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June 20, 2008


Wolfeboro, N.H (AP) -- Gertrude Procnow, a 110-year-old resident of Wolfeboro, New Hampshire who had remained mentally sharp through her final years, died on Tuesday night at her home, and doctors say her continued perspicacity was enough that she was fully able to grasp the final horror of her own imminent passing.

"Oh my God," she said in her last minutes. "It's all horribly, horribly vivid! Oh Jesus, why couldn't I have been spared the agony of knowing?"

Her children and relatives said that "Grandma Gertie," as she was known, exhibited a quick wit her whole life, and even in her past few years, enjoyed doing complicated puzzles, acrostics and rebuses.

"You'd always see Aunt Gertie with some IQ book, keeping herself in great fettle," said nephew Ray Simeon.

"Oh mother of Jesus in purgatory, why did I do all those idiotic puzzles," Gertrude was heard to say. "Now the body dies and the brain lives. I'm like the disembodied head in that movie. I cannot live. I cannot die. Oh, the horror! The horror!"

Said her daughter Rosemary Starkweather, "Mother wasn't just a passive reader, either. She was always up for a lively debate, and would argue you to pieces on any topic with that great silver tongue."

"Oh great scion of Moses, please let the sweet, sweet dementia come visit me now like the dove of Gabriel and relieve me of this bedeviling lucidity," said Gertrude, only barely audible to her family.

"Mom didn't want any drugs," said Starkweather. "She always valued her mind and said to me long long ago that a person's wit and intellect were the possessions to be most prized, and those were the values she imparted to us when she said she wanted absolutely no analgesics."

Gertrude was a huge connoisseur of fish all her life and called it her brain food. "Always eat your salmon," she told her grandchildren Mitch and Todd.

"We'd always make a face," Todd says now. "But seeing how strong it made Grandma Gertrude's mind, I guess we could afford to hold our noses a little. Though now that I think about it, I should also mention that Grandma Gertrude was pretty good at holding grudges. She had some going back to 1927, and when we said, 'Grandma, can't you just let it go?' she'd answer, 'I'm going to out live all of you because I remember everything. Every last little thing you all did."

"Every minute is so bitterly clear before my eyes," said Gertrude in her final moments. "And here my husband Charlie went quietly in his sleep without a thought in his head. That shitbird couldn't find his asshole with a hand snake."

The doctors who reviewed Gertrude's brain, after she had donated it to science, said afterward that there had been no narrowing of the arteries and few malformations. She continued to have the mind of a 60-year-old well into her hundreds.

"I thought my wit would save me," said Gertrude. "I thought I was smarter than death. Oh, here it comes, now, and pitiful me, I am  ironically able to grasp its enormity in full! Oh God, why did I read all those books? Where was I going with that?"

"I know that no matter what mom was feeling," said Starkweather, "that her dedication to reading a book a day, doing puzzles, learning about new concepts,  whetting her sharp wit ... basically making her brain the strongest muscle in her body ... will be an inspiration to many who believe the mind can triumph over age."

"I curse you all, living in your dumb happiness, oblivious to existential dread and the confrontation with nothingness," beloved Grandma Gertrude whispered to her family. "May your stupidity cover you like a warm blanket in your horrible benighted, unknowing lives. You poor, pitiful god damn wretches!"

From Eric Rasmussen's blog at www.myspace.com/ericandsalo