laura packardI was strolling under these glorious, gothic live oaks with friends last Saturday. More family than friends, actually; Charlie and I were back together again with the members of the Chevy Crew: Sully and his wife Denise, Fitz and Sandra, Dade and Lydia, and honoree inductee Joye and her husband Taylor.


The Chevy Crew was born 32 years ago when my husband saved up enough money to buy his first car, a ’57 Chevy Bel Air he promptly painted candy apple red. It was beautiful. I’ve seen pictures. And it racked up many miles, and stirred up lots of trouble, with Charlie at the wheel and his faithful Glynn Academy high school boyhood crew firmly planted in every available seat. They went everywhere together. Still do. When they need each other.

So, under the oaks we go, all fancifully dressed, moods levitating upwards, our arms reaching with raised glasses (and canned PBR) to the sky, swept in cornflower blue. The weather was perfect: breezy, cool, otherworldly, even. It was the perfect day for a wedding.

Which is exactly why we were at Honey Creek standing on the banks of a brackish creek by the same name; to celebrate the most idyllic of occasions, the wedding of Dade and Lydia’s daughter, beautiful Maggie.

And what a wedding it was. Especially being together again, boozily and happily aware of the moss swathed branches adorned as if in clergies’ vestments leaning down: a peace offering, a welcome home hug bent on catching us up. And there were lots of them; hugs, that is. Too much time had passed since we all last saw one another in the same place. Over two and half years to be exact. It’s as if physical contact, a hand on a shoulder, a poke at rib when telling a joke, spontaneous bear hugs, claps on the back for no reason at all. It was as if touch, the tactile connection of human reactions, made it real and tender and bigger than what it usually was.

“It’s like the movie The Big Chill,” one of us says, “but not a funeral… a wedding.”

But just as soon as it was said, heads lowered, an inaudible and sad sigh rose up, a sea fog of sorts, misting over marsh weeds and the downed driftwood from Hurricane Matthew’s ire, changing the landscape as we saw it… mere seconds ago. It even felt as if the temperature had dropped a few degrees.

Ah, grief. You are always there, picking, like a needle thin pushpin through scabbed skin from somewhere deep within.

It was the shared remembrance of Rene. He wasn’t there.

He should be.

Early March 2016. This was the last time we had all gathered together for an extended weekend on Saint Simons Island, flying and driving in from where our various lives took us. Rene wasn’t there this time, either.

Not his physical presence as we all knew him last – filled with boundless energy and enthusiasm for being in the moment, merry mischief making, freedom from traditional constraints of how life should be, fun… lots of it, and friendships… so many, many great friendships. No, that firecracker bright light, the sparkler of all lovin’ sparklers inside him had pulsed on to illuminate realms beyond. As pallbearers, the boys were there to celebrate the life and ascension of one of the sweetest souls they knew and to help Rene’s family take his earthly body home.

But just as quickly, time and distance and purpose, rolls the fog back. And like sifting earth in a clenched fist, it dissipated back where it was dug up to rest again.

“To Rene,” they said in unison, passing around a bottle of Grand Marnier, his favorite drink of choice late into the night. And Rene was there for this important milestone for his best friend… physically, part of his ashes are there at Honey Creek. But emotionally, he was there in spirit, as well.

“Wow,” Charlie tells me earlier that afternoon just before we drove by the church to find a parking lot, Paper Airplane by MIA comes on the radio. “It’s Rene’s song. He played it all the time, mostly just to annoy the hell out me.”

No one really ever truly goes away.

It’s impossible.

At the service, somewhere in between being seated (where Sulli bet Charlie 50 bucks he wouldn’t pee behind the oak that was showcased by a glass wall behind the altar) and the presentation of Mr. and Mrs. Lyons, truths were told.

“There will come a time when you will hurt one another,” the Priest explains. “Unintentionally, of course, but you will feel hurt.”

We all shake our heads in unison; those of us who have been married for a while know this well. This is an inevitable truth about relationships, no matter how much you love someone.

“And it’s not so much how you work through it,” he continues, “but how you walk through it. Walking not working. Just keep getting up every single day and walk together. Everyday. It won’t be work, if you walk together. Walking, not working.”

We all wandered back to the reception, some in front, some of us lagging behind, but we all made it back together as Dade took his daughter’s hand and led her to the dance floor.

A few days later, Dade captioned this quote below a picture of us all at the reception, “There are thousands of little things between us in a span of nearly 40 years. Many of which should’ve been the end of us. Those little things make the big things so important that missing one is not optional. Here’s to the little things and the Chevy Crew.”

Oh, and then, because Dade is Dade, he added the hashtag: iloveallyourstupidfaces.

Walk together. It will never be work.

To the Chevy Crew.