At the heart of things we’re all selfish in how we deal with the death of someone we love and it seems like the people we really love always pass near a major holiday. This has more to do with the fact that we have more major and minor holidays than not, but there’s something to that that bears further inspection. Out of everyone in my family, I’ve always forgotten my father’s birthday. You may think that makes me a bad son (and you could be right), but he’s been known to go into hiding and (in some cases) to skip town when we’ve ganged up and decided to celebrate it, so it’s no wonder I forget it like clockwork every year. Thanks to Renie, I’ll never forget it again. The sweet and wonderful people of the world who we’re kind enough or lucky enough to have with us for the short time that we spin around together on this planet almost always leave us on a day that matters for a very important reason: they’re worth remembering.
My aunt left this earthly plane on Monday, July 18th on my father’s birthday. I suppose that’s a superstitious way of demonstrating just how close the Waters’ family is to each other. Renie was a devoted, loving wife to Gene Ormsby, a mother who would do anything for her two kids Brad & Brenda, a caring sister to what most would consider to be a large number of brothers and sisters, a daughter who grew up to be the spitting image of her mother in appearance and by her deeds and she was a damned good aunt to boot. She touched a great many lives and her positivity and her persistent smile will continue to live on in all of us who knew her.
My grandma Waters loved to cook, she loved to play cards and she never tired of her family. Renie was a spitting image of her. You only get one family, so you can’t take them for granted and they both realized that. No one can dispute that Renie was an excellent cook whether it was pastries, pies, fudge or anything else that required time, care and diligence. I challenge you to find a member of the Waters tribe that won’t pace themselves when it comes to preparing a meal. We’re all big people because we have big hearts followed by big appetites. Before I got married (in February of 2007 and 2008) I got to go down to Frostproof and visit with Renie, Jean and the rest of the family. Renie’s home was stacked to the rafters with pretzels, fudge, enough pies to feed the entire trailer park and a random assortment of sweets and assorted snack treats. Renie had enough room in her life to cook, eat, spend time with her family and enjoy all three to the best of her abilities. Her fudge was amazing and there’s probably not one person in that community that hasn’t eaten and thoroughly enjoyed one of her pies. She cornered the market.
Let’s rewind, though. Renie and her husband Gene married at an age most would consider too soon these days (and perhaps even then). He showed my mother Lynn the ring before he proposed and married her while she was still in high school because he was so in love with her. You could see that love every day that they were together. They were crazy for each other. There’s a pivotal difference between loving someone and being in love. Most of us fall in love with the person we marry and continue to love them in a way that’s more secure and guarded and safe. Staying in love with someone is next to impossible but they did it. When you’re in love, it’s all you can think about, you want to spend every second with the object of your affections and you count the moments that you’re with them as well as the moments until you get to see them again. Renie & Gene were in love with each other for the entire time that they were together and no one can dispute that. They’re a prototype for the kind of blissful union that rarely occurs and an inspiration for the rest of us who are married, occasionally miserable or those of us who have settled into our regularly scheduled ruts. They were good to each other because they meant everything to each other. It’s that simple.
The Hormsby’s were no strangers to us growing up down at Rushford in the summer during the ’80s and ’90s. It wasn’t a surprise to see their RV come down the road on a random afternoon unscheduled while I was out swimming, playing or finding trouble. Gene had almost a room full of Western pulp paperbacks stuffed into the trailer along with their usual assortment of sweets and snacks. While my cousin Brad was tough on me most of the time, we managed to meet each other in the middle and play rough somehow. He took a shine to one of the girls across the creek one summer and they had something that resembled puppy love (another variety). I wasn’t as lucky when my parents dumped me off for a week at Renie and Gene’s and I ran into one of the neighbor girls (I think her name was Corrine). I was crazy about her but nothing came of it.
The rest of the week I spent with Renie and Gene (’86) was mostly paradise. Brad was a hellion to me when I first got there but Renie straightened him out. I managed to avoid any sort of real work on the farm (avoiding real work is a talent I’ve always had) and befriended a goat in their stables. It was a cute little thing and his quite, simple manner offset Brad’s mischievous ways when I needed a break. I had Cool Ranch Doritos for the first time when I was with them and never forgot that fact. I ate as much of the bag as I could and licked the coating off of my fingers with gusto. Weeks after staying with them I asked Renie how the goat was doing. She informed me that they killed the goat and ate it. City mouse, meet Country mouse. I’m lucky in that I have half of each inside of me thanks to the Waters’ family as well as my upbringing in both Rushford and Buffalo. We can never forget our roots, and as I get older and more sentimental I’m also giving in to my hillbilly underpinnings and reverting to the family legacy that I deserve to carry on. I listen to country and bluegrass music and I would rather be out in an open field enjoying the soft silence and a slower pace of life than racing around in the city impatiently where grass is partitioned off and people are rude to each other frequently.
I regret that I didn’t spend more time with Renie as I got older but I’m grateful that we reconnected before and during my marriage. Renie and Gene would give family the shirt off their backs if need be and they often did. The two of them offered generously to let my wife and I stay at their timeshare in Myrtle beach for our honeymoon and we accepted. The airplane that was leaking gas onto the tarmac at the Buffalo Airport had other plans for us, though, so we flipped a coin and wound up spending a week at Lindsay’s parents’ cottage in Silvercreek overlooking Lake Erie. She was heartbroken that we couldn’t go, but we had the time of our lives regardless. We settled in like an old married couple and went out to breakfast every day and napped as often as we could, resting up from all of the pressure and nonsense that goes into getting married. Most of my family loves my wife more than me and I can’t blame them. I’m a miserable, cranky, cantankerous curmudgeon and she’s a beautiful, cheery, down to earth girl from Elma. Renie and Gene took a shine to her instantly and she cared a lot about them, too. Her death yesterday hit us both pretty hard and we’re sorry that we couldn’t be there for her. Lamentably, I have a job that thrives on good weather and we’re in the middle of a long, steamy summer that’s much deserved for those of us who aren’t snowbirds.
I loved my Aunt Renie truly and dearly. She was an amazing woman who touched all of us and we will never forget her. Her pain is over now and the sad, selfish fact is that we must all go on without her. Our memories keep her beautiful soul alive in all of us and her existence gives me hope that people are genuinely capable of being nice to each other, that relatives are capable of helping to shape their nephews and that True Love isn’t just a goal, it exists and it is indeed real. She even gave me a parting gift on the way out the door: I’ll never forget my father Butch (or as she called him, Jimmy)’s birthday. Thank you for everything you did and all of the lives you touched and all of the incredible food you cooked and baked and most of all for your unconditional love that I inherited just by being born into this family, Renie. You had a wonderful life and I’m grateful that I was a part of it.
A nephew who doesn’t know the first thing about making a real pie crust,