I never thought there would be a post-script, six years later, to a New York Times column I wrote about a dead public servant. But when Charlie Murray, a lifelong Hastings resident, Department of Public Works employee and endless doer of good deeds, died at 29 from an enlarged heart, the whole village turned out for his funeral.
Afterwards, his co-workers at the DPW took care of Charlie's beloved dog, Buster, and he's been a well cared for mascot-in-residence ever since. Recently, though, after a terrible accident, Buster was fighting for his life and now Charlie's old co-workers are trying to raise $5,000 to pay off the medical bills that kept Buster--the last part of Charlie that remains--alive.
The story of Charlie Murray’s homespun life should have been a nice one. He grew up in Hastings and stayed, working in the village, serving in the fire department and gaining local fame for helping out neighbors and senior citizens with chores and handy work, never accepting a thin dime. He even watered potted village plants on Sunday, when he was supposed to be off.
In the suburbs of Westchester and Connecticut, it’s easy to see canyon-wide divides between those who grow up and stay in their hometown and those perceived as interlopers, who parachute in long enough to raise their kids, then slink back to the city. It’s not that the groups call each other choice names, though underlying tensions often abide.
But Charlie made no distinctions, helping you out with his work-worn hands whether you’d lived in Hastings for generations or long enough to have a cup of coffee.
Everyone leaned on Charlie for a hand.
And everyone—old-timers and the newcomers—came to Charlie’s funeral to pay respects.
He was changing a light bulb for the village when he fell off the ladder, dead. At first it was assumed he was electrocuted, but an autopsy showed the real cause: his heart was a size too big.
Buster, a pitbull whose sweetness belies the breed’s reputation, became the adopted child of all of Charlie’s co-workers down at the DPW, as well as many village residents, who on their way to dropping off recycling, pet Buster or dropped off treats. A couple of weeks ago, though, Buster apparently ingested something poisonous and was rushed to an animal emergency ward in Yonkers.
Buster’s stomach was pumped and he was flushed with fluids. He was in the hospital for days.
Hats have been passed around the DPW and local firehouses, but that’s chump change. Buster’s medical bills hit $5,000. Whatever was thrown into the hats is still not enough. At least not yet.
As for Buster, it’s a happy ending there. He is back at his post in the DPW, guarding ... well, mostly keeping Charlie's old friends company and sharing their lunch scraps. A nice post-script to a sad story.
Marek Fuchs is the author of "A Cold-Blooded Business," the true story of a murderer, from Westchester, who almost got away with it. His upcoming book on volunteer firefighting across America, “Local Heroes,” is due out in 2012. He wrote The New York Times' "County Lines" column about life in Westchester for six years and teaches non-fiction writing at Sarah Lawrence College, in Bronxville. He also serves as a volunteer firefighter. You can contact Marek through his website: www.marekfuchs.com or on Twitter: @MarekFuchs.