In Hemingway’s novella, “Torrents of Spring,” Scripps O’Neil walks along Main Street in Petoskey looking for the pump-factory where he hopes to get a job. The author describes the street tersely: “It was a handsome, broad street, lined on either side with brick and stone-pressed buildings.”
It is still a handsome street but now, in real life, it is Mitchell Street.
Mitchell begins at the base of the hill, nearest the marina on Little Traverse Bay, and extends upward through the heart of the shopping center and the pretty little park with its perfect green grass and an old cannon in the middle. Beyond comes the red-brick library and, then as Mitchell steepens, a charming residential area filled with old homes.
We stayed in of those old houses for five days last week. It was a two-story frame house and nothing special. We parked in the back off the alley and made use of the nearby table and chairs that rested under a giant sugar maple. The house was more or less home to a curious black squirrel and a cardinal. Up the alley one day, cottontail guided us up to the outlet at Lockwood. It was an idyllic place with flowers, wild and tamed, abounding in every direction.
It was not always the homes that caught our attention. On our walks up Mitchell, going “home,” it was the norm to see a man seated on a porch smoking a cigarette. He had a large, wooly mustache that reminded of a walrus. I think maybe he was a fixture there, nailed down, unable to move. We passed him so often that he started waving to us. Never got around to asking him if he was kin to Hemingway. But there was a resemblance.
One gorgeous evening with temps in the 70s, Nebra and I ventured up Mitchell to the summit of the first hill. We marveled at the beauty of these old homes and admired the work it took to keep them that way.
Petoskey, as I’ve written before, has “Hemingway’s Michigan” historical signs all round town. His father, a Chicago physician, built a cottage west of here on Walloon Lake in 1899, the year the Ernest was born. And it was here he came every year, it is said, until 1921 when he married Hadley Richardson at Horton Bay, a small community near Walloon.
Hemingway never came back. Not in person. He did come back in his mind through his stories and in “Torrents.”