As Steve Paul explains, July is an important month for Ernest Hemingway:
The month of July brings the anniversary of three defining Hemingway moments: He was born on July 21, 1899, in Oak Park, Illinois; he took his own life on July 2, 1961, in Ketchum, Idaho. And on July 8, 1918, while he was serving in the Red Cross ambulance service attached to the Italian army, he was wounded by the explosion of an Austro-Hungarian trench mortar shell. The blast sliced 227 pieces of metal fragments into his body, gave him what felt like a near-death experience and ultimately shaped one persistent subtext of Hemingway’s literary career.
For me, 21 July 2014 sits just a few weeks after the birth of my first granddaughter by my only daughter—and with that event the never-ending question posed to me: What is she going to call you?
My first urge has always been “Whatever she calls me,” to leave this to this wonderful new child who will have an inordinate amount of her life decided for her as we are wont to do with children, sadly.
I named by maternal grandfather Tu-daddy, and so there is some nostalgia in that desire to leave this to my granddaughter.
But if I must choose a name, it will be Papa for Papa Hemingway. Hemingway’s first wife Hadley explains in an audio clip how Hemingway became Papa:
In this clip, Alice Sokoloff asks Hadley if she remembers how the name “Papa” began, which was sometime during their years in Paris. As we know, Hemingway was wonderful at assigning nicknames to almost everyone he knew. Throughout the tapes, Hadley enjoys remembering affectionate names between them such as “Bumby” and “Bumili”, “Hemingstein”, “Tattie”, “Hash”, “Feather Kitty”, “Wax Puppy”, and “Tiny”.
“You did a lot of playing with words,” Alice observes, later in the tape. “We both loved words”, Hadley agrees, “I loved words as much as he did but I wasn’t a magician.”
As a writer, one who loves wordplay, and someone who nicknames (I am also a name clipper: Sky for Skylar, Jess for Jessica), I have much in common with Hemingway, who poses a tremendous problem for me.
Yes, I know there is much wrong with and in Hemingway’s writing and life. And I struggle with my technical attraction to his economy of language—his craft—against those issues of misogyny and complicated glorification of the very violent man’s world.
The world is complicated—as I grow to understand better every day—so I have a special, although conflicted, place in my writer’s heart for Hemingway, and if my granddaughter takes to Papa, well, so much the better for this world, a world I want to be kinder and more gracious because she is now here as another part of the lineage begun with my daughter.
As Hadley notes above, there is a magic to words, and magic rises above this world we fumble all too often. Words, then, are hope, the sort of hope we embrace when we conjure yet more of us on this planet.
Yes, Papa is fine by me.
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