Friday, February 19, 2021

When I Am Gone

My wife is 62.  I am 83.  Statistical tables, insurance actuaries and common sense tell me that I will die long before her.  I often worry about that.

For example, a few days ago I struggled to replace the thin 21- inch fluorescent bulbs in the light fixture mounted over her desk. Once I inserted the pins of the bulbs into the sockets, they resisted my efforts to turn and lock into place. Without locking they would not light up. I was afraid of breaking the bulbs, but I proceeded to hold a tube firmly between my thumb and index finger and carefully exert enough force to twist it into place. The bulb lit up. I repeated the process with the second bulb and replaced the plastic cover.  

Task successfully completed, I asked myself, “When I am gone, what will Leila do?”

Or when the garage door would not shut because the safety light beams had been bumped out of alignment, telling the door that there was an obstruction.  

I asked myself, “When I am gone, what will Leila do?”

Or when the front door would not shut and lock properly. I was able diagnose the problem, replace the strike plate and solve the problem. 

 Again, I asked, “When I am gone, what will Leila do?”

Don’t get me wrong. My concerns are not sexist. Leila is a very successful and accomplished woman. She is not clingy or helpless or dependent. 

She just isn’t mechanical. 

On one fix-it occasion I posed the question directly to her.

“When I am gone, what will you do?” 

 “I’ll hire a handyman.”

She knows I’m the needy one, that I need to be needed.  So she added,

 “But Kerry, there’s no replacing you.” 

© copyright 2021 Kerry Gough

Tuesday, October 6, 2020

Joe Biden and Sleeping with the Devil


The criticism of Joe Biden when as a senator he worked with racist southern senators in order to get their votes for civil rights legislation reminds me of a political lesson I learned as an attorney in the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice.  It was 1966 and I was just a few months into my first job after law school.  My area of responsibility was Southeastern Mississippi, which included Kemper County, the site of frequent physical and verbal intimidation of blacks who tried to register to vote.

 The Voting Rights Act of 1965 authorized the Attorney General to appoint Federal Examiners to register voters in areas where county voting registrars refused to register Blacks and redneck racists intimidated Blacks who wanted to register by threats of physical violence, beatings, cross burnings and termination of employment. The population of Kemper County was seventy-five to eighty percent Black. But only a small number of Blacks were registered to vote.

The evidence cried out for appointment of Federal Examiners. I wrote a memorandum advocating such appointment to my boss, John Doar, Assistant Attorney General in charge of the Civil Rights Division. The memorandum cited abundant reports of beatings and verbal intimidation of Blacks who tried to register, of registrars refusing to allow them to register and of their being turned away by sheriff deputies at the courthouse steps. One witness said that as he approached the courthouse a deputy stepped forward and said, “What you want here, boy? Nothing here for you but a jail cell in the basement.”  I was confident that my memorandum proved beyond any doubt that the extent of pervasive discrimination in Kemper County justified appointment of Examiners.  My research had been impeccable and nothing had been overlooked. I submitted my memorandum, confident that the Attorney General would agree to certify Kemper County.

Or so I thought.

Weeks passed by and I heard nothing. Then one day my section chief said, “Grab your file. We have an appointment with Doar.”

We entered Doar’s office. Doar and two or three supervising attorneys were seated around him. 

Doar said, “Kerry, I have read your memorandum. It is a fine piece of work.”

I was delighted to receive that compliment from my boss. Justice would be done.

“Do you know,” he asked, “who has to approve our budget?”

“Congress,” I responded, wondering what that had to do with certification of Kemper County.

Doar continued, “Do you know who sits on the Senate Appropriations and Judiciary Committees? 

“No sir.”

“Senator Eastland of Mississippi chairs the Judiciary Committee. Senator Stennis of Mississippi is a ranking member of the Appropriations Committee.”

Everyone’s eyes were on me, waiting to see if I was getting the drift of his remarks, waiting to see if the cartoon light bulb would illuminate over my head. But it did not click on. I remained silent.

Doar continued.  “Senator Stennis’ family home is in Kemper County.”

