Street Talk: The casket, the keg and Lynyrd Skynyrd

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Rusty was always specific when it came to funeral planning.

“Man,” he’d say, whenever the topic of mortality arose at the midnight end of a pit party — which was like, always. “When I go, screw the flowers and all of that sad stuff. Put a keg on the lower lid of my casket and let everyone drink for free, man. Blast Skynyrd over the speakers, man, and maybe some Hendrix. I want my death to turn into the biggest party ever, man. Mourning is for losers, man. You know?”

It was beautiful, man. Scottie C. offered to bring his guitar and play that song he wrote about the time we skipped school and partied at Devil’s Chair. Craig promised to haul out his monster set of JBL speakers so we could play “Free Bird” extra loud in tribute to Rusty’s life and times. Even the quiet kid we called “Wedgie” kicked in with some ideas, suggesting that Rusty be cremated and his ashes used to grow some righteous chronic.

Rusty’s send-off was planned and it was perfect. It’s a pity the kid was so healthy. Last I heard, he went vegan, bought a chain of natural food stores and moved to the West Coast.

I’m pretty sure every single kid I grew up with planned his own funeral before the age of pit parties and big red cups was over. As far as I can remember, every single one of those plans involved a keg on the lower lid and Skynyrd cranked over JBL speakers.

Of course it’s easy to talk big about mortality when you’re 17 and you secretly believe you’re going to live forever. Add 20 years and the glamour of dying is gone entirely — concepts like life insurance, cholesterol screenings and prostate exams will do that to you.

When you grow up, you might not think about kegs and Skynyrd in connection to your own demise anymore, but who among us hasn’t pondered from time to time what our obituaries will look like? You are, after all, leaving it to some presumably grieving loved one to summarize your entire life in a few short paragraphs.

Do you really trust your deadbeat brother Elwood to nail down your true essence in written form? Or worse, some overworked hack at the funeral parlor?

The author David M. Eagleman wrote: “There are three deaths. The first is when the body ceases to function. The second is when the body is consigned to the grave. The third is that moment, sometime in the future, when your name is spoken for the last time.”

If this doesn’t chill you into fretting over your obituary, you might be dead already. You want those final words to be rock solid, my friend. You want it to be an exciting play-by-play recount of the life you lived. And just between you and me, I don’t think Elwood is up to the task.

In South Paris, a fellow named Thomas “Hutch” Hutchisen was taking no chances. When he died in mid-March, Hutch already had an obituary at the ready and it was written by the man who knew the subject better than anyone on earth: Hutch himself.

“Thursday, March 15, was the last day of an always-interesting adventure I’ve been on, and quite a ride it was for me, Thomas “Hutch” Hutchisen, 62, of South Paris,” begins the obituary. “But now pain free, I’m off on the next adventure same way I came into this one, naked, wide-eyed, and screaming for excitement.”

I never knew the man they called Hutch personally, but after reading his self-crafted obit I kind of felt like I did. I kind of felt like I was standing around a spent keg in a big, empty sandlot and talking with him about the grandiosity of life and the unsolved mystery of what comes after.

Hutch, it occurs to me, came far closer to sticking to his grand finale plans than Rusty and Craig and Wedgie likely ever will, even if he opted to skip the casket, the keg and the Skynyrd.

“I never liked being the center of attention, so there will be no services or events,” Hutch wrote. “Instead, go to the ones ya love and give them a hug and a kiss, and tell ’em ya love ’em, then turn on ya music systems, select some jams, Jerry, Levon, Allmans, etc. every now and then and listen, unwind and enjoy and let go! Oh and possibly think about me every once in a while! I’ll save a few seats at the big show for ya. Hutch, out!”

Well played, Hutch. It would have been a pleasure to hoist a cup with you.

Mark LaFlamme is a Sun Journal staff writer who still secretly believes he will live forever. Email him at [email protected]

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