picnic setup with colorful bottles in the attic of the Hemingway birthplace home

What could be more perfect than a bunch of writer friends holding a picnic in the attic of the Hemingway Birthplace Home?

Where the gabled windows look out at the green, green tree tops of Oak Park and the old turret room still dreams of the medicinal specimens Father Hemingway used to store there?

This was my crazy idea: My friends had wondered out loud whether I’d “have them over” when I was awarded the writer-in-residence gig at the Hemingway Birthplace Home.

Of course I’d have them over, but not just for a tour, no! Every time I walk up the attic stairs I’ve been thinking:

I’ve just got to have a picnic here.

Thankfully, these friends were game. One did the scheduling (not so easy to find a date that works for five women!), one organized the picnic lunch, the others brought glasses and tableware. I dusted off the cane-backed chair and wiped down a few of the rattan chairs with the mustard yellow vinyl seat cushions. All that furniture has been sitting around the attic waiting for something to happen. I grouped them around my studio’s marble top side table, which I schlepped out and pushed up against a dank white wicker lawn table, which I had “Windexed.” That was the setting.

old chairs around a wicker table in an attic


We balanced an old pin board between two wooden swivel chairs, that was our buffet for blush wine, fizzy lemonade, sparkly water, mushroom paste, limp roasted vegetables, a plate of hard cheeses, garlic bread and tuna spread. Peanut butter cookies for an American touch in an otherwise French country picnic.

What a thrill to have friends like these who consider this a treat, to toast each other in this garret, where Hemingway used to play with his older sister.

Friends who are not worried by wobbly floor boards, spider webs between chair legs, and dead bugs on window sills.

two friends at a picnic in the attic of the Hemingway birthplace home


I’m filled up with the joy of this gathering.

I am reminded again that when something extraordinary is given to us, such as the bohemian setting of the Hemingway attic, we need to share it.

We need to create something with it, if only for a few hours on a bright Wednesday in May. We need to make memories.