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

Thursday, January 23, 2020

Letters to Aunt Grace, Part 133: A Joke and a Journey

It has been some time (November 2019) since my last LTAG post, which dealt with Bishop’s letter of 7 January 1963. That post covered only half of the letter, left it hanging unfinished as other matters distracted me. And we are already well into 2020! I hope now to return to these letters and the first task is to finish Bishop’s 7 January missive.

Her 7 January letter was by way of a note added to hers of 3 January, because she had in the interim heard from Grace, who was in Florida, so Bishop wrote the addendum and posted both letters to Hollywood, FL, where Bishop’s cousin Hazel Bulmer Snow lived. After an initial update about her own happenings, Bishop cast about for something else to tell her aunt and settled on “a silly dirty joke Lota’s nephew (aged 19) told us.” The joke was about “a nun, and she was so pure, so pure, so pure.” This saintly creature “never had an evil thought in her life.” When “she died and went to heaven” she met St. Peter, who said, “You are so pure, sister, you have to go up higher.” Up she went and met an “angel who said, ‘You are so pure, Sister Maria Magdalena, you have to go up higher in Heaven’.” Up she went again and “kept going higher and higher.” She finally reached “the very highest level of Heaven,” where “the archangel said: ‘Sister Maria Magdalena, please! You are too pure! Please say “ass” or you’ll go into orbit!’”

Grace had a famous sense of humour and probably chuckled, though the devout Presbyterian might not have been so impressed by such a Catholic joke. Even so, Bishop was clearly trying to entertain her aunt.

Bishop’s addendum quickly began to wind down and the final paragraph shifted back to Grace herself, who made the trip to Florida by bus, prompting Bishop to say that she hoped Grace “got away without too much trouble” and hoped the long journey wasn’t “too tiring.” Like Bishop, Grace was not fond of flying, “I feel the same way,” Bishop declared. But any mode of transportation comes with risk: “A friend of mine,” Bishop reported, “once got snowed in on a bus to Florida,” something Bishop hoped “doesn’t happen to you.” One wonders how Grace did it with her bad leg, sitting for hours and hours and miles and miles. Probably Grace took a Greyhound bus, the main interstate company serving the US in the early 1960s. Bishop had taken her own long trips by bus. Out of one of them in 1946 came “The Moose,” which she dedicated to Grace, perhaps not only for their shared encounters with moose, but for their shared bus trips.
(A Greyhound bus from the 1960s.)
Bishop’s next concern was Miriam, who she hoped was ‘better, too – poor infant.” And finally, she asked Grace to “Please give my love and best wishes to Aunt Mabel and Hazel,” with whom Grace was staying. She closed with a usual plea, “do write me.” And confirmed that she had received her aunt’s “Christmas card,” which she thought “at first glance” was a picture of Great Village, “I thought it had been taken there!” She realized, however, that the steeple of the church “wasn’t quite right.” She thanked Grace again “for the [cook] book,” which she had “already used,” as her 3 January letter noted, a book that she would use “a lot more I know.” She signed off with her usual “Much love” and a wish for “a healthy and cheerful 1963.”

A scribbled PS contained two seemingly random family thoughts. First, she wondered if “Hazel & Norm (is it?)” were “still living in the old house?” That is, Hazel and Norman Bowers, Grace’s stepson and wife, who were indeed still living in the Bulmer family home. Hazel lived there until 1996. Second, she reiterated that she thought “E[lizabeth Ross Naudin] shd [sic] have named one of her daughters E!”

Considerably more time passed before Bishop’s next 1963 letter, dated 18 March and written at Samambaia, but it was a fulsome letter filled with family gossip. The next post will pick up the ongoing narrative.

Click here to see Post 132.

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