This little painting was saved in a metal box for seventy years. Tucked away with a few old photographs, a few dozen letters, and the odd newspaper clipping. All saved by Margretta Wood, in memory of her son who didn’t come home from the Pacific.
I don’t know who did the painting, or who it was originally meant to depict, but it’s plain to see who Margretta believed it was. And it does rather suggest him, anyway–the tall, skinny lieutenant from the mortar section, from Swarthmore, from Hastings.
He never made it back, died saving lives instead of taking them, and maybe there are still some families on Saipan who tell the story of the tall, skinny American who saved their mothers and their siblings from a cave up in the hills, just the way we still tell and remember it, not all the time but sometimes, and on days like today most of all.
In the cold New York winter of 1944, Margretta received a small package from the Marine Corps. It had his snapshots, his ring, his cigarette lighter, and a carefully bound stack of letters–all the letters she and her daughter had written to their son and brother for the past two years, a perfect match to the pile she was perhaps already saving in the black metal box for safekeeping.
The receipt for the package also lists “2 Paintings.”
This, perhaps, is one.
Kept because she thought her son must have liked it. Kept because it belonged to him. Kept because it reminded her of him, in that black metal box that was passed down to her daughter, and then eventually to a cross-generational cousin who never met Phil Wood, but does remember him, and shares this memento so that others can, too.