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Throwing Chairs at Phil Donahue

11:11 pm in Uncategorized by alabamagunn

Looking back, the felicity with which the media tracked down victims in a pre-internet world was unsettling. After my Dad’s assassination on March 10, 1993, my mom, sister, friends, and I huddled around the television watching news coverage of the killing, and it did not strike me as significantly odd when the phone started ringing with reporters on the other end. After all, there were phone books and news reports indicating Dad had family in Birmingham—how they knew our location is another mystery as they thought and reported, incorrectly, that we were from Pensacola for some time—and Gunn is a fairly uncommon name. So some persistent wrong dialing would eventually result in a match right?

A TV News Van

David Gunn, Jr, on encounters with the media after his father’s murder.

Yet, when we finally worked out the details of the funeral and opted to bury Dad in Tennessee next to my matriarchal grandfather, we headed out to Winchester on March 11, and I assumed that moving northward would lessen the phone’s incessant din and give us an opportunity to grieve before having to face any media additional media blitz.

The visitation was on Friday, March 12, and the funeral was scheduled for Saturday, March 13. Our planning was complicated by a familial dispute over where the actual funeral and burial would take place. Dad’s family wanted him moved to Benton, Kentucky so he could be close to them; however, after the apocalyptic Thanksgiving just four months prior when Dad cut all ties with his patriarchal family, my sister and I a) did not envision an occasion that would bring us to Benton so a burial there meant we would not be able to visit dad in the future, and b) we felt it best to keep him with the family that did not abandon him and Winchester, we felt, was the best location.

Secondarily, but no less importantly, getting the body from Pensacola, Florida to Winchester, Tennessee while simultaneously getting us and our friends from Birmingham to Winchester proved hazardous given an approaching winter storm unlike any experienced in the South. In fact, were it not for the blizzard in Alabama and southern Tennessee, the funeral would have truly become a national media circus.

Alas, just as they did in Birmingham, the national media found us in Tennessee. People magazine had reporters on the ground asking for interviews as we tried to organize visitation and funeral services. In fact, they caught us on the steps of the funeral home, wanted to interview us on the spot, and quickly snapped some photos outside the picturesque antebellum home converted to funeral parlor and chapel. Similarly, the visitation was punctuated by reporters from everywhere, looking to talk with one or more of us family to get our personal reaction to recent events. In fact, I have vivid memories of talking with a reporter in the funeral home’s basement breakroom while the visitation was ongoing. Having never experienced anything even remotely close to these requests, I tried to be accommodating and polite while silently wishing for some peace. I just wanted to be with my Dad.

The snow hit Winchester the night of the visitation after everyone staying with us made it back to my grandmother’s house. We wondered if the funeral service could continue given the weather developments, and for a few moments the incessant phone ringing abated. While my friends and I toasted my Dad with bourbon and Coors Light we shared stories, laughed, and forgot about the real for a few moments.

On Saturday, March 13 we buried Dad in a snow covered cemetery in Winchester, Tennessee. Of course, media were on hand and they obtained a number of grieving money shots to litter their pages the next day. Some reporters wanted to talk and asked for comments, but it was cold, we were listless, tired, and veritable emotional vegetables so we finished at the graveside, said goodbyes, and huddled back to my grandmother’s to eat, drink, and blunt ourselves so we could get some much needed mental and physical rest.

I’ve never attended anything but a Southern funeral so I do not know if the food avalanche which follows the graveside service is a regional thing or something which is region neutral, but we had a houseful of guests who all brought comfort food for the family. As on the previous night, my friends and I ate and then retired downstairs and engaged in some subdued grief laden mild debauchery. As the day progressed, alcohol flowed, pipes glowed, and I finally relaxed to an extent thinking the gadfly reporter circus moved on to the next American tragedy when the phone rang again.

Mimi’s downstairs phone was one of those old Ma Bell wall mounted affairs with the eight foot spiraled cord and rotary dial. Someone yelled from upstairs where the adults had congregated since I was six and told me the phone was for me. I hesitated before answering, not wanting to answer another question about how it felt, how it feels, what would you say to Griffin, and other questions designed to draw a tear or presage a breakdown.

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Go and Tell the Grandchildren

7:29 am in Uncategorized by alabamagunn

A few days ago we were driving along the pine and oak dappled streets passing the brick and wooden houses we pass everyday on the way home. We saw ranchers, split levels, and A-frames as well as the odd gentrified monstrosity that was formerly a 50s, 60s, or 70s styled family home but is now some garish example of conspicuous consumption out of place among the two and three bedroom homes in our neighborhood. Those houses. Damn, they reek of pride and anticipation that soon, very soon, they shall overcome their common surroundings occupied by elderly holdouts and first time buyers as if they are a giant extended middle finger to those adjacent and across from their projected omnipotence.

a graveyard

Explaining the death of Dr. David Gunn to his grandchildren.

We rounded Teller Lane turning left as we passed the soccer and basketball goals in the yard of the family on the corner.

She was beside me in the passenger’s seat and had not said much since I liberated her from those dastardly day care teachers—she hates daycare because they only give plain chips for snack, and though I appreciate her sentiment since I’m no vanilla chip fan, I’m glad her primary school stressor is chips because the pending divorce keeps her sufficiently distracted, confused, and just plain sad.  Typically, she is abuzz with grade school drama or wiped out from hard play—she is a self professed tom boy after all; however, today she was a bit pensive and hesitant.  I could tell something was clearly on her mind, and it appeared she was working out how to unwind the thread of thought as if in some Theban labyrinth.  I prompted and prodded her about her day without getting overly interrogational.  She is adept at avoidance.

She could sense our proximity to home meaning dinner anxiety, homework, and distraction combined with parental tension.  Quickly, and in a sense angrily, she unburdened herself, “Why don’t I have gandpas?”, she asked.  Her shoulders slumped forward slightly but her eyes engaged mine—as if my eyes regarded themselves—in fixed, intense precision awaiting parental profundity.

I was not surprised by the question. She has asked it before and asks some form of it regularly.  Perhaps, after learning to live in two separate houses as opposed to the one she’s known for seven years, she hoped to immerse herself in the past longing for heritage’s familial fealty; or, she could have merely been curious. Who truly knows the motivations of others much less those of the ones we love, and I love her to the moon and back which obviously means I’m an utter failure at discerning her unstated motivations.

I navigated these waters when the man-boy—your grandson is 16, 6’5’’, is a brunette Pa, and I’d describe him as an old soul if I believed in one—was growing up, and I attempted to answer his inquiries with honesty as opposed to supposed soothing southern platitudes ending in “better place,” “God’s ways are…” and/or “you’ll reconcile one day.” Yet, he knew his mom’s dad, had a close relationship with him for seven years, and, therefore, knew life with a cantankerous yet playful grandfather.  Michael’s death was the first man-boy experienced and it shook him terribly just as the recent death of our traditional family shakes my daughter who’s now the Inquisitor.

Prior to having my own children, I seriously studied and in some way practiced how I would answer the inevitable questions. Unlike the deaths of other forbearers, details of yours are as loaded as the gun that killed you. I knew I had to tell the grandchildren the truth at some point, and, if nothing less, thought a written record would best address the problem of evil I had to narrate. In the event I croaked prematurely, I wanted them to hear the stories from me—or in my words, but never mustered the courage to write the answers until now. 

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