The Last Stand

September 2, 2016

My friends Mike and Cathy have had a fruit and vegetable stand for a decade. And Monday, it closes for good. Cathy has serious heart trouble and Mike is battling cancer, his second battle. All their doctors have ordered them to stop.

They took me out to dinner tonight, to thank me for helping out. As usual, I brought home a cantaloupe and green peppers and a box of apples.

“As usual.” There are so many phrases we use, in the keeping of traditions. The stand and its owners have been a part of my life since I moved back to Alton four years ago this October. Farmer Orville and his wife Quilt Queen – same thing. The four of them are cheerful and resolute.

So why am I depressed?

Last call (a phrase I dreaded in my youth), last stand, last words, last love of a life (this is a common phrase in the online dating world), last waltz (love you, Levon Helm and The Band).

My very first play featured a juke box, and if you pressed H-11, you’d hear me (or the character Golden Jones) singing a song I wrote for the production. The juke box was the heart. At the end of the second act the character Barrett Lee Wedding shot the juke box, the heart. If you want joy from me tonight, you’ll have to put a lot of quarters in the juke box.

This afternoon, I saw two stick bugs, each about four inches long, mating rear end to rear end, while clinging to a parking lot wall. There was no Baby, baby in the ceremony, just transference so that little stick bugs could be born so that –

Wooly caterpillars crossed the roads to get to the other sides, and I stopped and picked up a few and helped them along. The hard truth is, evolution favors the caterpillars that dodge cars and zig zag their way to trees so that –

Tomorrow I’ll help out at the Last Stand. Kiss Cathy adieu, shake Mike’s hand. A week from now I’ll be standing at the Grand Canyon so that –

So that I can get on to my own last stand, or last sleep. There is a reason I am writing this. There is no reason I am writing this. Down the hourglass I spiral. Somehow I think that will be easier than watching the last stands of my loved ones. Death, imagining death, is hardest on the living.

Everything familiar is fading away. Soon I will be my beloved Taliana and Amanda and Bekira’s last uncle. The lifetime friends are running out of life time. The great hourglass in the sky is emptying – you can hear it, hear the gritty sand scouring the glass.

As my friend Soren Kierkegaard used to say: “One can either do this or that. My honest opinion and my friendly advice is this: do it or do not do it – you will regret both.”

I write this by last summer evening lamplight, the cicadas singing long, mournful dirges: my favorite natural sound all my life.

About Eugene Jones Baldwin

I am a writer: non-fiction, fiction, journalism (Alton Telegraph), essays (The Genehouse Chronicles) and have a website: I've published a couple dozen short stories and had eleven plays produced. Current projects: "Brother of the Stones" (available on Kindle), a book of short stories; "The Faithful Husband of the Rain, short stories"; "A Black Soldier's Letters Home, WWII,;" "There is No Color in Justice," a commentary on racism; "Ratkillers," a new play. I am an avocational archaeologist and I take parts of my collection of several thousand Indian artifacts (personal finds) to schools, nature centers, libraries etc. and talk about the 20,000 year history of The First people in Illinois. (See link to website) I'm also a playwright (eleven plays produced), musician, historian (authority on the Underground Railroad in Illinois, the Tuskegee Airmen) and teacher.
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