Interview with J. Sherwood Jr.

Nakeiha Primus 2005

This div will be replaced by the JW Player.



Interview Participants
JS
James Sherwood Jr., interviewee (male)
NP
Nakeiha Primus, interviewer (female)
PE
Unidentified interviewer, interviewer
JS
Now, I don't know what to say right. [laughing]
NP
Well we have a little guide so, but you can just go ahead.
JS
But, but what I was gonna, yeah, it was interesting coming up as a kid ah, and a young adult because it was ah, it was a black community, so to speak, with small boundaries, but I came up. It's somewhat changed now, it's a little more diverse.
JS
But when I came up, within the streets of Mystic River Road, Boston Ave, ah, High Street and Arlington Street; sort of a square, ah, there was a Black community and you know that's all I knew. When we ran the streets, that's what we did, my friends and I, and we weren't excluding anyone, but it's just what it was.
JS
You know, and our park was Dugger Park, that's after that Dugger that you read there. And ah, that's where we hung, you know, played hoop, the girls, the guys. And we hung there and had good times, you know. Throughout the areas of the boundaries, you know we would be in different people's houses doing different things, eating, you know, having good times. But yeah. It was fun. It was fun.
NP
Just for the record can you state your name.
JS
My name is James H. Sherwood Junior.
NP
And your relationship to the nominees?
JS
Ah, Ada Sherwood is my mother and James Sherwood, Senior is my father.
NP
Actually, I wanted to start with growing up in West Medford. If you could paint a picture of what life was like growing up there, what colors would you use, what was the music like, what was the feel like?
JS
Okay the feel was interesting because ah, I'm 52 so I was born in '52. So a lot transpired from '52 to '82. You know what I mean.
JS
Civil Rights was going on. Martin Luther King was, was very big in our times, and then got shot within all that. Malcolm X that was all my time period, you know. Ah, and Jesse Jackson, riots in Detroit, riots in L.A., not L.A. ah, I forget the city where that big riot was but I mean all this was going on.
JS
So there was a lot of awareness of Blacks and Whites and our relationships and everybody wanted it to be better. I mean we were coming out of a time period of a lot of discrimination and ah, we felt that as kids. Some, in some times, in some cases we were sheltered because West Medford was a funny town, nobody had a whole lot of money, but some people looked at it as a suburb, which I guess it is. Ah, I know the people from Boston used to look at us as if they thought we thought we were better. We didn't think we were.
JS
Ah, but it was very interesting because we were somewhat sheltered, but somewhat aware as well. I know we felt it when we went to school, when some of these things were happening. You know after you hear about a big riot, you know what I mean, in Detroit and you end up in school there's a little tension, you know.
JS
The adults were probably more tense, 'cause they were understanding the news. We weren't, we kinda got flavors of it in the air, you know. Ah, but there was, there was a little stress there, you know? I remember times when we were in class and it was a natural thing to not, when were young we used to not to have to put our, to put our hand up to, you know do the American.
NP
The Pledge of Allegiance.
JS
The Pledge of Allegiance, you know.
JS
And ah, there were many of times that I just naturally didn't put my hand up because I didn't feel that it was quite proper under the circumstances. So we were tense with a lot of that. And outside of that, when that wasn't in the air, I mean I feel blessed because my time period, I mean you hear the older folks, your parents and your grandparents talk about the music of the day and they probably cap on some of you all stuff, you know.
JS
But ah, and I try not to do that too much, you know, I got a 13 year old and a 17 year old and from way back I have a 33 and 34. But with my wife I have a 13, 17. And you know I'm a conscious of their stuff and smacking the young ones' hands when he changes my radio station from WWILD. You know I got a CD on, but I try to listen and open up to it.
JS
But during those times we had ah, I feel blessed because musically we had a tremendous, tremendous wealth of music ah, and you know I debate some of the things that they have today. I call it entertainment and its musical entertainment.
JS
But I'm from a day when people ah, went to Berkeley or they studied, or they went to classes. And they literally ah, studied music; learned how to read music and practiced their instrument, which most instruments are not easy to ah, to play without a lot of practice.
JS
So it was just good times you know what I mean: Music we, we just had good times. Music was beautiful. It was a, it was a segue to our relationships, you know? With the girls, you know, and the, and the boys, it was just sweet times, you know. And they were singing, if someone was singing about a relationship, you know, we were walking around the streets, you know, holding hands. And all that stuff was good. It was all good you know.
NP
How would you characterize the day-to-day in West Medford? You know, going to school, you know, waking up that kind of thing? Interactions that you kinda had almost everyday?
JS
Ah, waking up everyday, you know, going to school, ah, I wasn't the most studious individual.
JS
You know, I enjoyed the social part of it. But I was glad to get in and out of there. And I played football in high school and ah, you know, I used to look forward to that. That was an interesting time period. And I think I got a little bit short changed behind this time period. The high school had had a fire.
