BOSTON — As the big sister in a gaggle of seven children, I am naturally partial to any family history written by another big sister.
As assistant mother, she can generally be counted on to express an inordinate love of parents and children and view their flaws with candor, forgiveness, even with humor. When she is also a gifted writer, like Marcelline Hemingway Sanford, my joy is complete.
Her memoir, "At the Hemingways," first published in 1961, now reemerges to celebrate her famous brother's centennial. This new edition adds 50 years of correspondence between Ernest and Marcelline, assembled for the first time in a single volume by her heirs.
It is no surprise that the pair were unusually close during their formative years, from the beginning of the century and into the '20s, an era historians call the "Age of Innocence."
Indeed, their incurably romantic mother had envisioned giving birth to twins, so when the first two of her six children came 18 months apart, she nonetheless paired them. She dressed them alike, and Marcelline was held back a year so she and Ernest could go through school in the same class.
Marcelline's spare sentences and vivid descriptions echo Ernest's early style, which may explain why they alternated as editor of their high school newspaper in Oak Park, Ill.
He was her unwilling escort to their first dance. She helped him with his cello lessons and multiplication tables. And ever sisterly, when he was in trouble once with a game warden and took off to escape in one boat, she took off in another to bring him food and clothes while he hid.
Their doting, Victorian parents never allowed their strict mores to interfere with family good times. Their mother, Grace Hall Hemingway, was a sought-after music teacher who exposed her children to concerts, opera, the theater, and museums.
Their doctor-father, Clarence (Ed) Hemingway, taught them to hunt, fish, and revere nature, especially during summers at the family's rustic cottage on Walloon Lake in northern Michigan.
Behind the lively romps of this vigorous clan, this collection allows the reader to glimpse the roots of Ernest's writing and the liberated woman Marcelline became as a writer, actor, sculptor, lecturer, and a devoted wife and mother.
Michael Reynolds, in his foreword, calls this "a remarkable story, one that has deeply influenced all of the several Hemingway biographies."
Still, there was a time when writers were less than kind to the Hemingways. One of Marcelline's goals in writing her memoir was to "set the record straight." Even so, she had to be coaxed to do so, since she was afraid of any tinge of possible exploitation of her famous brother.
She need not have feared. Hers is a straightforward account, and the exchange of letters added to this edition reinforces the depth of their relationship.
In 1923, Ernest wrote to his sister: "Write the elderly brother about all things. Remember that a brother's love never dies. A brother may die it is true ... In fact they die like flies. But their love ... never." He then told her, before anyone else, that his book "Three Stories and Ten Poems" was published and already sold out.
When Marcelline wrote to him in 1954, to congratulate him on his Nobel Prize, she "remembered the awful time when we were told you were dead" in an airplane crash. "Ernie all the distance and apparent misunderstandings faded away (that have come with the years) and you were my darling little Ernie whom I loved, the one I grew up with and who sat beside my bed (or I on yours) and exchanged secrets about girls or boys we liked. The brother I loved above anyone in the world who fished with me in Hortons Creek and shared fun in Oak Park High School."
Then she added a poignant, big-sister caution: "You don't look well to me in your picture."
*In 1939, Lucille deView worked as a mother's helper for Marcelline Hemingway Sanford. Her play based on the experience, 'A Summer with Hemingway's Twin,' was included in the Charlotte Repertory Theatre's 1999 Festival of New American Plays.
(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society