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

Saturday, July 13, 2019

Letters to Aunt Grace, Part 116: Coming up clover

Bishop concluded her 6 February 1962 letter to Grace with three short paragraphs, winding things down quickly. She knew Grace was on the move again, heading to Florida to spend time with her sister-in-law Mabel and niece Hazel. Bishop was “glad you can get away,” at least she “hope[d] you did.” February in Nova Scotia was quite different than February in Rio and Bishop knew that “the cold takes too much of your energy, I think.” She had experienced some cold in New York in December and knew about expending energy “just trying to keep warm and going.” Bishop also knew Grace was dealing with another type of cold, too – that is, she had been sick. Even as far apart as they were, and as long away from each other, Bishop’s concern for her aunt never wavered.

She noted that her 6 February epistle was “a reply to your letter,” which Grace had mailed in Montreal (while visiting her sister Mary) “on the 26th,” and which had contained a “birthday card.” Grace, too, rarely missed these occasions to connect, making a particular effort to do so even when she was away from home.

Bishop thanked her aunt for the remembrance, which she “liked especially,” because it had “clover on it.” There was no clover in Brazil and Bishop noted wistfully, “one misses it.” Seeing this representation of something deeply familiar from her childhood, she observed, “I’d like to chew a nice big pink head of clover right now.” If you have ever done such a thing, you know there is an especially sweet taste to it. My italics and bold indicates that Bishop wrote the word in, over top of something she had mistakenly typed.
(Dutch clover in bloom, one of the types Bishop
would have remembered. It is the blooms one chews.)
The day’s mail not only brought Grace’s birthday greetings, but also Bishop’s “annual bonus from the N[ew] Yorker — something mysterious called the ‘Cost of Living Adjustment’.” Bishop explained that the amount of this unexpected adjustment depended “on how much you’ve published there during the year.” Bishop reported that she had received a small windfall: “$153.21.” But rather than keep it, she chose instead to sign it over to Grace and send “it on to you to help out in Florida — or help with your trip back.” Certainly a generous gesture.

This brief letter was quickly coming to a close. The final few observations concerned family, responses to updates Grace had sent along with the birthday card. Bishop once again expressed her concern for “Phyllis and Ernest,” how “sorry” she was for “these awful things [that] have to happen,” meaning their struggles with dear little Miriam, who was nearly nine months old by this point. In the face of such challenges, Bishop urged, “let us keep our chins up and go down fighting,” which she noted was her “motto!” Bishop was not only trying to encourage her aunt and cousin, but also herself. These words were perhaps prescient as Lota’s work with the park began to take a serious toll on both of them in the next couple of years, both women struggling to keep their chins up and in fighting spirit.

Bishop knew Grace’s indomitable spirit, so she felt this motto was one her aunt would practice herself. Knowing that her aunt was spending time in Florida, she concluded with “Remember me to Aunt Mabel and Hazel.” Such a visit would generate “lots of family gossip,” which Bishop urged her aunt to write about next time, noting that she was “always interested” in such news. In good Maritimer fashion, and in light of the rain pouring endlessly outside her Rio window, Bishop hoped “you have good weather there,” and signed off with “Lots of love.”

Only two weeks passed before Bishop’s next letter to Grace, which was prompted by a special gift from her aunt.

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