Highway, pulled off and parked on a wide spot in the road. Flat treeless tundra stretched for miles to the north.  We got out. Dad’s hunting buddies pulled up next to us.  We all stood there, three grown men and me, hunters, providing for our families. This was the first time dad had taken me on hunting trip, and I was so proud, feeling so grown up, standing there, all of us pissing on the gravel, marking our presence.  It was such a man thing.  I felt so grown up, so pleased to be there with my dad and his friends, one of the gang.

Dad raised his binoculars to his eyes and scanned the treeless tundra, searching for the caribou that always migrated through the area this time of year.  He spotted several caribou about 500 yards distant.  He had a 30.06 rifle with a scope.  The caribou were well within range of the 30.06 but dad wanted to get closer, to let me to have the shot.  “We’ve got to get closer,” he said, “and we’ve got to stay down low, behind the brush.”  Dad loaded the rifle. We started moving stealthily across the tundra, feet sinking several inches into the tundra, water rising in our footprints and wetting our boots as we crept from scraggly brush to scraggly brush. We approached within 250 to 300 yards. Dad and I lay flat, dad resting his elbows in the tundra as he spied on a group of three caribou.  He handed me the binoculars.  “Look at the one on the left.”  The binoculars were heavy and awkward in my hands, and the image jumped around and everything was out of focus. I had to sit with elbows on my knees in order to hold the binoculars steady.  Turning the focusing screw, eventually I was able to find the large bull. “Look at his spread,” dad whispered. “It’s darn near trophy size.”  The bull caribou was huge, noble and majestic.

Dad handed me the rifle.  He sat on the tundra.  “Lay the rifle on my shoulder,” he said, “that’s the only way you’ll be able to hold it steady and find him in the scope.”  I sat behind and slightly to his left, and laid the stock of the rifle on his shoulder. I took it off safety.   “Aim about halfway up his body, just behind his shoulder.”  I did as dad said. I found the huge beautiful animal in the scope, placed the scope’s cross hairs half way up his body and behind his shoulder and slowly pulled the trigger.

The caribou dropped to the tundra.

We ran towards the kill, as much as you can run through wet tundra.  Dad carried the rifle, ready to stop and shoot if the caribou got to its feet and started to run away.  It did not. No coup de gras was necessary.  I had shot it through the heart.  It had died instantly.  Even in death, the caribou was majestic, and I had killed it.

There are no photographs of me standing proudly with rifle in one hand, the other holding  one of the points of the caribou’s huge rack.  I was not the brave young hunter.  There are no photographs because I walked away and cried. I felt like I had killed one of Santa’s reindeer.

The caribou’s rack was in fact near record size in points and spread.  For years it hung over the garage door in my folks’ place in Anaheim where they retired when the unforgiving cold of Alaska once again moved them to the hazy warmth of southern California, never to return to the frigid north.

                                                The Memories

I have no idea where that rack is now.  Mom, dad and Audrey are long dead. What I do know is that the memories of the kiss and of the kill reside indelibly on the surface of my mind.  It takes only a random sight or sound to usher them full blown to my consciousness, filling me with ancient embarrassment and lingering regret.

Kerry Gough ©2018

Tuesday, March 13, 2018


As the middle aged couple exited upscale La Farine Bakery on College Avenue, a disheveled elderly man sitting on the sidewalk with a paper cup between his feet greeted them with a friendly “Hello,” in a tone that suggested he knew them. 

Neither of the couple responded, but as they walked by, one of them said, “Who is he?” and the other replied, “I don’t know, just some homeless guy.”

The old man shouted, “Don’t call me homeless!”

How convenient we find it to label and dismiss our fellow human beings with a thoughtless adjective: homeless, druggie, right-winger, racist, lefty, egoist, narcissist and hundreds of other nouns and adjectives uttered pejoratively. I confess that I have been guilty of such labeling in several of my politically directed blog posts.  I regret it, for to do so is to be intellectually lazy, to fail to make the effort to see beyond labels and to acknowledge that usually there is some good even in the persons I may passionately detest.

Having volunteered some years ago at a charity which provides Saturday evening meals to hungry people from the Berkeley streets, I had the opportunity to meet and chat with some of them. They were living on the streets. They were indeed homeless.

But they were more than that.