NP
Medford?
JS
Yeah Medford High School, the original Medford High School, that my fathers and granduncles went to, had a big fire. And ah, I remember being at my father's bedroom, you could see the orange in the sky. It was so big and that's a little distance away; you know, West Medford to Medford Square. And ah, because of that fire they didn't have space for everybody, so there was actually two sessions of school, of high school.
NP
Sessions of high school?
JS
Yeah. It was like 8 to 12 and like 1 to 5; 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 1, 2, 3, 4. Yeah it was four hours a piece. I was in the middle there 'cause I had a little business class and college class, I was like. And I had football. So I was like 10 to, 10 to 2 maybe. 10, 12, 1, somewhere in that area. It was like a split thing.
JS
So we kind of got juggled around and that next year the new high school was built. So everybody was set at that point, so I got jacked the last year, you know? Ah, so that made things, I mean people were actually coming home at 5 o'clock at night from high school. It was messed up, you know?
JS
Ah, but yes, in waking up and getting up and going to school, that was cool and couldn't wait to get out of school. I'm thinking even backing up a little bit to elementary school, we had a community center. The West Medford community center, ah, which has since been torn down. It was right down by Dugger Park. That community center, ah, that was a lot of fun. We looked forward to going there.
NP
What kinds of things happened there?
JS
In the community center they had a director. And that was, that was all Black. That was a Black scenario. Ah, they had a director and they had, ah, when it was really running good they had couple of pianos upstairs, they had dance classes, they had cooking classes, they had and arts and crafts downstairs.
JS
And I can remember indulging in that just a little, but more or less seeing it. And ah, people doing pottery, making little figures out of clay, things like that. There was an older lady that used to do it. And there was cooking class, and oh it smelled good when they were doing cooking class in there you know. You couldn't wait to get home and eat or get someone to give you something. And they were cooking up in the kitchen.
JS
And ah, sometimes you'd walk in and there'd be dancing going on, and sometimes there'd be no one, just people be playing the piano. And that's where I learned to fumble with the piano a little bit. Because a lot of the older guys ah, used to play the piano and sing and you know you'd kinda see them doing it, it felt good, it looked good. And you'd hit, sit down and hit it.
JS
But in the basement also, it was a major hotspot. That was a big pool table down there, big pool table, wrestling mat, they had a Coke machine down there, ping pong table. So many a day there was ping pong going on; a lot of macho competition amongst the guys, pool tables ah, a lot of pool going on.
JS
So all that was going on in that community center. So we looked forward to going down there. And in later years, around 16, 17, I ended up working down there as a boy's worker. Ah, and you know during the warmer months, when the kids would get out of school, we'd take them on trips and things and try to mentor them. You know some of the kids today I see and they're like 7 feet tall, you know and they remember the old days you know, and they were 2 feet tall.
JS
And ah, it's so funny because one of the directors that came that hired me ah, his name was, his name was Simon Dickerson. Ah, Simon Dickerson. He was from Virginia and somehow he worked his way up here and ah you know, without all the details became the director there.
JS
And he had come from a black community, he, he saw ah, you know West Medford Community Center as a, West Medford as a little black community that he could relate to and he became director and hired me. He was 27 years old now, then, I'm sorry and I was like 16, 17.
JS
And what's so funny is ah, we are like brothers right now, today. And he is like 63 years old, it's crazy. His in real good shape because he got basketball scholarships, he still plays hoop. And ah, we are like brothers today. His brother passed, so he's taken on, I didn't have an older, and we've taken on that position with each other. You know to look out for each other like older and younger brother.
JS
So it was a lot of fun at that community center, when I think back. A lot of action. And then the girls were in and out too, you know what I mean, they were doin' the dancin' and what not, you know and cookin'. And a lot of intermingling with that up and down stairs. So that was, that was one of the major things after school to do.
JS
And ah, at one point I mean I can go off into this, one point interesting part of my upbringing was meeting a Mabray Kountze, who was an uncle, he was one of the Kountze family members. And he was into ah, ham radio.
JS
You guys might not know what that is, but ah in the day, the, I think it was the FCC they allowed individuals to train, learn, acquire licenses to communicate on the airways, ah, radio frequency of course; ah, transmitter, receivers.
JS
And ah, this was, of course, long before any type of computers, so what you would do is you would acquire a license. There might have been three licenses a novice, technician and a general. And these licenses would allow you to do various ah, various communications, ah, different frequencies, different style of communicating, different techniques.
JS
But he [Mabray Kountze] was beautiful. I mean you like to think that there is somebody actually out there that cares about young boys, ah, young black boys that he would like to see them expand their horizons, you know and ah, do some things that were worldly. And he was ah, he gave assistance on that.
