“Running with the Bulls: My Years with the Hemingways,” by Valerie Hemingway. Ballantine Books. $16.
Valerie Danby-Smith lived most of the first 17 years of her life in St. Mary’s Dominican Convent, Cabra, in Dublin, where the days was largely silent and highly regimented. It was no surprise that after leaving the convent, followed by secretarial school, she longed for some excitement.
At a friend’s suggestion, she found a post tutoring the children of an affluent Spanish family, a family with connections in journalism. And Spain more than lived up to her expectations.
She attended her first bullfight on Easter Sunday 1959, and immediately loved it. “Here in the bullring was everything I sought, the parallel to my beloved Dublin theatre,” she wrote. “I determined whenever possible corrida would be my entertainment.”
In May of that year, the young nanny cum reporter was asked to interview Ernest Hemingway. She had read several of his books but knew little else about him. They were an odd couple: a 19-year-old with little life experience and an eccentric, celebrated author approaching 60.
She expected an interview and nothing more. But that encounter with Ernest Hemingway changed her life forever.
Valerie Hemingway’s memoir of her 28 years attached to, married to, mother of and stepmother of Hemingways, is aptly titled, “Running with the Bulls.” She matured in just a few months from a somewhat naive girl to a woman able to deal with all the craziness associated with Ernest Hemingway’s last year on earth, his fourth wife, Mary, and finally, his third son, Gregory, whom she married.
Gregory Hemingway eventually brought his family to Bozeman on July 4, 1980. Bozeman is still her home.
I found especially poignant her inability to save her husband from his many self-destructive behaviors. “Yagottawanna” says a plaque I’ve read on many occasions, meaning you have to want to get better, to change. She desperately wanted recovery for her husband. He did not.
I salute Valerie Hemingway’s tenacity, her courage, and ultimately her survival. Her reflections aren’t for the faint hearted, but well worth the journey.
“Running with the Bulls” is the One Book Billings selection for January. To sign up for a discussion group and receive a free copy of the book, call the Parmly Billings Library at 657-8258.
Discussion groups will meet at 7 p.m. Monday, Jan. 7, at the Parmly Billings Library and at Castle Rock Middle School. On Tuesday, groups meet at 5 p.m. in the Community Library at City College and at 7 p.m. in the Rocky Mountain College Library. On Wednesday, a group meets at noon in Parmly Billings Library. On Thursday, groups meet at 7 p.m. at Huntington Learning Center and at the Billings Family YMCA.