I met a professor who had a Ph.D. in economics,  a corporate executive, a mechanic, a school teacher, a construction worker and many others who had for one reason or another fallen upon hard times. Also at these meals usually there were teen-age boys and girls who were victims of physical and emotional assault and had fled their tormentors, often their parents or other relatives.  And of course there were drug and alcohol addicts, coming in from the streets for a hot meal, perhaps the only nourishing meal of their day or week.

They were all our fellow human beings. All of them at one time had parents who in most cases nourished and loved them, teachers who endeavored to educate them, employers who trusted and depended upon them, and many of them had themselves parented and loved and cared for their own children.

If we take a minute or two to contemplate the lives, activities, endeavors, employment, education, contributions, and family life of our dearest friends and neighbors and then dare to empathize with the men, women and children camped out under the freeways, we are compelled to accept that dwelling in those tents and under those tarps are people who in better times enjoyed comfortable lives similar to those of our friends and neighbors. They could have been our friends and neighbors. 

In our social lives it is so easy to define ourselves simplistically and unrevealingly:
        “Hello, my name is Kerry. I am so glad to meet you.”
        “I’m Bob.  What do you do, Kerry?”
        “I’m a lawyer.  And you?”
        “I’m a doctor.”

What have Bob and I learned about each other?  Really nothing. We’ve comfortably hung labels around our necks. If we really are interested in a new acquaintance, we should do as Joseph Ciza, a nurse who risks his life in war torn areas of eastern Democratic Republic of Congo does.  When asked “What do you do,” he responds, “Do you want to know what I do, or do you want to know who I am?”

That old man sitting on the sidewalk does not have a home.  But don’t dehumanize him by hanging the homeless label on him. 

Imagine the many possibilities of who he is.

(Thanks to Michael Barram, Ph.D., Professor of Religion at St. Mary’s College and author of Missional Economics, Biblical Justice and Christian Formation, and Arthur Ammann. M.D. author of Lethal Decisions, The Unnecessary Deaths of Women and Children from HIV/AIDS for their thought provoking remarks which moved me to write this blog.)

©Kerry Gough 2018

Monday, December 25, 2017



The Cold War was raging when I was growing up in Alaska.  At school, each term we practiced survival from a Russian atomic bomb attack by getting under our desks on our hands and knees and tucking our heads between our knees. We feared that the Russians would a-bomb Fort Richardson and Elmendorf Air Force base on their way to obliterate Seattle and other west coast targets. 
My fertile imagination was triggered by such worries so I sought and found solace in fantasies. I had about a half mile walk from the school bus stop to our log home along a narrow, snow covered road that often shimmered with reflections of the aurora borealis. As I walked, the electric colors dancing all around me, I fantasized about bringing peace to the world. In my fantasy friendly aliens would beam me up to their flying saucer, abducting me, but for good purposes. They would tell me I had been chosen to bring peace to Earth.  In order for me to accomplish this formidable mission, the Aliens gave me a flying saucer of my very own, equipped with all sort of devices that would render weapons of all nations useless.  Of course, my fantasies never included details of how such weapon neutralizers worked, or how a flying saucer flew, or more importantly, why I was chosen.  But in these fantasies, chosen I was, and in these fantasies I did in fact bring peace to the world. And, I must admit, the fantasy included bringing fame and acclamation to myself.
Now, sixty five years later,  and I confess, with ego and fantasies of fame still intact, as I go outside to the hot tub before going to bed,  I tell Leila that if I do not come back in and she steps out to the deck and I am gone,  she must not worry.
“I will eventually return, honey, it’s just that finally the aliens will have abducted me.  I will be back once I have save the world from war, hunger, violence, disease and all things evil and destructive.”    We’ve had the hot tub for 16 years. I am in it two or three times a week.  I stare up at the stars, the moon, the flashing lights of jets coming and going from the Oakland and San Francisco airports and I wait and wait.
 “I’m ready, Aliens. I am ready.”
For most of my life I have waited and I am still waiting to be abducted.  I have not surrendered my desire to be abducted and to save the world; rather I have reluctantly accepted the cold hard fact that it just won’t happen.   Aliens are not going to save us.  Nor is God is about to save us.  As a Christian I believe in an afterlife in a place where love and peace abound and evil is absent, but I am convinced that in this life salvation is in our hands.  The peoples of the world have the resources, the intelligence, and the wherewithal to abduct ourselves from war, disease, poverty, violence and destruction.  But do we have the will? 
Violence rages in every corner of the world, including my little corner here in Oakland.  It took me approximately three hours to write and edit this blog post. In those three hours over 12,000 people starved to death. The world has put HIV-AIDS on the back burner, ignorant or not caring that millions of men, women and children are infected with AIDS every year and millions die from it and numerous opportunistic diseases.  Our government has put the needs of economically stressed and suffering citizens aside as it enacts legislation that further enriches the wealthy.
Here and throughout the world evil and terror flourish. If we are to be abducted from these evils, we will have to do it by ourselves.  I pray that we will find a way, but I ask again, do we have the will?
It is seven p.m. Christmas evening.  I am filled with the joy of this day and my faith. Yet, in a few hours I will again sit in the comfort of the hot tub and wait to be abducted.

