The story behind the story
The Ruby Seat would have been impossible to write had it not been for two people—Eva and George. When I was five, George Penfield became my first best friend. He was a genius at spreading happiness. His spirit and laughter were contagious, often leaving me doubled over laughing with tears in my eyes. We stood side by side at each other’s wedding. A few years after his, I held his young wife’s hand as she lay dying of cancer. After his wife passed, George’s life spiraled downward, and I tried desperately to help, but in the end, all the love from family and friends could not save him. In 2007, George died from alcoholism at the age of forty-five.
Eva is the name of my grandmother, which also happens to be the name of my main character. My grandmother was quiet and gentle and uncommonly peaceful. We had a rare bond and love that were unique among grandparents. She died in 1972, when I was ten years old.
During a very low period in my life in 1997, I had what I term as an “awakening’’ or a “connection’’ with my grandmother. The experience is difficult to put into words, but it was life-changing and permanent. I immediately felt as though I had been let in on a secret. The common worries of life dissolved and a deep peace settled in. Death was no longer confusing or fearful, and in a strange, relieving way, life itself lost its great hold, its great importance.
Late one night, about a year after George died, during the stillness before sleep, the bulk of my story came to me. Very early the next morning, I stood smiling in front of a picture of my best friend. George was a big guy, and I could almost feel his famous bear hug. I hurried upstairs, picked up my laptop and started typing. I could hardly sit still. The words just kept coming, and I was amazed how good that felt.
Thirteen months and thousands of words later, my story was complete—set in the summer scenery of the Adirondack Mountains, I took an unlikely pair—a teenager and an old man—and made them the best of friends. I set them on a parallel journey through the trials of alcoholism, death, and blame, until one of them arrived on the very steps of Heaven.
A few facts about The Ruby Seat
The name Cyril came from a friend who used to repair my cameras. His appearance and mannerisms resemble my book character to a tee—gentle and humble, tall, in his 70’s with a full head of snow white hair.
Cyril’s hiking trail and the Cone Stone are two very real places near my camp.
Robbie Frennette is the only real person mentioned in my story. Robbie is a master guide boat builder in Tupper Lake—one of the few remaining who abides to the high standards of traditional, turn of the century construction methods. He makes most of his living hand crafting what has been called the Stradivarius of wooden boats.
The storm that Cyril and Eva encounter is not unlike the storm that trapped my father across the Union Falls Pond in the 1960’s.
Real establishments mentioned in my book in the Village of Saranac Lake: The Blue Moon Cafe’ and The Blue Line Sporting goods store are situated along Main Street. The library and the now closed A.P. Smiths restaurant sit on opposite sides of the street just a ways up from the Café and Sporting Goods store.
“Ann, I know it’s hard to understand, but in that wonderful stillness, life becomes a dream and God becomes real.”
Eva’s thoughts raced to her imprisoned father with its usual mixture of anger and contempt, but now, for the past three days she felt something new—relief. Now it’s really easy to forget about him and the horrible thing he did, because he’s not my real father anyway.
“Our hearts, where peace makes its home, are always open and ready, but sadly, the mind is a thief.”
“I’m not afraid, Ann, of dying…”
“Why do people drink?!! They have a choice and they choose to get drunk, not caring what stupid things they do or who they hurt … or KILL!!”
Cyril hypnotically watched another wave of pearl-sized hail stones, hopping and skittering in all directions. He glanced down at Eva’s red-capped head and knew at that very moment that he loved her as if she were his own.
Cyril recited a small prayer to the ceiling—eleven daily words that had been with him for more than forty years. “Thank you so much for today. Please keep the nightmare away.”
“I’ve come to ask a favor. I’d like you to put my ashes in a certain place after I die.”
Branches were buckling and cracking off to her left and suddenly a loud thud replaced Cyril’s voice and his hand was yanked off her shoulder. “I’M NOT LEAVING YOU HERE!” Eva shouted.
His trance was suddenly broken when a tiny hand slipped into his and began swinging back and forth…
On the starriest, warmest night of the summer, while the fire danced in an easy breeze and tiny waves rolled musically at their feet, Eva glanced over through the talking hands of Wendy and stole a peek at Jared’s relaxed upward smile. When her eyes returned to the diamonds in the sky, she suddenly felt weightless and she wiggled deeper and snugger into the soft sand. With the firelight glowing warmly on one freckled cheek and with every star brightly reflected in her smiling brown eyes, Eva thought for the very first time in her life, if there was a Heaven, this is what it must be like.
“But…their lives hadn’t even begun. How could I ever deserve forgiveness?”
Eva reared back and her heart took off in her chest. Standing motionless, only twenty feet away, was the shabby, brownish outline of Hazel. She was bent over, leaning heavily on a tall walking stick, her tiny dark eyes glaring down the trail right through Eva.
“Where’s the letter he wrote you?!” Ann demanded.
“I don’t have it. I told you it doesn’t matter anyway! And you know what’s really idiotic!? He thinks God’s his best friend! Well how can that be?!! After what he did?!”
In a matter of seconds, the tension drained from his body as his thoughts quickly converted to the sights and sounds of the present moment, but mostly to the wonderful silence in between.
“Don’t be afraid,” she said softly. “You’ve never been alone.”
His eyes closed wetly, and in a shaky, hollow voice, he whispered across the table to the empty chair, “I’ve finished up, thank you so much.”
“I stood on the cab of my truck with the rope around my neck for hours, staring at the moonlit water. I thought it was going to be easy…”
“We’re all rusty on the outside, Eva, but on the inside, the real you is glowing like the sun.”