This whole "raising a kid" thing is closing up shop now, Junior somehow 18 years old this coming December and graduating soon after that. His Dear Old Pa has to keep reminding himself that by this time next year, that child we once held in the crook of an arm as he stared in goggle eyed wonder at the Christmas tree will be off to college, no longer filling our little house on Maple Street with the sound of his increasingly loud footsteps, no longer cleaning out the cabinets like a starving refugee, no longer the boy we knew but a man, God bless him, grown from not bigger than a minute to 6-foot-4, with his whole life unspooling before him like a silver ribbon. It all seemingly took no more time than a ray of morning sunlight, creeping across the floor. If you don't believe us, have a child and see.
His mother and Her Loving Man have entered the alternately beautiful and sorrowful Country of Lasts now: last first day of school, last time signing up for classes, last football game, last trip to the music store to replace the umpteenth lost flip folio or lyre or tuba-specific whatsits, last performance in the drafty auditorium at Central High, home of the mighty Tigers, ever true to the black and gold. We trekked to Bryant last night around dusk for the last of his marching band competitions, the Central High School Stereophonic Storm of the Mid-South not as sizable as it was when he started was crisp and fluid in their movements, Junior out there in the back line with his tremendous, much-wrassled Sousaphone wrapped around him like the trunk of a mechanical elephant; the Sousaphone that will rattle the glasses and plates in the cabinets when he practices in our little house on Maple Street.
Midway through Central's performance, The Observer turned to his mother there in the cold and windy bleachers to remark on how their competition show last year seemed to have more movement in it, and found the woman who went down and knocked at the very door of death some years ago to give Junior life silently crying. The Observer, who has never in 25 years known what to do when Our Rock sheds a tear, put an arm around her and told her that it would be OK, that I am proud of her. It was, after all this, the only thing we knew to do.
As you know if you've watched this space, there is almost exactly — to the month and day — the same amount of time separating Junior from his Old Man as separated The Observer from our late Pa, him almost 16 years in his grave now. Junior is 17, and The Observer is 43, which means that when The Observer was 17, our own Pa was exactly at the same spot on the wheel as we are now, his life quickly winding down to zero at a young 51, though he didn't, of course, know it at the time. The coincidence or serendipity has always made The Observer feel something that we can't quite put a name to. A thankful amusement, maybe, that the Universe would have such a sense of humor as to so specifically rub our nose in what we put Pa through all through the years, or maybe an awed suspicion that, if you look closely enough, our lives are not floating collections of debris on the tide, but the perfect, tiny movements of unfathomably complicated clockworks; wheels within wheels, spinning in darkness, chance meshing with faith, the pendulums of wonder and happenstance swinging and swinging, counting out the days of these lives.
The Observer thought of all this as we watched Junior glide across the field with some of the best friends he'll ever have in his life, their steps as perfect and measured as ticking clocks. Like a lot of The Observer's thoughts, it wasn't something we could put into words and make sound sane without putting pixels to screen, as we are now (we're not doing so hot, come to think of it, even with the help of modern technology). So instead of saying anything, we just hugged the love of our life a little tighter there on the cold bleachers as she dabbed at her eyes, both of us trying to make this Last last, if only just a little bit longer.