reverse threading

the path back is the path forward


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on the trail of uuno. [merely-a-thought monday]

i was stunned to see my eyes on his face. maybe even my nose. ok, maybe – for obvious reasons – more my dad’s, my mom’s. but, sheesh, this ancestral dna, undeniable, is a funny thing.

finnish. i am finnish. and proud of it. though there are millions of us, my most-italian-city-in-the-state-of-wisconsin doesn’t have a lot of finns. we are pretty few and far between. the most finnish we get in these parts is people talk about (while mispronouncing) “saunas” and wonder about the use of the word “sisu” (one of my personal favorites.)

recently, in facebookland, my cousin posted this finnish proverb, “the forest will answer you in the way you call to it.” another cousin wrote that she remembered the story about our relative uuno klami, a famous finnish composer, “one of the most significant composers in the era following jean sibelius”, who brought people out into the forest and encouraged them to “sit quietly” and “listen to the woods”.

my sweet momma used to tell me about him, too. she connected the dots back to uuno as where i drew my composing juju. no one else in our family wrote music and, actually, not many even played instruments. my dad used to brag about how he could “turn on the stereo” as his musical talent. yes, he was a cutie-pie with a dad-sense-of-humor. my mom was insistent. in the ever-so-typical “yeah-yeah-yeah” internal response to which we children seem to default, i didn’t go much further than these conversations, a discuriousness i now regret.

so a couple weeks ago i googled him. it was startling to see his picture. because i felt like i recognized the heavy eyebrow lids – frontal bossing or some such term – slightly drooping eyes, the 11’s furrowed over his nose, his actual nose. geesh. he was not blessed with as high a forehead. now, a few generations later…

but – his woods connection. yes. psithurism: the sound of rustling leaves and wind in the trees. gorgeous. inspiring. evocative. i so agree with him.

his music – as i now begin to listen to it, on his trail – many pieces with only one recording, one interpretation. and – in the way of composers and real life – much of his oeuvre is unpublished.

yet i suspect that the forest knows it all. what he brought to it – his muse – returns to the leaves and the wind and is always there.

*****

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uff da! [not-so-flawed wednesday]

bumper sticker on the car in front of us

every week we would drive to st. james so that i could take norwegian lessons. my sweet momma and poppo took them too. i had no idea why i was taking these lessons, but far be it from me to question the stubborn pull of the sons of norway lodge for my parents, who loved their membership there, a little inland from the north shore of long island. i belonged to the sons of norway youth group as well. one of my really close high school friends belonged to the greek youth group, so my membership at the loyal lodge didn’t seem quite so weird, but the greek youth group was way more lively than the norwegian’s, with many festivals and dances. i mean, just think of the food alone: norwegian fish pudding vs. greek moussaka, lapskaus vs. souvlaki, krumkake vs. baklava, akvavit vs. ouzo…there is a different level of excitement and celebration. anyway, i felt less like an anomaly going to norwegian lessons because angela went to greek school.

not much of the norwegian tradition has carried on. there have been times when we have made krumkake, filling the plain waffle cookies off the iron with fruit or whipped cream. there have – never – been times that we have sought out norwegian fish pudding nor lutefisk. never ever. i have never – ever – used my norwegian lessons. sadly, even if i went to norway, which is most definitely on a bucket list, i would not understand any of the language now’days.

but “uff da” has endured.

my dad used the expression often. it was a substitution for “oof!” or “oh geez!” to express surprise or dismay or just to buy a moment of thinking-time. “uff da!” is synonymous with him in our family. so it is likely if any of us sees a bumper sticker or what-have-you that says “uff da!” we will send it on and around. it’s like we have had a tiny visit from my dad; erling has spoken.

we have a couple “uff da” magnets on our fridge that came from their fridge. and my nephew named his children beautiful and unique heritage-rich norwegian names, carrying on legacy my dad passed down. i get to carry my dad’s name with me (as well as his jowls). and you can sometimes – though not too often – hear me say “uff da” out loud.

my sons of norway days are no longer, but i remember fondly the cute boy “j-r” in my class, the norwegian dancing instruction, the man from the lodge who built our stone fireplace rock-by-rock, the miss norway pageant in the city and the marzipan.

always the marzipan.

uff da!!

*****

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momma’s 100th birthday. [merely-a-thought monday]

i hope there is chocolate ganache cake and asti spumante. today is my sweet momma’s 100th birthday and, wherever she is roaming in that other plane of existence, i want there to be an enormous celebration of this day she was born back in 1921. there is not a moment i don’t miss her. there is not a moment that i am unaware of her presence.

the dining room table is piled with all kinds of finnish glassware and etched crystal and scandinavian birchwood as i empty bins that have been packed for years. i carefully unwrap the end-of-roll-clean-newsprint that layers between these and i’m immediately reminiscent. every here and there there is a tiny note, written by my mom, to explain the origins of this vase or that kissing-couple-wine-stopper. i have many questions and know that they will now go unanswered. i find myself researching and researching, a google-fest of information about these items, some of which have no story i can access.

