Since April 1939 Hemingway and Martha had lived between assignments and vacations at an old estate they were renting outside Havana--the Finca Vigia. For Christmas in 1940, Hemingway bought the Finca, which was his home until his death. "Vigia," his sons recalled, "in Spanish means a lookout or a prospect. The farmhouse is built on a hill that commands an unobstructed view of Havana and the coastal plain to the north. During the early years at the finca, Papa did not appear to write any fiction at all. He wrote many letters, of course, and in one of them he says that it is his turn to rest. Let the world get on with the mess it had gotten itself into. It was all great fun for us, the deep-sea fishing on the Pilar, the live pigeon shooting at the Club de Cazadores del Cerro, the trips into Havana for at the Floridita and to buy The IIustrated London News with its detailed s of the war so far away in Europe." (71)
The fun continued. For two years Hemingway, his many friends, and his sons loosely operating under the title the "Crook Factory"--hatched counterintelligence plans to catch Nazi fifth columnists trying to infiltrate Cuba. They outfitted Pilar and prowled around looking for German submarines. More great adventures were had and tales developed.
Hemingway was in his early forties, and he had become "Papa" with a full beard, casual dress, overwhelming physical presence, strong personality, great wit and charm, and enthusiasm in everything he did--writing, fishing, boxing, drinking, storytelling.
His sons were right; Hemingway was not writing fiction, but he was writing letters. He was a prodigious letterwriter. At Finca he kept a separate desk just for correspondence, and it was always piled high with mail from friends, family, editors, and readers from all over the world. He "wrote six or seven thousand [letters] in the fifty years preceding his death." (72) He wrote letters to relax and as a form of occupational therapy. He had many friends and was a born storyteller. Whether we believe everything he said in them or not, his letters leave a remarkable record of the man.
In 1925, he wrote Fitzgerald that he liked to write letters "because it's such a swell way to keep from working and yet you feel you've done something." (73) He was only half joking. His extensive letterwriting definitely kept him from more serious writing.
Martha was covering the war in Europe and encouraged Hemingway to give up his games and seriously contribute to the war effort. In 1944, he arrived in London and soon met Mary Welsh--a tiny, pretty, journalist for the Luce magazines from Minnesota, married to an absent Australian reporter. Marty and Hemingway were growing apart, and the love affair with Mary progressed nicely as Hemingway wrote two "Poems to Mary."
Hemingway joined an American regiment as a war correspondent and moved with it through the French countryside, into Paris, and later back across France and into Germany. In his omnipresent notebook, Hemingway recorded military actions, conversations, and scenes he might use later, and he wrote Mary he was having a fine time and was getting lots of good stuff for his writing. Mary joined him in Paris between her assignments.
Twenty-one-year-old Bumby, now Jack, joined the Office of Strategic Services and was wounded and captured by the Germans in France. After the German company commander heard Jack's name, rank, and serial number and examined his dogtags, he asked if Jack had ever been in Schruns. "I answered," Jack remembered, "that I had, long ago as a child. He asked me the name of my nurse. I told him she was called Tiddy. He broke into a broad grin and said in French, 'We drink a toast to Tiddy. She is my girlfriend!'" The "interrogation" ended with a toast of Schnapps. (74) Jack spent six months in a prisoner-of-war camp. Hemingway had been told Jack was "missing in action," but much to Hemingway's relief, word eventually came through that Jack was alive and a prisoner of war.