JS
And I got my license; ah, my novice and my technicians. And I, at 13 years old, I actually used to sit up, I had a, I had a ah, receive, a transceiver they called it, it was a transmitter and a receiver, you might call it a two way radio, or something.
JS
But I had a wire going out of my window, that was from here to that entrance over there, to a tree. And I used to sit in the morning before school, and do Morse code. You know what Morse code is?
NP
Uhuh
JS
Yeah. And ah, I'd sit there and what you would do, I mean it might sound corny but what you would do with that type of thing is you would do what they called c, q, c, q, c, q. And that would be basically saying is there anybody out there that wants to communicate. And you'd give them your call letters, you had your little numbers.
JS
And I remember I had about 25 states ah, I remember communicating with somebody in Indiana and had them actually call my grandmother, you know. So, that was, that was really cool during that time period. And that, that was Mabray Kountze's thing.
JS
Ah, but that was, that was it, you know, that was it as far as getting up and having a good time, gonna school, goin' down that community center, ah, exchanging with Mabray Kountze. Ah, 'cause eventually ah, I didn't go to college. But eventually work had to enter in 'cause that's when the stress began.
JS
When it was like okay your parents; "What are you gonna do? If you're not going to school, you got to work." So that's when life begins right there. Then eventually you get out and get your own apartment, you know. Ah, so it eventually led up to working, getting jobs, and moving out, getting apartment, and really taking your own life, you know, into your own hands.
NP
I was just wondering did you go to the Hervey School?
JS
Yeah. I did.
NP
And what was that like?
JS
That was during those times, I was saying, ah, riots going on, very conscious ah, civil rights. Very conscious of not putting hand up with the Pledge of Allegiance. Very conscious of teachers ah, doing things to you, looking out for teachers, some of the things.
JS
I mean the least likely thing that's known by a student when they're young, a lotta times, is what a teacher is doing to you. I mean if they're not literally grabbing you or hitting you, you don't really know that they're in the back room or they're centering you out in any kind of way, you might not notice that. But we were conscious and aware of those type of things and we had some teachers that were like that, ah, that were doing things.
JS
I mean I, I remember having a teacher come in the, the men's room actually and smack me at the urinal. Yeah, that stayed with me. You know, you don't forget them kind of things. I was like the second grade or something. For something and back then you were so freaked out, you didn't want to tell your parents because you just knew that they were going to convince your parents that you did something wrong and you were going to get in double trouble, so that all stayed there.
JS
But ah, the Hervey School was decent times; that was kindiegarten up to the fifth grade, for odd numbers, but that's the way it was set up. And ah, had a few decent teachers, and we had good times there. That was within all that which I'm saying, the ham radio and going to the community center after school.
JS
And then we went to the Brooks School after that for just one grade, the sixth grade. Then the sixth grade, then we went to the Hobbs Junior High School, which was right next to the Brooks at that time for 7, 8, and 9.
JS
And a lot of high school now is 9th right, 9th through 12th for most people and it probably was then in some cases but this junior high was 7 through 9 and then we went to the high school, you know, ten through twelve.
PE
Can I ask, when you went to the Hervey School, were you there during the time when students were getting bussed away and some parents didn't like that and so they taught the students?
JS
No, no, no bussing at that time. Ah nah, nah. Not that I know of. No bussing at all. I don't know what year that actually came.
PE
Yeah, I don't remember the year.
JS
Yeah, nah, there was no bussing at all, we were right there, where everything was walking and when we finally got to the, we walked.
JS
Now the junior high school, do you know where the Brooks School is or the Hart? I don't know if the Hart is still there. I think the Brooks has been done over, I'm not sure but where it is is right outside of West Medford Square, on ah, High Street. If you go toward, the way the bus goes to Medford Square, just about a half a mile up, on the right side is where those schools were. And those were all, all walkable, ah, then we had to take the bus to high school.
PE
Do you remember what young Mrs. Kountze said that, do you remember the first story she told us about her children and about sending them away in the snow on the bus?
NP
No
JS
Right.
NP
[inaudible question]
JS
No I wasn't of that, we were right there.
JS
Anybody from the community was going right up to either one of those schools, those four schools actually: Hervey, Brooks, Hobbs or High School.
NP
Did you, did your parents ever discuss, or any of the adults around you that situation, the whole bussing, desegregation situation?
JS
That sort of came a little bit later. To me that, if I'm right, was more the seventies and by then, I was 17 in 1970 so by then I was, you know, getting ready to work.
JS
Ah, and I don't know when that, when I think of that bussing happening, I might not have this a hundred percent right but I think of the, when I think of the bussing situation I think of the South Boston, the Boston situation as being so, so, so, turbulent.
JS
Ah, I mean can you imagine you're on the bus, there's yelling and spitting at the bus, and throwing rocks at the bus, you're trying to get an education. Ah, 'cause the people there didn't, didn't, they were very, you know, community. They, they wanted their community to be the way it had been for years and ah, all of a sudden these black kids were coming up in there and they were, they'd been told that it had to be, you know. And ah, it had to have been rough. But that might have been '74 something I'm thinking.
