IN HEMINGWAY COUNTRY

HORTON BAY, Michigan--The road is narrow. No traffic. I haven't seen another car for a long time. I hoped it would be this way. It's like a journey back in time.

This is the little town in which Ernest Hemingway really grew up. Hemingway spent all the summers of his formative years here. He described it fully in the first short stories he ever published.

But I'm not making this trip expecting to come upon any startling revelations. I'm not on a literary pilgrimage.

My sole purpose is to see the little town he wrote about and to get an idea about how Hemingway used the raw materials of his life to create his fiction. It may turn out I will learn nothing.

In a way, it's a little like revisiting Monet's hayfields or those trees along the riverbanks in the French countryside that Monet painted over and over again.

What do you learn that you hadn't already learned in libraries and museums? I made a trip to West Springfield, Massachusetts, once to see the ball field where Leo Durocher played as a teenager. It was a wasted trip. The field was still there, but it taught me nothing about Durocher that I didn't already know.

I could never go to see Monet's hayfields. They are gone. So are the tree lines. I caught up with them in a museum in Boston, where an exhibition of Monet's paintings was being held. It taught me plenty about how Monet worked.

I am lucky with Hemingway. Horton Bay is still here--almost unchanged--and it's just up the road.

It's a sunny, cool day. Half an hour ago, we left Charlevoix, the colorful port town from which most vacationers head out on the ferry to Beaver Island and the famous Shamrock Cafe.

Christina the Lawyer holds the big highway map spread out on her lap, so it won't blow away in the steady blasts of air coming through the open windows of the rental car.

I think about it. Most people don't read Hemingway much these days. Nowadays, there seem to be as many biographies of Hemingway in the bookstores as there are novels by him.

People spend time discussing Anne Tyler or Michael Crichton and John Grisham, who now writes a best seller every year.

Hemingway's not culturally correct. The women's movement disapproves of him. Feminists like Lettie Cotton Pogrebin and Hillary Clinton don't read him.

Nowadays, Hemingway's taut, tough-guy prose is called pseudomasculinity. It has become as out-of-date as are his wars.

Who cares about the retreat from Caporetta on the Italian front in the First World War? Who gives a damn about the Spanish Civil War?

But Hemingway didn't start out by writing about men at war. He started here, by describing the general store I can see on the corner to my left. He wrote about the church that's still standing in the next block up on the hill.

He began with small stories about the relationships between two people at a time he experienced here as a young man.

Hemingway lived with all those people he described in the early Nick Adams stories.

Here's the way he described Horton Bay in his first published story, called "Up in Michigan":

The town was only five houses on the main road between Boyne City and Charlevoix. . . . There was farming country and timber up the road. Up the road aways was the Methodist church. . . . You could look out across the woods that ran down to the lake. It was very beautiful in the spring and summer with the bay blue and bright and usually whitecaps out on the lake. . . .

The bay was blue today . . . and there were whitecaps. The Methodist church in which Hemingway married his first wife, on September 3, 1920, still stands on the hill.

I park the rental car on the overgrown lawn. A man I assume to be the minister approaches the car. He gives me a friendly smile.

"I can't tell you much about Hemingway," he says. "Go back in the next block to the general store. That's where everyone stops. They have all the articles about Hemingway you'd ever need on a wall of the store."
I drive half a block to the general store, the one Hemingway described. It is the same place in which Jim Gilmore, the young blacksmith, met the pretty waitress Liz Coates:

Liz had good legs and always wore clean gingham aprons and Jim noticed that her hair was always neat behind. He liked her face because it was so jolly but he never thought about her.

Notice the final words of that last sentence, "but he never thought about her." Those words appear in the second paragraph, and they foreshadow how the story will end.

There are men working out in front of the store. They point to a side entrance that is being used during construction.

Gloria Wyn, the proprietor, spots us as tourists. She is friendly.
"You're here about Hemingway," she says. "Just walk right down the counter and take a left to the wall. You'll see some photographs and old newspaper articles on the wall."
There were some framed newspaper clippings on the wall. There were some Hemingway memorabilia. None of it was very good stuff.

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