Charlestown Loses a Special Man, Rene Menard, 1961-2019

By Tom MacDonald

Rene (Rainy) Menard moved to 9 Samuel Morse Way, #878, Charlestown, 12 years ago.

He’d been living at the Pine Street Inn, and the staff at Pine Street deemed him capable of managing his own apartment. Rainy proved them right. He had previously lived in Uxbridge with his wife. When she died, Rainy’s support system died with her. The structure was gone and so was the love. Heartbroken, Rainy became homeless. At Pine Street, he got involved in a work program. The manager of the program called me and said he had a man moving to Charlestown who liked to stay busy. Could he volunteer at Harvest on Vine food pantry?, I was asked.

I said yes, send him over. That man was Rainy.

A friendship began.

Rainy helped me with every aspect of Harvest on Vine. He accompanied me countless times to the Greater Boston Food Bank, to Costa Fruit and Produce, to Rosev Dairy, to Kayem Foods, and to food drives held in the neighborhood. His internal clock was set to the pantry operation. After the second weekend of the month, Rainy would say it’s time to go to St. Francis to pick up the food from Hungry Sunday. Fr. Mahoney needs his table cleared. Each Friday he’d say, let’s go to the bank and get the bags from Tom Coots. At the end of the month he’d remind me to go to the Knights of Columbus for Leo Breen’s donations. He didn’t think of these places as organizations. He related to the people who worked at them.

For his unselfish service to the poor of Charlestown, Harvest on Vine recognized Rainy with its Humanitarian of the Year Award. When Fr. Ronan presented him the award, he said, among other accolades, that Rainy was a special man. Those words meant more to Rainy than the award.

A little about Rainy…

Rainy loved animals. In his youth he worked at Southwick’s Zoo and got friendly with the lion. The lion would roar at Rainy, and Rainy would stop and talk to him. The owners gave Rainy a key to the lion’s inner sanctum, so he could get closer. The lion began to bow his head for Rainy, and Rainy said he would pat it. (I believed him). If the lion was having an off night—Rainy lived close by and could hear him groaning—Rainy went to the zoo and kept him company.

Rainy enjoyed the stories of Little Joe, the lowland gorilla who kept escaping from Franklin Park Zoo. Rainy rooted for Little Joe to make it to the woods and find freedom, but the zookeepers always caught him and returned him to his cage. When Little Joe had a physical (we watched it on YouTube), Rainy prayed for him. And when Little Joe passed the physical, Rainy teared up.

Rainy’s love of animals never went away.

A red cat, probably feral, followed Rainy home to Samuel Morse Way and moved in with him. Rainy named her Lucy, after Lucille Ball. When Rainy awoke at night, Lucy would be staring at him. When he tried to leave the apartment, Lucy would block the door. One morning she backed Rainy into the bathroom and wouldn’t let him out.

He had it easier with the lion.

Upon advice, Rainy released Lucy to the wild, where she belonged, and replaced her with a domesticated black cat he named Cash, for Johnny Cash, the Man in Black. Cash remained with Rainy to the end.

On Friday afternoons, Rainy and I would drive to Stop & Shop to buy groceries. On one of our trips, Rainy bought taxable items not covered by his food card, things like kitty litter and cat food and shaving cream. He was short a dollar. I reached for my wallet and Rainy said no thanks. He paid for the cat food and kitty litter and left the shaving cream. I told the story to one person. The next day someone came to my office with shaving cream for Rainy. On Main Street, a man I didn’t know handed me a bag for my pal. The bag contained shaving cream and razor blades and a gift card for CVS. The Charlestown code of silence works in reverse when it comes to neighbors in need.

Rainy could fix anything. We had a problem with the office refrigerator. The door kept opening. Rainy placed a tennis ball on top of it. The ball rolled forward and fell to the floor. He shimmed the front legs, leveling the fridge. Problem solved. I locked my keys in the truck. In an effort to get them out, I wedged a tire iron into the door, prying it open for a coat hanger. Rainy got in the bed of the truck, slid open the sliding window, reached in with his long arm and snagged the keys from the ignition. Problem solved. In the food pantry, Rainy set aside a chicken for supper, the last chicken we had. A single mother of three came in crying. She had no food for her children. Rainy, whose annual income was zero, handed her the chicken. Problem solved.

Rainy terribly missed his late wife. He would talk about her, about the loneliness he felt, and he would reminisce about the joy they shared together. He would battle prolonged bouts of sadness resulting from the loss, and he sometimes disappeared for days at a time. We in the office were constantly worried about him. He had life-threatening medical problems with his kidneys, heart, and liver. His lungs were compromised. He had circulation problems and problems with his feet. He was diagnosed with celiac disease and couldn’t eat anything containing gluten. He never complained.

A year and a half ago, after Rainy had been missing for days, I went to his apartment to see if he was okay. He wasn’t. He was dehydrated, his body emaciated. He couldn’t get off the couch. I called 9-1-1, and Rainy wasn’t happy about it. While we waited for help to arrive, I looked around his apartment. On the walls and shelves, I saw Rosary beads, holy cards, crucifixes, an image of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, pictures of the Blessed Mother. Rainy had surrounded himself with hallowed protection, and yet he never mentioned God or religion. In the middle of the kitchen table sat the humanitarian award.

The EMTs carried him down the stairs to the awaiting ambulance. A week later he was out of the hospital and back at the food pantry, but he wasn’t the same. His strength and stamina had diminished. The indefatigable man needed more rest.

At the Thanksgiving distribution on Nov. 26, we learned that Rainy had died. As news of his death spread among the volunteers and recipients, people began to cry and hug each other. Grief turned a previously joyful event into an outdoor wake.

We had lost one of our own, a special man, Rene Gerard Menard.

On Saturday, December 14, at noon, Harvest on Vine will host a gathering in Rainy’s honor. It will be held in the rectory basement, 49 Vine St.

Please join us.

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