NP
Right. It was.
JS
Was it? '74? So, that was a little after. I was moving around then 'cause I had moved out at 19. So that would have been '72. And, you know, my life with work and everything had begun.
NP
Okay so you moved out at 19, and how, how did things transpire after that?
JS
Nineteen, moved into a house with a bunch of guys.
JS
Ah, actually one of them, it was the parent's house, father had passed and the mother had moved and left that house ah, to have mortgage or rent paid, I'm not sure where the money was going. And, ah, there were a bunch of gang busters up in the house there, it was crazy. I mean it was a wide range of; from college, ah, students to pimps.
PE
Was that in West Medford?
JS
Yeah.
NP
And what you moved into a house in West Medford?
JS
Yeah, yeah. And, ah, so we lived there and did our daily stuff, you know, and interregnum still had our funs, fun should I say. And ah, working I was working and by '73, I started at Polaroid in Waltham.
NP
Oh, your cousin worked there too.
JS
Yes she did. We used to work there at the same time, very close ah, where we used to work. And I'm still there. Can you believe that?
PE
You're still at Polaroid?
JS
Yeah.
NP
What do you do there?
JS
I work in a, I work in a lab. Ah, I work with an instrument called a rheometer.
JS
Ah, it's the field, not, let me train throughout from some people, the field of rheology, which is the study of the deformation of material. I always remember that line to throw at somebody. And what that is is with the gooey stuff the reagent, the developer that we have, the different types that we have; black and white, different types of black and white, different formats.
JS
Ah, I'm in the area where they make it and this instrument uses parallel plates and you put a little dab down and the instrument works it in an intricate computer controlled manner that's set up, you know through the computer however you want a movement; oscillatory movements, rotational movements, however you want to blend them. And it sends that information back to the computer in data points and you get curves and you compare, make sure it looks good, make sure looks like the last.
JS
And sometimes we do, when they do special new things, experiments. Ah, I might test something see how it compares to our regular stuff and I also do some titrations ah, in the lab, which is to check the caustic level of the developer, of the reagent to make sure it's where it's supposed to be because if it's either high or low pictures don't come out right, they could come out blue or grey or something. And ah, yeah so I'm in a lab atmosphere.
NP
It all matters.
JS
Fits in.
NP
Ahm, well now I'm gonna try to have you talk about your parents. And ahm, the first thing I thought I would ask is just think about a distinct memory you have about each. It could be from any part of your life, from early childhood, teenage years, whatever. Ahm, that would give a clue to people like us who don't know them about who they were, how they were.
JS
Right. Ok, ah, my father went to Fisk. He met my mother at Fisk. She was from Indiana, Indianapolis. He was from around here and brought her back and had me, only me, ah, '52 of course.
JS
And they were in college probably around that '49, '50 time period, you know; '48, '49, '50, '51 something like that there. And had me and began their life, brought her from Indianapolis to Medford.
JS
And when I started to get older, you talk about distinct things that I remember, well as individuals my father was, was sort of hard, you know what I mean. The, the, the, I think the treatment of kids; it could have been black kids, I think every kid, it was just tougher for people. There wasn't as many college educated grandparents and things.
JS
And they all had to work pretty hard to do, to make their money, so you know, you work hard, you work all day, you come home. Ah, my father was sort of tough that way, ah, I think from the way his father came up and he was sort of tough. I think of my father being sort of tough, he didn't play no, no stuff, you know what I mean.
JS
You get, and you know they worry about child abuse today, there wasn't nobody worrying about no child abuse in the day okay 'cause I remember getting messed up a few times; mother sending me to the room and "wait for your father." And he come home and you'd hear the belts rattling in the closet, like he was picking his weapons, you know what I mean.
NP
[laughing][indecipherable]
JS
Right. Right. Right. Right.
JS
Black households, you know they still tighten up a little bit sometimes. Ah, so he was tough that way there. Very kind ah, in certain ways, ah, you know, very generous in certain ways, ah, very cold in certain ways.
JS
Yeah, ah yeah true man in the 1950's, 60's. Ah, he was in the navy ah, you know and that was right after high school couple of years, then he went to college. Ah, he went to Medford High, star football player.
JS
Agh, interesting times. We didn't talk about a lot, a lot of his past. I think in the navy he was like an airplane mechanic or something and that was. He was in WWI, but he never really was in battle anywhere, you know. Somehow he lucked out I guess you could say. You know you could say he lucked out.
JS
Ah, but I remember some stories about high school football. I remember him telling me that, now he, there weren't that many blacks on the football team you can imagine in 1945, you know in that area. Ah he, I remember him telling me he would be in situations, I think it was Brockton. And he was, if you don't mind me saying the 'n' word.
