Hemingway’s Pocket

Tom Poland

Posted 5/21/2024

By Tom Poland
A Southern Writer

We give little thought to our pockets until one gets a hole in it. When it does, it becomes a liability. Well, what’s the history of pockets? When did these bags sewn into pants and jackets become handy for stuffing our hands in on a wintry walk in woods? Read on.

Pockets began to appear in men’s clothing in the 17th century. Pocket comes from Old French, “pouque,” which means “pouch.” Thus did the word, “pocket,” join our vocabulary. Before pockets, people kept things in small bags hung on a belt or worn around the waist. That brings to mind that awful fanny-pack contraption, a sure sign the offender cometh from up North. There’s much more history on pockets, but I didn’t come here for that.

I came to discuss something weighty. I read that before pockets came along people had no way to hide a weapon. That stopped me in my tracks. Then, this thought came to me. “Of course, we hide all kinds of things in our pockets.” Stay with me now.

Back in March, I spoke to a gathering of ladies at the Tuckahoe Woman’s Club in Richmond, Virginia, a fine occasion. The month before, Valerie Hemingway spoke to the club, talking about her book, Running with the Bulls, which chronicled her years with the Hemingways. She was Ernest Hemingway’s secretary, and after Hemingway’s death, she married his son, Gregory, becoming a Hemingway herself.

Some of us carry a bit of luck in our pocket. (Photo by Tom Poland)

The club gifted me a signed copy of her book, and it’s a good read. You see Hemingway as an ordinary human, one of us. On page 59 I read how Hemingway kept good luck charms and other things in his pocket. Wrote Valerie, “He handed me a furry rabbit’s foot pendant with gold stem and loop.”

Earlier he had given her a lucky pebble. “You never know when your luck will run out,” he told her. He told her, too, he “always hedged his bets by keeping a lucky stone close.” Then he proved to Valerie that his words carried iron. He reached into his pocket and pulled out a soiled white linen handkerchief, a rusting penknife, a string, and old chestnut, and a smooth black pebble.

It did me good to read about Hemingway’s pocket. I keep stones and things nearby myself. It just seems that some objects through some kind of mystic alchemy become talismans. Some of you keep stones and lucky charms in your pocket or close by. You’ve told me so. Good for you. As Hemingway said, “You never know when your luck will run out.”

When I am on the road, when I am afield in some patch of countryside, a Castillo knife with a burly birch handle in a leather sheath hides in my pocket. Handmade in Spain, it’s a fine tool. I keep it close by for three reasons. A folding knife comes in handy—those blasted plastic packs of ketchup and strawberry jam are impossible to open. I take the knife to them. Second, it’s a handsome knife. I love to feel it in my hand, balanced, sharp, and a treat for the eyes. But, third, it brings me good luck. I always find just what I seek afield as photos go. Now back to that book.

Ernest Hemingway validated what I believe and it is this: we humans, for all our learning and sophistication, clearly know that a bit of fortune goes a long way in this life. A stroke of luck can make a day.

As for Hemingway, a run of self-imposed harm and bad luck led to his demise. His smooth pebble? I wonder where it is today. And us, well, we’re not hiding things in our pockets. We’re just keeping them close by. And that book, Running with the Bulls? I can truthfully say I have a book signed by Hemingway. It’s just not that bearded fellow who kept a smooth pebble in his pocket.

Tom Poland’s website at www.tompoland.net

Email Tom about most anything at at tompol@earthlink.net 

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