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

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Letters to Aunt Grace, Part 61: Meeting her cousin

Bishop typed her next letter to Grace just over two weeks later, 8 June 1960. This letter was written in Rio, where Bishop had just arrived to tend to various matters, including “the dentist again.” Upon her arrival, “night before last,” she was surprised to find “a note from Elizabeth [Ross Naudin],” who was already in Brazil, arriving a few weeks sooner than expected. Bishop told Grace that it was only “just luck” that she got her cousin’s letter because, “I NEVER use this address — that’s why I sent both you and Mary my telephone numbers and said for her [Elizabeth] to be sure to call me up, or use the PetrĂ³polis mail box.” Bishop noted that Elizabeth, Ray and their daughters were “just up the street, at the Copacabana Hotel and has been here two weeks already.” Elizabeth Naudin had written to Bishop before they left New York to “say they were coming sooner than expected,” but that letter “never did reach me.” So, not the best start to getting acquainted.
Even before all this explanation, Bishop launched her letter with the news that mattered most to her: “Elizabeth tells me that you haven’t been at all well.” If you recall, Grace had spent some considerable time with her sister Mary in MontrĂ©al, after Mary’s husband died. But at this point, Elizabeth reported to Bishop that “she thinks you are staying with Phyllis now.” Bishop was deeply concerned about her aunt, hoping that “you’ve been to the doctor and had the cardiogram made and everything.” She urged her aunt to write, “please tell me — and how the leg is, too.”

Then Bishop offered an account of visiting her cousin, probably for the first time: “I went to see her yesterday — both she and the babies have had a touch of the flu.” Bishop assured Grace that in spite of that, they “seemed to be all right.” Her first observation was about the children, “They are very cute, aren’t they — particularly Suzanne.” She had also met Ray Naudin, briefly: “nice-looking, isn’t he, and seems very bright.”

The next big task for the Naudins was finding an apartment, which Bishop said might prove difficult. She had already “asked a couple of friends of mine who are in the real estate business.” She then confirmed what Grace already knew, “they seem to have plenty of money and that’s always a help!” Ray Naudin worked for the Otis elevator company.

Then Bishop finally got around to assessing her cousin, who “looks so much like Mary, doesn’t she — at least the upper part of her face does,” concluding “she just missed being a real beauty.”

Bishop told her aunt that she would “try to get in again before we go back, today or tomorrow.” And noted that she and Lota had invited “them to come up for a day with us soon.” Ever practical, Bishop observed that it was “a pity they didn’t bring their car.” Having moved there to live for some time meant “Ray had the right to being one.” Expensive as that might have been, Bishop observed that cars “cost 3 or four times as much here as at home.”

As mentioned before, Ray was a Brazilian, but he had been living in the US for some time. Bishop reported Ray’s astonishment of the changes to Rio during “the 13 years he’s been away,” so much so “that he had to buy a map of the city to find how way around!”

Even though the bulk of the Naudins’ possessions had not arrived, her cousin’s arrival had brought some gifts from Grace for Bishop and Lota: “Thank you so much for the ‘Export A’ cigarettes — I am smoking one right now.” Bishop excitedly wrote, “E says there are more goodies coming — wonderful.”

With all of this taken care of, Bishop offered an update about Aunt Florence, who if you remember, had a “cracked leg.” Bishop reported that the injury was “getting better very fast — she was already walking around in a ‘walker’.” More significantly, the cousins on that side had “found a Rest Home for her, not very expensive, considering.” Concluding, “I think it all to the good, really — she shouldn’t be living alone.” She had heard this news from her cousin Kay Sargent who had written: “keep your fingers crossed.” The caution being that she might not “stay put” and might “fight with everyone! Poor old thing.”

As this short letter began to wind down, Bishop returned to Grace’s health: “I do hope you are feeling better and than you have good medical care, etc.” And urged her to write again, “let me hear from you.” She worried that Grace had “over-done [things] at Mary’s” Then the first notice of the weather, “It has been very cold, for here.” But the stalwart Canadian Elizabeth Naudin and her two little daughters already “had been in swimming.” Quickly signing off, Bishop noted that she had “hundreds of things to do while in the city,” but didn’t forget to say “Remember me to Phyllis and Ernie.” With her usual “much love,” she scribbled her name at the bottom of this one-pager.

Bishop’s next extant letter was written in early July. It will comprise the next post.

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