Love Language

Love Language

For two decades, Carol Ruggiero filled pages and pages with her thoughts and memories, evoking images of a bygone era, and now they fill Pearls from Carol, the blue-bound book her husband, Albert, devotedly assembled, published and promotes. There’s a short essay in which she recalls being a young schoolgirl researching the travels of Lewis and Clark, disappointed at finding that Meriwether Lewis was a man, not a woman, but heartened to learn of the two men’s guide. My eyes widened when I saw Sacajawea, she writes. Traveling with Lewis and Clark, the young Indian squaw acted as interpreter and guide, stopping only to give birth halfway through the expedition. “Let’s see Meriwether top that one,” I thought.

There’s a story about the color amber, in which her third-grade classmate boasts that he has a cat with amber eyes before asking Carol to go steady. Sure, I answered, not knowing what going steady meant. I thought it had something to do with the cat… The engagement ended the next day, to Carol’s relief, after the boy’s mother said children of different religions couldn’t wed.

The book is a look back, a pondering of everyday occurrences, a quippy, light-hearted glimpse of life, clearly not a love story.

Or is it?

sponsored by

Mardi Gras - The New Haven Free Public Library

It’s cold outside, but no matter: Albert Ruggiero, 74, makes several trips to his 2011 Nissan Versa, loading it up with a banner, a poster board covered in photos and a collection of the books with Carol’s pearls on the front. Then he drives an hour from his Milford home to Washington, CT, where he’s scheduled a talk at the town library. When he’s done, he loads the car back up and drives home. This is approximately his 131st trip to a library (mostly in Connecticut but also in New York, Massachusetts and New Jersey), he says, either to discuss or deliver Pearls from Carol.

Carol, who grew up in Fairfield, and Albert, raised in the Fair Haven Heights section of New Haven, were married for 35 years, the second marriage for both. She worked in the grocery business, and he did, too. She was about six years his senior at nearly 40, but the age difference didn’t matter. “She was an incredible store manager doing detailed stuff I could never do,” Albert says. “She was robbed at gunpoint twice and refused to open the safe.”

For Albert, it was love at first sight. She, on the other hand, “took a little convincing,” he recalls with a laugh.

And then, for 35 years, they lived side by side. Albert, a now-retired Bridgeport history teacher, shared with Carol his love for American history. Every summer my husband and I toured, traced and researched the Civil War. And she shared her interests with Albert, reading to him every story and essay she wrote for her Milford Senior Center group, Writers Unlimited, taking in his feedback. They played untold games of Scrabble, watched Jeopardy! every night and walked their dog around their manicured neighborhood.

“Love is profound,” Albert muses, “and it speaks for itself and needs no explanation, but there is something almost equal to love, and that’s respect. I couldn’t dream of doing anything that would upset her. Respect is a kind of clunky, harsh word, but it goes with love.”

They were a team until the end. After the hospital staff recommended sending Carol to a nursing facility as she declined precipitously from lung disease, Albert decided, “I’ll take her; I’ll be the caregiver.” He bought a hospital bed, oxygen and all kinds of breathing apparatus. “That was the last Christmas Eve she was here, and I was exhausted, but I remember saying, ‘At least she’s here.’”

Carol died March 20, 2020, at age 77, leaving behind a large basket of short stories, essays and poems. The basket tortured Albert at first. “I couldn’t stand to look at it. It hurt too much,” he says. When a friend called two days after Carol died and Albert mentioned his plan to donate the basket of writing to the senior center, his friend told him he had to do something more with his wife’s stories.

And so, he did. He sorted and compiled them, editing and publishing Pearls from Carol within seven months. He then called every Barnes and Noble from Alaska to Hawaii asking them to carry the book. Most, he says, agreed. And, of course, he’s been traveling around himself, hauling with him books and materials to present Carol’s work, read her stories, share her sense of humor, honor her.

“It’s helped immeasurably,” he says. “It’s like she’s still here. It’s a way to hold onto Carol. I miss her every moment.”

And there’s the love story—not in the published words but in the act of appreciating them, which lets this husband keep his love alive.

Written by Jill Dion.

More Stories