Me and Ernest Hemingway have a lot in common.
We both volunteer(ed) for the Red Cross.
We both like(d) cats.
We both like(d) Paris and Florida.
We both like(d) boats.
We both like(d) the ocean.
We were both journalists.
And we both like(d) to write.
And there, it seems, although plenty, the similarities cease.
Ernest, apparently, liked to hunt and kill things.
Me, not so much.
Ernest was a dare devil, a risk taker.
Me, not in the slightest.
Ernest liked to catch fish, particulary large sea faring creatures.
Me, I like to buy them at the grocery store.
Ernest liked to imbibe a great deal.
Me, I like my happy hour IPA.
And as we near his birthday, July 21st, (1899!), the community of Key West in Florida, where Hemingway lived for the better part of a decade, celebrates Hemingway Days.
There are fishing competitions for, of course, marlin.
There are Hemingway look-a-like contests.
There are all sorts of activities that pay tribute and remembrance to the man who virtually put Key West on the map.
A tour of his one time home in Key West, Florida, now a National Historic Site and museum, is exhilarating.
The perfectly preserved Spanish Colonial was built in the 1850’s.
Ernest lived there from 1931 to 1939, while married to his second wife Pauline Pfeiffer, penning some of his most notable works there in a loft separate from the main house.
You could almost feel his presence was still there.
There were dozens of offspring, allegedly, of his original white six-toed cat (or polydactyl) roaming freely around the house and gardens, all named after famous movie stars.
Some were up for a pat, some preferred to be left alone.
The interior of the house has been refurbished and maintained to what it was imagined to be like back in the day.
A glorious 2-storey home, complete with tropical gardens and an inground pool.
The guide on this particular day wound up the tour explaining the end of Ernest’s life.
He was clearly overcome with emotion, as was I at hearing the telling of the tragedy.
For it was indeed a tragedy.
Ernest spent time in a mental institution, bearing the torture of electric shock therapy in an effort to banish his depression, no doubt brought on by the extreme pain suffered in numerous accidents, including two plane crashes.
In this modern day and age of awareness and acknowledgement of mental health concerns, Ernest would have been a poster child.
To have finally succumbed to his demons in the foyer of his home in Idaho, with his fourth wife in the house, by shooting himself, is unconscionable.
But for those who do not understand the travesty of depression and the suicidal results it can often bring, Ernest was ahead of his time.
Ernest, a literary icon, with a Nobel Prize and a Pulitzer under his belt, decided his own demise was preferable to a continued existence in this world.
To the rest of us, it seems incredible.
And no less than four members of his family also ended their lives the same way, by their own hand.
But that is a reality for so many people, including teenagers, that in recent years thankfully there are hotlines and helplines to aid with any despair that seems inconsolable.
After the guide had finished the story, the tourists somberly continued to meander about the gardens of the property, perhaps thinking about what could have been.
Hopefully during his time there, in that magical place of Key West, Ernest found some peace, found some hope, found some reason to be.
His existence there is legendary, as he frequented many of the local bars, pubs and restaurants.
A coin that he allegedly threw on the ground while at the house where he lived is now frozen in time, entombed in the concrete where it once lay, for all to see.
And a urinal lives on as a fountain by the pool, once dragged home by Ernest from a favourite bar that was being closed down.
I guess he wanted a souvenir.
In 2017, Ernest’s house and the cats survived hurricane Irma.
It is one of the few houses in Key West to have a basement, having been built quite sturdily by a boatmaster with a lot of foresight.
The gardens live on too, feeling like paradise, with their meandering paths and towering tropical trees and plants.
And the luxurious inground pool is also clean and clear, offering a vision of what life for Ernest and his then wife could have really been like.
It is a lovingly maintained glimpse into a small window of a large life.
A life that was lived by Ernest.