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

Saturday, October 24, 2020

Letters to Aunt Grace, Part 144: Back to 1963

The last “Letter to Aunt Grace” that I posted was on 7 April 2020. Months have passed but I was diverted by “Two Arts,” the EBSNS virtual exhibit, our first such exhibit, necessitated because of the pandemic. The exhibit is officially over, but you can still see Natallia Pavaliayeva’s wonderful Bishop inspired drawings by clicking the link in the menu on the right. There are still images for sale, if you are interested, and information about how to purchase can be found on the “Two Arts” page. 

I am glad to be able to turn once again to Bishop’s letters to her aunt. The last post in this series was for the letter dated 16 May 1963. In that letter, Bishop mentions that she had met the writer James Baldwin. Interestingly, recently, a friend sent me a link to an essay by Magdalena Zaborowska, a Baldwin scholar, about his home in the south of France. It resonated with me in many ways because of my own involvement with the Elizabeth Bishop house. I highly recommend this fascinating essay.

 I am hoping to post more regularly again, aiming perhaps for once a week, with a new account of what Bishop wrote to her favourite relative. 


Bishop’s next letter to her aunt is dated 19 June 1963, written in Rio, not quite a month after the previous missive. She begins right off the top reporting to Grace that she had recently heard (“Saturday”) from Aunt Mary, after not hearing “from any of this side of my family for so long.” Mary wrote to report on a family wedding: her daughter Joanne to Frank Eartly. Bishop noted that the report came “with newspaper clipping.” 

Grace had, of course, attended the ceremony and Bishop wrote that Mary “said you were looking awfully well and seemed awfully well.” Bishop was “glad to hear that.” The eighty-four-year-old Grace did a lot of “jaunts” (Bishop’s term, she also referred to Grace’s travels as “gallivanting”), which often “worried” her niece. But Grace was intrepid. 

Mary “had received” a letter Bishop has “mailed at the same time as one to you – in care of her,” probably the 16 May letter; but Mary didn’t indicate if she “had already forwarded it or if it had got lost.” Bishop noted that if Grace hadn’t received this letter, “it wasn’t much of a loss” because she had been “very cranky, as I remember, and gossipy.” 

At that point in the narrative, something went wrong with Bishop’s typewriter (“— 33 Oh dear—” some sort of mysterious code and exclamation). She must have sorted it out and continued, declaring that she was using a “little typewriter,” not her “larger old one,” which was “being repaired.” She wasn’t “used to this one,” but she had “suddenly realized” that the usual one was “covered with RUST,” a result of “the Rio climate.” And concluded that she too was “probably covered with rust, or mildew.”

(EB in Brazil ca. 1960s. Alas, I have no idea
who sent me this photo.)

A pause and a new brief paragraph to let Grace know that Mary had written both “before & after Elizabeth [Naudin, Mary’s oldest daughter] arrived.” Mary had told Bishop that her cousin’s new “baby had no more asthma, I gather,” news that the asthmatic Bishop declared was “good.” 

This letter was just getting underway. The next post offers Bishop’s account of a Canadian visitor.

 Click here to see Post 143

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