NP
No.
JS
He would, they would actually yell out "Get that nigger!"
JS
And he got four touchdowns that game, so they didn't get him. Ah, got a few older pictures at home of some of his stuff. He ran track at Medford High, he was good in that. So he made a little bit of a name for himself and I think it, my uncle, his brother, Walter Sherwood, led up to that 'cause I think he was pretty good at football and I think my father took it a step further.
JS
My father was the only one that went to college out of ah, him, two other brothers, out of three brothers and, and two sisters. Ah, he was the only one that went to college. Ah, so, that, those are a few things that I remember from the high school time period. That yelling out the 'n' word at him.
JS
And ah, then my mother, she was real smart. Street smart because she had come from an inner city atmosphere in Indianapolis.
JS
Where my grandmother ah, had run a tough life between the numbers racket and whatever kind of hustle there was; selling cigarettes, having a tough relationship with my grandfather, my mother's father. He wasn't very kind to her and they divorced when she was in her twenties.
JS
And my grandmother actually took care of her mother, father, grandmother and oh there was one other in the house there. I get confused sometimes when I even think about the whole thing.
JS
But she had like four people in the house plus my mother. And she was taking care of everybody; cooking, brought in the money. Ah, there was like her, her mother and father, her mother, her mother's father, her father's mother, you know what I mean it was all that going on and trying to take care of my mother at the same time determined to ah, make it work.
JS
So within all that she brought my mother up pretty well and sent her to Fisk. You know, I think she was pretty successful considering what she had to go through. Little small woman, but tough as nails.
JS
But my mother came from Indianapolis very street wise, very aware. Basically came here and had never had a black, never had a white doctor or ah, dentist. That's all she knew was black and she came here, that was new to her.
JS
Ah, but my mother, I think most people will say, was very kind, ah, very kind, very smart, very concerned, very considerate, very loving. Ah, all that wrapped together, 'cause I remember once we had a cousin that got ah, ah, pregnant young and the family kind of ridiculed her you know. 'Cause you see what happened was there was a lot of embarrassment and sometimes people don't deal with that too well and sometimes they shun their relatives ah, behind that.
JS
And I remember my mother going to town, into Boston to visit her when all of the family had basically turned their back on her. So she was that type of person. But one of the key things, when I think about my parents, my parents were party folks.
NP
[laughs] So we've heard.
JS
Yeah, oh yeah.
JS
I remember it was nothing for me to come home, wake up, even sometimes in the morning people would still be there eating breakfast. But it was nothing for me to come home and there not be a house full of folks. And that's what I came up on.
JS
And all that cigarette smoking is why I can't breathe today.
NP
[laughs]
JS
When it was twenty degrees out and them windows was closed and there was forty people smoking back to back, oooh, that was rough. So that's why I got to jog keep my lungs right you know. But ah, plenty, plenty partying, oh my goodness. Food.
NP
You're mom was a good cook?
JS
Yeah, yeah, yeah. She was a good cook. Liquor everywhere, liquor all over the place. Ah, and if it wasn't indoors, it was outdoors. Because at 118 Harvard Avenue, where I lived, yeah that's right next to 112. Actually the numbers are funny, that's where Delores Harris, who's my cousin, you know that, that's where she lived with her mother, Helen Johnson.
JS
And, but at my house, ah, cookouts, so when it was warm weather, it all happened outdoors, when it was cold weather, it all happened indoors. And people just drove up, strolled up, walked up, rode up, whatever way they could come up they came in the yard and they ate and drank.
JS
And another special time I remember was ah, my Aunt Ruthie, Ruthie Sherwood. She was my father's oldest, older sister, not oldest. Ah, she was into deep sea fishing, so as a kid she used to take me along. Ah, and we used to go down to Gloucester, Massachusetts and get on boats and go out at 5 in the morning and come back at 5 in the evening and catch big fish.
JS
You know go out about 2 and half hours from shore, so far out that you didn't see land after 45 minutes, you know what I mean, that's how far. It always amazes me, excuse me, you know the earth is curved, but you'd never think that you could see the curve in such a short distance, but obviously it's curved if you can't see land. So we'd go out there and have a good time. Those were memorable times.
JS
But it was always social stuff. And then my cousin Judi, she had cookouts too. But, Judi actually came up in ah, in the same house below us; it's a two-family house. And ah, but when she got her own ah, she was having cookouts too.
JS
And Delores next door had cookouts ah, as well and some other folks in the community did as well 'cause you couldn't just have one family doing it. I wouldn't think anyone would feel comfortable just always coming to one person's house and never ah, doing, doing something for them as well. But ah, that was the big thing that stands out with me, people, people all around, all the time.
NP
And what was that like for you growing up? I mean I know for me it was the same kinda thing. And it was good, you know your cousins live right there, your grandma's right there, but it got annoying.