i am drawn to pieces and carefully clean them. we poured chilled white wine into a pair of chunky goblets, ittala ultima thule glass designed by tapio wirkkala, inspired by melting ice in lapland. yesterday i made strawberry rose sangria and poured it into glasses from a heavy crystal etched pitcher, which i remember was a gift to my parents early in their marriage. the other day we had happy hour snacks out on the deck, olives and crackers and goat cheese on hand-painted japanese china, a post-world-war-two-origin lost to me, served on a glass mid-century hazel atlas boopie berwick party platter (which is actually called a ‘smoke and snack tray’ but i can’t bring myself to call it that.)

the history gathers in our dining room and i can almost feel the cheers of my momma and my dad, my grandmother mama dear and grandfather gramps. they encourage my googling and they also encourage me to sort through and find the things that really resonate with me. i can hear my momma telling me, “pass it on to someone” or “sell it!” as i unpack more bins of things, things, things that would otherwise remain packed. although i still abide by the unspoken ‘beaky rule’ to saaave new things for a bit before using them, keeping all these things packed in bins for years, no, decades – unused – is silliness and it is rewarding time spent opening it all up, seeing what’s there, going through, incorporating these jewels into our daily life. i know that is making my momma smile.

today we will lift our glasses to my momma, our beaky, and celebrate her. her spirit and spunk live on. her stink eye penetrating look, her raised eyebrow “oh?”, her ‘write-a-lettuh’, her sisu, her new-yorkishness. her kindness, her storytelling, her love.

today i will light a candle and gently ring the delicate glass bell she and my dad received as a wedding gift and i will be grateful that this day – 100 years ago – my momma was born on this earth. for that, this world is better.

*****

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the wisdom of the white trout lily. [merely-a-thought monday]

when my big brother died, i was lost in a maelstrom of emotion. it was hard for me to wrap my head around how the world would go on at a point he could no longer feel it. it wasn’t like i hadn’t experienced loss before. at that point in my life, i no longer had any of my grandparents present on this earth with me. that just felt like a more natural thing – to lose those we love who are elderly, who have lived long and full lives. my beloved brother, on the other hand, was merely 41 and there were so many hopes and dreams he still had for himself and his family. i am still struck by the fact that the world does, indeed, go on. the sun rises and sets; the moon lingers in the night sky. and my question, both existential and somewhat obvious, remains unanswered: how it can go on if he can’t feel it anymore. how it will go on – someday – if i can’t feel it anymore.

at some point a few years ago, i played for a memorial service at a synagogue. one of the meditations before kaddish made me weep. penned by merrit malloy, it reads: “when i die give what’s left of me away to children and old men that wait to die. and if you need to cry, cry for your brother walking the street beside you. and when you need me, put your arms around anyone and give them what you need to give me. i want to leave you something, something better than words or sounds. look for me in the people i’ve known or loved, and if you cannot give me away, at least let me live in your eyes and not in your mind. you can love me best by letting hands touch hands and by letting go of children that need to be free. love doesn’t die, people do. so when all that’s left of me is love, give me away.”

the white trout lily humbly bows on the forest floor. much like people, though on a different scale, their presence is ephemeral, fleeting. on sunny days, their petals will curl back, up, towards the sun; on shady days these small flowers may not even open. their simple beauty a mystery to the passerby, their faces shyly downward, they fill the underbrush on the side of the trail, dotting the landscape with fragile white blooms. i trust they are not concerned with the impact they make on the world nor do they wonder about their footprints once they are gone. they are simply there – love – dressed in white floral.

as we have moved through the pandemic and the devastating myriad of even just this past year, it is inevitable to think of all the loss, the loved ones who have died, the families and concentric circles left behind in grief, questioning. it is also – yes – a reminder that we are still here.

my dear friend sent me a link to a new york times op ed by charles blow. she drew my attention to the last line, words of perfection: “when i am gone, and people remember my name, i want some of them to smile.”

yes.

that.

smile. and give me away.

*****

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i struck gold. [k.s. friday]

once upon a time, a long long time ago in a faraway place, something happened. and then, there was A Rift, chasm-like and mysterious to those who followed. members of a family – my family – got hurt and angry and argued and dissed each other and cut off communication. no one really remembers the details but it must have been of gigantic proportion because decades have passed and relationships never regained their footing.

and then.

in the aftermath of breaking both my wrists last year, in the beginning of this global pandemic, in a time of upending change, i decided that life was too short for something i really could not remember, for something that had nothing to do with me, for something that represents tear-down instead of build-up. i started to research.

now, with google and all manners of social media, it doesn’t take a private investigator type to find people these days. it was not very hard.

and suddenly, my long-lost first cousins were there. in a tiny family tree, it is hugely significant to find first cousins, part of the constellation. sadly, two of them had passed, though there is open opportunity to be in touch with their families. and, miracle of miracles, the one remaining elder in the family from either side – my mom’s or my dad’s – in that age bracket and generation – my aunt – at almost-99-now – was alive and well. this woman who grew up with my father, who could tell me stories of my daddy when he was little-little, was still on this planet and i had had no idea.

i reached out.