The light went on. In all my hours of research I had failed to discover that Kemper County had been the Stennis family home for generations. And if I had discovered that fact, I think that as politically naïve as I was, I would not have appreciated its political significance.

I had made a good case for justice, but I had ignored politics.

I returned to my office, disappointed and disillusioned. It was clear that the Blacks of Kemper County would continue to be beaten, threatened and disenfranchised in order to keep the Civil Rights Division from being fiscally punished by racist United States Senators.

            I was a naïve young attorney. 

         And I believe it is naive to criticize Biden for having worked with racist senators 

in order to get needed legislation passed.

         Sometimes you have to sleep with the devil.   


(Adapted from Policy Sci 101, chapter 33 of Dear Jeff, a memoir)

© Kerry Gough 2020


(Kemper County was not certified for Federal Voting Examiners until October 31, 1974, more than seven years after my memorandum had urged certification. God only knows how many Blacks were beaten and denied the right to vote in those seven years.)







Thursday, August 20, 2020


 My wife is a very sociable person. She loves to entertain.  We used to host lovely dinner parties once a month, inviting two other couples, friends, family, business associates or clients. The pandemic put an end to those lovely dinner parties.  Since mid-March no one, including daughters and sons and their families, has set foot in our home with the following exceptions:

Our wonderful housekeepers of 30+ years, MC and Bernice, have returned. Each Friday, before they arrive, Leila retreats to her upstairs office and shuts the door.  I flee to the golf course.  We are probably being overly cautious, for MC and Bernice are super-careful and wipe down all surfaces they have touched with virus killing solutions.  But you just can’t be too careful nowadays.

We allowed Bay Alarm techs to install a wireless radio alert so that we could cancel our land-line phone service.  They were masked, but the techs were in over their heads. And we were unhappy, to say the least, to have three strangers in the house. One tech was here for 8 hours and when he left the system was severely compromised. The next day a tech supervisor, masked and apologetic, had the system working within 30 minutes.

Female guests are allowed entry when needed, as described below.

Leila, growing weary of social isolation, devised and we never deviate from the following entertainment protocols.

We entertain in the back yard. Guests enter via the walkway along the side of the house.

Before they arrive, Leila has to remind me to unlock the gate. (Perhaps because I am a bit of an introvert and entertaining on a hot evening in the back yard is not something for which I yearn, I hope that the locked gate will discourage entry.)

The limited space in our back yard prevents seating more than four people if we are to maintain proper social distancing.  Therefore, we entertain only one couple at a time. We could do two couples, but Leila refuses to place one of the second couple behind the orange tree and his/her mate next to the garbage bin.

The guests receive their food in separate serving vessels (plastic quart containers with the deli food we ordered) and compostable wooden utensils and plates.  Absolutely no dipping into a common dish!

We supply bottled water and wine to our guests, although I have to be reminded to provide them with a corkscrew. You see, since Leila insists on serving the very best, most expensive wine from our modest cellar, I hope that guests will be too polite to ask for an opener.  Before I got married, my wine choice was Gallo Hearty Burgundy.  That resulted in my wedding vow never to bring boxed wine into the house. I try to be eco-friendly but I am not allowed to recycle a bottle which once contained expensive wine by filling it with an inexpensive wine.

No one is allowed in the house for any reason whatsoever.

Exception:  female guests may enter to use the bathroom.  Men are invited to step behind said orange tree.  

With these protocols in place, we have entertained several times.  Our guests enthusiastically thank us for the dinner party, a welcome break to the social isolation they too have suffered.

The men are especially enthusiastic.  There is something very masculine and gender-affirming about peeing outside, in nature, even if it is behind an orange tree in an urban back yard.

(Thanks to Nick Hoppe, an SF Chronicle columnist, whose wonderful August 19 column on the same topic inspired me to share the Gough protocols.)

