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What The Heck, Hemingway?

alec vanderboom

I had a rare moment of quiet on Monday afternoon. All of my kids under age 6 fell asleep in their car seats during our twenty-five mile drive to Swim Team practice.

I dropped off my older kids at the YMCA, and I had a moment of indecision. My next task was to go to Lowe's. It felt ridiculous to wake up three sleeping kids in a matter of seconds to buy stuff at a hardware store.

"Here is a chance for me to take a time-out and nurture myself!" I decided. I pulled into the quiet part of the YMCA parking lot. I put the car into park but left on the heat.

Inside a grocery bag that held all my work-out gear, I had stashed a new library book by Ernest Hemingway. Hemingway had shown up as a character in a movie I'd watched over the weekend. In the movie script, he had great quotes like "Write whatever you want... Only write with courage!"

I didn't cross myself or formally pray before I picked up the new Hemingway book. However, I mentally spoke to an invisible Hemingway before I started reading. "Come on Hemingway! Give me something good! I need you today!"

Before I started reading the open book, I turned my head to check on my kids. Everyone was still sleeping quietly. Each of my kids' skin was still pale and green after battling three weeks of the flu. The landscape of the Allegheny mountains behind their heads was harsh and covered in frost.

Hemingway writes of manly courage among Bull-fighters in Spain or Big Game hunters on the African plains. Yet I didn't know anyone who needed a bigger dose of fortitude than me, a Mother who faced a cold, sick February the year 70% of America's flu shots refused to work.

I started reading an unfamiliar work of Hemingway, "In Our Time." The first chapter called, "Indian Camp" drew me into Hemingway's action oriented world. In the story, a 1910s Northern Michigan doctor and his apprentice son making a house call to help a Native American woman give birth to a baby. I'm overly soaked into the modern viewpoint of obstetrical care because I kept waiting for the heroic doctor to show of some great technique to flip a breech baby after his mother's 48 hours of labor. Yet this is Hemingway's story, where the men are men and the midwifes are fools. The doctor saves the mother and child with an emergency c-section under harsh conditions.

"That's one for the medical journal, George," [the doctor] said. "Doing a Cesarean with a jack-knife and sewing it up with nine-foot, tapered gut leaders."

I winced after reading that bit of dialogue. Hemingway's description of an old fashion c-section is pretty gruesome to think about.

I kept reading. Hemingway doesn't mention the mother's courage to endure a c-section without anesthesia during the slow saw of her inners with a jack-knife. He skips right to worrying about the emotional stress of her surgery the child's father. "Ought to have a look at the proud father. They're usually the worse suffers in these little affairs," the doctor said."

After I read this sentence I nod my head in agreement. "That's true, Hemingway!" I think. I remember my husband's tense face during my c-sections. "It's good to remember the all the fathers in these moments."

Only Hemingway's father is motionless in the top-bunk above his wife and newborn child. He's covered in blood from a knife wound across his throat.

I read this passage in the middle of my seven passenger family minivan. I felt shock and horror. "Who murdered the Dad?" I think. I run through all the past clues from a mere 3 1/2 pages of text in total confusion. "How could someone have sneaked into the house and murdered the Dad? Three doctors were in the same room helping his wife! How could all three of them missed a break-in?"

"Why would someone murder the Dad? What's the motive? Did someone think that the wife was going to die in childbirth? Did the Dad get blamed for contributing to her death?"

I took a break from my thoughts and continued to read Hemingway's book. Then I found the answer in Hemingway's oddly positioned plot-twist.

"Suicide!" No one murdered the Dad. The Dad killed himself rather than bear the uncertainty and pain of waiting during his wife's c-section.

I took a break from reading and looked behind me at my sleeping children. All six of my children were born by c-section.

"What the heck, Hemingway?"

Hemingway's answer to me, on this cold, dreary February day, was "I don't know how you are going to continue to mother six kids, Abigail. Watching you suffer in pain is too much for a man to handle. In my mind's eye, your husband would have committed suicide from despair after your first child's c-section. If you were a character in my novel, you'd now be a widow with a single 11 year old."

I threw the Hemingway book down to my car floor in disgust. "Thanks for nothing, Hemingway!"

I looked up to God in the ceiling and addressed him directly in prayer. "I know that I am not a good writer. This book that I'm writing is going so painfully slow. But I promise, I will never compare myself to Hemingway or Fitzgerald or any of the great minds of the 20th Century. Because it doesn't matter how clean or graceful or action packed the prose is of these great writers. At the bottom of all of these great works, these men have nothing for me!"

Even if I write total junk, I might as well write something for myself. I need courage on a dreary February day in the middle of hands-on motherhood. I'm not going to find inspiration from an author who thinks bull-fighting is brave but c-sections are too hard to handle.

What the heck, Hemingway?