All week, KCRW is sharing remembrances of some of the lives lost to COVID-19, as told by the people who loved them.
“A hippie until the end.” That’s how Maile Walker describes her mom Sheri Walker, who passed away from COVID-19 complications on July 24, 2020. She was 69 years old.
“She had purple hair, [and was] just very, very fun. … [She had] that free spirit, love, [and] peacefulness that was so indicative of the late 60s, early 70s era,” Maile says.
Growing up in Long Island, New York, Sheri spent much of her time outside. She dreamed of becoming a PE teacher. One weekend when she was 18 years old, she ran away from home with her eyes set on the Woodstock music festival.
Maile remembers bragging to her friends about her mom going to the popular event.
“We did those themed dress-up days at school, and we did 60s day. I literally wore the shirt she wore to Woodstock, which on its own [was a] really boring, generic striped shirt,” Maile says.
To her mom, Woodstock seemed at the time like another run-of-the-mill festival. “And I think how many of us in our lives do this thing that seems so ordinary, and to the younger generations is amazing.”
After marrying her husband in 1976, the pair moved to Haleiwa, Hawaii, on the north shore of Oahu. They owned and operated a record store together.
“She would just talk about living in Hawaii, surrounded by music and the beach and the surfers. It just sounded so magical, this sense of community and sense of love,” Maile says.
An avid music lover, one of Sheri’s prized possessions was her record collection that included albums from The Beatles and The Rolling Stones.
“She loved music, especially classic rock. She loved musicals: ‘Wicked’ … ‘Chorus Line,’ ‘West Side Story.’ She’s one of the reasons I became a little drama kid.”
Following her mom’s divorce, Maile says the two grew up and matured together. “There were times where I was the one going, ‘Mom, we have to be responsible and do this instead,’” Maile recalls. “I always say we fought like mothers and daughters, but also we fought like friends, like sisters. No one can get under your skin in that same way.”
In her final years, Sheri continued to tap into her maternal instinct, as a mentor to her nieces, nephews, and others. “I don't feel like babysitter’s the right word, but she worked with a family and helped take care of the kids, picked them up from school, helped with homework,” Maile says. “She was someone they could talk to who wouldn't judge them, whether they had a bad time in school or there were bullies.”
Sheri might have lost her battle against COVID-19, but Maile says it’s not the last she’ll see her. “It’s not a goodbye, it’s just until we meet again.”
In the meantime, Maile recommends holding your loved ones close.
“Hug your loved ones. Not just because you don't know when their last day will be, but because they're your loved ones and they should be appreciated. If anyone's listening to this and touched by my mom's story, go be kind, and that would make her really really happy.”