Ernie is one of my friends. He is about 85 years old and is very spiritual. He says that he is into the “metaphysical.” He also says, and I agree, that he is able to read people to a certain extent.
Other than waving to him when he drove by our house always slowly (I nicknamed him Mr. Slow), I had not spoken to Ernie until 2009. My husband and I gave Ernie and his wife some vegetables from our garden on occasion, and I remember that the first time we spoke was when he stopped his moped in front of my house. It had broken down, and he insisted that he didn’t need help and said that it just needed to cool down.
We started talking about my old dog and life on “The Ridge” where we both lived. My old dog, Barkley, would go as far as the road and bark at people but never crossed the property boundary. Ernie mentioned that we had him a long time, and I said that indeed we did, about 12 years. The road that we live on is called the Battleridge Road. Quite a few years ago, another neighbor who grew up in our house said that was what they called it years ago: “The Ridge.” Ernie and I spoke a few more times, usually if I went to get my mail and he was walking by. He would stop his moped if he saw me outside.
One visit and a couple of subsequent visits had him knocking on my door to say hello. It was during one of these visits that I learned that he had post-traumatic stress disorder and that he suffered in a myriad of ways.
Ernie said that when he was a young boy and worked at a logging camp, the men there thought nothing of taking advantage of him in any way they wanted and at their whims. I never pressed on about this, and I changed the subject after I noticed that his head dropped down, just out of my focus as he spoke. The same thing happened after I asked him if he served in the military. While he was proud of his time in the army, he said that he has never been the same since and that lightning, fireworks and other loud noises sent his head spinning into the horrible memories of his wartime that he said no one should ever have to experience.
One day, I told him that I thought he was a strong man and a survivor and thanked him for serving to keep our freedom. Then, in almost a whispering voice, he said that he thought I was a survivor of some sorts, too, but that he didn’t want to press me for details. I told him that he was correct.
From what he has told me, there are still people in his family who believe his gifts of intuition are simply crazy and made up. I doubt that, though.
His deep love
I knew that Ernie and his wife lived in an old, nearly ramshackle house down the road, and I watched them on their lawn swing together evenings. It was when his wife was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease that he began to profess his deep love for his beloved Priscilla every time we talked, and I began to share my devotion to my husband.
When we talked, it was as if he was the only person in the world devoid of criticism. He looked deep into my eyes when I spoke, and I into his. I am 57 years old now, and I am still trying to wrap my head around this unique relationship. It is not a connection shared by lovers, it is not a father/daughter connection, and it is not simply a friend connection. All I can say is that when Ernie moved away, I got to know him on a much deeper level than any human being on earth has ever shared with me.
It was in August 2010 when I stopped my lawnmower as Ernie walked by with his walking cane in hand. With tear stains on my cheek and a heavy heart, I decided to tell him that my husband of 29 years had suddenly became blind at the age of 49 that month and was now in Boston fighting for his sight. I hesitated for a moment, thinking this news might disturb Ernie, because he and my husband also had talked and shared conversations and became friends. The prospect of hurting this kind gentle man in any way bothered me. But, once I told him, it felt good to talk to someone about it.
This was very frightening to me, because I was not sure if my husband would live, let alone live blind for the rest of his life. Ernie looked in the driveway and back at me. He said he had noticed that my husband’s work truck hadn’t been in the driveway for a while. As I proceeded to pour my heart and soul out to this man, I told him of my quest to carry my husband through this devastating loss and do everything that I could to support him. That meant, for the first time, I would be doing all of the outdoor and indoor chores.
For a couple of weeks now, I had been tending to the 80-foot vegetable garden that my husband had planted weeks before. I was mowing the two acres of lawn to keep things the same for him. I was taking care of the garbage, and I had been figuring out how to do all of the things that he had done. As I was doing these things, I did most of them crying my eyes out.
This was the first day that Ernie shared with me that his wife had Alzheimer’s. He told me how he felt about the disease, his alternative homeopathic methods of treating her, and how he was going to support her forever. He was very distraught but still optimistic, and we shared these feelings together and our first hug.
As he started for home, he told me that he would be there for his wife through thick and thin, no matter what. I looked deeply into his eyes and said that I, too, wasn’t going anywhere. He replied, almost as if he could predict the future and said: “I know you will.” Those words made me feel good. And, it made me feel like someone knew that I would do the right thing and trusted in me.
Ernie continued to stop by and eventually began to sit on our porch to discuss life and his and our struggles. I started to ask him more about his interests in the metaphysical and spirituality. One day, I asked him if he might have had any insight on how he came to think that I was a survivor or if he had a premonition about my husband’s disability.
He said that he saw things in my eyes and my mannerisms and that he got a read on me early on. He said that he had not actually predicted my husband’s disability but that he had seen some struggles both in my husband’s past and future. All of this was correct. But I believe Ernie’s gifts scare him.
