By Mandi Donohue
When I worked at the Mazama Store, we didn’t have Mondays, Tuesdays or Wednesdays, etc. Instead, we had Egg Days, Oatmeal Days and Quiche Days. What Rudy Peterson ate for breakfast is how we acknowledged the passing of time.
“Honey, did you hear Rudy is leaving?” My stomach dropped when I heard it. “What? When?”
“Sunday. He’s going to go live with his daughter,” was the response.
I was shocked. Not only by the news but also by my emotional response to the news. This isn’t how I had imagined Rudy leaving us. I was a bit stunned. And what was this feeling — sadness?
I’ve described Rudy Peterson as a “stubborn old goat” and I stand by those words with equal obstinacy. He had a penchant at the Mazama Store for making demands, coming behind the counter when he wasn’t supposed to, and annoying various female staffers. He was a man who liked attention and was not the lovable grandfather type one would hope for upon meeting. Quite frankly, he could be a self-absorbed pain in the rear.
And yet, I was fascinated with Rudy. He was human and I was always dying to know why. What was he like in his youth, belly laughing with friends? Was he a good husband? What was his personality when in touch with reality? He was a war vet, a gymnast, a pilot who performed aerial stunts until he was 89 years old. These are special things. He lived. He existed. I was fascinated to understand.
I often talk about Mazama as an episodic television show along the lines of “Northern Exposure,” and despite all of these unanswered questions, today it is a tearful reality that he was one of the most-loved characters on our show. A fan favorite actually. He invokes reaction. He is unforgettable.
“The Microwave,” starring Rudy, will probably always be my favorite episode. Rudy would try to fit in with the rest of the other morning guys and “joke” to the staff. It never worked and this occasion was no different. He had offended a baker the previous week by joking that he should “light a fire under her ass” to get the donuts out on time.
When he asked me about donuts the next Sunday, I decided to get him a donut as soon as possible. I put a raw donut on a plate and said, “Here’s your donut, Rudy.” After a brief moment, the table burst out in laughter and even Rudy chuckled
A few minutes later I raced back out of the bakery as I saw sparks and smoke through the bakery door window. The microwave was literally on fire. Rudy had attempted to “bake” his donut to one-up me. As Lliam and the members of SLIME were frantic to put it out, Rudy’s only response was to stay seated and shrug.
At the time, you scratch your head. In hindsight, you re-watch the episode and laugh.
While we all are extremely grateful he is being taken care of now (he needs to be), I think there’s a part of me that is always going to wonder what day it is. Your fans wish you the best in Portland, Rudy.