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A tribute to Gregory Hemingway.

A scholar shares memories and impressions of Ernest Hemingway's youngest son Gregory, who died in Miami, Florida on 1 October 2001.


GREGORY H. HEMINGWAY, ERNEST HEMINGWAY'S THIRD SON, died in Miami, Florida, almost one month shy of his 70th birthday. Born on 12 November 1931, he grew up in the Key West home that his parents, Ernest and Pauline Hemingway, acquired shortly after their marriage. Although Gregory's memories of his early life in Florida came to him later "in flashes, incomplete," his more graphic remembrances of summers spent with his father and two brothers Patrick and Jack (Bumby) would inspire his Papa: A Personal Memoir (Houghton Mifflin, 1976). This memoir, widely recognized as one of the best (most honest and most affecting) books written on Hemingway by those who knew him, portrays Papa as "kind, gentle, elemental in his vastness" and also, not unrelated, "tormented beyond endurance." But more than a book off Hemingway, Gregory's memoir chronicles a close and in later years troubled father/son relationship. Significantly, Gregory begins Papa by quoting a passage from Islands in the Stream that underscores the physical and psychological similarities between Thomas Hudson and his youngest son Andrew. The young boy Andrew (modeled after Gregory) had "a humorous face" and a "devilish" nature, and he "was a copy of Thomas Hudson, physically, reduced in scale and widened and shortened." This boy also had "a dark side to him that nobody except Thomas Hudson could ever understand. Neither of them thought about this except that they recognized it in each other" and they "were very close to each other."

Following a breach in his relationship with his father that began with the death of Pauline in 1951, Gregory sought to resurrect in memory, and through writing, the best of his boyhood idylls in the American West and in Bimini and Cuba. In his later years, he wanted to revisit these places physically, and in this he found an unexpected alliance with the Hemingway Society as it held conferences in all the great Hemingway locales, including Paris. Gregory joined up briefly with the Hemingway Society at the Closerie des Lilas gathering that inaugurated the 1992 Hemingway/ Fitzgerald conference, but in 1995 he spent a week in Cuba with a group of Hemingway scholars, most of whom were there for the first time. For Gregory, it was his first time back in 45 years. Photos from that trip, including at Cojimar where Hemingway had moored his boat Pilar (now resting on uneasy pilings down the slope a few yards beyond the empty Finca Vigia pool) show Gregory standing at the center, smiling. He seems most ebullient in those photos of him descending the plane stairway to set foot once again on Cuban soil. In these photos, taken from the ground looking up, he almost seems to float, poised and framed against a gray-white sky.

No one could have anticipated or described, however, the experience of seeing the Finca Vigia. Gregory had rendered in his memoirs its transcendent beauty "perched on the highest point of land" and surrounded by "tall royal palms" and wildly-blooming bougainvillea vines, yet even Gregory, when he saw it again for the first time, was caught off guard. "The rambling, one-story Spanish colonial" seemed to lift skyward and tilt as we peered into the windows to see Hemingway's books, his shoes, and the white stucco walls with all those animal heads looking upward, their horns spiraling in impossible arcs. As Gregory approached the house for the first time in decades, he paused and then stopped, motionless. When he finally walked On up to look into the windows of the guesthouse wing where he and his brothers had stayed, he stated almost inaudibly, "All my books are still here. Nothing has changed."

When Gregory came to the Hemingway Conference in Bimini in January 2000, he seemed to relish his time fishing with the Hemingway scholars he now considered friends and participating as well in some of the conference events. For the most part, though, he kept to himself, which was not so easy to do on that sliver of land with its handful of eateries and its two dirt roads that both defined and contained the island's parameters. Most of the conference sessions were held in the white clapboard church down the Queen's Highway a hundred yards or so from the Thomas Hudson house (Michael Lerner house). If you turned around in any one of the wooden pews lined up in rows, you could see through the open church doorway to the turquoise ocean waters outside. As the ceiling fans whirred softly, the air drifted in and out the side windows, their wooden shutters propped up skyward like wings. When Gregory came to the scholarly sessions, which he liked to do when they carried a biographical slant, he generally sat toward the front and he wore a white guayabera.

In July 1999, Gregory joined with his two brothers at the rededication of the house on North Oak Park Avenue where their father was born. As Patrick Hemingway described it in the panel discussion held later during this centennial celebration of Hemingway's life, he and his brothers had appreciated that the early morning birthday salute to Papa had been understated and dignified. Because his father had led such an extraordinarily full life as a writer and a man, Patrick did not feel saddened by his death so much as grateful for what Hemingway had brought to so many people.

Gregory, as he confessed it in his memoirs and would talk about it later, had feelings a bit more mixed. Gregory felt "profound relief when they lowered my father's body into the ground and I realized that he was really dead, that I couldn't disappoint him, couldn't hurt him anymore." Then he went on to hope that his father (and, indirectly, himself as well) would find peace. "But, oh God, I knew there was no peace after death. If only it were different, because nobody ever dreamed of, or longed for, or experienced, less peace than he. He wrote of that longing all his life, in words as simple and as complicated as autumn and as spring."

At the end of the week in Cuba in 1995, I encountered Gregory unexpectedly as we stood in the Havana airport waiting to leave. When I asked Gregory how he had enjoyed the week, he confessed that he had come to Cuba hoping to put his father to rest. It had not been easy being the son of an American icon, and he thought that by revisiting all those places of his past he might discover a separate peace. But no matter how often he worked it over in his mind, he said, he could not easily embrace his own memories and there was no peace. In this context, he observed that he had decided to become a physician because it was the farthest profession from what his father did and he wanted to make his own name. He recalled as well his father telling him (as he had recorded it in his memoir) that "it doesn't really matter what you do as long as you do something you think is worthwhile and productive" and that you love doing. By the time his father had entered the Mayo Clinic in 1961 knowing, as Gregory saw it, that his life as a writer was over, Gregory's own career as a doctor had just begun. He had enrolled in medical school, and, during the 1970s and 1980s, he practiced medicine in New York and Montana prior to returning to live, once again, in Florida up until his death.

Friends and family of Gregory would acknowledge his sensitivity, his tenderness and his almost childlike potential for joy. Hemingway scholars who came to know him also will miss him. He was emotionally generous and transparent to the same degree that he sustained an inner terror and an emotional reserve that could not be touched. Gregory's description of his father seemed to describe Gregory as well. Beneath Papa's "boisterous exterior," Gregory said, "he was a reserved man, somewhat incapable of expressing his affection in the conventional way."
Penn State Abington
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Title Annotation:Ernest Hemingway's youngest son
Author:Miller, Linda Patterson
Publication:The Hemingway Review
Article Type:Biography
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Mar 22, 2002
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