An hour away
Our visits continued until one day in 2012 when Ernie stopped by to tell me that his wife had to go to a rehabilitation facility about an hour away, because she had fallen and became angry, and he was unable to get her up. She had started to forget who he was, and he took that hard. He was her second husband and always treated her like gold, because her first husband had not.
I gave him all of the hope that I could and told him that I was praying for both of them and that she was where she needed to be and was lucky to have him. He managed to tell me that my husband, who now was home and learning how to use his white cane and live his life, also was lucky to have me.
Ernie said he had not left Priscilla’s side once in the last two weeks that she had been in the facility, except for this visit to get some things from his house. At his next visit, with tears in his eyes, he told me that he had come back home without her. Just like he said, I watched him go by every morning to stay with her and return every night to sleep at home.
Weeks passed, and one night, my husband was awakened around 3 a.m. to the sounds of a siren and the smell of smoke. Living in a very rural area, any more than one police car speeding by was unusual, and this time there were many, so I went to the road barefoot to look in the direction that all of the vehicles were going. Ambulances, fire trucks, and police cars all raced by me. I looked down the road and saw huge flames taller than the trees jetting toward the road and upward from the left side of the road. At first, it looked surreal, as if I was looking at a movie scene showing a bomb going off. But then I realized that it was coming from Ernie’s house.
I went in to get the car keys and throw on some jeans and a jacket and tell my husband that I was going and that it looked like Ernie’s house. Still barefoot, I drove as far as I could and parked behind the volunteer fire fighters’ vehicles so as to not interrupt any of the fire trucks and the firefight. I inched my way beside the parked cars, which I assumed were first responder vehicles, walking one baby step at a time. I was partially in a ditch, and it was dark. There were many men working at a feverish pace. When I got to the point where I could see that it was his house, my rapidly beating heartbeat ceased, and I became frozen, staring, hardly believing my eyes. It was clear that no one would survive this fire.
As I inched even closer, I decided that I had to ask someone where Ernie was. It was not a question that I wanted to ask and not a question that I wanted an answer to — even more so when the first firefighter who walked by said that I had to ask the chief. The chief was busy directing the scene, but I approached him, walking over hoses in the water and asked him if he knew if anyone was inside the house. He said that no one was in the house, and then he left me and went about his business.
Then, I noticed that Ernie’s truck was not in his driveway. I looked around and didn’t see it anywhere on the side of the road either. That didn’t make sense either. None of this made any sense to me. Thoughts were rolling in and out of my head and none of them were good. Did they not find his body? What about the raccoon family that Ernie fed and said lived under his porch? What about Priscilla? Had his truck burned to the ground?
Just then, a man and a woman walked down their driveway, which was almost across from Ernie’s house, and started watching. I asked them if they knew where Ernie was. They told me that they heard he had moved to Augusta. I was half assured that he was not in the house at this point, but I still had to know more.
After a few more minutes watching all of this, it was clear that the 150-year old farmhouse was going to burn to the ground. I drove down the road and went to tell Ernie’s nephew that his uncle’s house was burning, and I asked him where Ernie was. He confirmed that just a few days earlier, Ernie had taken a room near Priscilla after deciding that it cost him too much to travel, and he wanted to be nearer Priscilla all of the time. It was then that I had realized that I had just witnessed a miracle.
The house was leveled, and a week or so later Ernie stopped by. With tears in his eyes, he told me that he and his wife were moving to a facility in Florida near where one of her 13 children lived. We hugged, and he told me all of the details and gave me the address and telephone number and he said he would write us and contact us when he visits his nephew here again. I shared my condolences about his house and belongings being destroyed, and he just looked at the ground. He was distraught about the loss of all of his books on spirituality and metaphysics and spirit, and he had not told Priscilla of the fire. I hugged him extra long that day.
On the beach
That Christmas, I got a postcard from Ernie in Florida. It was a photograph taken in back of a bench where he was sitting with his arm around Priscilla’s shoulder. It was overlooking the beach in St. Pete, near their apartment.
I wrote back to him and told him the story of the night when his house burned. I wrote of witnessing a miracle. The miracle was that he had decided not to stay at his house two nights prior to the fire. The news reports indicated that lightning had caused the old wiring in his house to catch fire and that everything was lost.
I wrote to him about my struggles watching my strong husband give up everything that he had and create a new life. And, I sent him some books on spirituality, the afterlife, and metaphysical and holistic living and topics.
Since then, we have seen Ernie twice on his visits home. His wife is getting progressively worse, and he does everything he can for her with little help from the staff at the facility. He bathes her, massages her body’s pain areas, and soothes her with his kind words. The staff at the facility has come to realize, according to him, that he is her best medicine.
I miss my old friend and hope one day he comes home to live. I am much richer for knowing him.