Skip to main content

Ernest Hemingway Saves Mary's Life - March and July, 1946


Ernest Hemingway's head is swirling, but he can't make out if he's asleep and dreaming, or awake and in a world he can't recognise, or has forgotten.

Then suddenly he's back in Nancy, two years earlier, in October1944 - a place and time that haunts him everyday - and he's trying to kill Colonel Park, and people are dragging him off and holding him and stopping him from tearing the Inspector General's throat out; and it needs tearing out because he has to be stopped from saying these things about him, stopped from questioning Hemingway's patriotism. Stopped! Stopped! Stopped!

Oh good, there's Mary. No, no, it's not, looks like her though, but obviously isn't her because she's walked straight past, didn't even look at me. It must have been her, I know Mary when I see her, don't I? I'll go after her, surprise her.

But Mary seems to have gone. No, there she is, over there, just going round that corner. Hemingway chases after her.

There she is.

Mary? Mary?” he calls.

Mary turns but her face has gone, just a bloody mess instead.

Jesus Christ! ”

Hemingway approaches her and reaches out to touch the bloody face, but it's not her, it's his mother.

Hello, darling boy,” she says.

But it's not his mother at all, it's Martha. No, it's Pauline, or is it? How silly. It's Von, of course it's Von. No one ever looked like that except Von, and Hadley, and, and, and...



Mr Hemingway? Mr Hemingway?”

Someone is shaking him.

Mr Hemingway?”

Hmm? What? ”

Are you okay? ”

Hmm? Fine, fine. Must have dropped off . How's Mary?”

Your wife is fine.”

Good.”

She wants to see you.”

Ernest and Mary were married in Havana in March 1946, with the day ending in a violent fight between the two of them, with most of the china at the Finca Vigia smashed. Mary threatened to walk out. Ernest didn't appear to give a damn one way or the other and got on with writing his novel, The Garden of Eden. By breakfast time they'd made-up, and were on the best of terms.

Four months later, in the July of 1946, Mary Welsh Hemingway learned she was pregnant. Immediately Ernest began to make arrangements to take her on a vacation to Sun Valley - which was perhaps not the best idea he'd ever had as he and Martha had spent their honeymoon there - and contacted his sons, who were staying with Pauline in California, to meet them in Idaho.

When they arrived in Palm Beach, from Cuba, the couple picked up Ernest's Lincoln, which had been sent ahead for repairs, and started the journey north west to Wyoming.

It was a glorious five days drive up through Florida, Georgia, Tennessee, Kentucky, Missouri, Kansas, Nebraska, and into Wyoming, and the small town of Casper, where they booked into the Mission Motor Court. During a meal of steak and fries, washed down with a couple of beers - the best Casper could offer - Mary didn't feel too well and decided to have an early night. Ernest said goodnight, had another few beers in a local bar, played some pool with a bunch of guys who pulled his leg for looking so much like Hemingway, and then hit the sack himself.

Early the following morning - around seven - as Ernest was putting some of the luggage into the car, Mary awoke in agony and began screaming for Ernest.

The next few hours were to be the worst of Ernest's life, and almost the end of Mary's.


Can I get you some coffee, Mr Hemingway?”

It was all the young nurse could think of saying.

That would be good. Thank you. Thank you so much.”

Hemingway watched the young woman walk away down the corridor of the Natrona County Memorial Hospital, and as he did so he felt vomit rise in his throat, vomit he cannot swallow, and before he can even think of finding a lavatory he is violently sick, covering his trousers, shirt, shoes, and part of the floor, in an evil smelling soup. If anyone was watching they would have thought him to be a drunk, and a dead beat drunk at that. But no one was watching, and before the young nurse returned with the coffee Hemingway had torn off his shirt, cleaned the floor with it before making his way to the car to change his clothes, throwing the vomit ruined clothing into a nearby trash can.

Hemingway felt weak, and twenty years older than his 46 years. His hands are shaking and his head is pounding dreadfully; but worse than that his whole being, his mentality, his sanity, felt as it had on D-Day when he saw the carnage of Omaha Beach, and again as he sat on that bench overlooking the Seine, and in Nancy. He needs that coffee now.

Just a few hours earlier, when he'd heard Mary screaming like a wounded lioness, Hemingway had dropped the suitcase he was carrying and run back to their room where he found Mary writhing on the floor, her knees pulled up under her chin, her mouth opening and closing in anguished,uncontrollable screams of terror and agony.

Hemingway - as he had with the wounded Italian soldier back in 1918 - lifted Mary into his arms, gently placed her - still screaming – into the back of the car, and with the boot still open, roared out of the motel car park toward the hospital a half a dozen miles down the dusty road.

Twenty minutes later he carried the now almost unconscious Mary into the Natrona County Memorial Hospital where a young, scared looking intern, gave her a quick examination before confirming Hemingway's own worst fears.

