Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Getting Hemingway's Bed

He did sleep. Between hunting big game and fishing for swordfish and fighting in the First World War, the Spanish Civil War, WWII,  bullfighting and boxing and writing brilliant novels and winning Pulitzers and Nobel prizes and going through four wives and three homes and doing just about everything a writer can do to make a name of himself and still be taken seriously, after all that he did sleep. In a bed. I had walked past the room he had been born in a hundred times on my way to the attic. That room still held me in awe, but the more terrestrial part of his life, the one of waking up in a bed like anyone else intrigued me. That's why I said I would get his bed.

The Hemingway Foundation needed someone to drive up to Petsosky Michigan to get his boyhood bed. I voluteered. Why not? Petosky figured into many Hemingway stories and I wanted to see the cottage so central to his earlier stories. But more it seemed like I could get a little closer to the man. A bed is fairly personal and I thought bringing the bed back with me would give me more insight into the writer, the man, and might just be a great adventure. Of course it was during January and the biggest snow of the year. But who cares. Hemingway wouldn't have batted an eye.

So I headed up in my Ford for Petosky to the home of his great nephew who had the bed in a  storage shed. The trip up was long and lonely and snowy. But I hummed on the adrenalin of my mission. It was right in there with driving to New York to stomp around and look for agents. It ranked up there with getting my first novel published by a man who had never pulblished anything. It ranked right up there with deciding to write fiction when everyone I knew was taking a real job. It certainly ranked up there with the day I went up to his attic.

So I met his nephew. Jim. He was a nice man with a contagious smile. We made small talk and then he showed me the storage shed that contained the bed. We dug out the bed from under a bunch of junk. The springs were rusted and the white paint had flaked off. But it was his bed, his nephew assured me with a chuckle. One of the spindles fell off and I put it in my pocket as we loaded the bed in my Explorer. The great nephew bid me farewell and I headed back for Oak Park.

Writers like to embellish. If you were Hemingway you embellished like a God. But I really did run into a blizzard. The Midwest was hit with the worst snow storm in twenty years. The highway literally disappeared. I crept along with my strange cargo until I was forced off into a parking lot where a lone bar light burned through the whiteout conditions. I left my car and went into the bar to find other stranded travelers. Suddenly we became a club and we passed the night drinking and telling out stories. I said I was a writer and that I was bringing Ernest Hemingway's bed back from Petosky. People politely nodded and smiled and moved away.

The storm lifted and I got back on the road at dawn. I drove into Oak Park late in the afternoon and unloaded the bed in the Hemingway house where the Foundation repainted it and put a new mattress on and made it up like Ernest had just slept there. I'd like to say I glimmered something about the man from his bed or that my quest to bring the bed back gave me an idea of what he had gone through in some of his adventurers. But in the end it turned out to be just some rusted old steel springs and peeling wood that I brought back from a storage shed in the middle of nowhere. In that way, it was very Hemingway.

Rocket Man will be out in January

Books by William Hazelgrove