The longer one lives, the more one accumulates unforgettable characters. At my age, several come to mind, and all of them fit the descriptive term. In the weeks to come, I will gladly share some of their stories with you, starting now.
In my World War II childhood, a copy of Reader’s Digest magazine always seemed to be present in our home. Our family rarely read it cover-to-cover, but we usually found an article or two of interest, and we eagerly consumed its regular features like Laughter, the Best Medicine and The Most Unforgettable Character I’ve Met. Many of these were larger-than-life people who had overcome obstacles in life and achieved great things. Such criteria don’t necessarily apply to my characters, but to me, they are unforgettable just the same. See if you agree.
Rudy Dupre has to top my list. A bald, irreverent Frenchman, short of stature, Rudy filled several important roles at Lithgow Funeral Center at 54th Street and Biscayne Boulevard in Miami, one of the city’s two or three largest funeral facilities in the early 1960s. One of its officers, a member of my church, took pity on me when I was a struggling college freshman and hired me to work there part-time to drive its vehicles, operate its switchboard, usher at visitations and services, arrange flowers, and assist with removals.
Among other responsibilities at the funeral home, Rudy operated its crematorium, tended its gardens, took care of light maintenance around the building and grounds. The funeral directors relied on him to take care of a wide variety of tasks. He kept the place running.
For reasons I don’t understand to this day, Rudy took a liking to me. Took me under his wing as soon as I joined the staff. When business was slow, we indulged in wonderful conversations about classical music and politics. He always offered insights that hadn’t occurred to my youthful mind, and he generously shared his wisdom with me.
He lived in a small apartment on the building’s top floor where he had a double bed, a tiny bathroom with a shower, a stove and little else. He reluctantly shared these cramped quarters with four bunks used by male assistant funeral directors who worked overnight to take calls around the clock. Everyone knew to respect Rudy’s property and space and stay out of his way. No one dared interfere with his evening dinnertime ritual, which effectively summarized his unforgettable personality and style.
Every day around 6 p.m., Rudy cooked his dinner on his small stove. He unfolded a small two-step ladder, carefully covered it with a dish towel, added dishes, silverware and cloth napkin, poured a glass of a good French red, and pulled up a comfortable chair to enjoy his evening meal. He always finished off with a good Cuban cigar. My mind continues to archive a film of this beautiful routine.
I have shared his favorite aphorism before in this blog. Can’t complete this snapshot of old Rudy without repeating it. “Remember that life has two great equalizers — the outhouse and the grave.”
Rudy and I exchanged Christmas cards for a long time after I left the funeral home’s employ, until several years ago, one of the funeral directors wrote to tell me of his passing. I will never forget him.