Lois Greene Stone, writer and poet, has been syndicated worldwide. Poetry and personal essays have been included in hard & softcover book anthologies. Collections of her personal items/ photos/ memorabilia are in major museums including twelve different divisions of The Smithsonian.
words don’t define
“Last”. Sitting on a wooden bench in a slightly boxy cubicle with a swinging door, I handed my oxfords to the repair man to put on new leather heels while I waited. There were two more such cubicles, but both were empty.
“Mr. Feldman,” I spoke to the owner of this tiny shop near the depot of the Long Island Railroad stop closest to my parents’ house, “what’s a last?” A sign spoke of him being able to custom such.
“It’s a wood shape of a foot. Then the leather is fit to that piece of wood to make a shoe.”
He pulled off the worn-down heels of my shoes as he spoke.
“Don’t understand.” I wiggled my toes, and no one could see me even if some person enters the shop as the modesty cubicle covered any view.
“It’s like a footprint in wood, but stores like Miles, on Northern Boulevard, have manufacturers who use standard ones so shoes can be mass-produced yet fit.”
“But the Stride Rite store has an x-ray machine and I can see how my toes look in those shoes. Are they made from a last?” I was getting grown up enough to soon go to Miles for pretty footwear and not just the Mary Janes patent leather.
“All footwear is made on a last with lots of measurements for the design and function of the shoe. I make my own for customers who want only their exact last and then make shoes for these people. Custom.” Mr. Feldman hammered the nails into place affixing a new heel on my oxfords, buffed up my shoes, and walked to my cubicle and handed them to me. I didn’t quite understand all the anatomy-information, but had a new word I’d just learned. “My mom’ll pay you when she comes by to go to the butcher.”
I liked words. I’d only thought that word ‘last’ meant the-end, like being a worst runner in a race, or Port Washington depot being the end stop on the train we took from Manhattan but got off way-way before that stop. I also knew it meant going on for a long time when I put “ing” after the word...lasting.
The cumbersome cedar things my dad pushed into his shoes to keep their shape looked like Mr. Feldman’s last but were called shoe-trees. Dad said it kept creases from forming on his shoes so they always fit okay and look new. Wonder how a cobbler knows a tree from a last?
‘Last’ switched from being a wooden anatomical mold to name when I was in high school and Delaney Cards were filled out so each teacher would know where each specific person was seated in the classroom for attendance. “Last name first” was directed as I penned my name for each subject. My fluid ink did not have the required black or blue but my signature South Seas Blue, and I pretended to have a reason to sit up front in each class and not by the “G” in my name which might have put me closer to the rear. I liked learning, and wanted to be up front! Most of the time, my made-up reason worked.
Sports had ‘last-licks’ when one team was up at bat first but the other team should get the same number of tries and was given last-licks as an equalizer. I’d associated licks with a tongue and a ball of ice cream atop a sugar cone, but sports had odd terms and this was just one of them.
‘Nothing lasts forever’ was a phrase I didn’t like. To me,’forever’ WAS a real thing, and my pink rubber bouncing ball was constantly springing into action no matter how often I used it, and winter’s grass turned green each spring, and everyone I loved always came and visited and ate at our house on Sundays (and even some relatives who annoyed me), and school went on and on and on, so what’s the ‘nothing’?
Aging is a privilege; however it’s made my childhood word take on a different context. At the Department of Motor Vehicles, I renewed my driver’s license knowing, because of my chronological age, it was my last. Physical limitations had my last round of golf played, and last tennis match; I touched and then donated the equipment for someone else to enjoy. A lawyer drafted changes in my Last Will which very well might be the final wording on this legal document.
I still love words. I’d prefer the childhood heavy-paper dictionary years when knowing was ahead with learning and doing, but I’ve quietly begun seeing each ‘last’ as a looking back on what I once did and not what I’m giving up. I once ran, and sewed, and skated, and learned, and played sports, and took family car trips, and squished my feet in beach sand, climbed Mt. Greylock in Massachusetts, lifted heavy packages, squat on the ground with children and blew from bubble wands. Rather than ‘no more’, I remember the satisfactions and pleasures I HAD and am attempting to focus on ‘last’, as the cobbler taught me, was a footprint made from wood. I’ve left a footprint with each step of my life, and I can smile about that impression.