Older Folks

The images of older folks whom I meet on the street are among my favorites. Etched into faces and revealed in unique styles or personality are hints of diverse and often surprising personal backgrounds and accomplishments.


     Once, many years ago, I was riding in the backseat of ’64 Mustang, going downhill in a snowstorm, and the brakes went out. There were four of us along with textbooks and suitcases crammed into that Mustang. We were college kids heading home for Christmas break, five hours into an eight-hour drive. Until the moment the driver started frantically pumping the brakes and downshifting, we’d been singing to the radio to keep awake. Carefree and oblivious. Through the driving snow we could see a red stop light at the bottom of the hill and a line of cars and semis on either side of the intersection. We fell silent as we barreled toward the light. Just as we thought our brief young lives were over, the light turned green. We flew through the intersection, then to avoid slamming into a car that suddenly appeared in front of us, we careened off the road into a frozen corn field where, screaming and cursing at this point, we eventually slid to a stop, shaken but upright. I remember that once we knew everybody was alright, we broke into laughter, wild, uncontrolled, adrenalin-filled joy. What a relief it was to be alive.

Smoke, Coke & Something To Come Back To

I was twenty years old when I took up smoking, fully planning to become addicted. In my future life as a social worker I saw myself ministering to heroin addicts. To truly understand what they were facing, I thought, I should experience addiction for myself. Nothing prolonged, just a quick in and out. Also, I wanted to lose ten pounds.

Reflections on January 6

The day after the bloody siege on the Capitol, I dug out an 8 x 12 black and white glossy of a bunch of teenagers standing on its steps. There’s me and forty-six classmates posing with our Congressman, John B. Anderson (who would later run for president as an Independent). We’d just graduated a few days before, the Hanover High School class of 1966. For three days we’d been packed on a bus, traveling from our little town in Illinois, stopping along the way to tour Gettysburg.

Back in the Saddle

I come home exhausted, good for nothing except collapsing onto the couch and spacing out, barely able to absorb the TV news. My dear wife hands me a glass of wine and returns to the kitchen to prepare dinner. After eating and briefly catching up on my email, I’m ready for an early night. I can’t imagine returning the next morning, up at dawn for another 9-hour shift, but thankfully, I don’t have to. I have a week to recover.

In Memory of Jerry Gray

1935 – 2020

Why I Write

by Jerry Gray

I have been so defined by those who were important and then their disappearance, vanished from my life because no reason was given for their coming, or going.  I am writing of childhood, of course, and a damaged habit that then persisted without my noticing, a habit of not asking who that was, how they appeared or disappeared or why. My landscape is littered with disappearing parents, a brother who vanished for 20 years and died homeless, a great aunt who lived secretly 20 years in hospital, a relative who became a Carmelite nun, others whose histories or absences were mentioned only in proverbial hushed tones. So it is in certain families.

Yet, My Heart Sings

My world has become so small. On a regular basis, I see only my husband as we share the same living space. Occasionally, I see a neighbor outside from a window, or wave to one from across the street. We might shout a greeting, “How are you doing over there?”, but that’s about it. There is no way to have a real conversation while trying to maintain a distance of six feet between people. Our social lives have become “screen time”, zoom calls replacing big noisy family dinners, FaceTime instead of morning coffee with a friend, but I’ve found nothing to replace the warm neck squeezes and soft cuddles that I miss from my grandchildren. I walk often, and we walk together sometimes, my husband and I, but with so much together time we both seem to enjoy our walks alone a little better. The parks and recreation areas are closed, so we are limited to our neighborhood. Lovely houses to look at, trees, gardens and flowers, spring is beautiful and in full bloom, but there are no hikes in the bright green, mustard-covered hills or through the redwoods on a path dappled with sunlight that both soothe and refresh my soul.

The Consolation Of Solitude

“I vont to be alone”, Swedish-born film star Greta Garbo is reputed to have said.  It’s all I remember of her. Never saw any of her films; didn’t understand the mystique surrounding her. I thought she was odd. Did she marry? Have a lover? Have children? I’d no idea, but her desire to be alone seemed an aberration. I was young then. It would be a long time before I understood.

Seeing Homelessness

We walk past or around homeless persons every day on the sidewalks of Oakland and San Francisco. Along our city streets and through freeway underpasses we carefully drive past ramshackle homeless encampments.  Some of my images are made from the perspective of a casual passerby. Those photographs show people sleeping or lying on the street under blankets, newspapers, or nothing at all. They are anonymous, faceless, not so much people, as “a social issue.” Other photographs are made from the perspective of a seeker. Those images (and conversations) attempt at understanding and a desire to see those who are without homes (or adequate food, clothing, health care, or employment) as persons possessing innate human dignity, with hopes and dreams, not unlike that casual passerby or more importantly, the photographer himself. Click on images to enlarge. 

Sweet Alabama

My social media feeds were full of calls to “Boycott Alabama!” “Leave!” “Never go there!” Andy Borowitz, one of my favorite political humorists, posted: “Americans given new reason never to go to Alabama.” I saw lots of Likes and Ha-Ha emojis. And then disparaging comments along the lines of: “Stop writing insults about Alabama; they’re 50th in education. They can’t read that shit.” More ha-ha’s.