This is Ketchum, Idaho, near Sun Valley in the land of the Sawtooth Range, where Ernest Hemingway returned to live out his life—and in 1961 to end it. Only five minutes out of town is a modest memorial inscribed with words once used by Papa in a eulogy to a hunting companion: ” …And above the hills/The blue and windless skies/Now he will be part of them forever.”
And yet, in a sense that he would have liked, Ernest Hemingway still lives in Ketchum. He lives in the robust presence of the oldest of his three sons, Jack, now 50 and unmistakably his father’s son in physical appearance, style of life and outlook.
Jack Hemingway was the lair-haired tad known as Bumby who, along with a babysitting cat called F. Puss, became part of literary history in his father’s A Moveable Feast about the halcyon days of Paris in the ’20s. A former career army officer turned San Francisco stockbroker, Jack chucked all that seven years ago to move to Ketchum and into a rambling split-level house near his favorite fishing stream. There he has lived with his wife Puck, raised three daughters and found chukar partridge, bobcat, deer, an occasional bull elk—and himself. Hemingway today is an elder of the Episcopal church, a French and Spanish teacher at a local private school, and a stale fish and game commissioner.
Jack bursts with enthusiasms, and only Puck’s endless good sense keeps him under control. The daughter of an Idaho druggist, she refused to marry Jack, a World War II POW, until he went back into the army in 1948. “I didn’t know any other trade,” he recalls, “and Puck wouldn’t marry me destitute. I was doing missionary work for a fishing tackle company, but I couldn’t make a living at it. I kept trying out flies instead of selling them.”
This love of fishing is his fondest legacy from Papa. “It was done very cleverly,” Jack says, “Papa loved to fish, but he wouldn’t let me try. I waited all one summer and into the next before he would let me have one of his old rods. He really built up a thing I still haven’t gotten over. I can’t get enough of it.”
Jack’s conversation is simple, direct, terse—just like his father’s prose. Each sentence is separate and delivered bang, bang, bang, punctuated only by exuberant whoops of laughter. “Of course,” he continues, still on the subject of Papa and fishing, “I’m not sure he meant me to love it. Perhaps he was just being jealous of good fishing waters.”
Hemingway boasts that he once fished 200 days in a row. And, as one of Idaho’s five appointed fish and game commissioners, he has an added advantage: he helps write the rule book. Jack has strong prejudices about fishing. Among them:
Fishing for brown trout while they are spawning in shallow pools: “You shouldn’t do that. That’s like taking pictures of people in bed.”
Fishing with salmon eggs as bait: “If we start using the sexual organs of one fish to capture another fish it means we’ve all been had.”
Fishing for “meat” as opposed to fishing for sport: “Our economic system is such that no one should ‘meat fish’—I don’t think it’s the duty of the Idaho Fish and Game Commission to provide protein.”
Jack Hemingway shares with Papa the dream of “taking the best fishing rivers in the world and making a rule that only I could fish there.” In Idaho, Commissioner Hemingway slyly admits, some of his friends protect their favorite streams by putting up signs: “DANGER! RATTLESNAKE AREA!” He laughs, booming. “Of course,” he says, “we do have rattlesnakes in Idaho.”
The country is superb. Life is great. Puck is wonderful. She is long(5’10”) and leggy. By family nicknames, he is Hem, she is Hemma; she has needlepointed a family crest bearing the name “Hemingtrout” for the den. The two younger daughters, Margot, 19, and Mariel, 12, have been away for the summer. But Joan—known as Muffet—is home. At 24, she is 5’11” and has the lean grace of, in her father’s proud words, a “twiga, it’s the African word for giraffe.” She is coauthor, with a Frenchman, of the current novel Rosebud.
One recent evening, Jack Hemingway, his family and a couple of friends celebrated the end of a marvelous midsummer day. For dinner, Puck prepared the salad, a vegetable casserole and a splendid steak. Muffet made fruit compote à la crème Sabayon. Jack did the potable honors, which consisted, more or less chronologically, of 12-year-old Glenlivet Malt Scotch, Korbel Brut, vintage Inglenook Cabernet Sauvignon, an elegant St. Emilion, an incredible 1959 Château Latour, a liqueur Poire Williams, and brandy snifters of Russian vodka, which Jack keeps in the freezer.
Next morning, Jack and guests were feeling slightly under the weather. Jack cured himself with a take-out cup of black coffee, a “red beer” (beer with tomato juice) and a deep breath, “Smell the sagebrush and the spruce,” he said. “Have you ever smelled anything so sweet?”