Dawn Reader

Dawn Reader
from Open Door Coffee Co.; Hudson, OH; Oct. 26, 2016

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

A Hemingway Moment (with a Cather connection)

July 2005.

Red Cloud, Nebraska (2005)
Joyce and I are on the road to Nebraska, where we've always loved to be.  Our honeymoon was a road trip; we have taken many since.  This summer is an unusual one, though.  I am still recovering from prostate cancer surgery in June.  But I am determined not to let my health affect my life more than it absolutely insists on doing.  And so we're on the road ...

In a couple of months, school will start at WRA, and our juniors are reading My Ántonia for "summer reading."  I read the book back in college--and I read O Pioneers! somewhere, too (KSU grad school?).  And somewhere I read her often-anthologized story "Paul's Case."  But not much else.  So I've been reading all of Cather this summer--novels, stories, journalism--and I've been going to see the places where she lived, the places she wrote about.  I already took a "solo" trip to Pittsburgh (she taught high school English there for a bit; the school stands--as does the house where she boarded), and then down to Virginia, where she was born, where she grew up.  Her girlhood home (farmhouse) was abandoned when I was there--looking pretty bad--but I got some pictures of it, of the area, of her grandparents' home nearby.

Later, my mother and I will go see her grave in Jaffrey, New Hampshire.  And in a subsequent summer, Joyce and I will go out to Grand Manan Island (New Brunswick), where Cather built a summer cottage--still standing.

And now Joyce and I are on our way out to Red Cloud, Nebraska, where the Cathers moved when she was a girl, where she grew up, where she went to university, and, of course, the place she wrote about over and over again in her fiction.  We've spent a couple of days in the area.  The folks in Red Cloud have done a good job of promoting their most notable citizen--and, with some local help, we have found the places Cather used for My Ántonia; I will show the pictures to my students in the fall.

And as we are wrapping up Cather work, we decide: Let's go on out to Ketchum, Idaho.  Hemingway's last home.  The place where he now lies.  Hell, we're halfway there--might as well add a few days to the vacation?  Right?  We're both eager--and off we go.

It's a good time of year to be out here.  In the winter, Sun Valley is heavily populated with skiiers and other winter wackos.  But we have no problem getting a motel room, finding parking--any of it.

We visit the cemetery, photograph the simple grave.  We find the memorial statue just outside town.  We visit all the places the Hemingway tourist map identifies.

But one place not on the map: his final home.  Where he lived with Mary, his fourth wife.  Where he fought his demons.  And lost.  And took his life early on the morning of July 2, 1961, with a blast from a shotgun he'd propped against his forehead.  The sound awakened Mary ...

The Nature Conservancy has owned the house since 1986.  It is not open to the public.  But I know where it is, and so we drive there, find it easily, ignore the signs about No Trespassing.  While Joyce keeps the car running--in case we need to make a quick escape--I walk up to the house and around the house, looking, taking pictures.  Don't see or hear anyone.  Get what I need and we drive away like giddy teens who've just pranked an obnoxious neighbor.

And then we decide to do something a little ... weird?  Sick?  We decide we want to eat in the restaurant where Hemingway ate his last meal, the night before his suicide.  In a book called Last Suppers (2003) I've learned that he ate at a place called The Christiana--and that he had New York strip steak, baked potato, Caesar salad, Bordeaux wine.  The restaurant is still there.

We go over about 5:30--but they aren't yet open.  But I catch someone's eye inside; he comes to the door; I say we have traveled all the way from Ohio ... plea, cajole, beg.

They let us in.

And escort us to the "Hemingway table"--where he sat that night.  Joyce takes a picture of me there ... all of this, as I write about it, seems ... odd ...

And I order ... chicken.  (I do not order "his" last meal--so I'm not completely gone, I guess.)  We are the only people in the place until their regular opening time.

Next day, driving back to the real world, I still feel the exhiliration I've always felt when walking the ground associated with writers ... sort of stalkery, I know.  But exciting, too.  I also know that my students back in Ohio will get a kick out of the pictures (I think they will--hey, it beats talking about participial phrases!), though this final one--me sitting with my stalkery stare at Hemingway's table will surely cause some of them to look at me a little cockeyed.

As, perhaps, they should.

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