Liz and I are so sorry that we cannot be among friends to pay our respects to a great man and a great friend.
Sherman Maness was a friend of mine for nearly two decades. He would understand that this was not supposed to be a wake. This was supposed to be another Sunday when Sherman joined Alan, Barry, Ron, Karen and others to throw a few darts, drink a few pints and have a few laughs. None were supposed to be here today paying tribute and our respects to our dear friend.
In so many ways Sherman was larger than life. For me, in all my 5 feet 6-inch height, Sherman towered above me. When I first heard of Sherman, before I met him and he became a friend, he stood out in Slo Pitch as an awesome force. My teammates warned me to stand back, way back as Sherman was likely to hit over my head. He did and there was nothing for me to do but listen and feel the ground shake as he thundered around the bases yet again celebrating another home run.
It was when I played ball with Sherman in two leagues – with A to Z Dragons – the orthodox team, and in the men’s Slo Pitch league on many teams that I got to know him. I picked him up many times from the bus station when he worked in Toronto in order that he might make our games. I asked him questions about indigenous life which he answered honestly and with candor. When I wanted to know about the “two-spirited” status some indigenous people ascribed to gay members of the community, Sherman thought, took a drag on a cigarette and said without blinking: “it means you are queer” – nothing more, nothing less, nothing mystical, purely respectful of others. In fact, For him, people were people regardless of their background or lifestyle. If they could play ball, throw darts, strum a guitar or hammer out a bass line all the better. For Sherman, being human and being respectful and accepting of all people mattered.
I once talked to him about young people whom I was teaching trying to figure out how to deal with confused kids. I told him of the troubles one boy was in – at that time in a lock up in Goderich for participating in a stupid, juvenile attempt at trying to hold up a variety store. I said to Sherman, “Kids are so messed up, what would ever make a kid want to try to do a heist of a corner store?”
Sherman laughed, “You want to see messed up? Try growing up on a Res.” I supposed I got a bit close to Sherman’s past. I had forgotten that Sherman had grown up Ojibway in Sarnia – something he never made much about but was with him all his life.
Sherman joined our darts team about 10 years ago. He loved to throw those things. I often wondered what was he throwing at. If you ask Karen, Chuck or even Ron, Sherman was not throwing darts. He was launching them with a ferocity that threatened to send them through the board, the wall and possibly around the world. I believe it was Bob Desautels, who suggested that if Sherman did not ease off a bit, they would have to reinforce the walls where the Wooly Boards hung. Sherman did not play to impress. He played for fun, for camaraderie and to be part of the idle chatting and banter that came with darts and beer.
That was the way Sherman played guitar and bass as well. It was both a pleasure and an honour to play with him. I was in awe of his ancient Martin Guitar which sadly he sold a couple years ago. I wanted to buy it but could not afford to pay what it was worth – at least $3,000.00. I was relieved when I heard that Mark at Folkways apparently assured Sherman he would get a good price. I am happy to say that I am the owner of his Traynor Bassmate amplifier – a 1960’s amp that I purchased from him at the time he sold his Martin. I still have his name inscribed on tape fixed to the back of the amp – if the glue dries up, I will glue it back on.
Those sales of guitars and amps are part of Sherman’s legacy to me. They reveal that he was tight for cash. Previous to buying it, Sherman had told me I could have his amp as he had left it at my place years ago. It was a very generous gift and one I could not accept.
I knew that Sherman loved his Martin. If he was selling it, he was in need of cash. I worried that he was going to need more cash as his pensions would only go so far. 200 bucks was a fair price for the amp and one I was happy to pay – Sherman was happy to get it. I think that he was not alone in this predicament. In a sense, Sherman became symbolic not just of our Canadian Native brothers and sisters but also our retirees – tight for cash and worried about making ends meet. If there is anything we can do for Sherman’s memory perhaps it is to help others who are in his situation today. Poverty sucks, being tight for cash in old age sucks even more.
When I think of Sherman, I think of a friend whom I had for years – a man of quiet strength who had his demons and kept them to himself – most of the time. Sherman liked a beer, a cigarette and to smoke pot. He confided in me that he used pot to self-medicate preferring it to the prescriptions that made him sometimes feel out of his mind. Perhaps he is the poster boy for medical marijuana, for the elderly on fixed incomes for the boy who leaves the Res to conquer a hostile world.
While all that might be true or is perhaps me romanticizing, this I know: Sherman is best remembered as a friend. A smile as big as a house, a ponytail worn to the end. A friend inquiring to me often about my stepson Caleb, wondering if Liz’s March on Washington was a success – wanting to talk to Liz about it but succumbing to illness too soon.
I’ll miss him. I’ll miss playing ball with him, guitar with him (him laughing and criticizing me for being lazy playing C9 when a song calls for a C). I’ll miss his voice, driving him home, sharing a beer or two. I will shed tears as I think how much I’ll miss my friend and his deep unforgettable voice.
So today, toast Sherman, play darts, play music, play ball this summer. Remember a man whom we called friend, who was truly larger than life and whom none of us can believe is gone.
Migwitch Sherman, keep slamming them homers on the other side.