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Up on Sugar Creek
There are old women in the hills who say they can still remember seeing Papa standing bare chested on the banks of Sugar Creek drinking corn liquor and shooting birds. This would’ve been years before the depression set in and he turned the bottle and the shotgun on himself. At this time, he could still steal away from it all to the Arkansas Delta and could escape the noise of the city and the clamor of crowds. When he could still trust his own thoughts enough to be alone with them, he came South to write them down. I speak, of course, of “Papa” Ernest Hemingway.
While in Paris a few years earlier, Hemingway met two sisters from Arkansas called Pfeiffer. He promptly married the eldest, making Pauline a wife almost as quickly as he had made her a mother. The famed author was welcomed into the family like a conquering hero. “Uncle Gus,” his new wife’s paternal uncle, was a wealthy businessman who was fascinated by the author’s exploits as a hunter and fisherman, as well as his abilities as a writer. He would finance expeditions and safaris for Hemingway just for the tales he would hear on the backend of them. Uncle Gus lived vicariously through the rugged writer, experiencing the running of the bulls, marine battles with marlins, the thrill of the chase–even if only by proxy.
Uncle Gus Pfeiffer
Paul Pfeiffer, Pauline’s father, wanted Hemingway to feel at ease when he visited them, so he transformed the old barn into an apartment and writing studio for his new son-in-law.
Though Papa wasn’t a fan of the climate in the region, he did appreciate the abundant quietude that rural Arkansas affords. And in the stillness of evenings disturbed only by the ripple of Sugar Creek and the orations of a lonesome Barred Owl, Papa wrote stories of adventure and heartache, and one in particular about a young ambulance driver in the Great War called A Farewell to Arms. He dedicated it to Uncle Gus.
Papa is gone now, but the stories remain. The old barn is still standing, operating as a small museum now. And the old women say you can still hear the echo of shotgun blasts up on Sugar Creek.