Ronald Lee Wiggins
1942 – 2019
A friend of my son once asked him about his uncles. Ben said, “Oh, the Wiggins boys – they’re all crazy, but in a good way.” Ron was crazy, but in the very best of ways. He was the best of brothers, the best of friends, the best of hearts.
I was maybe 34 when Ron called me out of the blue. I asked him what was up. “I’m calling to apologize,” he said.
“For what?” I asked.
“I wasn’t a very good big brother,” he said. “You deserved better.” I acknowledged that there were some rough patches, but that is to be expected among high spirited brothers. “You reminded me a lot of me, and back then I didn’t like myself very much. I took it out on you,” he said. I countered that in those days I was so self-absorbed that whatever his offenses, they did not weigh on me as they did on him. Nevertheless, he asked me to forgive him. This was a request easily granted. Ron then spent the next forty years demonstrating just the kind of big brother he wanted to be. And in this he was magnificent.
To be clear, Ron never laid a finger on me. The only fight we ever had was short lived and started by me. I was ten and he was sixteen. I got the bright idea that if I broke a toy pool cue over his head, the balance of power between us might be shifted He caught the blow with his left hand, squeezing my wrist with a strength I had never before felt. He then grabbed my belt with his other hand and launched me across the room onto the soft couch. I bounced up unharmed but chastened. He stood there very much the Alpha male – but he was not angry. Rather, he seemed amused by the presumption, and maybe a little proud of me for trying.
What I carry with me from my childhood with Ron are not the inevitable moments of friction but the innumerable small, sweet moments that arose out of his true nature. He really did have the sweetest of hearts.
When I was four, he helped me catch Japanese beetles swarming the bushes in our yard in Long Island. When I was five, back in Gainesville, he taught me how to make cinnamon sugar toast, and how to do summersaults on a mattress. That same year, he helped me decipher a Scrooge McDuck comic. He and Steve could read but I could not, and I felt stupid. He told me not to worry, that I would be reading before I knew it.
A few months later I fell from an oak tree snapping in half my radius and ulna bones just above my wrist. It was a terrible injury. I remember it was Ron who put the splint on my arm and warned Mom that I was going into shock.
It was Ron who introduced me to rock & roll. Ron was cool and if he liked Bill Haley & the Comets, Eddie Cochran, Gene Vincent, Buddy Holly, Elvis Presley, the Everly Brothers and the rest, then I did too. The fact that he was also fond of ear candy by the likes of Patience & Prudence did not dim my hero worship.
As we grew up as brothers, it was Ron who first showed me how to shoot an arrow from a bow, how to escape a half-nelson, and how to turn your glove to catch a baseball thrown at your face.
The same year that I tried to whack Ron with the toy pool cue, I wrote a short story for class. It was about a boy, his dog, a woodpile, and a mountain lion. I had obviously seen Old Yeller more than once. Writing was a serious matter in our family, good writers were revered, and Ron was already a good writer. Much to my dismay, Mom shared the story with Ron. I feared that my effort would be met with some withering remark, as if I had once again knocked over my drink at dinner. But Ron took my story seriously. He read it carefully. And I was stunned by his response. He said he was impressed, that it was really good, and that I should write more. Holy smoke, he was proud of me! My big brother, proud of me! What a feeling!
Events swirl and the timelines fold back on themselves. There are so many childhood moments with Ron that I cherish. But there is one memory that is particularly sweet. On cold mornings Ron would take me to school on his motor scooter. I would sit behind him with my arms wrapped around his waist, my belly and chest pressed against his back. I would poke my head out so I could feel the cold wind sting my face. I would then return my cheek to the smooth leather of his jacket. We were not a hugging family back then and I luxuriated in the feel of him. This was my big brother, so cool on his scooter with his leather jacket, so solid in his body. I loved him so much and in my young heart I could feel the love he had for me. It is the purest and sweetest of memories.
There is another memory I would like to share, this one from our adulthood. Twenty-four years ago this April, I stood before family and friends on an Easter Sunday and delivered the eulogy for our beloved daughter Claire, who died at the tender age of fourteen. The love of family and friends sustained me that day, just as the love we all feel today sustains us now. But after the service I needed my oldest brother. Grief knocks us around; for some reason I needed to know that I was okay with Ron, that this horrendous loss had not somehow distanced us. He was among the first to reach me. He put his hands on my shoulders, looked me directly in my eyes, and said simply, “Magnificent, my brother.”
So in this moment, when words are inadequate, I imagine Ron standing before me. I put my hands on his shoulders and look directly in his eyes. And I say this to Ron:
Magnificent, my brother. Thank you for your love. Thank you for being the best of brothers, the best of friends and thank you for being crazy. Go in peace. May God’s love continue to embrace you, may the wonder of existence continue to delight you, and may the light of your beautiful soul continue to shine on us, one and all.