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 a part of them forever.
------Ernest Hemingway, 1939
The summer before my twelfth birthday, I went to stay with my cousins in Burley, Idaho for two weeks. My uncle was an attorney who had good friends living in Sun Valley, Idaho. Uncle Dean and his family were invited to spend the 4th of July at his friends' lovely home. This meant I went along and visited Sun Valley for my first time.
After a two hour drive, we arrived in Sun Valley on July 2, 1961 and settled into our accommodations. Our host and hostess had a barbecue ready with hamburgers for the kids and steaks for the adults. As we were smothering our burgers with ketchup and pickles and loading our paper plates with potato chips, our host announced he had just heard on the news that Ernest Hemingway had shot himself at his home a mile away. The great writer was dead.
My uncle and aunt reacted with shock and sadness. None of us kids really understood the gravity of the situation. Of course I'd heard of Ernest Hemingway, but I hadn't read any of his books yet, nor did I realize at my tender age how famous he was. My only thought at the time was "Is his suicide going to ruin our barbecue and our stay in Sun Valley?"
In deed, a somber mood prevailed the town throughout the Fourth of July. There was no parade, no fireworks.
We drove near his home and saw the many police cars and the yellow tape forbidding entrance of spectators. The day of the funeral cars lined the highway to the Ketchum cemetery for miles. The entire cemetery was literally filled with flowers, more flowers than I had ever seen in one place.
There were seven children in our holiday household, ranging in age from nine to fourteen. We did our best to entertain the adults to keep their minds off the death of Papa Hemingway, the most famous resident of Sun Valley. Our hosts had a pile of 45 records with the large hole in the middle. We put them on the portable record player and danced, sang and acted out the words. We dressed up in costumes and sang "One eyed, one horned, flying purple people eater . . ." and "Ooo, eee, ooo ah ah ting tang, Walla walla, bing bang. . ." The adults laughed, rolled their eyes and took another sip of their high-balls.
Years later as I read some of the works of Ernest Hemingway, I would look back nostalgically on my first visit to Sun Valley. It was horrible and wonderful in the same breath.
I came to understand Hemingway's depression on a first name basis, dealing with it myself most of my adult life. Perhaps because of Ernest Hemingway, I came to realize the dichotomies which exist in so many circumstances of life. We can love and hate at the same time. Something can be beautiful and ugly. Hemingway loved life to the fullest. He drank and consumed life, yet he took his own. He felt deeply, fervently, passionately and yet in the end he also felt empty.
I have gone to Sun Valley as an adult and the feelings of my youth come rushing back. Visiting his gravesite and putting pennies on his grave, I realize what a trivial gesture it is. But how do you honor a great and talented man?