Hemingway’s Michigan

After the writers conference ended on Saturday, we drove through 133 miles of dense fog, construction, rain, and starless night up 131 to Acme, Michigan. This was not our ultimate destination, but a convenient resting place on the way to drop off our son at my sister’s house to play with his cousins (after brunch at the amazing Pearl’s New Orleans Kitchen). We then drove another 40 miles through the pouring rain to Petoskey, where we were finally going to take a free tour of Hemingway’s Michigan that we won at a silent auction last October.

Ernest Hemingway Collection. John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston.

Though he lived in Oak Park, Illinois, Ernest Hemingway spent his boyhood summers up in northern Michigan, fishing the streams and exploring the wild landscape. These experiences are the basis of many of his short stories, most obviously the Nick Adams stories. Our guide to Hemingway’s boyhood haunts was Michael R. Federspiel, author of Picturing Hemingway’s Michigan and director of the Little Traverse History Museum in Petoskey. After a short time with the museum’s Hemingway collection, we all piled into Michael’s SUV and spent the next 90 minutes in literary historical bliss.

While the weather could have been better, I try to make it a point to enjoy myself despite rain, snow, or cold. And I did. I had such a wonderful time discussing Hemingway with our guide. I saw the places that were important to a young Ernest Hemingway, including the home where his pithy writing style was likely born, the general store where he picked up the letter from Agnes that told him their love affair was just a child’s game after all, the home his mother built as a getaway from Windemere across Walloon Lake, the restaurant where he and Hadley had their wedding reception, the pier he used as a model for the one in “Up In Michigan,” the  Hemingway farm now covered in forest, the library where Hemingway, in his Italian uniform, spoke to the Ladies Auxiliary about his wartime experiences.

Each spot, surrounded by the peak of fall color and bathed with cleansing drops of rain, sat unmoved and undimmed by the passage of time. These homes and businesses have been marvelously kept up, so that you would never know they were more than one hundred years old and once echoed with the footsteps of a soon-to-be-famous man. When you know the tragedy of his life, of how he purposefully, and often with a dreadful finality, shut nearly every door of friendship, love, and family that were open to him as a young man, you can really sense the heavy weight of choices and circumstances. If he could have but held to the careless, joyful days of those endless summers. If he could have held in higher regard all those people who cared about him and worried over him. Would his fate have been different?

To see the setting of Hemingway’s youthful summers in the grey pallor of a fall rainstorm is to see what was to become of him.

Along with the tour, the auction winnings included a signed print of a woodcut and one of Hemingway’s poems, “Along with Youth,” which seems a fitting way to end this post. He wrote it in a rented room in Paris in 1922, the year after he visited Walloon Lake for the last time for his wedding to Hadley.

~~~

A porcupine skin,
Stiff with bad tanning,
It must have ended somewhere.
Stuffed horned owl
Pompous
Yellow eyed;
Chuck-wills-widow on a biased twig
Sooted with dust.
Piles of old magazines,
Drawers of boy’s letters
And the line of love
They must have ended somewhere.
Yesterday’s Tribune is gone
Along with youth
And the canoe that went to pieces on the beach
The year of the big storm
When the hotel burned down
At Seney, Michigan.

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