When you visit Key West, there is a story you will hear.
It is a place in Florida...at the southern-most point...before you reach Castro.
If you are listening, you will be told that the writer, Ernest Hemingway, built a wall.
One around his house, down on Whitehead Street.
It is the most crooked wall you will ever see.
Story goes that Hemingway bought the bricks for a penny apiece, then engaged a couple of cases of beer, and one of his good friends, to help him construct the barrier to keep out the world while he wrote.
The buddy's name: Tennessee Williams.
Ernest Hemingway has always been a hero of words to me. And to visit his home in the January humidity, has been like a trip to Mecca.
As an Irish-American child, I learned how to tell a story from listening to the words of men. My father, Frank J., and Uncle John. They knew how to weave them. As a child I was allowed to sit in the kitchen of grown-ups, so way past my bedtime, resting my head on the table, listening.
In high school, I discovered For Whom the Bell Tolls.
And The Sun Also Rises.
A beginning. The middle. Then the end.
Everything is as it should be...as the story goes.
In middle age, I read A Moveable Feast. I continue to live it. So long after the author silenced himself, way up in Idaho, via a gunshot to the head.
When Hemingway was a child of nine, he wrote: "My favorite authors are Kipling, O. Henry and Steauart Edward White. My favorite flowers are Lady Slipper and Tiger Lily. My favorite sports are trout fishing, hiking, shooting, football and boxing. My favorite studies are English, Zoology, and Chemistry. I intend to travel and write."
Hemingway was a man of so many appetites. You see, and feel them, when you tour his southern home. The woman he loved, then left, there. The photos of safaris and fishing in far-off places. The ancestors of cats called Frank Sinatra and Marilyn Monroe, who still sleep on his bed.
And what amazes me most is how such a man of intense pleasure wrote so true, and so carefully.
How he got so much emotion, intention, and life, into such sparse sentences.
"The world breaks everyone and afterward many are strong at the broken places," he wrote.
It is true.
And forever possible.