shades of Hemingway / part 8, research and rescue

A public library is a sanctuary of the mind, a treasure trove of knowledge, a time capsule containing a wealth of history.  While the Internet puts data at our fingertips, a library places it at our feet like a peace offering;  all we need do is undertake the journey.  I enjoy the information highway for it’s speed and up-to-date facts (though some “facts” have to be taken with a grain of salt) but nothing embraces your collective consciousness quite like four walls lined with volumes of books whose many pages cry out to be read.  A library is where tables are the altar and hushed are the tones that read, rehash and absorb ancient scripture.  Here the gods smile upon thee and permission is granted to peruse the secrets recorded by generations past.  Then you are allowed to cross reference text and search again until finally you quench the thirst for answers, the need to know words. 

Whether you are at the Library of Congress or a one room school house tucked in the rurals of Iowa, libraries hold a religious experience, a befriending of the great minds that have gone before us.  These are the monuments that enshrine the yearnings for truth, justice, freedom and they hint of immortality.

The Monroe County May Hill Russell Library is actually only a few blocks down from our historic habitat on Fleming Street, but after a hearty breakfast I am content just to drive there anyway. (that electric car is such a gas!)  The library is a flamingo pink stucco, single story building, probably realized around the time that Francisco Marrero commissioned his own house to be built.  It is a humble place, unasuming and approachable right off the main sidewalk. 

As I enter I am greeted by that familiar feeling of awe,  a tingle goes up my neck.  I am anxious to delve into the catalog system and learn my way around.  I notice there are several bulletin boards dotted with pamphlets of local color and interest.  Further on there are sections devoted to Ernest Hemingway and Tennessee Williams (another famous Key West resident).  Pictures of a faded time in Key West are  placed strategically throughout the small but amazingly efficient library.  Immediately I am fascinated at the many books dedicated to my subject and I immerse myself into a tranquil bubble bath of research.

One of the first things I found out about Ernest Hemingway was the pen name he used while serving as his school newspaper’s editor.  Ring Lardner, Jr. !  Apparently early on his literary hero was a man named Ring Lardner who was a sportswriter, humorist and author in the early parts of the twentieth century.  Paying homage to the first Ring Lardner, Hemingway added the junior, borrowed the name and (for awhile) used it as his own moniker.  (Later on there was a real Ring Lardner, Jr. who received an Academy Award for writing the screenplay for the movie M*A*S*H* in 1970.) 

Finding a link between Hemingway and the young man I met at Fort Zachary Taylor (and dreamed about the night before) increased my adrenalin level substantially.  Within minutes I found a picture of young Hemingway in a WWI military uniform and felt my face grow pale.  I had discovered that there were definitely spirits linked to yesterday’s  “borrowing” of the shoehorn and I was not a believer in ghosts.  With greater curiosity than fear,  I read on.

Hemingway left his early writing career to join the military, wanting to enlist for service during the first world war.  Unable to pass the physical due to bad eyesight, he volunteered for the Red Cross Ambulance Corps.  Soon young Ernest was sent to the Italian front where he witnessed death first hand.  Later while attempting to deliver supplies, Hemingway was wounded both by a mortar shell round and machine gun fire.  Plugging his wounds with cigarette butts, he was able to drag a wounded Italian soldier to safety.  This led to Ernest Miller Hemingway being awarded the Italian government’s  Silver Medal of Military Valor.  Quite the accomplishment for a young man not yet 19 years old.

An hour easily went by, the life of one of America’s most prolific authors held my attention so acutely that the activity of the other library patrons went virtually unnoticed.  That is until one person made his presence unmistakably known.

“I’m afraid we have not been formally introduced,” came the voice.  I looked up and saw a middle aged man with a more salt than pepper beard smiling down at me, a mischievous twinkle in his eye.  I knew right away who was speaking before he finished the sentence, “I’m Ernest Hemingway.”

My mouth hung open and I gasped for words, “Papa?”

He raised a finger to his lips, “Easy, son, no one else can see or hear me.”

I hadn’t realized how loudly I’d blurted the word but now all eyes were on me.  I froze for a moment not sure if I should tear out through the front door or just sit there acting dumbfounded.  Finally I got up unceremoniously, walked over to and entered the restroom, bolting the door behind me.  Papa Hemingway materialized sitting on the commode.  For the life of me I don’t know how I remained calm, but his smile was disarming, grandfatherly and genuine.  I never felt more relaxed.  I told him my name as I offered my hand but his phantom limb passed right through my flesh like a whisper of cool fog.  Hemingway shrugged with an impish grin.

“That’s fine, Chris,” he said, “pleased to make your acquaintance.”

“Mr. Hemingway,” I barnstormed, “what’s happening to me?  Why am I seeing you and those other you’s and why am I having these nutty dreams?  If this is about me taking that shoehorn, it was an accident!  I didn’t mean to steal your property!”

Papa looked at me contentedly, “You had it right the first time, Chris, call me ‘Papa’.  All my friends do.”

“I’m sorry… of course, Papa… just tell me what you want me to do and I’ll do it!  I don’t want to cause you any more trouble!”

“Now what makes you think you’ve caused me any trouble?”

“The shoehorn!  I took it by mistake!  It all happened so fast!  First I was there in the study… I mean, I was in your study when I saw Hem, … I mean… the other you and I just panicked!”

Papa chuckled, closing his eyes as he did so.  Just then there was a rattling of the knob on the bathroom door but the lock was firm.  I ignored the distraction.

“The other you’s, now that’s a hoot, Chris!”

“Yeah, the other you’s as in three of you!  First Hem in the study at the Estate, then you in the parlor and Ring Lardner, Jr. at Fort Zachary Taylor who is in fact another you!”

Papa smiled, “Is that so unusual?  There are three parts to every person, Chris.  Three individuals that roll into one.  It’s quite simple really.”

“Three into one? like some trinity or something?” There may have been slight distaste in my tone.

“It’s not quite that vulgar, but stop and think about it.  There is the you that people see, there is the you that you want to be and then there is the you that you are inside.  Your id, the real you… your inner self.”

I absorbed that statement for a moment just as there came a sharp rap on the bathroom door.  I announced that it was occupied and that I’d be right out.  Papa Hemingway was obviously amused at my dilemma, my desire to understand what was happening and why he was there.

“Okay, three in one… Papa, Junior and the holy Hem… I got it!  But what does it all mean?  I’m getting to where I feel like I’m losing more than just sleep!”

“There’s more to it than that, Chris… what happened in those “nutty” dreams of yours?”

  “Well… Hem said he wanted me to go to work for him… write about his exploits or something to that effect.  Ring Jr. finds me all caught up in a firefight then tells me not to compromise…”

The doorknob rattles then a persistent knocking.  I press my face to the door.  I hiss the words,  I’m almost done!  and I lean against the bathroom door like I’m trying to re-enforce it against a strong tidal surge.  But facing Papa Hemingway he quickly begins to fade.

“Wait!  Don’t go yet!  Tell me what it means!  Tell me what to do!”

But he is gone, smiling as he vanishes before me sitting on that old porcelain toilet, wagging his finger like I’ve just been scolded.  With resignation I open the bathroom door and start out.  An elderly gentleman with no manners brushes past me with a hmmpf! and closes the door abruptly.  Stepping back into the main library a familiar face is there to greet me. 

With arms crossed against his chest and his backside propped upon my study table,  Officer Jordan gives me a curt nod…

  

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