After I received the letter from my father that had been safeguarded in West Virginia by Emily Sue Buckberry for 40 years—as told in the story The Letter— I knew I needed to find out more about him.  I had to probe the things he revealed to me in his letter—a depression in his childhood, a fanatical religious mother he couldn’t reason with, a war that he wouldn’t talk about. What happened to him? Why didn’t he think he was successful? Why did he take his life?  So many questions. But I wasn’t ready to delve into those—not even close. I’d spent the last thirty-eight years doing my best to forget him—running away hard from his memory.  It’s not that easy to change course.

Dad, G.G., Casey and Scott in 1962 at the Chicago Athletic Club
So I started with someone easier—my grandfather, Vernon Drury Case—the man I was named after. Although I’ve always gone by Casey, by real name is Vernon Case Gauntt.  Next to my dad, Vern Case is the man who had the biggest influence on my life.  Not only do I carry on his name, but most of the family say we look alike, especially as I’ve grown older. And thanks to Vern’s only son, Stan, his wife Joan, and Vern’s daughter, my mom, Barbara, a lot of work had already been done running down the family histories and collecting the photographs and stories that make up the family lore.
Vern Case was one of those ‘bigger-than-life’ kind of guys, and I had always been fascinated by how this man emerged from abject poverty with barely a 7th grade education to become one of the most successful foundation contractors in the country. I really enjoyed writing about him, and it was good practice for the heavy lifting that was looming before me with my father.

I also found it very healing to delve deeper into where I came from, retrace the steps of my ancestors back to Scotland, and look across generations upon generations of my clan. It’s hard to explain, but as I was pulling his story together, I began to feel more grounded and calm. It was as though an anchor spilled out of my rudderless ship floundering in the turbulent sea and found the ocean floor. I was by no means out of the storm, but neither was I completely out of control.
I didn’t feel so alone with my losses. I realized I wasn’t the only one in my family to have suffered the loss of a child or disappointment with a parent. Far from it.  Every one of the generations that preceded mine had suffered mightily and had hard lives. No one was spared or ‘got a pass.’ I took some strange comfort from the fact that I hadn’t been singled out for the tragedies I’d been dealt. And even though, other than Uncle Stan, they are now all dead, having done this work I feel surrounded, supported and loved by my ancestors. As I said, it’s hard to explain.
Here is the link to the story of Vern Case I wrote nine months after we lost our son, Jimmy.

Vern Case Story


Dad, Casey and Vern



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Author Bios

Write Me Something Beautiful Authors - Casey and Jimmy Gauntt

Casey Gauntt

is a retired attorney and former senior executive of a major San Diego real estate company. He lives in Solana Beach, California, with his wife, Hilary. Casey grew up in Itasca, Illinois, graduated Lake Park High School in 1968, and received B.S., JD and MBA degrees from the University of Southern California.

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Jimmy Gauntt

was born and raised in Solana Beach and graduated from Torrey Pines High School in 2002.   A prestigious Trustee Scholar at the University of Southern California, he majored in English and Spanish. He authored six plays, five screenplays, and a multitude of poems and short stories. Beginning in 2010, the USC English Department annually bestows the Jimmy Gauntt Memorial Award—aka “The Jimmy”—to the top graduates in English.  Jimmy passed over to the other side in 2008 at age 24.

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