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

Saturday, March 17, 2018

Letters to Aunt Grace, Part 58: A strange list

The final major subject of Bishop’s letter of 25 March 1960 related to one of her maternal cousins, Elizabeth Ross Naudin, the daughter of Bishop’s youngest aunt, Mary Bulmer Ross. Elizabeth was married to a Brazilian, Ray Naudin, who had attended Worcester Polytechnic Institute. Grace had clearly informed Bishop in one of her recent letters that Elizabeth, Ray and their daughters were going to Brazil to live. Bishop had never met this cousin and in the concluding paragraph of the letter, she offers some advice for Grace to pass on, about what they should bring with them.

She starts this “advice column” with the first and only weather report of this epistle: “It rains and rains and we’re sick of it.” Bishop told her aunt that it was “our big marketing day” and she would be heading to Petrópolis to do the shopping, where she would post the letter in question. Apparently, there was enough lead time for the slow boat to deliver the advice to Grace, and from Grace to Elizabeth, before the latter reached Brazil. There had already been some sort of exchange between Grace and Elizabeth Naudin about what her aunt wanted to send along for Bishop, as Bishop notes: “don’t bother about the chocolate unless E is coming by boat or isn’t going to use up her weight limit, etc.”

Then Bishop offered an odd list (perhaps one of her strangest lists) of essentials that it was best to bring: “if she likes tea … bring a good supply”; “Also Tampax (if she uses that! — the Brazilian substitute is no good)”; “enough shoes for the three years wouldn’t be a bad idea either.” Bishop explained further about the shoes: “You can get them made to order but the price is going up all the time, and the ones you buy are apt to be not too good and they rarely seem to fit ‘northern’ feet.” After this curious assortment, she gets to a more usual item: “If they smoke they can each bring in two cartons of cigarettes I think.” Both Bishop and Lota smoked and in the margin of the letter, in her awful scrawl, Bishop made a request, “Lota would love some Canadian cigarettes Players — her favorite kind — just 1 pkg as a surprise —?” Typed at the top of the page, Bishop noted that during the February trip down the Amazon, she had made her own attempt: “I went to the smugglers in Belem trying to get her some [cigarettes] — found 2 packages at 50¢ each.”

Following the cigarettes, Bishop quickly added that she would “certainly adore a bottle of Canadian Club whiskey but they’d better bring it for themselves if they use it.” The list continued: “any prescriptions from the doctor they’d better bring all written out.” This segued into what Bishop and Brazil could offer them: “Tell her I am acquainted with excellent doctors, pediatricians and 2 dentists in Rio [where they would be living] … an allergist, and a whole set of psychiatrists”[you never know what you might need!], which Bishop quickly qualified, “who happen to be friends of ours!”
After this who’s who of professionals, Bishop returned to the material, literally, “Extra needles and good cotton thread — the thread is lousy here.” Bishop concluded: “just about everything in the way of toilet articles, common medicines, etc you can get here now — plastics [whatever that means?] — cornflakes,” and finally, “good milk, at last — pasteurized.”

Fearing she had left something out of this truly diverse congregation of needs, Bishop signed off with “Ask me for all information!” and “Much love.”


I met Elizabeth and Ray Naudin in 1995, when they visited Nova Scotia for an Elizabeth Bishop Society of Nova Scotia event, when Tom Travisano gave the one and only Elizabeth Bishop Memorial Lecture at St. James Church in Great Village. The Naudins also reconnected, after many years, with Phyllis Sutherland.
(L. to r. Tom Travisano, Elizabeth Ross Naudin,
Phyllis Sutherland, Sandra Barry, 1995. Photo by Ray Naudin.)
I again encountered the Naudins in Worcester in 1997, at a big Bishop conference hosted by Worcester Polytechnic Institute. It was during this conference when a gathering was held in Hope Cemetery to unveil the new inscription on Bishop’s gravestone. Elizabeth spoke at the graveside that day. The daughter of one of Bishop’s paternal cousins, Judith Sargent, also attended this ceremony.
(L. Judith Sargent; r. Elizabeth Naudin,
in front of EB's gravestone, 1997. Photo by Sandra Barry)
I stayed in touch with Elizabeth Naudin, by correspondence, for many years. She was in possession of a collection of paintings done by George W. Hutchinson and his son Benjamin Hutchinson, as well as by George’s friend and colleague Bertram Knight Easton. Most of these paintings are small water-colours, but they also include the painting that is the subject of Bishop’s poem “Large Bad Picture.” Elizabeth and Ray Naudin died in 2008. The paintings were inherited by their three daughters.

Another gap follows the March letter, the next one picking up the narrative on “Sunday morning, May 22nd?”

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