"I am 3/4ths Canadian, and one 4th New Englander - I had ancestors on both sides in the Revolutionary war." - Elizabeth Bishop

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Elizabeth Bishop’s Letters to Aunt Grace, Part 7: Keeping track of Grace

Another detail evident in Bishop’s letter dated 19 December 1955, is that Grace was moving around — Bishop’s word for her aunt’s peripateticism was “galivanting” [sic: Bishop composed her letters on a manual typewriter, and they contain many misspelled words and typos, most likely because it was just too difficult to correct them — though often Bishop inked in corrections].

Grace trained as a nurse in the 1910s and before she was married held positions in Boston and New York. After her marriage to William Bowers in 1923, she nursed in Great Village throughout the 20s and 30s; but after she became a widow in 1947, with her children grown, she hit the road again, nursing in various places in Nova Scotia and New England. Grace was mainly an obstetrics nurse and helped to deliver many babies.
(Grace and her nursing colleagues at Boston-Lying-In Hospital, 1910s.
top image: Grace far right; bottom image, Grace centre back row, AUA)
At the time of writing this letter, Bishop had only just learned that her aunt had left a place where she had been working, a place called Crotched Mountain Hospital, in Greenfield, New Hampshire, which was established only a couple of years before, in 1953.

Grace had written to Bishop from this place earlier in 1955 and Bishop, believing her aunt still there, sent a Christmas gift to her, only to be informed by Grace of her departure too late to recall the gift.

Crotched Mountain Rehabilitation Center is a major institution now (its website is impressive). But in these early days, perhaps it was still finding its levels because Grace didn’t stay long and, as evident from Bishop’s letter, she had written to her niece about the issues that triggered the move (Grace was nothing if not capable, indomitable and determined, so she would have had good reason for leaving). What these issues were are lost with Grace’s lost letter, but Bishop’s response was: “I am glad you’ve left. I know I’m rather suspicious anyway, but I was very much so when you wrote me about the salary and their going to N.S. for employees — they thought they could get good hard-working women for nothing, I suppose.”

At the time of this letter, Grace was in Brookline, MA., perhaps nursing; but she was also thinking about going to Florida, where she had never been, and where her niece Hazel Boomer Snow, was living. Bishop’s response to this idea was: “I really don’t like the state much as a place to live — I just liked Key West, the way it used to be.” She refers to “competition” being “pretty stiff,” so perhaps Grace was looking into another nursing job there. Bishop suggested Grace go to St. Augustine, St. Petersburg or Sarasota to take “care of a nice rich old man!....if you don’t object to that kind of work.” Grace did spend time in Florida, though perhaps not at this point. There are images of her visiting her sister-in-law Mabel and niece Hazel, being a tourist, trips taken after she finally retired from nursing in the 1960s.

Bishop mentions that Marjorie Stevens was thinking about visiting Brazil. Bishop and Stevens had a relationship in the 1940s. Even after it ended, they remained friends. Stevens went to Nova Scotia with Bishop in 1947, where she met Grace. They, too, remained in touch, and Grace eventually visited Marjorie in Florida. Bishop knew that Grace would be interested in Marjorie’s plan. Bishop noted that “the flight is awfully expensive,” but since Marjorie worked for the air-force, and since one of Lota’s uncles “is now Foreign Minister,” they hoped to “be able to get her trip at a big discount for her.”*
 (José Carlos Macedo Soares, 1883–1968, Lota’s uncle)
Grace loved to travel as much as Bishop. When she turned 80 (1969), for example, she went to Chilliwack, British Columbia, to visit friends and her cousin Everal Bulmer. Everal had sent Grace photos of “The Cascades” as early as the 1910s, which perhaps inspired Grace’s desire to visit. Although it took decades, the trip finally happened.

(In the Cascades, 1910s, AUA)
Grace spent the early 1970s going back and forth among her childrens’ homes. Bishop and Grace kept track of each other in their letters during the 1950s and 1960s. When Bishop returned for good to New England in 1970, one of the first things she did was go to Nova Scotia to see her aunt.

In these days of more than instant communication, it requires some imagination to understand the pace of this correspondence, the patience required. By the time news arrived, it often had already changed. Yet, the leisure of letters allowed each correspondent real space-time to think and move freely with less insistent, pressing demands than, say, the Facebook, Instagram, Twitter or texting of today.

*Note: It appears that this proposed visit never happened, though Bishop was still talking about it as a possibility in early 1956. Brett Millier records no such visit in EB: Life and the Memory of It. Bishop did visit Stevens in 1957, when back in the US for six months.

No comments:

Post a Comment