JS
Sometimes, sometimes, yeah, 'cause sometimes I'd come home or, or I'd go upstairs wanting to go to sleep and the bass be thumping, you know it wasn't bass like now, but people stomping, you know dancing.
JS
People in every room; bathroom, kitchen, front room, you know ah front room there, there's another, another room. What's the other room? Not the study.
PE
Dining room?
JS
Dining room, I'm sorry. Every, every room people were there; bedrooms, sitting talking to my grandfather.
JS
My grandfather came up in our household. That was special. So I had an older body there.
NP
Your father's father?
JS
Yeah my father's father. Ah, he was interesting. I don't know a tremendous amount about him, you know how old folks, they don't, they don't talk a whole lot about their life, but he was in World War I. And ah, I have some artifacts at home that he brought back from Argonne, France. Big, big battle.
NP
Your dad was in World War Two?
JS
Two.
NP
Your grandfather was in World War One?
JS
World War One, yeah and he was actually, he actually fought. You know he was infantry, gun and all that there. Ah I don't know any details but I know he was in a big battle, if you ever look through a history book or on the internet, Argonne, A-R-G-O-N-N-E, Argonne, France.
JS
It was a massive battle and he was in that battle. I actually have some shells. Ah, you can't say rocket, can't say bullet; gun shells, big artillery shells ah, that I use, have at home as, as trash can. I've got one that's actually written on the side. He was a lieutenant actually.
NP
What was his name?
JS
Walter Sherwood.
NP
Walter Sherwood.
JS
Yeah. He was ah, he was really light. He was part white. I don't know how that all, I don't know where that broke down, but he was light and, but they still knew he was black and he was in the black, you know they separated, black infantry, but he was a lieutenant. Which I won't say was unheard of but, well I guess they had to have the ranks within the Black group and he was a lieutenant, so that was a leader. He was a leader for sure.
JS
Ah, but this shell says 'War of Argonne, France 1918, Lieutenant Walter Sherwood.' I guess he must have been in a place where they took some of these shells that must have been on the ground and, and engraved them. And ah, what a thing to have you know, from the past you know.
JS
So I'll give them to my kids you know and just keep it rolling. Ah so he was in the house. You know he was the wise man. You know he used to give up the good information when the parents were pissed at, excuse me, pissed at me or something. You know he'd talk to me about it. So it was good to have him around, another solid being, a mature being in the house.
NP
I guess with so many people, it didn't really feel like you were an only child. Did it?
JS
I think that it did amongst some of my friends because they just knew that. And I think we did, I don't think we had that much. Maybe we had more than some.
JS
We used to go to Indiana. I think they might have thought I was maybe a little privileged in that way, that I was going to Indiana and we'd go on vacations on occasion. But I mean we was driving and stuff, you know what I mean. It wasn't like we was flying a plane, we flew the plane sometimes, but it was a lot of driving. You know a thousand miles here to go to Indiana.
JS
And ah, you know my father lived in my grandfather's house, that's whose house it was. So he had a little extra money because of that, like anybody if you live in your parents house you tend to have a little bit of extra bread.
JS
So, but out in the streets really when I think about it, ah I don't really think of myself so much as an only child. You know you can't help but be your mother's only and all the attention goes that way. But my mother didn't baby me, but still you're the only one so there's no way that you can get out of being the focus, you know. But still like I say, I back off of that, she didn't baby me.
JS
And I used to remember, I remember telling friends that, or, or thinking, I might not have said anything to 'em, that some cases, some families looked more like they were only children than me. They were getting more stuff at Christmas sometimes you know what I mean. I'd go by and say "Dang, something didn't seem right" you know, but that was all good.
JS
But I always came up, ah, girls I dealt with, people I dealt with, they didn't really, of course I have traits, I would, I would naturally of an only child, but I think that I always used to try to resist that because I always thought that that was something that is not; only children are not always, how can I put that, they can be a little self-centered and think things revolve, evolve around them and those are not all good traits you know.
JS
I think the most well rounded kid is usually a kid that's in a household with at least one or more kids. I think that's always the most balance you know. But I used to try to ah, resist that kind of stuff. I mean there were times I even backed away from going on vacations when I got older because I just was kinda, I wanted to hang in the street as well but you know, I just didn't want to go that route, you know, be centered out.
JS
But I think the way I came up, ah, many people have said, "Well I didn't know you was an only child, you didn't act like an only child" and da-da-da-da. And you try to resist those things that you know are not right within the only child world, being selfish you know what I mean, ah, being inconsiderate. Ah, there's a lot of little things that if you let an only child go rampant, he could be hell, you know what I mean.
JS
You can usually spot them when they're out performing somewhere, yelling and screaming and the mother's not doing anything. Ah, there's things about that that I don't think are good and my wife right now, we, we, a lot of times we'll comment about "oh he seems like an only child, or he looks like an only child, or he's being treated like one."
