It’s the little things, the odd bits Hemingway collected over the years and yellowing photos tucked away in a bookcase, that most fascinate me when I visit Finca Vigía. Like this odd little cigarette box, sitting on an sofa-back table in the living room, which looks to be hand-carved, etched to “Ernest Hemingway Gran Amigo De Cuba” and signed by Jaime Bofill.
Who was Jaime Bofill and why did he give Hem this memento? My guide has no clue. And a Google search for “Jaime Bofill Cuba” comes up blank. But surely there’s a story there, don’t you think?
Even more evocative, to me, is a modestly framed B&W photo leaning against the wall above a bookcase beside two of Papa’s thick black leather belts. The photo shows two adolescent boys, dressed in matching striped shirts, sitting on the stoop in front of louvered doors. The shot is of Gregory and Patrick Hemingway, the youngest of Hem’s three sons and, I’m guessing, was taken at Key West where they lived with their mother, Hemingway’s second wife, Pauline.
God knows why but the brothers were often dressed in matching shirts (there are photos of them in identical checkered shirts and plaids as well). This had to be their mother’s idea. I can’t imagine Papa, who was fond of wearing the same shirt for a week or more at a time, making much of an effort to dress his boys as if they were twins. Pauline, on the other hand, was a well-known clotheshorse.
It must have been difficult growing up as a son of Ernest Hemingway. His youngest, Gregory, certainly had a difficult time. He became bitterly estranged from his father in 1951, according to his 1976 autobiography, and never saw his father again.
When his father died, he said, “I confess I 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.”
Not that his father’s death finally relieved him of his demons. A former doctor who eventually lost his medical license because of alcohol and drug problems, Gregory became a transvestite in his later years and was known, in Miami where he lived, as Gloria Hemingway. He died in a jail cell at 69 in 2001.
His obituary in the Chicago Tribune, cruelly titled “The Son Also Falls,” begins, “On his last night as a free man, Ernest Hemingway’s youngest son slipped on a demure black cocktail dress and made his way to a small private party in the upscale Miami enclave of Coconut Grove. He introduced himself to friends as ‘Vanessa’ and spent much of the evening in the kitchen, chatting with millionaires in country club attire.”
And then, “at about 4pm the next day, the burly transsexual was seen parading down a main Key Biscayne thoroughfare, naked, with a dress and heels in his hand. After a medical exam showed he had undergone a sex change, he was jailed at the Miami-Dade Women’s Detention Center.
“On Oct. 1, his sixth day in jail, Hemingway rose early for a court appearance, began to dress and suddenly collapsed in his underwear onto the concrete floor. The third son of the 20th century’s most resolutely macho literary figure had died, at age 69, in a women’s jail.”
And what of the other two sons?
His stepbrother, Jack, who the family called Bumby, (from A Moveable Feast: “I woke early, boiled the rubber nipples and the bottles, made the formula, finished the bottling, gave Mr. Bumby a bottle and worked on the dining-room table before anyone but he, F. Puss the cat, and I were awake. The two of them were quiet and good company and I worked better than I had ever done.”) fared better. He served in WWII as a member of the OSS working with the French Resistance, and wrote an autobiography titled Misadventures of a Fly-Fisherman: My life with and without Papa. He died in 2000, at the age of 77, four years after the suicide of his daughter—Hemingway’s granddaughter—Margaux Hemingway (who was named after the wine her parents were drinking the night she was conceived).
That leaves Patrick—the middle son—who just turned 80 last summer. For decades he lived in Africa, working as a safari guide and great white hunter which, no doubt, made his father immensely happy. In 1975, he retired to a retreat in Craig, Montana, where he still lives. The last of Hemingway’s boys.
I wonder if he has ever been back to Finca Vigía—and what memories that photo of him and his brother Greogory would conjure up. As he said during an interview with NPR on his last birthday, “I live mostly in the past these days.”