Life and How to Live It
This must be the week Miles Davis was thinking about when he came up with Birth of the Cool. Peter Buck’s birthday was yesterday, and today’s the birthday of my oldest and dearest. Keep the toasts hoisted, kids.
I first met Renae toward the end of first grade. Our new home in Vinings was nearly complete, and we were there checking on its progress. Renae’s family lived one street over, and her mom (who went to high school with my mother) brought Renae over to meet me. And we’ve been friends since that spring day in 1966 — forty years of friendship. A fun, lovely, giggly, special friendship.
Not only did our moms go to high school together, but Renae’s maternal grandmother and my maternal grandfather grew up together, too. We were destined for friendship.
Our days as kids were filled with imagination and silliness and walking ‘round and ‘round and ‘round the block. Renae’s house was as unstructured as mine was structured, so we had two different environments for playing (usually her house). We spent one summer obsessed with Sgt. Pepper's. Ah, good times.
Let’s face it: We were geeks. We stayed kids as long as we could. And I’m glad we were able to grow up that way.
One Easter season, I guess when we were around ten or eleven, Renae and I were obsessed with the movie The Ten Commandments. We’d act it out in her backyard. The bridge over the creek was the perfect spot for our dancing girls segment (I’d wear my cork-heeled clogs for that number; the cork sounded cool on the wooden bridge). And then there was the “Moses! Moses” Moses!” kiss; we’d pull our arms up and rub elbows as we relived Yvonne de Carlo’s declarations of love and lust for Charlton Heston. We still do the “Moses! Moses! Moses!” kiss when we see each other.
Holly came on board when her family moved to Vinings in the fourth grade. We’ve been a pretty good threesome for a very long time … and they’re lucky that I adore their husbands.
As with all long friendships, there were times when we were inseparable and times when we didn’t hang out that much. We ran with different crowds in high school and drifted apart in college, only to come back together with a bang in 1983. Renae had been working and supporting herself for a couple of years, and decided to go back and finish her degree at the University of Georgia. We spent nearly every evening together the summer before she moved to Athens — a summer of great music, great love (it was the summer I fell in love with R.E.M. ), great friendships (I met Simeon through Renae, and Shawn hung out with us a lot that summer, too). And gallons of jug wine.
Renae’s move to Athens was the best thing for me. (Oh, yeah, and she finished her degree and went on to earn a master’s degree at Wisconsin. But enough about her. It’s her birthday, but it’s my memories.) This was the era of a young R.E.M., Art in the Dark, Pylon, this little band called 10,000 Maniacs (a totally different sound back then; you could dance to it!), and other great local bands playing every week. I spent many weekends in Athens, and would even go up for the night to see a show. My flirting with young lads at free R.E.M. shows got us in trouble a couple of times, but it made the story better. And I was glad to be there (literally, there) when things kicked off between Renae and Ron.
Because we’ve been friends for so long, I have a confidence around Renae that I don’t with every person. With Renae, I’ll do just about anything to make her laugh. Well, okay, as I’ve grown older I have that confidence nearly all the time, but it grew thanks to my friendship with Renae.
New Year's Eve 1999
I went with Renae to help her find an apartment in Madison during the summer of 1987. There was a piano bar downtown where you could ing with the piano player — a lovely, older woman who could play 1,001 songs. This was my chance! I went up and sang “Feelings,” dedicating it to Renae and her Athens-based beau at the time. Yes, of course I performed it with a bit o’ the lounge, but I was also serious. The woman loved my performance, so she suggested — and I quickly agreed on — “The Rose.” Fabulous! I was in heaven — all eyes on me, singing my heart out, Renae turning beet-red from laughter. When I returned to the table (chased away by some blond summer-stock reject), Renae noted how sad it was that I’m so at home, alive on stage … and yet I didn’t have a lick of singing talent. True words to be uttered only by someone who loves you.
I was the first in our crowd to meet Greg, back in their grad school days, and he’s still one of my very favorite boys. I love going to visit them, especially the days where we stay in our pajamas until 3 p.m., just talking and laughing and drinking tea.
My first moments with Greg
My first moments with Bopper
Renae and I have been as close as two friends can be since that summer of 1983. Sadly, we haven’t lived in the same state — not even the same damn region — since 1987. One of these days, I’m going to move to the Northeast so that we can hang out all the time like we did that last great summer.
Renae introduced me to and taught me about art. I introduced her to music (pre-Greg) and many wonderful bands. She’s the first one I call about a new beau or a break-up, the one who gets to hear me whine or cheer myself on.
Renae has become my role model. She’s a professor in Connecticut, and her photography career is now taking off. In fact, she had pieces in shows for a solid year, up until the last month or so — and she has a one-woman show soon in Vermont. Oh, and she ran in the New York Marathon last month.
Renae is the best. And I’m glad she’s my best. Happy birthday, Renae!