JS
'Cause I've always tried to come out in the middle somewhere, you know. I was the only one, but didn't want to be looked upon as someone with those traits, those bad traits of an only child so I tried to get rid of them. And it ends up making you I think a better person because I think, like I say, somebody in a household with one or more people other than themselves is usually pretty well balanced.
NP
Ahm, we can talk about your parents both being ahm, teachers and educators.
JS
Right.
NP
Your ideas about that. Ahm do you think that it fit their personalities? And that's kind of how they came together? Or were they different in the way that they approached their, their careers? Did you have friends that had them as teachers?
JS
No, no.
JS
My father was at a predominately white school. That was always a mystery to me. Ah, why he chose that or accepted that. I never really went into that with him. Ah, I don't know if he didn't want to. I, I never really understood that.
JS
Whether he didn't want to be in confrontation with people's kids that he knew and hung with. Ah, Maybe he didn't want to deal with any of that, so maybe he just was avoiding that. Ah, I don't think he didn't have a love for his own, himself, black, that's what I always felt, was never sure.
JS
But, and he had friends. Ah, there would be occasions where I would see some of the people from his school in the yard and that would usually when I'd be stay away, I don't, I don't want to offend anybody, but I tend to stay away from that. I was a little embarrassed sometimes, you know 'cause it was in our little 'hood and I'd see up in the yard what was happening and come in and say "hi". And a couple of them were cool, they were good folks and they treated my father well.
JS
But ah, as far as going to Fisk, their personalities, I think my father was a coach when he was young and I think he was always a prospective teacher, so to speak. My mother, my grandmother taught a little bit, ah, so she came, oh and also her aunt was a teacher, so she sort of came from a teaching background.
JS
It was around her, her father's sister, ah, was a teacher and her mother was, did some teaching as well, some college education.
JS
Ah, so I think those two personalities ah, was easy for them to come together that way. And I don't know how or when the decision came that he would teach which he did first and then she would follow and teach. I don't know where that came about.
JS
I'm not sure what their classes were at Fisk, you know not exactly sure, but somewhere along the line they both were teaching at the same time. And when I was at that Brooks school, that's where my mother taught. Just for that one grade, that was a little stressful because she was floating around.
JS
I couldn't do nothing, word would get right back in the teachers' room. That's a little stressful. Can you imagine having your mother teaching? Whoa! Uhuh! So that was, nothing real bad happened from that, but just it was a little stressful.
JS
We made sure you know, I guess I made sure I didn't get in trouble during that year. Then I was across to the Hobbs, which was right next door, but the walls, you know, bricks in between.
PE
That made all the difference?
JS
Yeah
NP
Okay then final three questions I guess and then if you have anything else you want to add.
JS
Sure
NP
If you wanted anything to be remembered about your parents, what would it be and why? And ahm, if they were alive, how would they handle people wanting to write about them and remember what they did and contribute to that? And what do you think they would want to say about themselves?
JS
Ah, I would think that they would, I can probably put it all together in one and if I don't hit it all let me know. I think as far as them being remembered; I think that they would want to be remembered as ah, loving and kind friends to basically everyone.
JS
If you were friends with my people, you were in good shape. Good shape all the way around. And as far as ah, what them being remembered ah, as well, they, they worked the summer park program for some years and they mentored a lot of kids you know and ah did arts and crafts with kids, kept kids ah, minds ah, working with artsy types of work and sports and stuff.
JS
And they went down the park in the summer and kids met and gathered and did their little programs you know, ah, so that would be their contribution back to the city.
JS
And if, if, if they were, if they were alive and how they would deal with their nomination; I think they would appreciate it, they would be proud. Ah, I don't think it'd be anything they'd be shy of because I think to them it would be ah, a recognition of their personalities, so that would be rewarding, it's like a big "atta boy", you know.
JS
A big pat on the back 'cause sometimes you do things and people don't seem that they appreciate you as a person and I think that would be the cherry on top. That somebody would be nominating them for something related to their contributions. It all comes down for love, love of life, love of kids, love of people, relatives, friends.
NP
Just some ahm, like more personal information, dates of birth, death.
JS
Oh, my mother I don't know, I'm not sure of the date, I'm not sure of the date. Do you want to know the date? I can make a call if you want.
NP
You could just ahm call, like call me.
JS
Yeah, yeah let me do that.
JS
My father was born in 1925; September 7, the day after me. I was born, it's funny he was born a day after me and he was '25, I was '52, and the 6th of September for me.
JS
Yeah. And she was about four years older than him, so you know she was like '27 or so, I'm thinking '27 ,'28, you know 1927, '28 something like that there.
NP
Okay.
JS
And then her birthday is December 17th.
NP
When did they pass?
JS
Hmm?
NP
When did they pass?