I'm afraid, Mr Hemingway, your wife has suffered an ectopic pregnancy and is bleeding internally. There is very little I can do. I suggest you take your final leave of her. “

Hemingway explodes with rage and anger.

What the hell do you mean? Take my final leave? Of course there's something you can do. Get her into theatre and remove the goddam foetus.”

I'm afraid I have no experience, and the resident surgeon is away today, fishing.”

Hemingway's rage suddenly drains away as he puts his arm around the young intern's shoulder in a fatherly fashion.

Well, son, you, me, and the old man will have to do it. Death is not an option, do you understand, not an option?”

But your wife has already lost consciousness, most of her veins have collapsed, and her pulse has virtually faded.”

There's no time to waste then, is there.”

Wearing a gown and mask, and with his father whispering instructions over his shoulder, Hemingway finds one good vein in Mary's arm, inserts a needle to which he connects the feed tube of a bottle of plasma and waits. Gradually Mary's pulse returns to normal, and just as Hemingway and the intern are about to administer a general anaesthetic and commence surgery, the resident surgeon, smelling of fish, returns and takes over.

Four bottles of plasma, two blood transfusions, and a week inside an oxygen tent brought Mary back to the land of the living. Her new husband, Ernest Hemingway, had undoubtedly saved her life.

The young nurse found Hemingway in the car park.

Coffee? ”

Thanks.”

That was a wonderful thing you did, Mr Hemingway.”

I shall go and see her when I've finished my coffee.”


After drinking his coffee the pain in his head gradually eases, as does the shaking in his limbs. Slowly he begins to feel almost normal, almost.

I am so pleased that your wife did not die.”

Me too. Me too.”

A few minutes later Hemingway is sitting at Mary's bedside holding her hand. Mary keeps slipping in and out of consciousness, and when she speaks she does so very quietly, and with effort.

Sorry, Hem.”

Sorry? What for, honey?”

Losing the baby.” Mary starts to cry.

Don't cry, honey. No need to cry. You're safe and sound, that's what matters.”

Was it a boy or girl?”

Hemingway doesn't know.

A little girl,” he lies.

That would have been nice. A real daughter for Mr and Mrs Hemingway.”

Hemingway is crying now, and he can feel the shaking coming back, and the headache.

Hell, what would I do with a daughter? Not cut out for the kinda stuff girls wanna do, and boyfriends, how the hell would I have managed the kind of slime balls she'd have brought home?”

She would not have brought home slime balls. She was my daughter too, Hem. And how do you think my father managed with me?”

Damned if I know, honey, damned if I know.”

You learn, Hem. You adjust.”

You need some rest, honey.”

I want to talk, I need to talk.”

Sure, whatever. They're putting a tent around you later, an oxygen tent.”

Give me a sip of water, sweetheart, would you.”

Hemingway helps her to take a drink.

You never need help like this with the gin.”

Thank you. From now on you can help me drink that too, in bed.”

Honey, you really should get some rest.”

You look all in, too.”

Hey, old Hem's fine.”

You could take her hunting, and riding.”

I can't ride you know that.”

You can.”

Hemingway takes a drink of water, and then gently brushes his fingers through Mary's matted blonde hair.

Do we give her a name?”

Adeline, after my mother. If that's okay?”

Sure. I like that. Tell me...”

But Mary doesn't allow Hemingway to finish.

My father used to take me on the Northland, that was his steamboat, and stand me on a box so I could take hold of the wheel, and when we passed Sugar Point, where the last battle between the Chippewa and the US Army was fought, he'd let me pull the steam whistle cord and I'd let out a couple of real blasts. It was a fine boat and my father used to steam around Leech Lake, in Minnesota, picking up lumber and ferrying the workers back and forth to the different lumber camps. When I was small they were a mix of European immigrants and young Chippewa mainly, with the odd Canadian or two, and they got on pretty well most of the time. On pay days there'd be a few fights, but nothing too serious.”

Sounds like a bad John Wayne movie to me.”

It does not, Hem!”

Sorry, honey.”

Like I said, my father's customers were mostly lumbermen, and his cargo lumber and cutting equipment. In the end he went into the lumber business too, and did pretty well. We ended up with a farm, and a good acreage of forest, and still kept the boat in business. The pilothouse, on the top deck, was my summertime world. It had a bare board floor, and from the height of my father's waist upwards it was enclosed in glass, and I often remember seeing him alone in there steering the boat and singing Gilbert and Sullivan, usually the tit willow song. Do you remember how it goes, Hem?”

Me? I haven't sung G and S in years, not since mother made me sing it with grandpa.”

Sing it to me, Hem.”

I can't sing, and sure as hell not in a hospital...”

Hem, please sing it to me.”