just because i don’t remember, nor care, about The Great Rift didn’t mean that others felt the same way. so i was concerned and had some trepidation. but i was determined to try. for five decades i had lost the opportunity to know these people, my relatives. i had lost the chance to spend time with them, get to know them, laugh and cry with them, love them. i had lost over fifty years of relationship, over fifty years of connection. and that loss, something i’ve thought about on and off for these decades, was worth the risk. there’s way too much of that. loss.

they reached back.

and they didn’t just reach back. they reached back with joy. it was amazing to message and talk with cousin tony and cousin linda. it was thrilling to re-connect, my cousin tony laughing when i asked him to tell me everything, from every day, starting from 1970 or so.

in the middle of a pandemic, it is impossible to have the chance to go and (re)meet them yet, but we have our sights set on it for whenever it is safe. a chance to hug my aunt helen will be a chance to hug my dad once again. a chance to laugh heartily with my cousins and their children will be a chance to touch the heart of budding relationships, to touch dna.

though we have been connected despite our disconnectedness, it is a celebration for me to re-connect the dots. at a time when really nothing is more important than relationships, it is not time to be circumspect about connection. we are related! my cousin linda wrote words of promise i hold dear, “i can’t wait for the day when we just pick up the phone and just call each other without having to think about it.” yes. and cousin tony’s words ring true for me, “let’s not lose this connection again.”

Great Rifts seem to be prevalent. especially in these times of divisiveness. as i think about all the tragedies of even just the last months, i wonder what could be so important, so utterly pivotal, that could destroy connection. there is no doubt. we could exist somewhat without others, without ties. but connectedness feeds us and our souls in ways that nothing else can.

my sweet momma used to remind me of the girl scout song, “make new friends but keep the old. one is silver and the other’s gold.”

connected.

grateful.

i struck gold.

*****

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CONNECTED from RELEASED FROM THE HEART ©️ 1995 kerri sherwood


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it’s where i’m from. [k.s. friday]

i come from make-it-work stock. my sweet momma and poppo were children of the great depression and were not wasteful sorts. soap socks, squeezing every last vestige of shampoo from the bottle, re-using boxes, rube-goldberg fixes, not a lot of retail therapy. they made do with what they had and never complained. latest trends were mostly lost on them and competing for the best lawn/decor/car/wardrobe/jewels/stuff was not a thing. as the youngest child, with siblings much older than me who both married by the time i was eleven, i had much time to glean and learn to mimic their ways. making-it-work. it’s where i’m from.

and so now, empowered by these two forces of nature – my mom and my dad – with a new brace on my wrist, i am making do. after breaking both wrists the end of january in a snowboarding accident, i finally had healed fractures. the pandemic had interrupted all my occupational therapy and, thus, i’ve been frustrated by a lack of range of motion in my right wrist, so my old brace was often my companion. but i made it work. it’s where i’m from.

and then i fell.

the floor was wet and, unfortunately, unmarked as such. my feet flew out from underneath me and, in natural reflex action, i fell…on my right wrist. i felt right away something was wrong but waited to contact my dr for 48 hours, hoping for quick residing of the new pain. i’m pretty tough and it takes a lot for pain to get to me. d says i have a high tolerance for pain. i blame my mom and dad. they were tough and endured much in their lives. but this isn’t a post about my wrist – soon an MRI and a hand specialist will tell me what is now going on, post-fall. in the meanwhile, i keep on keeping on, just the same as after i simultaneously broke both wrists. making do. it’s where i’m from.

as we hiked along trails in aspen’s woods of color, we mused on how easily we were, well, amused. simply hiking, sitting alongside a creek, smelling the scent of autumn forest – these things were sheer entertainment for us. no restaurants, no bars, no shops, no shows required. (and, in the middle of a pandemic, not even considered.) i thought of all the times i had spent simply being outside, picking apples with my momma and poppo, taking drives, having picnics in parks at wooden tables carved with initials of people we would never know. as we sat around the table out on the balcony or socially-distanced in the condo, i thought of all the times i just spent simply coffee-sitting with my mom and dad, talking long over dinner, late-night conversations on the phone. as my daughter and i talked about my parents, her beaky and pa, i thought of their sacrifices, of their belief in all peoples regardless of gender, race, sexual orientation, economic status, religion. i thought of their altruism, their open-mindedness, their embracing of new ideas and their love of learning new things and going new places, and i see their eyes reflected in both my daughter’s and son’s eyes. it’s where i’m from. and it’s where they’re from.

as we approach this very important time of voting, i worry about the narrative others are hearing, but not researching. i worry about the rhetoric coming from this white house, the absolute lies, the warping of truths, the sickening twist of stories, the re-defining of the definition of words, the lack of understanding, the self-serving agenda, the out and out falling prey to gross exaggerations of misinformation. i worry about those people listening to this, believing it, voting with this toxic barrage of falsehoods in their hearts.

and i think about my mom, who always, always, always said, “look it up.” yes. look further. research. find objective, factual resources and immerse in those. look. it. up.

yes. make do. look it up. it’s where i’m from.

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