© 2020 Kerry Gough


Thursday, July 9, 2020

White All Over

During the summer of 1965 in Mississippi, while I spent my days talking to Black parents about enrolling their six and seven year old children in the local white school pursuant to a court ordered freedom of school choice plan,  my (former) wife Judy conducted a “freedom school” in the back yard of Clarence and Millie Hall’s home. The Halls, a Black family deeply involved in the civil rights movement in the Delta of Mississippi, had taken us in for the summer.  Judy’s school was not connected to the formal Freedom Schools that opened all over Mississippi during the Freedom Summer of 1964, but rather an informal gathering of young Black children designed to help prepare them for enrollment in the formerly all-white school.
            Early one morning before her school was to start, Judy desperately wanted a bath. The hot, muggy days at the Halls, just a few hundred yards from the Mississippi River, had taken their toll on her. She fantasied about taking a long, cool shower.  There was no bathtub, no shower, no running water whatsoever at the Halls.  But Millie had a washtub.  Judy and Millie bailed buckets of water from the Hall’s 50-gallon storage drum and filled the washtub. The water had cooled overnight and promised to be refreshing.  Judy donned her bathing suit and stepped in. She luxuriated in the cool water as she sponged it over her head and it ran down over her body.
             The kids began to arrive. Perhaps they were early. Then again, perhaps Judy had lingered too long in her washtub bath. The children approached, but held back, reluctant to come too close.  They stood and stared and stared and stared.
Two of the little girls held hands, gathering courage from each other. Finally, one of them, wide eyed, her voice full of wonder and astonishment, spoke.
 “Why Mrs. Gough, you’re white all over.”
Up to that moment, for all that the little girl knew, Judy was black under her regular clothing. She had accepted Judy as one of her own, white face notwithstanding.  
It is unlikely that the little girl could define superficial, but she knew it when she saw it.

(Adapted from Dear Jeff, the author’s memoir about cross racial adoption and fighting discrimination from Monterey to Mississippi.)

Thursday, May 7, 2020

The Wizard of Ooze

Many if not most individuals reach the pinnacle of success in their youth.  Athletes peak in their twenties and early thirties; musicians often start as child prodigies and peak before thirty and are heard no more; many masterpiece paintings were created by youthful artists before age dimmed their vision and trembled their hands.

Of course, dear reader, you have already thought of many exceptions to my generalizations—Grandmother Moses, Tom Brady, Yoyo Ma and many others, peaking at middle or old age.  I am among those exceptions.  I did not reach the zenith of my potential until two months ago, at age 82.

But in order to put everything in perspective I must first list what, until recently, I thought of as my peak performances.

In 1963, at age 26, I blew the whistle on the U.S. Army, ending Fort Ord’s complicity with Monterey Peninsula’s racist landlords who refused to rent to minority soldiers.

During the summer of 1965, at age 28, I dodged beatings by sheriffs and Ku Klux Klan thugs as I successfully aided in the enrollment of thirty Black kids in the all-white elementary school in Sharkey County, Mississippi.

I can smile about being spit on by Kemper County, Mississippi, sheriff’s deputies as I entered the county courthouse in 1967, at age 30, to investigate voter discrimination. I succeeded in reviewing the records and finding written evidence of racial discrimination.

Please forgive me for reciting those ancient accomplishments. My purpose is not to seek your approval. You will see how those successes pale in comparison to my life’s high point that I am about to reveal. Read on.

In early March the coronavirus mounted its vicious assault upon our country, attacking on many fronts. Social distancing and stay in place requirements became de riguer.  The pandemic’s medical and financial impact was and is deadly serious to millions of persons world over.

For the Gough household the impact amounts to what is, all things considered, really a minor inconvenience. My wife must work at home, but she rather enjoys that. I had to give up golfing two or three times a week and hanging out at Coles Coffee shop sipping lattes and reading the newspaper.  These were truly minor detours from my meandering pre-pandemic life style.

However, when I learned that housekeepers were omitted from the list of essential workers, I was more than a little upset. MC and Bernice, our loyal hardworking housekeepers for the past 30 plus years, would not be allowed to clean our home every Friday morning. MC and Bernice are like family. We placed them on paid vacation and bid them adieu for the duration of the pandemic.

The weekly housekeeping chores fell to me.

