Thursday, November 6, 2014

Ernest Hemingway: The Joys and Dangers of Reading

Depending on the day I’m having, I blame, or thank, Ernest Hemingway.

Reading his books as a teen was dangerous. For Whom the Bell Tolls did me in. I followed it with everything he’d written. Hemingway made me think that it was possible for a kid from the suburbs to have an adventurous life. That the adventurous life was worth seeking. That there was more to me than a studious, meek, naive homebody.

So instead of going to college at 18, I embarked on the twisting, turning, jumbled journey of this life.

I went to work in an auto plant, making cars on an assembly line. An unintentional trailblazer, I was one of the first women autoworkers in the 1970s.

As a member of the UAW, I got an education in unions, learned to question authority. I found out what sexual harassment is, observed what alcoholism can do to people at a young age, and grasped how mind-numbing factory work can be.

I’m thankful someone wants to do that work; I respect factory workers immensely, but I could not survive the assembly line. Chrysler Corporation was floundering and laid me off from time to time, leaving me time to discover the next phase.

After breaking up with my high school boyfriend, I dated. Dating sucks. I pray I never have to date again. Family members introduced me to a fishing guide on an obscure, hurricane-lashed island, accessible only by ferries that sometimes didn’t run.

Hemingway whispered in my ear, told me that islands = adventure.

Yep, before I knew it, I was living under primitive conditions on Ocracoke Island, and married the fishing guide. I learned to cook in a fledgling gourmet restaurant, trained by a rebellious, classically trained female chef. Years passed, and I became a real estate broker, discovering I didn’t have to be paralyzed by shyness.

The marriage ended as I opened my own real estate firm and beach-clothing store. Just as the businesses began turning a profit, a commercial dredge crashed into the main bridge needed to get to our island ferries. With the bridge down, the businesses were ruined.

I parted from the island I’d loved for 13 years. My new man and I sold a few remaining assets, bought an old van, and refurbished a 1964 Holiday Rambler camper. We set out on a 2 year odyssey around the United States, logging 40,000 miles along the way.

We’ve had a few more adventures since then. Enough to agree with Hem that "life is a moveable feast."

And through it all, with each wild twist and turn, each heartbreak, each top of the world, look at that green valley below moment, Hemingway smiled.


  1. This is! Much of this I would have never guessed in a trillion years.

    I think the only thing I knew was that you knew your way around a fishing boat.

  2. Ha-ha it'll be our little secret. I know for a fact my students think their white-haired wacky teacher fell off the turnip truck last night. I so love to shock the little dears from time to time.

  3. Great post, Melanie!

  4. As a kid, I read Hemingway too, but it was Steinbeck who wielded his influence with me. All of those downtrodden folks, just trying to make ends meet, affected me and I have been one of those vile "liberals" ever since. Thanks for the glimpse into your background. And I agree, always keep the little darlings guessing.


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