Hemingway, hearing the pleading tone in Mary's voice, clears his throat and sings, hesitantly at first, but then with growing confidence.

On a tree by a river a little tom-tit
Sang willow, tit willow, tit willow!
And I said to him Dicky bird
Why do you sit, singing:
Willow, tit willow, tit willow?
Is it weakness of intellect, birdy? I cried,
Or a rather tough worm
In your little inside?
With a shake of his poor little head,
He replied,
Oh willow, tit willow, tit willow!

He slapped at his chest, as he sat on that bough,
Singing, willow, tit willow, tit willow!
And a cold perspiration bespangled his brow,
Oh willow, tit willow, tit willow!
He sobbed and he sighed, and a gurgle he gave,
Then he plunged himself into the billowing wave,
And an echo arose from the suicide's grave -
Oh willow, tit willow, tit willow!

Now I feel just as sure as I'm sure that my name
Isn't willow, tit willow, tit willow.
That twas blighted affection
That made him exclaim,
Oh willow, tit willow, tit willow.
And if you remain callous and obdurate, I
Shall perish as he did,
And you will know why,
Though I probably shall not exclaim as I die,
Oh willow, tit willow, tit willow!...”

There is a small ripple of applause behind Hemingway from the young nurse and doctor, and an elderly male patient. Hemingway smiles, taking a very histrionic bow.

Thank you, thank you.”

Your mother, had she been here, would have been very proud of you.”

Do you think so, Mary ? ”

Yes, I do.”

Let's all be thankful she's not then.”

Oh, Hem.”

Honey, I think they want to put the tent up.”

I remember he once gave me some good advice.”

Who? ”

My father, Captain Thomas Welsh, that's who.”

And what was the advice? “

He told me never to be a sheep. Never follow a leader only because he is ahead of you. Take time to look around and see for yourself if you are going in the right direction. I must have been all of eight or nine years old at the time. I've never forgotten that, Hem.”

Good advice. Now will you allow these good people to do their work, and then please get some sleep?”

Yes, darling. Do you think she heard?”

Adeline?”

Yes.”

Sure she heard, every word, and knows for sure now her Pa can't sing.”

Hemingway kisses Mary on the mouth and turns to leave the room.

Hem?”

Yes, sweetheart? ”

Thanks for saving my life.”

Anytime.”


Note: Although based on fact some of the scenes and dialogue are imagined.

Popular posts from this blog

Ernest Hemingway and F.Scott Fitzgerald Meet and Go On A Trip, Paris 1925

In Hemingway's memoir, A Moveable Feast, he describes the first time he met F. Scott Fitzgerald in the Dingo Bar on the rue Delambre where, as Hemingway describes it, "...a very strange thing happened."
As Hemingway was sitting and drinking with some "completely worthless characters," Fitzgerald came in with a tall young man who turned out to be the famous baseball pitcher, Dunc Chaplin. Hemingway was no baseball devotee and had never heard of Chaplin, but recognised Fitzgerald, and took this chance to introduce himself, which went something like this:

The Wives of Ernest Hemingway

In 1920 Ernest Hemingway lived his bachelor life at 1230 North State Street, Chicago, until he was offered an apartment 100 East Chicago Street.
Many of the apartments were occupied by writers, including Hadley Richardson's friend, Kate Smith, who later married John Dos Passos.
Another of the apartments was occupied by the painter, Kenley Smith, and it was when Kate Smith invited Hemingway to a party in Kenley's apartment, that he spotted Hadley Richardson - a young woman he'd seen playing the piano at a recital some years before.
The couple hit it off immediately, and both of them soon realised they had met the person they wanted to marry.
Maybe both saw in the other the renegade in themselves and a kindred spirit. They both had a love of literature, art, and music, and were looking for a secure place to deposit their emotions. But they were also bursting with sexual desires and frustrations.
Hadley was eight years older than Hemingway and a woman who, at first sight, was of …

Ernest Hemingway and the Spanish Civil War

During the spring of 1937 Paris became the great staging area for journalists on their way to the Spanish Civil War, and a centre for thousands of disaffected artists and intellectuals, mainly from Germany and Italy, who had no intention of going anywhere further south than a cafe table on the Boulevard du Montparnasse.
After arriving in Paris with the bullfighter, Sidney Franklin, Ernest Hemingway spent most of his time at the American Embassy trying to persuade the rather bored representative of the State Department to issue Franklin with a visa for Spain. Hemingway told the bullfighter not to worry, that everything would be okay. Franklin was refused his visa.
Disappointed, the two men then headed for a lunch date with the journalist Janet Flanner, and her lesbian lover, Solita Solano (one time theatre critic, Sarah Wilkinson) at La Coupole. Flanner always remembered that Franklin, because of a recent goring in Mexico, sat rather gingerly on the edge of his chair as he pecked, l…