EDITOR'S NOTE: This column is written by Ronda Rich’s husband, John Tinker.
She stretched out her right hand with its long, slender fingers and delicate wrist, and smiled. “Hi, I’m Ronda Rich.” I was smitten, instantly, but trying not to show it, I replied only, “Nice to meet you.” Her expression changed as she asked, “Now, is your name John Pinker? Or Tinker?”
“Tinker,” I corrected, “With a ’T’.” I was surprised she didn’t know my name. Or seem to care. I had, of course, Googled Ronda Rich and found out a lot about her.
I was there to interview Ronda about Alan Kulwicki, a race car driver whom she’d dated. I was writing a movie about the late champion. The movie never got made but, more important, the interview turned into a friendship turned into marriage.
There may’ve been confusion on Ronda’s part over my name when we met. However, later, she made up for that.
Before I continue, a confession: I’ve never been enamored with my first name, the most popular boy’s name in the country. John. Thus, I grew up wanting to be called Tinker. At least it wasn’t a warm glass of milk like the name John.
Back to Ronda who, somewhere along the way, began calling me Tink. I’d never been called Tink. To my knowledge, not even my father or brothers had been called Tink. Not with any regularity, at least.
But here was this Southern belle, with her honey-sweet voice, giving me a new moniker. Yet, it was more than just another name. It was what the woman with whom I was falling in love called me. It was her special name for me. And it was wonderful.
Then, just when I thought it couldn’t get any more wonderful, Ronda added a simple, singular, possessive pronoun. One day, out of the blue, she looked at me and said, “I love you, my Tink.” I was dumbstruck. Besotted. Head over heels. I wasn’t just John. Or Tinker. I wasn’t even just Tink. I was her Tink. And it was magical.
But the intoxication didn’t last long when, just as suddenly as Ronda had called me her Tink, she went public with the denomination. Yes, she introduced me as John Tinker but then in conversation she’d refer to me as Tink. Her family, now my family, even began calling me Tink. Or Uncle Tink.
The magic was gone. Just like that.
Until one day, I don’t remember exactly where, it must’ve been at one of Ronda’s book signings, when an avid reader and fan of hers approached to have a book signed when the fan asked, indicating in my direction where I stood off to the side, “Is that Tink?”
A total stranger knew me as Tink. I was amused. Tickled. Not so much by the name itself but because it just seemed so right. Comfortable. Here I was, fairly newly-married, living in a part of the country I never considered living, feeling warmly welcomed. Ronda’s readers of her column and newsletter had become used to her calling me Tink and so they just naturally picked up on it. Oh, every now and then, someone would ask, “Do I call you John or Tink or Mr. Tink?” But I preferred (and still do) Tink. For the first time, I liked my name.
Of course, I need to be careful since this could all go to my head. A letter arrived just the other day addressed to Ronda Rich and Tink. I said to Ronda, “Look, you’ve made me a one-word, mini-celebrity.” Like Cher. Liberace. Sinbad.
On second thought, I don’t think this will go to my head. At work, I’m still mostly referred to as Tinker. Or John. No one calls me Tink. No, it’s not the name itself, it’s the place.
When someone calls me Tink, that’s when I know I’m home.
John Tinker is executive producer and head writer for the Hallmark Channel’s "When Calls The Heart," which debuted its eighth season Feb. 21.