Woe is me, I mourned as I contemplated sweeping, vacuuming, dusting and mopping every Friday. I soon discovered, however, that I had a knack for driving the vacuum cleaner, navigating the micro-fiber dust cloth, to which even invisible particles of dust, dander and hair magically cling, as I swished it over table tops, breakfronts, chair backs, dresser tops, mantels and everywhere that dust is wont to collect.   Cleaning the stove top, windexing the glass doors of the double ovens, polishing the kitchen countertops, damp mopping the bathroom tile floors and the kitchen hardwood floor-- all of those tasks I quickly mastered and performed in a craftsman-like fashion. Indeed, at the end of my labors each Friday as I survey the product of my labor, a sparkling, clean home, I am overcome with pride for a job well done.

“So, you sneer, “that is the peak of your life, learning to sweep, mop and dust? Big deal!”

No, no, that is not the epitome. Read on, dear reader, please read on.

I had to clean the toilets.

I looked upon this challenge with disgust and repugnance. "Who am I to clean toilets? I who had defied the U.S. Army, confronted racist sheriffs, confronted the KKK in Mississippi—I am to get on my knees and clean the toilet?"

“Why yes,” replied my dear wife. “Who else?  There is dignity and honor even in the lowliest of jobs.”

Rallied by the wisdom of her words, I bent to the task.  I enlisted Amazon as my quartermaster.  Amazon rose to the occasion and delivered the perfect weapon, a Clorox magic wand toilet brush. It came with long handle, not six feet long, but long enough to keep my hands out of the toilet bowl.  Attached at the end of the handle was Clorox laden detachable brush, which after doing its intended job, was disposable by simply pressing a button, ejecting the brush into the trash can.

Armed with this magic wand, I attacked the downstairs toilet and scrubbed away with vigor. The brush released its sodium hypochlorite soldiers, bleached the bowl, vanquished all lurking toxic germs and delightfully colored the bowl water a lovely blue.

Bolstered by my success, I advanced upon the upstairs toilet, assaulting it with a fresh brush and renewed energy and enthusiasm. The toilet surrendered its stains without a fight.

Now, enthroned upon my sparkling commode, I, the Wizard of Ooze, reign from the zenith of my life.

©Kerry Gough 2020

Monday, December 16, 2019

How Do I Lie To Thee

 Given the current political state of affairs, I am sharing with you 
 a poem I wrote nearly two years ago but which is now quite timely..

            HOW DO I LIE TO THEE
(By Donald Trump, with Apologies to Elizabeth Barrett Browning)

How do I lie to thee? I’ll count the ways:
I lie to thee to the depth, breadth and heights
My ego can reach, texting in the night
Maiming truth and seeking praise.
I lie to the level of every day’s
Political needs, by twitter’s light.
I lie to thee freely, damning the media’s slight,
Lying endlessly, desperate for your praise.
I lie to thee with the passion put to use
In my lusty groping in my piggish ways.
I lie to thee with campaign skills I used
Even though the popular vote I did lose.
I lie to thee with cheating and smirks,
And I'll still tweet lies vehement
After my sham impeachment.

© 2018  Kerry Gough

Thursday, September 12, 2019

Chief Running Bear, Racial Politics and Elizabeth Warren

“What are you writing now, Kerry? “asked Chief Running Bear, as I sat down near him in my back yard to write this blog. 

Many years ago, my wife Leila spotted Chief Running Bear in a going-out-of-business tobacco store.  She rescued him and presented him to me as a no-occasion gift.  The Chief had spent the first 40 or 50 years of his life standing majestically at the doors of a various tobacco stores, relegated, like many of his artfully hewn brothers, to that humble position by clever entrepreneurs aware of the relationship of tobacco and American Indians. Colonists borrowed the use of tobacco from the Indians and then stole the land upon which it grew. What remained for the Indians was the dubious honor of being sculpted in wood and placed at the entrances of tobacco stores throughout the nation.  

Having acquired the Chief, there arose an immediate problem.  Where was he to dwell?  “Not in our living room,” said Leila, and suggested, “take him to your office.” Thus, he took up residence in my law office, where he remained, standing next my desk for nearly 20 years.  The Chief and I spent many late nights together as I prepared for trial or key depositions. Often, fatigued by a long day’s work, I would sit back and recite my legal arguments and read my briefs to the Chief, who listened and never orally responded but I could always tell whether he approved or not.  

