Over the first half of this year, I spent many hours going through items in our old house. During one of those days in early April, I came across a collection of poems written by Ernie Ruckert, a man I’d met at my church. He and his wife, Ginnie were two of the first people David and I got to know when we were new members of the Congregation at Duke Chapel. Close in age to our parents, Ernie and Ginnie’s children and grandchildren lived in other states. They were a gracious couple and always made you feel better for being in their presence.
Beyond the brief conversations we had after services, I had the opportunity to get to know them better at a church retreat. During that time, Ernie told me that he liked to write and later shared his two books of poetry. I let him know that I also liked writing, and was working in fiction and some personal essays. We enjoyed talking about our mutual need to express our response to life through writing.
When I found his two books that day in April, I realized he’d inscribed one as a gift and the other he’d asked me to return. That had been years ago. Since that time, Ernie and Ginnie had increasing health problems that kept them from attending services. It wasn’t until we were staying home during the pandemic that I found his books.
I wrote Ernie a letter to apologize for my delay and let him know about the change in our marriage. I knew he and Ginnie had been going through their own hard time with her in-and-out of a rehabilitation center for continuing health issues. Writing that letter, I wanted him to feel some of the love and grace that I, and many others, had felt from them.
I also wanted him to realize that I valued his poetry, his gift with words. As a writer, I know how much it means when a reader tells me specifically how a passage, paragraph, or chapter spoke to them. I quoted back to Ernie the last verse of one of his poems that had spoken to me in those days after Mama died.
The poem was entitled “Misty Morn.”
“Are not teared eyes
The outward manifestation of a mournful heart
That empathizes with people known and not
Who suffer hurtings known and unknown
And who can only be helped by the Balmed Light?”
Ernie Ruckert, Misty Morn, 5/11
About a week after I sent the letter, Ernie called me. He was so appreciative that I’d gotten in touch with them and said he’d forgotten that he’d loaned me his book. We had a nice long conversation and he updated me on Ginnie’s recovery and then told me how sorry he was for the difficulties we’d had in our marriage. At ninety-three, his kind and gracious voice was as strong as ever.
I told him I’d written a memoir and he was interested in learning what it was about, what it was based on.
“That sounds very interesting, Connie. I’m going to order it from Amazon today,” he told me.
And he did.
A few weeks later he called me to say he was reading it.
“I’ve been enjoying the first chapter, Connie. I just wanted to know when you were in Sedona, what were you hoping to find?” he asked. He added that he and Ginnie had visited the Grand Canyon, but not Sedona.
I gave him some of the backstory— as we call it in my writing group, some of the details that explained my need on that journey. I went further to describe where I was spiritually at that time after months of cancer treatment. Ernie’s faith is deeply layered and he understands moving by God’s spirit, navigating by the ‘still small voice’ within.
It was enjoyable discussing a portion of the book with Ernie– like a one-to-one book club and author meeting. Hearing the meaning he put on what he’d read was fascinating for me. Afterwards, I got an update on Ginnie and the news that one of their sons was visiting.
Before we hung up, Ernie asked how I was doing with my transition. He told me he was sorry about our marriage and that he prayed for us. He ended our conversation, saying, “God bless you, Connie” What a dear, fatherly blessing that was.
That phone conversation was an unexpected gift from those hours of cleaning out that unearthed his books. Hearing Ernie’s voice was calming and reminded me of the light that both he and Ginnie have always radiated. They have been a couple who showed God’s love in their behavior.
Last Saturday I got another call from Ernie.
“Hey Connie. I’m making my way slowly through the book,” he said, then quickly added, “Not because it’s not interesting– but because it makes me think.”
He’d gotten to the chapter at the Catholic Retreat center and wanted to ask me about my response to the leader in our one-to-one session. “I’m trying to understand what you said to her, about why it was hard to take care of yourself”? He also thought it was interesting how I’d been the only person at the retreat center for that week– a Protestant in the unfamiliar of Catholic practices.
We talked for a while and then he gave me another update on Ginnie.
“It goes up and down,” he said, referring to how they’d taken turns with each others’ health problems.
Today, I called Ernie.
Soon after I greeted him, he apologized that he hadn’t read much further in my memoir since last Saturday.
“Ginnie’s needed more help lately. I haven’t been able to read as much.”
“That’s fine, Ernie. What I want to know is more about how you write, what inspires you?” I told him I wanted to share about him in my post and include the verse of his poem that had spoken to me.
“I feel close to God when I’m in nature,” He responded. He gave the example of when they lived in the Catskill Mountains of New York and a sight that opened his eyes one snowy day.
“I write about what’s visible, like seeing a newly born deer on that beautiful day in the mountains. It was so touching..”
He described his process of writing with calming music in the background– including violin concertos and Youtube piano recordings.
Ernie summed it up by saying, “I write what’s on my heart.”
I understand this; I have answered the same way when I’ve been asked what I write.
This Saturday evening, I’m grateful for Ernie, for his support and encouragement. It’s nice to relate Author to Author and Heart to Heart.