You’d be proud of Dan and Hannah for we are catching our vacation groove. Waking in the predawn, we dress in shorts, tee shirts, and sandals and descend a set of stairs to our rented bikes in the front yard of the Wicker Guesthouse. Still dark at 6A in January, the streets of Key West are well lit for safe morning biking. With bikes that have front and back lights, we ride side by side on a nearly deserted Duval Street; it’s our own bicycle playground of side streets and alley ways. Sharing the street with food-delivering semis, that could never negotiate narrow Duval Street at any other time of day, we head to the harbor and east on Eaton Street. The antebellum (pre-Civil War) houses give a southern charm to this town of 25,000. Even though Key West is the southernmost point in the United States, it was Yankee territory during the Civil War.
Lazily, we head by the Truman Little White House on Front Street, which takes us to the other side of the tracks. Not all of Key West is glamorous and high end.
After our predawn biking, breakfast by the pool is buffet style for the guests at the Wicker Guesthouse. It’s a modest repast, but the ambience makes it a tropical paradise. Waiting for us from 8-930A, the buffet of breads, blueberry and banana muffins, Danishes, cereals, Raisin Bran, Cheerios, Corn Flakes, French toast for the toaster, and English muffins do not disappoint. And all this is outside under palms at poolside tables with umbrellas. We read the Miami Herald and the Key West Courier, in a town still buzzing over Alabama’s dominance of Notre Dame in the national championship game the night before in Miami.
After, Hannah reads and tans poolside while I sit tucked away in the shade finishing the local papers and playing Scrabble (Lexulous and Words with Friends) on my cell phone. By ten AM with temps in the upper 70s, we organize ourselves and walk to the Hemingway Home, a mere 100 yards from our room.
For a modest $13 each, we enter the grounds of Ernest Hemingway’s home where he wrote 60% of his canon (his collection of writing). His canon includes To Have and To Have Not, a novel about Key West during the Great Depression. Waiting for the tour that happens every 20 minutes, we walk the grounds.
Many remember Hemingway of his 60s with the white beard, but he lived in Key West in his 30s as a bon vivant just having come from Paris, France. He was a big game fisherman of some renown in Key West and took time during this era to be a correspondent during the Spanish Civil War.
Our tour guide Tyler energetically tells Hemingway’s story. A local kid, maybe 30, he has the energy and passion to make the tour come alive, even though he does seven tours a day. Tyler is a pro who reminds me of Joe DiMaggio, New York Yankee baseball legend, who said why he gave it his best every day at the ballpark, There is always some kid who may be seeing me for the first time. I owe him my best. Today we got Tyler’s best.
The story goes that Hemingway made the acquaintance of a sea captain who owned an unusual six-toed tomcat. As a gift, the captain gave Hemingway this cat. Today there are 45 cats, half of which are polydactyl that have the run of the grounds; one even saws logs on the bed in the second floor master bedroom.
My personal connection to Hemingway is as a 7th grade language arts teachers in Kittery, Maine I had students memorize the first section of Hemingway’s’ Old Man and the Sea. I still remember its beginning, An old man with steel rimmed spectacles sat by the side of the road. There was a pontoon bridge…
You may be thinking, Dan you had them memorize. What part of the 18th century were you teaching in? I believe recitation , among other things, builds confidence. In Starting Points: How to Set up and Run a Writing Workshop, I include “Rothermel’s Reasons for Memorizing.” I have a free autographed copy to anyone who is intrigued by this idea.
But I digress.
Behind the main house, we walk up a flight of stairs to the room where Hemingway wrote.
Poignantly at the end of the tour Tyler mentions that many remember Hemingway for his untimely death in Idaho. He tells us the complicated story of his last years; after hearing these details, one may be less likely to quickly judge and indict Hemingway for taking his own life. Tyler says, Remember someone for how they lived, not how they died.
Tyler is wise beyond his years and here are two votes for loving Florida.