…the best ending would be a sudden heart stoppage when a trio of rooster pheasants or a covey of prairie grouse explodes at my feet as I step in front of my dog Abbey who is locked on point, frozen and on fire at the same time, a brisk wind blowing and a dome of blue sky streaked with cirrus clouds stretching to the distant horizons.
Without tubes and wires
The Over the Hill Gang have reached that “certain age,” a time when we take note of the high mileage on our life odometers and ruminate about our preferred exit ramp from this highway that has taken us on a winding journey through the wilderness of sunlight and shadow, the city of tears and laughter. Our campfire conversations about a fitting and appropriate end to the 70-year ragtag adventure story we each made up as we went along (with occasional chapters that were neither fitting nor appropriate) are never maudlin and grim, but they are shaded by dark humor and a touch of noir pragmatism.
No man gets out of this lifelong vision quest alive. As we near the mountaintop we accept, in fact we welcome, our end of days. But grant us the grace to go out in style, or at least in a manner that is apropos to our character.
One Old Coot (name withheld to protect the reputation of the guilty party) has long proclaimed that his preferred leap across the chasm should be memorably dramatic. It is his goal, he declares, to be shot to death at age 85 by the jealous boyfriend of a beautiful 30-year-old woman. Every man is entitled to flights of fantasy when planning his Final Exit, but not when they soar into clouds so dense that he loses all perception of earthly reality. No woman could possibly be interested in romantic dalliance with any of us in our current condition, unless we won the Powerball lottery, I suppose. The most likely scenario for being shot to death in our senior years is a road rage incident caused by letting our right turn signal light blink on and on and on as we poke along at 55 miles per hour in the left lane of the interstate highway, hardly the tale of bravado a man would choose for his obituary.
Most of the Coots have more modest plans for escape. One would prefer going to sleep in his deer blind, a quick nap just before dawn on opening day of the season, and never waking up, a brilliant (although terminal) display of savoir faire in the hunting fraternity, especially if the blind is accessible by motor vehicle so that his hunting companions do not have to drag his body uphill or through heavy brush. There is always the risk of ruining final memories, however: every subsequent opening day might not be remembered by the Over the Hill Gang as “the day Howard went to his reward” but as “the day that Howard ruined the whole muzzle-loader season for everyone.”
Taking leave of worldly cares while on a fishing trip is an increasingly common proposition, and a hypothesis that is also increasingly plausible given the diminishing ability of the OTH Gang to stay upright in fast-flowing, boulder-studded streams and the ever-greater likelihood we will fall out of a boat or canoe in deep water and sink to the mucky lake bottom, bubbling like a moss-covered rock. A poor fisherman and a worse swimmer, I find this method has little appeal, especially since the Coots who take me fishing would tell and retell the story of their prowess in locating and retrieving my body with their damned fishfinders. There could be a measure of mystery and romance if the fishing day Final Exit story included a “sailed off one stormy morning and was never seen again” addendum, but let’s face it: the panfish lakes of Minnesota are not exactly the Bermuda Triangle.
For me, the best ending would be a sudden heart stoppage when a trio of rooster pheasants or a covey of prairie grouse explodes at my feet as I step in front of my dog Abbey who is locked on point, frozen and on fire at the same time, a brisk wind blowing and a dome of blue sky streaked with cirrus clouds stretching to the distant horizons. That’s eminently possible; I’m on the verge of cardiac arrest a few times every bird season.
In this age when medical science has extended the span of our dotage, our aged years of perishing physical and mental proficiencies, what a blessing it would be to end our lives on a day of gladness. To experience that final moment not in a hospice bed, trailing tubes and wires, gasping for breath, but atop a windswept ridge in the shortgrass prairie, heart giving out from excitement and overexertion while a hawk soars overhead and the world is a wild burst of gamebirds and dogs and beautiful country.
If I could choose my Final Exit day (but none of us can really choose, can we?), that would be my stepping off place, my departure time. A perfect end to a wonder-filled life.
More stories about life in the North Country are published in my five collections of essays and two novels, all available through Amazon.com at Jerry Johnson Author Page