This is hardly a summative piece about Ms. Renee Buettner who is worthy of a volume of books, it’s just my own take on an incredible woman. Here is her obituary. And there have been and will be many more tributes to Ms. Renee.
When I think of Ms. Renee (pronounced REE-nee with two long e sounds), I think of eye-squinting laughter. I think of “There but for the grace of God, go I.” I think of El Salvador with liberal nuns and sneakers labeled “New” and a ponytail adorned with a ribbon. I think of “rosaries coming out of our ears” and all things Jerry, Mary, Katy, Molly, and Christine. I think of Oscar Romero. And the Super Selectos, a grocery store by the side of a San Salvador road–how she didn’t want to go but the group’s American desires won out. I think of raisin bran and fasting on Mondays. I think of the rabbit on the back of the toilet. I think of the story she loved to tell about seeing an old nun who exclaimed, “You MARRIED JERRY BUETTNER?!” But most of all, when I think of Ms. Renee I think about peace.
At the start of the new year, I chose a one-word intention of sorts. Peace. I am working to find peace in my thoughts, my words, and in my actions. Of course, on January 25th, its lost its sting a bit. Many of us could probably use a reminder of the resolutions or intentions we set to be better versions of ourselves. Maybe for some of us, it was to be more Renee-like. Celebrating Ms. Renee this weekend is a great reminder of the intention of peace. Because in a word, Ms. Renee was peace, rather, Ms. Renee is peace.
I met Ms. Renee probably many times before I really met her. Aubrey and I were not “cool” at Swan Lake Swim Club, in that we had no friends there aside from one another. Mary Colleen and the Buettners did have friends at Swan Lake. I’m certain over the summers we splashed and tanned along that craggy concrete path, I stared longingly at the large family, including Ms. Renee, that grew even larger with friends.
But when I really met Ms. Renee, I was on the way to my first high school dance. I wore a glittery black dress and a gold necklace that my boyfriend had gotten me from Disney World–it read “Amanda” next to a Mickey Mouse head. I was with that excellent gift-giver boyfriend and my mom must have been with us too. Mary, by some stroke of luck, had been named my high school “big sister” and I was terrified of her. To spend an evening with someone so popular and loud and celebrity-like, I was probably shaking in my shiny shoes.
Then, when we all got to Mary’s house to “take pictures” (like you did), there was Ms. Renee. She immediately calmed me by being silly, and sweet, and by being peace. And it was like my mom had found a counterpart. Another Baltimore social justice worker who was her height (ish) and radiated so much love like she does. If I had to guess, they were both wearing hand-me-downs from one of their daughters. The way Mary was my “big sister” and I was her “little sister” at Mercy, Ms. Renee started calling herself my mom’s “big mom.”
After I got over my fear of her, my friendship with Mary grew into more of an actual sisterhood and Ms. Renee, who mothered everyone but in the gentlest way, welcomed us in too.
I remember running with Ms. Renee around Lake Montebello talking about my then-boyfriend who also happened to be a closeted drug addict. I remember charades in the family room and Katy’s frustration that no one could guess her clue, “My breasts are the size of Europe!” Ms. Renee would just laugh and laugh, so used to her ridiculous daughters who used language she never would. I remember handing out rosaries and “Mouth Under Contruction” shirts to tiny El Salvadoran women and their same-size children. Swimming in the Pacific and practicing yoga outside the kitchen in our temporary home. Sleeping 14 in a room in Central America in July–I’m sure Ms. Renee and my mom were the only ones who wouldn’t have complained.
Ms. Renee might be sainted someday. She may already be an angel. She is and was a friend, a mother, a Gee, an advocate, a voice for those who didn’t have one, a home, a sister–biologically and Catholically, and on and on her ripples continue circling outward.
Now that she is not physically here in her body that betrayed her, her presence almost looms larger as her family and friends gather memories and photos. We remember a woman who couldn’t speak a bad word about anyone, who allowed her actions to talk, who lived by loving, a woman who gave peace to so many. We remember Ms. Renee.