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

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Letters to Aunt Grace, Part 40: A Quick Note

Bishop’s next communication with her aunt was a postcard dated 30 March 1959. It always amazes me to see that Bishop typed rather than wrote these briefest of notes (though her characteristic signature sits at the end, accompanied by “with love.”)

The “grandchildren” would have already come and gone, but there is not room to mention them in this 3.5 x 5.5 inch space. Even so, Bishop packs quite a bit onto this card.

First, she wonders where Grace is, whether or not “you are home from your travels.” She assumes Grace must be, even though “it’s some time since I heard from you.” This suggests that the post card is not in response to any letter from Grace, but because Bishop is thinking about her aunt. It might also have been prompted by an upcoming run to Rio, the next day, “to have a tooth pulled, oh dear.” So she would be going through Petrópolis (Bishop inked in the accent over the o) and would stop at the P.O. “en route” to mail the postcard and check for a letter from Grace.

Bishop’s choice of postcard was “a ‘partial view’ of P,” that is Petrópolis, “at night.” A view of “the main street, where we go marketing.” She explains that the big buildings “are apartment houses” and tells her aunt that many of them are “vacant most of the year and used only in the ‘summer’.”

The intense heat that she had described in her previous letter “is over now.” One reason why the grandchildren would have returned to Rio.

Bishop tells Grace that she was expecting Marjorie Stevens to visit, something that was supposed to happen “in April but she can’t get away now until after May,” which would be the fall season, so Bishop worried that her friend, used to the warmth of Key West, would feel the cold. Sadly, this visit never took place as Stevens died later this year. Wherever Grace was, however, the season was leaning towards spring: “Is it beginning to get spring-like?” Bishop asked — confessing to Grace that “spring is what I really miss here.” But then immediately Bishop announces that she and Lota were “planning on a trip next fall — We HOPE! — including N.S.” This trip did not happen. Bishop’s next time in the US was in 1961.

With her usual query, “How are you and how did you find the relatives?” she closed her little epistle, “cramped, / dim” on a tiny postcard.

(verso of the postcard)
In the Vassar file for 1959, there is an envelope addressed to Grace (to Great Village), postmarked 23 June 1959. Sadly, this June letter is missing. On the verso, which gives Bishop’s address as “Caixa Postal 279,” someone has written a list:

recipe for marmalade
Florence B
Marjory S
coming home

This handwriting is clearly not Bishop’s. Might it be Grace’s hand, summarizing the contents of the missing letter? Alas, Phyllis Sutherland, who could identify her mother’s holograph, is gone.

The next post will have something to say about saints.

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