Tillie Arnold was working at an Idaho mountain resort back in 1939 when she came across an adventurous writer named Ernest Hemingway, who was at the lodge's restaurant eating marinated herring and drinking a beer for breakfast.
"I burst out laughing and said, 'Mr. Hemingway, is that breakfast?' " Arnold wrote in her 1999 book, "The Idaho Hemingway." "He said, 'Yes, daughter. Have some. It's good for the kidneys.' "
The encounter at the Sun Valley Lodge was the springboard for a relationship that made Arnold part of Hemingway's tight-knit circle of friends -- a group that is remaining close even after death.
Arnold, who died in January at the age of 99, will be buried in a plot next to Hemingway's grave on Thursday -- July 21, the author's 106th birthday.
The body of Arnold's husband, another old Hemingway pal who died in 1970, has been dug up from an Iowa graveyard to be placed in the plot in Ketchum this week.
Historians and Hemingway buffs say the burial of Tillie and Lloyd Arnold helps complete the circle of friends Hemingway made during his two-decade relationship with Idaho, where the Nobel Prize-winning writer shot himself to death in 1961 after a career that produced such famous books as "A Farewell to Arms" and "The Old Man and the Sea."
Two former hunting guides are just a plot or two away, as is Chuck Atkinson, the Ketchum motel owner who was with Hemingway the day before he committed suicide. Six members of Hemingway's family, including two sons and his fourth wife, Mary, are also buried there.
Even a Hemingway scholar from the University of North Carolina, John Bittner, asked to be buried in the cemetery as close to "Papa's" grave as possible when he died in 2002.
"Hemingway inspired in his friends a fierce loyalty," said James Plath, a professor at Illinois Wesleyan University who co-wrote the 1999 book "Remembering Ernest Hemingway." "He could be quite unpleasant to be around, but you'll never get any of that from his friends."
Hemingway first arrived in Sun Valley in 1939, just as he was splitting up with his second wife and finishing "For Whom The Bell Tolls," his novel of the Spanish Civil War.
He was a frequent visitor to Idaho for the next 20 years, making periodic trips to Sun Valley when he wasn't off fighting in World War II, bullfighting in Spain, going on African safaris or fishing in Key West, Fla.
Some historians believe Hemingway chose Sun Valley as his final home -- he bought a house here in 1959 -- because of the people he met there. They were hunters, fishermen and hotel workers whose unpretentious style became a refuge to him when he tired of the attention.
"After the Nobel Prize, he was just being hunted," said Susan Beegel, the Maine-based editor of the academic journal "The Hemingway Review." "For a number of people in the Sun Valley community, he was a very important part of their lives."
David Nuffer, a Hemingway buff from San Diego who wrote "A Walkable Feast" tour book detailing the writer's Paris haunts in the 1920s, met Tillie Arnold in 1989 at a writer's conference in Sun Valley. After Tillie Arnold's death, Nuffer and the Arnold family retrieved Lloyd Arnold's remains from Iowa, bringing them first to California, where Tillie died.
In all, the effort cost about $5,000, Nuffer said, though the Sun Valley resort chipped in the use of its Sun Room for a reception after the burial.
The Arnolds both wrote books about Hemingway, and Lloyd Arnold spearheaded construction of the Hemingway Memorial, just northeast of the Sun Valley Lodge.
Marty Peterson, who sits on two boards trying to preserve Hemingway homes in Idaho and Cuba and who helps guide the "The Hemingway Review," believes Hemingway may have had a crush on Tillie Arnold.
"Hemingway was probably smitten with her," Peterson said. "She was too much of a lady to ever have anything more than an upstanding relationship with him. But she was a knockout, good-looking gal, and Hemingway clearly liked to be around her."
Tillie Arnold's letters in her later years often recounted her experiences with Hemingway, Nuffer said. She described his slight speech impediment -- he had trouble with his "Ls" -- and daily walks on the roads outside Ketchum during the winter.
Once, he said, she wrote that Hemingway held onto his Sun Valley friends because he felt they would respect his privacy.
"Sometimes he would say, 'It's our secret,' " Nuffer said. "He trusted her with what he told her, because she would never repeat it."