I am not sure when I first met Rennie Perrone. My first clear memory of him is fixed however. After his dear wife passed away he moved up to Greensboro from Florida. One day he came to church with Charlie and Terry. As with many people and Rennie, it was friendship at first site.
Rennie was always the best dressed guy in the room. He had suits of every color of the rainbow, with matching kerchiefs. He liked to look good.
I started hanging out with Rennie as did many others, mainly going with him to lunch. We usually ate Italian food – and Vito’s Italian was our favorite hangout. Dennis Frohlich more often than not joined us. Rennie liked the food at Vito's, and he liked talking Italian with the owners. He always insisted on paying. He was a very generous man.
Rennie always had a glass of wine for lunch and usually no water. He would situate his cloth napkin just so, with half of it under the plate and the other half hanging down in his lap. Usually we both ordered Eggplant Parmesan. Well, I always did, and he often did.
It was fun to shoot the breeze with Rennie. I liked it that he would occasionally cuss. Nobody likes to cuss around a pastor and I’m glad Rennie felt free to do so. He always made me laugh.
Usually our conversation at some point would bring to his mind his wife or the business he owned or his time in the army. Rennie was Italian and was very free with his emotions. Thoughts of his wife always brought Rennie to tears. He missed her terribly. He liked to tell stories about his children too – Paul and Terry. I heard the story of Rennie meeting Terry’s future husband Charlie many times.
Rennie looked at me to some degree as one does a priest, and our conversations were often much like a confessional. Rennie was Catholic by culture and upbringing. He was faithful in attending Catholic mass on Saturday evenings. He was of that generation that did not speak easily about matters of faith, and he was also of a generation of nominal Catholicism. He didn’t buy a lot of it, yet he could never walk away from it either.
I think that Rennie had a real and legitimate faith in Christ. Despite his natural generational reticence we talk many many times about faith and belief and about life and death.
I loved sitting by or near Rennie in church. He had a really nice voice and very good song memory, singing not only the hymns but the more syncopated modern choruses very well. He liked my preaching too. “Good speech,” He would say to me. Rennie liked to grab your hands when he talked to you. There was no talking in passing with Rennie. It was hold each other’s hands and talk closely or not at all. As his eyesight failed him, touch became ever more important.
Rennie was a gentleman, and he was at his very best in the presence of ladies, whether five or ninety years old. He was so very kind to my daughters. He always sent birthday cards, and always asked me how each individual child was doing. They had the privilege of knowing and visiting him often along with Susan.
It is not the norm anymore to bring an elderly parent in one’s house to live out his or her days in familiar surroundings, and that is what Charlie and Terry did, thus giving Rennie the stability and the dignity of a home. They lived out in a very real and personal way the commandment to honor your mother and your father.
Rennie’s real name was Arazio, or something close to that. I think the “z” had a “dz” sound. I liked calling him Arazio. I think he liked it too.
Rennie was an army veteran. He served in the European theater in WWII, not as an infantryman but as a cook. He often told the story of how one day his camp, close to the front lines, came under mortar attack. He had been standing in front of the big metal coffee pot making coffee for the guys, and for some reason unknown to him had just moved a few feet to one side and then Bam!, a mortar shell exploded outside of the tent and a big fragment sliced right through the coffee pot. Rennie liked to say how God had given him a chance at more life that day, and he was always very grateful.
Rennie had taught himself to play a Liberace type piano over the years, and Charlie and Terry had set up a very nice digital piano for him in the den. I loved to listen to Rennie play. Sometimes when no one else was around I would play a little with him or sing along. We were a good team.
I had not seen Rennie much in the last six months but so many many times spent with him are etched into my mind and heart. I count it one my greatest honors in life to have been Rennie Perone’s friend. I will cherish his memory all my life, and await with joy holding his hands and talking in the New Heaven and New Earth.