AERNIE AND ERNESTINA: The Writer, His Wife, and their Afterlife

2 min readJan 19, 2021

Book One, Part One, Chapter Four: The First Appearance of Ernie

On that first morning of my second summer on the paper, I enter the newsroom wearing a sleeveless flowery print dress. And on my feet? Glossy pink Mary Janes that match the frosty pink on my lips. I feel young and fresh and summery.

An older man, his straight longish hair brushed back and slightly askew, glances up and suddenly pops up from his chair at the middle desk — Frank’s desk. He extends his hand. “I’m Ernie.”

I smile at him, shake his hand, introduce myself, then notice the Coke bottle, half-empty, standing in the spot where Missy’s photo stood last summer. He follows my glance. “I drink lots of Coke,” he says. “Coke gives me energy.”

With his deep-set eyes and thin lips and paleness, he looks tense and tired, but his voice is vigorous, and as the day goes on, he makes unusual pronouncements. “I stay away from music, poetry, and children,” he says. “Too much emotion. Emotion wears you out.” Yet he also utters the word joy that day. In all my life, I’d never heard anyone else use that word unless he was singing it in a Christmas carol. People talked of fun. They didn’t speak of joy. Not the people I knew.

Until a few years before, Ernie was executive editor of a weekly suburban newspaper. “The office secretary set her watch by me. I arrived at nine o’clock on the dot. I worked that job for five years, for the discipline. I needed the discipline.”

Frisky crew-cut Al, whom I met at Father Z.’s Christmas party and who sits at the far desk — Tinsley’s desk — worked as a stringer on the suburban weekly. He told Ernie about the opening on this paper — open, of course, because Frank died.

The Voice won all kinds of awards when Ernie was its editor,” Al says. “Best News Story. Best Layout. A Sweepstakes Award. Best Feature Story. Ernie wrote it, of course.”

“I nominated that particular article for a Pulitzer,” Ernie says. “Didn’t get it. After I resigned, the owner sold the paper for a big profit.”

Ernie writes this weekly’s major articles, often a series — on juvenile delinquency, prison reform — and Al’s the paper’s utility writer. What will I write?

I don’t know. I’ll just show up Monday through Friday from nine to five and do what’s asked of me. In August, I’ll head back to the state university for my senior year.

After that? An unanswered question, and one that’s beginning to haunt me.




My writer husband’s favorite nickname for me was Ernestina, so in this 2-book memoir, he is Ernie. This is his story, our story, and my story. I invite you in.