By Steve Date
On November 8, 2008, the same day Casey Gauntt received an amazing and life-changing letter from his dad, Casey’s daughter Brittany received an equally incredible note from her brother, Jimmy. This is a sequel to “The Letter”, a film I made in 2010.
During the initial editing of my film about Casey, his father and his son, I sent him some rough cuts and asked for his feedback. Casey and I began to realize that while we had the essence of the story on video from my chance encounter with him in Coalwood, West Virginia, in October of 2009, we could make a much richer film if we could sit down together and have him fill in some of the story gaps in a second video shoot. Since he lives in California and I’m in Minnesota, this implied some travel for one of us. Casey and Hilary VERY generously offered to fly me to San Diego (and stay at their house!) in order to shoot what we needed. It was an offer I couldn’t (and didn’t want to) refuse, and I spent 4 days over the 4th of July of 2010 with the Gauntt-Kirby family in Solana Beach. I was treated like royalty by everyone. I was overwhelmed with their kindness and generosity.
I got to hang out with Casey and Hilary, meet Casey’s mom Barb, and spend some time with their daughter, Brittany Kirby, her husband Ryan, and Wyatt, their first little grandson (who makes his film debut during the end credits of my film, “The Letter”). It was a wonderful trip for me and I felt so lucky and honored to have become part of their amazing story.
[aesop_image imgwidth=”70%” img=”https://wmsb.wpengine.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/58/2014/10/Gauntt-4-generation.jpg” align=”center” lightbox=”on” caption=”Four generations – Casey, Brittany, Wyatt, and Barb (photo July, 2010 by Steve Date)” captionposition=”center”]
As planned, we shot more video of Casey telling the story of The Letter, but also telling me some of the . . . shall we say strange . . . things that had been going on since Jimmy had passed almost two years earlier. He told me stories that were uplifting, heartbreaking, and goose-bump-inducing all at the same time. A highlight of the trip was one afternoon, when Casey and I went for a run together. We stopped at Jimmy’s memorial bench, which over looks the San Elijo Lagoon that separates the towns of Solana Beach and Encinitias. We sat for a short while and Casey introduced me to Jimmy — told him a bit about me. It was clear that it wasn’t the first time Jimmy had heard of me. It was a touching moment and one I’ll never forget.
[aesop_image imgwidth=”70%” img=”https://wmsb.wpengine.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/58/2014/10/Jimmy-Bench.jpg” align=”center” lightbox=”on” caption=”Brittany (Jimmy’s sister) sits on Jimmy’s memorial bench with newborn son, Hunter Ryan Kirby” captionposition=”center”]
Casey asked some of the other family members if they would agree to be recorded on video telling stories about Jimmy and some of the related experiences they’d had since he’d passed on. So Brittany, Ryan and Hilary, with varying degrees of reluctance, one by one bravely sat down in front of my camera. They did it because they wanted people to know about Jimmy and how amazing he was — and is.
Each family member had their own memories to share, their own little special tales to tell. But one of the stories — the one posted on this website as “Happy Birthday, Sis” was related by two of them, each in their own way. I wove the two narratives together into one video about the other amazing story of that November day in 2008, a story that was overshadowed for a while because the first letter’s arrival that same day. However, this story stands on its own as a great brother-sister love story as well as an integral part of an incredible series of events that are hard to explain away as mere coincidence.
Here are Brittany and Ryan telling the story of “The Other Letter”.