Kerry Gough © 2017

Monday, October 16, 2017

Reconnecting with Clarence Hall, Glen Allan, Mississippi

Recently I returned to rural Mississippi to express a long overdue thank you to Clarence Hall, a Black Mississippi farmer and civil rights leader in Sharkey and Issaquena counties.  Unlike most of the Black farmers in the Delta counties, Clarence was one of the few Blacks who owned his own farm. The vast majority of Black farmers were sharecroppers on white owned plantations who risked eviction if they registered to vote or became active in the civil rights movement.  Most were so in debt to the plantation store that if they attempted to leave they would be arrested. Sharecroppers lived a life not unlike that of slaves in the old South.  As a land owner, Clarence could stick his neck out and fight for racial justice without risking all his income; he just risked his neck.

                                  Clarence Hall, Jr. and me, 9/30/17

During the summer of 1965 Clarence and his wife Millie hosted my wife Judy and me in their home next to the Mississippi river.  I was in Mississippi to work with the NAACP Legal Defense Fund on a school desegregation project. Judy conducted a freedom school in the Hall’s back yard, preparing children to enter the soon to be desegregated grades one through three of the white schools.  The Halls courageously welcomed two white “trouble-making commies,” as the FBI regarded us, to their home for the summer.  We lived with them while we encouraged Black parents to send their kids to the white schools pursuant to the freedom of choice court order. The Halls made us family, insisting that we have their children’s bedroom. Ann, age 6 and Clarence III, 8, voiced no objection to surrendering their room and sleeping in the living room. Rather it was an adventure to have a young white couple joining the family for the summer.

Clarence encouraged me daily in the difficult task of persuading black parents to enroll their precious little children in the white schools. They expressed fear for the safety of their children in the hostile environment of the white schools.  Even if the children were not emotionally or physically harmed, the parents feared for their own welfare.  They knew they would suffer certain retaliation, dismissal from their jobs or awakening in the middle of the night to the screech of the tires of a fleeing pickup and the dancing glare of a cross burning in the yard. Clarence had already lost his job because of his civil rights activity, the Ku Klux Klan burned his church while we were living with him and after school registration, the Klan burned crosses in the yards of parents who had enrolled their children in the white school.

Over the summer, the Goughs and the Halls became family. On Sundays Millie slaughtered a chicken and the six of us sat around the table enjoying the best fried chicken I have ever had and discussing the progress, or lack thereof, in persuading parents to send their first, second and third graders into the unwelcoming environment of the white schools.   Within the walls of the Halls’ home, however, race was never an issue. It was amazing how quickly I became both physically and emotionally integrated with the Halls and the black community.  The Halls opened their hearts and home, impoverished sharecropper blacks invited me into their dark and sweltering plantation shanties and pastors opened their churches for community meetings to explain the court desegregation order. By the grace of God, Clarence’s guidance and the warmth that greeted me as I met black moms and dads throughout the Delta, my consciousness of being white faded away. Race did not matter. I often returned after meetings with parents discouraged and frustrated. I had explained all the advantages of the white schools over the dilapidated, ill equipped and under funded black schools, but I could not promise safety for the children or the parents.  Clarence patiently educated me about the reality of life for Blacks in rural Mississippi and encouraged me to persist, notwithstanding the lack of significant progress. I persisted and by the end of summer progress had been made.

As a result of my summer in Glen Allan and Clarence's friendship my life was changed. Just four years later my heart and mind were open to the adoption of Sheila and Jeffrey, six year old black fraternal twins.  But for that summer and my love for Clarence and Millie and their children and their love for Judy and me, the enriching adventure of the adoption never would have happened.  Not having adopted Sheila and Jeff would have been a terrible loss. I am forever indebted to the Halls for adopting me as family that summer, an act of love and grace that led to adding Sheila and Jeff to our family.