JS
Ah, my mother passed in '89. Ah, father passed, ha that's wild, I think it was '98. Yeah you, those dates you, you try to keep really close, but some you kind of, kind of push it aside too you know. I mean they're memorable times, but it's not the end of the world if you don't remember the exact.
NP
Yeah of course.
JS
I was actually with my mother when she passed. Oh yeah.
NP
Yeah we, they told us she was sick.
JS
That was crazy. Yeah she had cancer. That's crazy. You all know anybody that's had cancer, or died of cancer?
NP
It's different.
JS
Yeah. It's rough.
NP
Both of my grandparents died from cancer.
JS
Did they really? And you watched them?
NP
My grandma. She lived with us.
JS
Yeah. So I won't, I don't want to use the word callously 'dwindled away.'
NP
Yeah.
JS
You watched that yeah. So you know the deal.
NP
She was a heavy woman when I grew up and.
JS
And very thin in the end? Yeah. Yeah, it's horrible. You don't know anybody? You're very lucky. And bless you if you never have to deal with it, most of us are touched at some point, you're still young. But you're very lucky ah, 'cause it's, it's horrifying.
JS
And I've always thought to myself if you had somebody to die from a heart attack versus cancer, which would you have? At least, cancer you kind of can be with them, talk with them and exchange. Heart attack you get a call, you know, three o'clock in the afternoon, so and so is dead. But when they die, the plus, if there is a plus, is that they might have looked very healthy. They might have looked normal and they died as you remembered them. But when someone dies of cancer, oh lord have mercy.
PE
Do you want to talk a little more about it?
JS
Oh, ooh, God. I could tell ya, it might bring up her hurt you know. But ah what happens, usually depends on what it is. My mother had colon cancer which they say is one of the least likely to take a life. Because what happens if you, if your colon, if you get trouble in your ah, ah what's the organ? The ah.
NP
Intestine.
JS
Intestine.
JS
Worse case scenario, they'll put, and there are many people running around, with a bag, literally a bag underneath your dress or your pants to re-route, you know what I mean. So she, ah, had colon cancer and it spread and ended up going to the liver. What does the liver do? Purify the blood, so when the liver aint doing that right and the blood going through your body aint right, it's just a slow close down.
JS
But ah, I'll tell you something I mean ya'll, ya'll asked me, so I'm going to tell you and my mother was actually, her eyes were; this is maybe morbid, I don't need to maybe go there.
PE
It's up to you.
NP
It's up to you.
NP
JS. Yeah, her eyes were actually kind of yellow when she died and her face was open, her mouth was open, almost looked like a, yeah it looked like a horror flick. It really did.
JS
And this is something else to see a close one go through this you know, but I was in the room, and she was comatose at the time, which means you're out of it. And there's debate about whether they hear you or not, or whether you know, they realize you're there or not and ah, she was there and you know, she was just struggling to breathe.
JS
And I was actually, I could sense that her breaths was taking long time in between, so I was actually timing her breath, the seconds in between inhale and exhale and all of a sudden it stopped.
JS
You know so, I don't know should, should I be not happy, but? Do I appreciate that I was there? Ah, I don't know. Probably better than being called on the phone. Maybe. I don't know. None of its really happening, but it's memorable you know, to have been there.
JS
My father, he, he had congestive heart failure, so he had fluid ah, that would build up. Some people get it in their feet and they take, do whatever they got to do to release it and, but he used to get it in his heart, around his heart or whatever.
JS
And ah, he would wake up, his first signs of this, he would wake up in the middle of the night; he was in Florida at the time. My mother was gone. He'd wake up in the middle of the night and ah, be short of breath. I mean literally, can you imagine waking up where you're not just at one point short of breath, you know, it's increasing quickly and you've got to do something or you're going to die.
JS
So he had times, he had bouts where he had to rush, his girlfriend at the time, would bring him to the hospital quickly. They'd give him Lasics or something, he'd urinate that stuff out, the fluid out some kind of way. But ah, he finally had an infection and it got to the point where they couldn't give him the medicine they needed to give him for his heart, so all these things went down and he passed actually while I was down there.
JS
I had shot down there to ah, I got news he was in tough shape. He had like a stroke or something. And that was crazy 'cause he was talking on the phone to me and you know, you're used to your parents speaking to you in words and I heard him [mumbling sounds] and I was like what! So I shot down there, you know what I mean.
JS
So he had a little stroke or something. And he passed while I was down there and that was rough too. We've all been to funerals and wakes and all that stuff. I had gone to see him that night and I went back to his place and ah, just started to go to sleep. About 11 o'clock they called me.
JS
So I went back in there, whew that's rough too; opened up the door, he's in there you know, what do you do, give a kiss, shut the door, move on.
JS
So love your parents, appreciate your parents. They aren't right all the time, but I'll tell you they the best thing you got. Yeah.
NP
Thank you.
JS
Uhuh.
  3
  4,
  5