shades of Hemingway / part 11, all that is golden does not glitter

The museum founded by Mel Fisher was only a couple of blocks up the street from us.  It is in an antiquated building at 200 Greene St. that not only houses some of the famous treasure that he sought for over 20 years, but also includes many artifacts from those shipwrecks of nearly 3 centuries ago.  So a visitor can satisfy the craving to actually hold lost treasure (one display offers an authentic gold bar that you can hoist up with one hand)  and get an education there.  Brilliant exhibits are on hand regarding notorious pirates and their famous ships, like the Queen Anne’s Revenge.  You can learn the origins of the Jolly Roger and other styles of flags that were hoisted up by those defiant scoundrels of the sea.  There is even a section dedicated to the history of pirate women.

Ofcourse, most of us are interested in the treasure Mel Fisher found.  It is worthy of note that though he spent years looking for a specific ship’s haul, he did uncover other bits and pieces of treasure that in turn helped to spur him on to the “motherlode”.  But to his credit, Mel Fisher’s museum is more about the time capsules contained in those clear waters off the Florida coast then a “How I did it!” guide to finding lost jewels and bullion.

At first the four of us move about together but soon we splinter into individual foragers, setting off into different directions to admire 17th century relics and read about the man who claimed his interest in pirate treasure was piqued when as a boy he read the classic,  Treasure Island.

In the lower section of the museum is a display of a ship’s inner hull that depicts the value of properly ballasting a ship.  With masts that rocket into the sky and sails that billow in the tradewinds, the weight of cargo and the structure topside, ballasts keep the ship upright and steady.  In fact, most ships found have lost their upper decks through time because they’ll eventually rot, break free and float away leaving the hull and heavier items such as cannon, anchorage and ballasts behind.  It was while I was admiring this display that Ring Lardner, Jr.  a.k.a. a young Ernest Hemingway paid me another visit.

“You don’t have to do it, you know.” His voice was behind me and solemn.  He came up alongside and looked at my face, almost pleading.

“Do what?”  I replied, pretending I didn’t know.  But something inside told me the truth.  There was an apparent power struggle between Hem and Ring Lardner, Jr.  They were at odds over Papa Hemingway’s legacy.  One wanted to protect it while the other wanted to exploit it and I was the catalyst in between. 

“For what ever Papa has done or accomplished in his life, he was always true to himself.  Don’t take away his integrity.”

“But Ring,” I couldn’t believe I was actually calm enough to carry on this conversation, “you’re dead, what does it matter?  This is a chance for the world to remember Papa’s life all over again, future generations might not read about or know him otherwise.”

“Is that why you’re doing this? to enhance his celebrity?  Or is there something else?  a chance to further your own agenda?” 

I couldn’t argue that point and I found myself wishing that we would be interrupted by someone… anyone,  to make this particular shade of Hemingway disappear.  But it wasn’t happening fast enough.  Ring had me cornered and my earlier misgivings only veiled the desire I had to be a success, even if it meant cheapening the memory of the man he would become.

“I didn’t ask for this assignment.” I offered weakly.

“Assignment?”  He almost spat out the word, “You took something that doesn’t belong to you like a common thief.  Now you intend to “borrow” something else that you have no business getting involved in.  You want to compromise your principles, fine.  But please, don’t steal our dignity.”

I was looking into the face of a meliorist, a youth that had his whole life before him to live and lose while waxing poetic with the very words I hoped to harness for my own feeble attempt at virtue… and I understood.  Seeking fame is for the shallow, greatness lingers past the accolades.  Hem was the inner most motivation of Ernest Hemingway that drove him to achieve his success, but he was  not the sum total of Hemingway’s parts.

I was left feeling lower than the ships that had sank off the coral reefs, my heart pounding with the daggers of self condemnation.  No matter how innocently I had become involved with the heritage of Ernest Hemingway I could not betray it for T.V. ratings or any other scheme that could be dreamed up.  My golden opportunity had lost its sheen,  I knew I had to return the shoehorn to the Estate and with it my link to the great man’s ego.  But I felt there was still a story to tell. 

“I understand, Ring, and I’m sorry… I never meant to betray your memory.  I promise I won’t compromise…”

I could sense the relief Ring felt, his features softened and he offered me a smile.  But I pressed a little bit, risking the dialog that had been opened between us.

“But what about this story?  why did this have to happen to me? do I get to tell what happened and if I do… who’ll believe it?”

Ring’s whole stature changed, from a young man barely twenty he morphed back and forth towards middle aged wisdom and youthful exuberance.

“Do you remember when you arrived at Papa’s house yesterday, you wondered how it was to be him, the feelings he had for the house and the times he had there?  You opened yourself up to his presence as few people do.  Entering the study, the value of those items never entered your mind, you centered on Papa’s creative process.  And when you held onto his property, it wasn’t a trophy that you shared with others, it was a personal item that you safeguarded.  Spirits are attracted to those characteristics, they stand out in our realm like a ship’s beacon, we call it ‘soulshine.’ ”

I allowed that to sink in momentarily.  Though my motives had not started out entirely noble, I felt humbled by what I was being told.  Kind of like I had reached the brink of an identity breach and then come to my senses. 

“I never meant to take that shoehorn, Ring, it was almost like I was stuck with it and didn’t know what to do.  I should’ve returned it right then, but things kept coming up… seeing you and Hem, those dreams… I guess I got caught up in my own desire to be a success at writing.  It was never my intention to ruin or besmirch the name of Hemingway.”

He nodded, the contented smile of a man 40 years his senior easing back into oblivion.

“Tell your story then, when the time is right… and tell it honestly… you’ll do fine.”

“I will, Ring… thanks…”

Ring smiled again and began to fade from view, standing smartly in his military uniform and offering me a casual salute. 

“Please,” he said; a smoky, waning silhouette against the inner wall of the ship on display, “my friends call me ‘Papa’. ”

Keith, Laura, Annette and I collected together at the outset of our touring the colorful past of pirate booty and all things Davy Jones to figure out where we would go next.  Tomorrow was Sunday.  In about 24 hours  our ferry would depart at 6 pm and take us back “north” to Ft. Myers and the life that we had led up there.   One place had been left conspicuously out of our realm of experience up until now and we decided to finish our Saturday afternoon and evening at Sloppy Joe’s Bar.    


One Response to “shades of Hemingway / part 11, all that is golden does not glitter”

  1. chirchi965 Says:

    wow, that was good.

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