In 2015, the 50th anniversary of that life-changing summer, my conscience began to nag me. “It is time to go back, time to go back, time to return and reconnect before it is too late.” I pretty much quashed those thoughts, thinking, “It’s been so long, Mississippi is so far away; Clarence is in his mid-nineties now; our stay there probably is ancient and forgotten history.”  However, I could not suppress the realization that Clarence was in his nineties. That knowledge hammered me with the truth that indeed time was running out. Some months earlier I had telephoned Clarence and learned that his wife Millie and his son, Clarence Hall III had died   I had just turned 80. Who knew how much time remained for me?  I could wait no longer.  It was time to thank Clarence for enriching my life.

The opportunity to reconnect and give thanks arose in early October when Leila and I were going to New Orleans for a business conference. I suggested to Leila that we go early, fly to Jackson, Mississippi, rent a car and drive to Glen Allan to visit Clarence before going to New Orleans.   Leila enthusiastically agreed. She was eager to see firsthand a part of my history that over the years I had written and talked about.

I expected that in the 52 years since I had been in Glen Allan things would have changed tremendously. Much had not.  Just as in 1965, the paved roads along white-owned fields ended and became rutted, chuck- holed narrow and dusty lanes where the black-owned fields began. Our tires kicked up a cloud of dust that could be seen for miles.  Clarence and his daughter Ann, who was six when I had last seen her and now is a grandmother, saw the dust cloud and knew it must be us—car traffic on these rutted roads was scant.  The dusty road ended at a cattle guard across which was a narrow dirt path leading to the top of the Mississippi River levee.  Siri’s GPS told us to cross a cattle guard and proceed up the levee.  I did not trust Siri and called Ann to redirect us. Ann was much better than Siri and soon we reached Clarence’s small white house near the levee.  It turned out that the levee route would have worked, at least if we’d had a four wheel drive SUV, but we were in a rented Prius, not designed for levee excursions.

Clarence and Ann greeted us with huge smiles and hugs. My heart was filled with joy.  This handsome man at ninety three stands as tall and solid as he did 52 years ago.  His mind is as keen and his passion for justice as strong as during the height of the Movement in the sixties. Once inside his home, my home the summer of 1965, I explored. The house had not changed, except that now there was running water, a dishwasher and indoor bathroom and a shelf in the living room on which sat a dozen or more plaques and awards honoring Clarence for his work founding a credit union for Delta citizens. The dining room table was the same. A flood of memories of Sunday evening suppers swept over me. It was such a pleasure to reminisce with Clarence about our time together that long ago summer, although I must confess that our conversation was often marked by mutual interjections of, “I didn’t quite catch that, what was it you just said?” for we both suffer hearing loss.   Our conversation amused Ann and Leila, each of whom could not restrain herself from helping out with, “Kerry, he said…” or “Dad, Kerry said…”

We only had a few hours with Clarence and Ann. We spent some of that time driving to the nearest decent restaurant, about 30 miles away in Greenville. Ten of those miles were dusty, deep rutted routes through the cotton fields where cotton trucks had worn ruts so deep that I had to drive on the shoulder to avoid high centering the Prius. When we entered the packed restaurant a cheerful hostess greeted us. We were the only black and white diners. Clarence and Ann were the only blacks in the restaurant.  My apprehension quickly dissolved. The service was polite and efficient and no one paid any attention to us, blacks and whites dining together, an impossibility in 1965.

After dinner, we returned to the Hall’s place on the Mississippi. It was a pitch black, moonless night. Once at their home, I expressed some doubt about finding our way back to the highway. Clarence and Ann insisted on guiding us, sharing my fear, rightfully so, that Siri would leave us stranded somewhere in a cotton field.  We followed Clarence and Ann to the paved highway, headlights reflecting off the thick dust thrown up by Clarence’s pickup. He knew the road well and I, trusting his familiarity and driving recklessly fast to keep up with him, swerved and veered where he swerved and veered and somehow successfully avoided potholes and high-centering.  We safely reached the highway that would take us to our hotel in Vicksburg. Clarence pulled over, I pulled aside his pickup, our Prius and his pickup blocking both lanes of the road. I rolled down our window, Clarence rolled down his and Leila and I thanked Clarence and Ann for being our Moses and guiding us out of the cotton field wilderness.

