Chapter 1 - The End
Oh, you want me to tell all about my life story? Well, it’s pretty much too late to get into all that, but how ‘bout this: I was born in 1899 and then jus’ yest’rday I finally knew it was time for me to die. Time for me to go. I’m a hundred and two years old, and that’s about twenty-five years too long for some folks, apparen’ly.
I been in this town my whole life. Been here since this was a workin’ farm. Been here since all this was farms, all ‘round, far out as you could see. Since before all the farmers sold off their land and somebody chopped it up and sold off the pieces to a hunnert different people. I could hear the crick and the wind when it was real quiet, and I could hear the horses whinny way off in the pasture, but now I can’t hear none of that no more. There ain’t no more horses, and there ain’t no pasture, and the crick’s covered up by a culvert, and all I can hear is those semi-trucks fartin’ on over the highway.
I’m a fixture in this town. When people give directions, they say “Turn left when you see the farmhouse at the old Longman place.” How are people gonna know how to get to Nickerson’s Drugstore when I’m gone? This is a landmark.
I’ve always been here. I always liked it quiet, peaceful by myself out in the country. Guess I’m like a homebody, you could say, and I ain’t never been nowhere else. Daleville always been good enough to me, and plus I always had my friends here. So many people been here and gone now that I can’t hardly remember most of their names anymore.
The Murphy’s. Now they was some nice folks. They lived with me about fifteen years, but then they had to take off and left me on my own and I had to take care of myself since then. Don’t matter. I’m an Indiana boy. I can take care of myself fine.
I’m guessin’ you really don’t even care about this stuff anyways. You’re prob’ly just here for some kinda spectacle, to watch an old man go out. See how it happens. Jes’ plain curiosity. You think maybe you’re gonna see my soul fly up outta me like a mist when I go? I don’t think you’ll see it, my friend.
You try to tell people about your life story when you’re as old as me and nobody wants to listen. ‘Cause when you’re real old and broke down they don’t listen or they can’t hear what you’re tryin’ to say, and it just seems like you can’t get the point across the way you want to. Which don’t bother me too much usually, but sometimes I get lonely too. And then somebody come to visit and I try to tell them about somethin’ I remember from aways back. Something that’s pert’nent to the moment though, because I ain’t senile, thank God, I’m just old. And the Lehmann’s, who used to live here even farther back before the Murphy’s, used to tell their kids, “Listen to the older generation ‘cuz they’re the link to history.” Those kids never did, though.
Not like I ever did when I was young either, and now that I’m old nobody listens to me when being the link to history is pretty much all’s I got left as far as usefulness goes.
I’ll tell you this though, and you best listen. Like I am now, someday you will be.
So, sometimes somebody feel sorry for me and come to visit, and I try to tell them about the time Josie Lehmann let one of them horses in the front room. And they don’t listen because they’re thinking about whatever it is that concerns people nowadays. And then I start to get mad and maybe I stomp or bang the walls, slam a door real hard or something. So then they run off and they’re afraid of me and they don’t come back anymore. Not like I would ever hurt anybody but what can you do?
I’m too tired to hurt anybody. Too tired, and I don’t even like standing anymore, and my joints hurt. I was plain when I was younger but still kinda handsome, tall and strong and angular. Now it feels like my outsides are trying to sag all the way off my frame.
So I think that’s about all I got time for. Seems like it’s time for me to go. I thought I was okay with that before and now I’m not so sure. It’s a sunny day outside, blue skies. It’s the first warm day of spring that we got and I wish I had a little more time to think about all this. Jus’ one more day. Even jus’ one more hour? I still have some use in me, you’d see.
I could hear them coming before, and now I can see them. A dump truck and a bulldozer just rolled up outside. A fire truck and one of them sports utility vehicles.
I jus’ can’t stop thinking about what it’s gonna be like. Is it going to hurt? Even more than I already hurt? Will it jus’ be POW! and then all dark, forever? Or maybe not even darkness, ‘cuz if you don’t have eyes or a mind left to see anything, then you can’t see any dark anyway. Just nothin’, and that’s it? I keep tryin’ to picture nothin’, and it ain’t workin’. I guess it’d be just like it was before I was here. I don’t remember any of that, and it was okay. It didn’t hurt. I didn’t have to worry.
The waitin’ is getting to me, it’s messin’ with my head. I really hope there is something else after this. I don’t want to be gone. The Lehmann’s, they always talked about their God and what’s supposed to come next. How your soul never really dies and if you been good you go to a nice place. Which sounds great, but I always figured it was jus’ wishful thinkin’, and anyways it probably don’t even work like that for me. Some nice heaven though, where all your holes are patched and you’re nice and dry inside, and you get a fresh coat ’a paint on the outside? And you could just sit back in the sun and tell your stories? Wouldn’t be bad at all. I heard some people say houses do have souls, but I’m thinkin’ that’s not exactly what they meant.
I heard some other people sayin’ ‘bout how you live forever if you get famous. Well, I can cross that off. Maybe if even a just few people remember me, I’ll keep living on, kinda. But that won’t do me much good if I don’t even know about it, now will it? If I don’t know I’m livin’ on, but other folks keep me alive, am I still really livin’? If people say, “Turn left at the old Longman place,” does that still count?
And do the Murphy’s even think about me anymore? The Lehmann’s? The Gustwiller’s? The Pope’s, the McMillan’s, the Longman’s? Do they ever wonder if I’m still here, and ever think about some of the clothes and pots and pans they left behind to rot and rust? Or think about the little daughter and the eight dogs they left buried in the yard? Well if they do remember, I hope they know how I took good care of them, kept them dry all those years, kept them warm. How I watched over them. I kinda doubt they would, though. Those kids are off livin’ their own lives.
I just wish it was over already and I didn’t have to think about this anymore. I been thinking about it every now and then for all my life, and now the time’s come when I’m really gonna find out. It’s funny to think that this is really the last couple minutes. Like when I watched that moon shot on the television in the sixties: the countdown is on.
The fire chief got out of the truck. Back when I was young the fire trucks looked a lot different but I guess this ain’t my time anymore. Chief’s talkin’ to the other firemen about a “controlled burn”. So I’m thinkin’ they’re gonna set me on fire and then once I burnt up they’re gonna push everything over with a bulldozer, knock it into the hole where my cellar was and then cover it up with dirt. It’ll look like nothin’ is left. Let the grass grow over it for a couple seasons and then you’ll never be able to tell I was here.
I was here. Remember me.