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

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Elizabeth Bishop’s Letters to Aunt Grace – Part 11: Another Postcard

The next extant communication from Bishop to Grace in 1956 is a postcard dated 3 July, clearly in response to a letter from Grace. Indeed, the continuation of a series of lost back and forths, since there is a big gap from the previous letter of January. What happened to all the letters in between? What we get in this postcard is a glimpse of the continuum, their ongoing dialogue, but like listening to only one side of a phone conversation.

Bishop packed as much as she could on the verso of this card. It is amazing how much she managed to type, filling the small space to the edges. Remember, she did so on a manual typewriter.

She began by instructing Grace to send “some maple syrup” directly to their post office box in Petrópolis, because “Mr. Liberal has left customs.” — perhaps someone who helped smooth the way for gifts from the north. (One wonders what sort of person this fellow was with a name like that!) While it took longer for mail to reach that destination, Bishop noted that it still seemed to get through.

Anything “maple” was eagerly and gratefully received by Elizabeth and Lota. Indeed, Aunt Mary had recently sent “a pound of Red Rose tea” and some maple sugar. The shipment from Grace was a business transaction, as Bishop indicates she will be sending a cheque. Grace, however, also begifted such northern treats on many occasions. And they always triggered vivid memories for Bishop. July was well past the maple syrup season in Nova Scotia (which is February/March), but maple products are available year round. Two producers of maple products in Colchester County are: Sugar Moon and Maple Mist.

The verso of this postcard was a view of Glória, Rio de Janeiro

“Poor Aunt F” is invoked again. It appears that Grace had finally seen her at some point during this year. Indeed, visited long enough to be part of a “dinner party.” Grace was gallivanting again. Bishop conceded, surely based on more reports from her Bishop cousins, that Florence was “getting worse.” Bishop confessed that she had always stayed away from her “as much as possible,” even as she “felt rather sorry for her.” Bishop’s biggest objection, declared emphatically, was that her aunt was a “snob…putting it mildly.”

The item mentioned most briefly in this brief communication concerned a big subject, Bishop’s health. The correspondence between them contained many discussions about all things medical and health-related (sadly, we see only one side of it). This shared interest was of long standing between them, for all sorts of reasons.

In this particular instance, Bishop tells Grace, “I have a BOIL, or boils,” one large on her kneecap and “some little ones.” Bishop’s reason for mentioning this infirmity was: “what do you suggest?” It is easy to imagine that Grace’s advice was practical and germane, even at a distance. Ever the person to make a joke, Bishop wrote that she new understood the old saying, “sore as a boil.”

“How was your trip?” Bishop asked, and promised that she would “write soon,” asking her aunt where to send her next letter. Bishop did write very soon after sending this postcard, a long letter dated 5 July 1956. The next post will begin a pondering of subjects in this epistle.

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