Academic journal article The Hemingway Review

An Interview with Papa's Little Sister

Academic journal article The Hemingway Review

An Interview with Papa's Little Sister

Article excerpt

ERNEST HEMINGWAY LABELED HIS YOUNGEST SISTER Carol his "own special present" because she was born just two days before his twelfth birthday. They enjoyed a relatively close relationship during her formative years in spite of the age and gender difference, and they shared many qualities, including a strong will and an interest in writing. Hemingway readily accepted the unofficial role of Carol's protector and after their father's death in 1928 served as her legal guardian. When Carol entered Rollins College in the fall of 1930, Ernest developed a growing concern as she began exercising her selfhood in the liberating academic setting far removed from Oak Park provincialism.

In 1932-33 a rift occurred between brother and sister over John [Jack] Fentress Gardner, the man Carol had chosen to marry. Ernest reportedly denied his permission, and the couple wed without his blessings, thus evoking his wrath and rejection. The Gardners' union lasted for sixty-five years, but Carol's relationship with Ernest was irrevocably broken, and brother and sister remained at odds the rest of Hemingway's life. Carol regretted their permanent separation, but had no illusions about Ernest's controlling nature and his ability to hold a grudge.

Prior to her death on 27 October 2002 at the age of ninety-one, Carol Hemingway Gardner was the last remaining sibling of the famous author. Her memory had begun to fade by the time of our interview, and her knowledge of Ernest was chiefly limited to the years before their separation in 1933, but with the support of her daughter, Elizabeth Gardner Lombardi, Carol provided memories of people and events in a life intimately connected to one of the most famous writers of the 20th century.

GAIL SINCLAIR [GDS]: I want to thank you and your daughter for taking the time to speak with me this morning. Let's start with 1929 or 1930 and your decision to attend Rollins College in Florida. Why did you choose this particular institution?

CAROL HEMINGWAY GARDNER [CHG]: I had two reasons: I wanted to get away from Oak Park, and I wanted to be near enough to Ernest to visit him on holidays. He was living in Key West at the time, and I could visit him there.

GDS: Do you have any idea how many times you went to Key West?

CHG: Well, I was usually at Rollins when I visited, and it would take half a day by train. Sometimes he'd send a car to pick me up. I went every vacation, and once he was married to his Catholic wife, Pauline, I went down there and drove with him at the end of the school year before I went to Europe in 1932.

GDS: How did you feel about his wife, Pauline?

CHG: I liked her very much.

GDS: And his first wife?

CHG: Bumby's mother. I liked her the most, I think, of any of his wives.

GDS: My notes say that you accompanied Ernest from Key West to Piggott, Arkansas, at the end of your second year at Rollins, and that you were going to Michigan to keep house for your brother, Leicester, before you went to the University of Vienna in the fall of 1932. Can you tell me about that trip from Key West to Arkansas?

CHG: I never drove at that time, but I would have to go in and get meals for him when we were driving because Ernest was afraid somebody would recognize him. I'd bring out meals to him in the car.

GDS: Was he often recognized at that point?

CHG: No. I didn't think anybody would recognize him, but as long as he thought so, I did what he wanted.

GDS: He called you Beef or Beefy as a nickname. How did that come about?

CHG: It was a kind of a fish, a Bee fish, and it was what I was called at home.

GDS: You don't remember the origin of it? You were just always called that?

CHG: Right.

GDS: Can you tell me something of your experiences at Rollins and your years in Florida?

CHG: I remember that I was at Rollins in a time when there was prohibition, and it was there that I learned to drink a little. …

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