When I retired, I sold all my law office assets, but the Chief and I had so bonded that I could not leave him behind.  I brought him home and he now resides in my back yard next to the fence, partially hidden by a row of closely spaced Carolina trees.  He feels right at home there. The other day, having noticed that his face has taken a beating by the weather and has grown a whitish beard of mold, I promised him a shave and facial when I return from vacation.

I am sure that fate and genes brought the Chief and me together.  Leila knows that Cherokee blood runs in my veins and thus the purchase of the Chief. I often share my ancestry with friends, casual acquaintances and, frankly, with anyone who will listen.   My great-great-great grandmother was Cherokee. As related to me by a relative with whom I share the art of exaggeration, she was a Cherokee princess. Like the Chief, I am usually disbelieved by my smirking listeners—and perhaps by you.  I learned later that great-great-great grandma was just an ordinary Indian maiden.  But as far as I was concerned, being Native American elevated her to nobility. To this day I do not hesitate to inform anyone who will listen that my great-great-great grandmother was an Indian princess.

That makes me 1/32nd Cherokee.  Too little to qualify me for any tribal privileges, benefits or nobility but enough to make me proud of my heritage.

Now you are asking, if indeed you have borne with me this far, “what does this have to do with Elizabeth Warren?” 

It’s all about heritage.  As early as 1986 Ms. Warren identified herself as an American Indian of Cherokee ancestry.  Her political opponents accused her of lying, leading her to have her DNA examined. The examination determined the existence of an unadmixed Native American ancestor in [her] pedigree, likely in the range of 6–10 generations ago. 1 If it were 6 generations, that would make her 1/64th Indian. I’m 1/32th. We could be distant relatives, perhaps second cousins, five or six generations removed. Blood brother and sister.

The brouhaha over her claim of Indian ancestry—ancestry which was proven, mind you—led her to acknowledge that her Native American ancestry was not at all tribal citizenship and she apologized to the Cherokee Nation "…for furthering confusion over issues of tribal sovereignty and citizenship and for any harm her announcement caused."2 

There is more that should have been said. From colonial times to the present even a minuscule amount of ancestral blood has been sufficient for racial identification. For decades one tiny drop of Negro blood flowing in the veins of a white appearing person made him or her officially and legally a Negro.  The whitest looking person, even with pale pink skin, freckles and red hair, for example, was disqualified from the rights and privileges of white society once it became known that at some time, even in the distant past, he or she had a Negro ancestor. Such a person might easily pass as white but would always be fearful of being stripped of the privileges of whiteness if her ancestry were discovered. 

When Ms. Warren claimed a few drops of Cherokee ancestry she was lambasted.  Her political opponents claimed that her motivation was suspect, a shameful attempt to obtain favor from a tiny minority of voters by claiming racial identity.  They pilloried her for asserting her Cherokee heritage.  Of course, bigots will play the race card in any way possible if it serves their purposes.  If Ms. Warren gets the nomination, the same hypocritical persons who cried out “She’s not Indian!” will do an about-face and shout, “We don’t want a Native American President,” just as they railed against Roman Catholic Kennedy and African American Obama. My reply, “What could be more American than a person with Native American blood coursing proudly through her veins?”

Yes, Ms. Warren was accused of having used her Native American ancestry for political gain, but in the final analysis, she told the truth. She is of Cherokee ancestry. She is entitled to be proud and to assert her Native American heritage.  Unfortunately, we live in a society where race is used or abused for personal and political gain.  Race should not play a part in our elections nor in our societal institutions.  But it has for hundreds of years and as illustrated by Ms. Warren’s case, it still does and will continue to do so until and so long as racism and bigotry are embraced and promoted by bigots, xenophobes and others of that ilk.  

I am proud of my bit of Cherokee ancestry. I’m part of the melting pot. As is Ms. Warren.  We are a diverse nation, individually and collectively and our diversity has served us excellently.   Let’s keep that in mind as we approach the 2020 elections. Chief Running Bear agrees. 

©Kerry Gough 2019
2 Ibid.