Exit strategy

Feb. 23, 2013 @ 10:24 PM

Uncle Evander carefully placed eighteen Zesta Saltine crackers on the green Formica of his kitchen counter. He then put a dab of peanut butter on half of them and topped them with the remaining crackers. He poured three equal amounts of Coca Cola from a 16 ounce glass bottle into three identical snuff glasses. Next, he placed the nine peanut butter crackers on a plate and ate the last two loose crackers in the sleeve and turned the empty sleeve up like a bottle, with the salt and cracker crumbs sliding down into his mouth. “OK, boys, it’s break time,” he said as he carried the snacks to the rough topped wooden kitchen table.
Evander’s preacher, Everett Peacock, had come by to visit and talk fishing and the Coke and peanut butter crackers were Evander’s version of an English tea.
Evander thought the world of Everett Peacock. They were fast friends and they fished, hunted, and lunched together often. Everett was several years younger than Evander, but Evander saw him as wise council. He was a great preacher but I think Evander admired him more as a man. Everett had a love of the outdoors, was a great father to his kids, and had a sense of humility about him that made him believable, whether he was preaching a sermon or telling a deer hunting story. Their get-togethers were sometimes fun and sometimes serious. This one had been serious. Everett preached a lot of funerals and sometimes I think it got to him a little. There were a lot of older folks in the church and it seemed like every week, someone was passing on.
Today, the subject was a little gloomy and Evander began to talk about how dying was just part of life and how it should be looked on as the last adventure here in this life. He said he was happy with his life, he knew where he was going, and that he would be glad to see the ones he loved who’d gone on ahead. I think he realized this was a little depressing for Everett and me, so he brightened up a bit and made an amazing statement.
“Y’all want to know how I want to die?” He was smiling broadly. “I want to be struck by lightning when the Lord is ready to call me home. It’s a perfect ending for me. I’ve been a shooter all my life and to be hit by lightning would be perfect. I’d go out with a flash, a bang and a puff of smoke.”
Everett and I looked at each other, speechless. “Evander, surely you don’t mean that,” Everett said.
Evander looked serious. “Yes, Preacher, I do. It would be fairly painless, I think. It would much better than wasting away in some hospital bed, it would almost have to happen outdoors, and it would be the perfect way to go. You die when your time comes and for God to strike me with lightning would be just like he picked a ripe apple off a tree.
Everett became thoughtful. “I guess that would be a good exit strategy if you got your wish.” He held his snuff glass up and Evander took the hint and clinked his against it, “To you being struck down by lightning.” After that time, it was a joke with them that came up often when mortality was an issue. It always brought a smile to both of them.
While I believe each man deeply respected the other, there was a good deal of kidding between them. Everett was a pretty good fisherman and most times, he bested Evander when they fished together on the Roanoke River. He also sometimes played a little practical joke. When they fished together on the river, Evander would sometimes cook lunch on the boat. He’d bring potato salad, pickles, sharp cheese, and pork and beans. If we caught fish, and we usually did, he’d fillet out a striper or two, bread them in House’ Autry Seafood Breader and fry them up with the little stove he kept on the boat during striper season. He called it “fillet and release” as he dropped the filleted carcass over the side of the boat.
Once, while Evander was frying up the fish, Everett caught my eye and picked up Evander’s fishing rod. He cast it up the little creek we’d parked the boat in and then cut the line with his pocket knife. He wrapped the cut line around the spool a couple of times and wound it back in. Smiling from ear to ear, he replaced it in the rod holder.
When lunch was over, as we motored slowly out of the creek and back on the river, Everett brought up the subject of fishing expertise. Evander could outshoot Everett, but Everett was the better fresh water fisherman. He could put a jig or plug exactly where he wanted to because he loved to fish for bass and bass fishing is often about putting the bait in just the right place. “Evander, I’ll buy your supper tonight on the way home if you can cast from here in the middle of the river to within three feet of that stump over there. Dick can be the judge.”
Evander looked at me and smiled. We’d been fishing all week and we were working jigs along the bank. Evander had been deadly at putting the jig just at the edge of the water behind stumps and logs where the fish were holding. “I’ll take that as a bet,” he said and with that, he made his cast. The lure, unencumbered by the fishing line, sailed into the trees far beyond the bank. Everett laughed so hard he looked like he was crying and while Evander insisted on buying his supper, I knew there’d be payback.
That fall, Everett invited Evander to go down to Roxboro with him to deer hunt with some of his preacher friends. Everett knew Evander had a penchant for pulling practical jokes on him when they were with Everett’s friends. This was done because Evander knew Everett’s friends would ride him about the joke later. Everett was on alert, watching for the ambush, but none came. Everett even pushed his luck a little by turning on the really bright overhead lights in the bunk room first thing in the morning, something he knew Evander didn’t like. Evander liked to turn on a lamp so his eyes could adjust to the light. Everett found it great sport and even ribbed Evander about it, but he couldn’t even get a rise out of him. He wondered if Evander wasn’t feeling well. On Wednesday evening, Evander explained that he had to leave in the morning and that it had been a great trip.
On Thursday morning, everyone in the cabin was awakened by the sound of Everett hollering and dancing around the bunk room. When the lights were turned on, Everett had a mouse trap fastened to his right hand. Everett was so consumed with getting it off that it took a minute to figure out what had happened. Evander was laughing so hard he had tears in his eyes. The mouse trap had a hole in it with a string and a loop attached. Over the door was a thumbtack at just the right height to hold it over the light switch.
Once order was restored and the trap was off Everett’s fingers, the two had a laugh, Everett knowing he deserved the trick and Evander satisfied that he’d gotten the best of Everett. Everett’s preacher friends were quiet during breakfast but once Evander was gone, one asked, “Isn’t that guy one of your church members?”
Everett smiled a Mona Lisa smile and replied, “Yes, and every week I pray that he eventually gets struck by lightning.”
Dick Jones is an award winning freelance writer living in High Point. He’s a member of the board of directors of the Southeastern Outdoor Press Association. He writes about hunting, fishing, dogs, and shooting for several N.C. newspapers as well as national magazines and websites.  If you’d like to have him speak to your group, he can be reached at offtheporch52@yahoo.com or offtheporchmedia.com