Letter from Idaho – August ’98

There is a book by Kenneth Lynn, Hemingway (Simon & Schuster, 1987) that you should take a look at.  Besides being a well written literary biography, it has in it a series of photographs of E.H.  in his last days.  These pictures will blow you away.  In the mid ’50s things began to fall apart.  From ’59 on, the drinking and depression began to take over.  It’s all there in the pictures.

In Havana he sits in a chintz covered club chair reading.  Tense, tan, wearing loafers, shorts and a white, short sleeve shirt.  To his left is the drink cart.  Ice bucket, glasses, brown and green bottles wink at him in the sunlight.

Then there are the pictures from Ketchum, when the black doge was really closing in.  The house, a raw split level stuck on a muddy hillside; the Big Wood River below, clogged with water and downed trees.

E.H. at dinner.  The table set with place mats, one folk for dinner, another for salad, water glasses, a bottle of Burgundy.  The Noble Laureate feeds the cat a morsel from his plate.  His spectacles and cigarettes, Kents in a soft pack, to one side.

The trip back to Spain was a disaster.  Hot summer afternoons spent sleeping off the wine drunk at lunch.  Nights in the restaurants and bars, drinking the local brandies.

Mary could of hidden the key to the guns, but she believed that you should lock a man away from what is his.  She knew that, in the end, she couldn’t protect him from himself.

On July 2, 1961 he stood in the front hall, put a shotgun to his head and pulled the trigger.

He is buried in the cemetery just north of town.  People leave nips of bourbon, dollar bills and river-washed stones on his grave.  A couple of miles east, on Trail Creek Road, they build a memorial.  A bronze bust and a bit of the creek diverted.  The inscription is from a eulogy that he wrote for a friend killed in a hunting accident years before –
Best of all, he loved the fall,
the leaves yellow on the cottonwoods
leaves floating on the trout streams
and above the hills
the high blue windless skies
…now he will be part of them forever

Back in town is Chritiania’s, where he eat his last meal.  The Pioneer Saloon, Ketchum Casino, the Silver Dollar, the Ketchum Korral and Motor Inn – his haunts, are all still there.  In the Pioneer is picture hangs to the right of the bar.  At the Ketchum Korral you can sleep in the cabin where he stayed back in the early days, when he came to hunt and fish.  His son Jack lives in the area, and is active in conservation projects at the state and local level.  His granddaughter and other glitterati can be spotted in the grocery store and at Bruce Willis’ diner; they park their Lear jets on the tarmac at the airport down in Hailey.  The airport is across the street from the Hailey “Home of the Sawtooth Rangers” High School’s rodeo ring.  On the 4th of July there is a  rodeo there.  Sitting in the stands, watching the barrel racers on their quick quarter horses, the ropers and the clowns, drinking bee, cracking  open fresh roasted salted peanuts, watching the long, gaudy sunset light up the surrounding mountains, the air thin and clear, it is  hard not to swear that you can’t still hear the echo of that shotgun blast.

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