I added, raising my voice hopefully loud enough that he could hear, “And thank you, Clarence, thank you for everything.”  Then a truck pulled up behind us, blocked from proceeding by our vehicles, stopping right on my bumper, obviously impatient to proceed. Leila and I shouted our goodbyes through the open window, waved and departed.

Unfortunately I hadn’t said everything I wanted to say. I should have said it at their house or in the restaurant, but the right moment never seemed to arise. My last chance was when we were parked side by side. But then the impatient truck arrived.  What I planned and failed to say was, “Thank you for that summer making me family, for giving me direction to my life and for reconnecting.”  I know, however, that if we had not been interrupted by the truck and had remained side by side for a few more moments on that gravel road in the dark of night, Clarence would have replied,

“Reconnect? Why Kerry, we never did disconnect.”

Clarence Hall, a dear friend and mentor in 1965, still a dear friend and mentor.

 ©  Kerry Gough 2017 

You can learn more about my civil rights work from Monterey to Mississippi by reading my book, Dear Jeff.  Available at Amazon. See also www.dearjeffbook,com )
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Tuesday, August 22, 2017


Today a friend approached me, sadness in his eyes, as I was having my morning coffee and croissant at Cole’s Coffee. He sat down next to me, put his arm around my shoulder and patted me on the back as if to comfort me.  I was surprised for I needed no comfort.  Perhaps, I thought, I have misinterpreted his look.  Maybe his look was due to a suppressed belch, a swallow of bitter and cold coffee; or perhaps he needed comfort.   

Then he spoke.

“Well, Kerry, in a week you’ll be living on borrowed time.”

“What do you mean by that?” I asked, expecting a humorous punch line.  But no humor followed. He was deadly serious.

“Well,” he said, “in one week you will turn 80.  The average life expectancy of a Caucasian male is 79. You are about to exceed that.  You are borrowing time from guys who didn’t spend all their allotted years.”

I have no idea whether his statistics are correct, and rather than ask Ph.D., what is my life expectancy, I decided to explore the guts of his statement that I was living on “borrowed time.”  Am I somehow indebted to those males who did not fulfill their life expectancy?  The life insurance tables tell me that when I was born in 1937 my life expectancy was 58 years.  My goodness, I have already, according to the reasoning of my friend, borrowed 22 years!  Current tables tell me that at 80 I have a life expectancy of 8 years, but a baby boy born on my birthday this year will have a life expectancy of only 77 years. 

So from whom am I borrowing?

Of course all this is rather frivolous and unscientific.  One’s life expectancy changes each year as he or she ages.  Having outlived my original life expectancy, and temporarily being in the position of exceeding the life expectancy of this month’s baby boys, I have to accept my friend’s conclusion that I am somehow indebted to someone or something for my good fortune to have lived so long, to be able to commence my ninth decade, or as I prefer to say, early old age.

In pondering a bit about this, I thought of a few of the things to which I am indebted:
  •  To the accident of fate that I was born in the U.S.A. to a loving middle class mom and dad. 
  • To my father who in 1937 at the moment of my birth somehow knew how to administer mouth to mouth resuscitation. In those days women often received ether during the birthing process. My mother received so much ether that it knocked me out in utero. When I emerged the M.D. could not get me to breathe.  Looking into the delivery room and realizing something was terribly amiss, Dad burst through the doors, grabbed me from the doctor and puffed gentle breaths into my lungs until I breathed on my own. 
  •  To the physicians who started my heart after my scalp split open by the falling bed of a dump truck on which I was riding on the running board during a construction job. My heart stopped during emergency treatment and the physician was able to restart it with a shot of adrenaline.
  • To the accident of fate that after being drafted in 1961 I was not sent to Viet Nam along with many of my fellow basic training draftees who fought and died there. I was sent to  Monterey, posted to the very safe and cushy position of Military Representative to the Monterey Peninsula Visitors' Bureau.

I could go on and on enumerating my debts.  But in my remaining years (8.1 per the official tables) it is more important for me to make some repayment. To do so, I will contribute in whatever ways I can to the improvement of the lives and well-being of my fellow human beings-- family, friends and strangers, old and young, men and women, whatever their race, sex, sexual identity, religion, social status or ethnicity may be. 

The slate won't be wiped clean, but the erasure marks will demonstrate that I tried.