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"The First Book of Last Times" by Ron Wiggins

The First Book of Last Times

Chapter One

     There was, of course, a last time you were carried sleeping from the car. The occasion was neither celebrated nor remarked upon unless your dad said something like: "Holy cow! This kid's a moose. From now on he walks."

     And so you did. The next time your folks came in late, your dad squeezed your shoulder and shook you gently, saying, "We're home. Wake up. Let's go." And obligingly, you trundled into the house, bouncing off furniture and walls until you crawled into bed where somebody later came and undressed you and tucked you in and perhaps pressed lips against your cheek.

     There was a last time for that, too. And a last time anybody tied a shoe for you or made you use the booster board at the barber shop, or gave you money knotted up in a handkerchief or told you to look both ways or close your mouth while you're eating and on and on and on.

     That's what this book is about: Last times. The closing of hundreds of personal epochs, each one un-noted and uncelebrated. Well, why not first times? There was a first time you left the house in your Sunday best without your mom wetting a hankie with her tongue and scrubbing a dirty spot and a freckle or two off your face, and there was a first time you went off the high dive and a first time you rode a bicycle without training wheels.

    Sorry, our hearts go out to last time precisely because they sneak by us. We know you can remember that first time you went head-first off the high dive. You can remember the commitment and mental rehearsals, and how very much farther away the water looked from above than it did from the base of the ladder; how you crouched and bent over so as to make the water closer, the jeers from the other kids behind you, and finally the point of no return as you toppled forward, the rush of wind and the sting of water ram-injected up your nose even as your eyeballs were crushed against the back of your skull.

     The fun stuff you remember.

     But do you remember that last craven incident in your high board career when you chickened out and jumped? Or worse, the last time you thought you would jump off the high board, took one look and climbed down the ladder in disgrace, against traffic, while 10 other kids despised you for a coward?

     We can fetch these priceless moments back for you, but as Strother Martin said in "Cool Hand Luke", you've got to get your mind right. Take this test. When you see a waxed floor, what's the first thing you think of?

     If you said yellow wax buildup, you are much too grown up to truly savor life and you need help. You've come to the right place. The correct answer is: sliding in your socks. When you were a kid you immediately recognized a waxed floor for the only thing they're good for- sliding in your socks.

     You kicked off your shoes, got a running start and slid. Talk about fun. It was good exercise. It was thrilling. You could have contests. It also wore out your socks. We here at this book still slide in our socks.

     "If you're in there wearing out your socks, I'll wear you out."

     That was Mom. She had a big wooden spoon and wasn't afraid to use it.

     Childhood and growing up wasn't all fun. It was kind of a soap opera. In fact, that's why people watch soap operas, because in a weird kind of way people miss the rich and dramatic lives they knew as a kid. Whatever the rewards and stresses of adult life, it's a millpond compared to your basic tempest-tossed kid's life.

     Consider. You start life perfectly sensible to pain and humiliation, but without the least idea of how to avoid either. You are dropped defenseless into an environment teeming with huge people empowered to snatch you up and stash you in bed without dessert. On the brighter side, the fun you had playing hide-and-seek at dusk makes an adult's week at Club Med a pale and insipid thing by comparison.

     When was the last time you carefully gauged the distance of the person who was "it" from the base, chose your moment, then sprinted desperately to the base, beating the base guardian by a half-step? You don't remember. But there was such a time, and when you went home in the cool of that fall evening, it never occurred to you to think:

     "That was my last hide-and-seek game. After this moment, I am too old. Millions of children will play that game from now until God closes his book on humankind, but for me, this game is no more. The next time I give any thought to this game it will be to say, "Yes, you can play after supper, but if you're not in by 8 o'clock...(fill in your own favorite family threat here)".

     Note: If reading the first chapter has you hanging on the edge of your can order a copy of your very own "First Book of Last Times" from!