“Broken hearts and dirty windows
Make life difficult to see.” From Souvenirs by John Prine
This photo, from the early 30s, shows the Sherwood children. My mom is bracketed by her brothers and sister: L to R are John, my namesake, Lillian, my mom, sister Edith and brother Stan. They grew up in rural Wisconsin. Attractive kids all, and now passed on.
My mom’s brood, which included my older brothers Jim and Tom, was the only one that left the dairy state. They moved west during WW II because there was work in the San Francisco shipyards for my dad. We think it was 1942. Brother Butch and me did not come along until 1944 & 46. Sister Mary arrived 13 years later. The other Sherwoods and the majority of their children stayed and made their lives in Wisconsin.
Thus, I have roots in the Midwest from my mother’s side of the family. Dad’s roots vanished along with the Oklahoma topsoil in the Dustbowl years. Orphaned as a young boy and separated from his sister, he wandered his way into my mom’s world. Too soon, he wandered away again. In addition to memories, my souvenirs from Dad include black and white photos, and a hickory shafted golf club.
The descendants of my Mom’s line are plentiful. Accordingly, lots of pictures exist, though I only have a few. But there’s also a set of chrome nail clippers. They were a high school graduation gift from Uncle Stan and his wife Aunt Bernie.
Probably, as a seventeen year old, I thought something along the lines of, “Gee, nail clippers … wish they had sent money.” Yet, 56 years later, I still have them. The sturdy leather case has weathered the twists and turns of my life. I realize now their practicality, which reflects the solidity of my beloved aunt and uncle.
Tangible objects from my Mom are meager, but sufficient. At the time of her funeral, a small bronze bell lay among her collection of jewelry. It’s attached to my ukulele strap. Whenever it jingles, I give her a nod.
Souvenirs are tricky. Too many and you gotta drag a little red wagon of nostalgia everywhere, looking backwards, not forward.
On the other hand, none or too few can leave one ungrounded. Perhaps that’s something of what my father felt. He had little to hold onto. Untethered, he floated away.
So, I’m a bit of a hybrid: Midwest pragmatism grafted with the hobo jungles of the Depression. I rejoice in the wings that blossomed from those roots. I don’t know where I’m going, but I know where I came from.
It’s Good Friday. Since writing two weeks ago, the pandemic has marched ahead, oblivious to the cares of mankind. The pace and direction of the disease wavers depending upon an area’s discipline in social distancing. Currently, the confirmed cases approach the two million mark worldwide. This includes 100,000 deaths. One of the prominent losses occurred on the 7th of April. John Prine, the country singer/songwriter, died from complications of the coronavirus. We were the same age, born about three weeks apart. He also had Midwestern roots. What amazing souvenirs he left behind …