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More Stories - The Way We Were

High Dudgeon

Back in the early sixties we lived in an apartment building across the street from the house where we now reside.  After a couple of years, a single man moved into the efficiency next door, and we became acquainted.

In those days before air conditioning, most tenants would either sit in front of a fan watching TV or sit in the yard and chat, hoping for a little breeze.  Ray Dudgeon was an interesting person.  He owned a small and successful restaurant near the produce and food supply area about a mile away, serving a range of customers from truck drivers, business owners, secretaries and bookkeepers and blue collar workers.  He lived simply, saying he had no need for anything more.  He was retired from some branch of the service, I forget which one, but at sea, where he was a cook.  Not only that, but he also had a captain's license.  He was partly marking time until retirement age, putting his skills as an accomplished chef and purchasing agent to use doing what he loved best.   We would often discuss cooking techniques and restaurant management.  He would speak very little about his former career, although Floyd had been an officer  in SAC in the fifties and they should have had something in common.  He also said he had no living relatives.

One such evening when hubby Floyd, Ray and I were chatting, he mentioned he had grown up in Southern Illinois, and in fact had been raised as a foster child by a lady whose maiden name was also Metcalf.  On inquiry, Floyd found to his astonishment that Ray had been raised by Floyd's aunt.  Ray was a good bit older that Floyd, and when Floyd was taken to visit his aunt and cousins, Ray had already grown, joined the military and moved on.

One day I noticed Ray was missing.  When he turned up a week later we mentioned that we and the landlord had been very concerned.  He told me a secret.  He had a high security clearance, and was in demand whenever someone high-up in the government came to Miami and wanted to take a fishing trip, a cruise to Key West or the Bahamas -- or knowing Miami -- who knows where and what else!  Since regulations demanded two persons with a captain's license on board under those circumstances, he was doubly in demand, as he served not only as chef and purchasing agent, and even steward if needed, but also as backup captain.  Frequently there was only Ray, a steward and the captain on board, in addition to the government party and security.  When called, he would simply close the restaurant for a few days and sneak away.   He asked me not to mention that fact, but was telling me so no one would panic if he suddenly disappeared for a time.  Sometimes he didn't even go to sea; he would be called to organize or cater a party or top-secret dinner meeting.  He served presidents, vice presidents, top senators and cabinet members and I'm sure many more.

Naturally he never volunteered information about these trips, but sometimes the papers would report some important official had just finished a visit for rest and relaxation, and Ray would say, yes, that was the trip he'd just made.  Sometimes there were simply reports about some official meeting here coinciding with Ray's disappearance, and I would think it more prudent not to ask.  The only time I remember him making a personal comment about anyone was that he wouldn't vote for Hubert Humphrey because he didn't care for his table manners!

Eventually the area became overwhelmingly Hispanic.  Ray sold his restaurant partly for this reason, partly after receiving an offer from a member of the Mellon family to travel north with their large yacht every spring to Martha's Vineyard, and come back every fall.  On rare occasions they would take another trip in it, but the owner didn't like to get out of sight of land so it wasn't often in use.  He bought an apartment in a small condo in North Miami, and when not on duty with the Mellons, he'd often be off on some other top secret fishing trip or dinner meeting.  In summer when on Martha's Vineyard he would be free to take the motor scooter he kept on board and do as he pleased.

We reaped a benefit from many of these jobs.  It was the custom at the end of a cruise for the crew to do a clean out, including dividing up any leftover food and taking it home.  Ray often ate out, and the delicacies weren't anything special for him, so he'd head over to our house and donate to our larder:  canned goods such as caviar, smoked turkey, fancy fruits and veggies like canned mandarin orange sections, asparagus tips and seasoned artichokes, exotic sauces and fabulous marmalades, and frozen huge sea scallops, lobster and aged beef - usually New York strip steaks, and other indescribable goodies.  Several times he gave us about 25 lbs. of these steaks, and informed me that the wholesale cost (this was in the '60's) was about $12 to $15 a pound!  That was the best beef I've ever tasted.  It was so tender we didn't even provide steak knives as you could cut it with your fork, even when rare.  We'd hold a barbecue for our friends and share the goodies, but unfortunately in the process I developed "caviar taste" on a short budget.  Oh, well. 

One day Ray showed up with some goodies.  I could tell immediately that he was a different man - distressed and perhaps even angry.

"This will be the last one," he said, as he handed over a box of food.  "I'll never go out again."  He told me he had joined a very proactive Baptist church in Allapattah that had a number of ambitious outreach programs, including a program for the homeless, religious schooling, television services for the homebound, missionary effort in the community, etc.  To say that I was astonished is putting it lightly, as Ray had never shown any interest whatever in religion.  I mentioned this.

"Something happened up at Martha's Vineyard," he said, "And it has changed my life."  He just looked at me without further comment for a little bit.  Finally the penny dropped.  I realized he had to have been on the island when the Chappaquiddick incident occurred.  I knew better than to ask and he certainly didn't volunteer anything, but I sure did a lot of speculating.

Ray stayed with the church for some years until it overextended itself, failed to account for changing demographics, civil disturbances in the area and a faltering economy, and finally foundered.  Then he dedicated his remaining years to working with a shelter for the homeless.  I hope he found peace and fulfillment. 

We never saw him again, although we have never forgotten him.  We would faithfully exchange Christmas cards every year with a little note of affection, until, one year, there was no card and ours was returned.....  addressee deceased...

The Sneaky Kitchen
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