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

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Letters to Aunt Grace, Part 63: Word from Aunt Grace

Finally, Bishop heard from her aunt, a welcome letter arriving on Tuesday, 2 August. Bishop sat down to respond on “Friday, August 5th, 1960.” Why the brief gap, especially for a letter that was so welcome, Bishop did not say. And since Fridays were “marketing day and we must soon start off for Petrópolis,” she noted right off the top that “this has to be hurried.” Oddly, though, this letter ended up being nearly two dense pages. If she typed it in a hurry, she managed to compose the longest letter to her aunt in some time.

Once it was sent, this letter would have taken weeks to reach Grace. So Bishop’s urgency was because she wanted to take it with her to mail in Petrópolis. Perhaps she had intended to write only a note, but the need to “speak” to her aunt took over. One wonders if Lota had to wait longer than she expected, before driving down the mountain and into the city. Bishop “wanted to tell” her aunt “how glad and relieved” she was to hear from her “at last. — I’d been getting worried.”

What followed was a rather chaotic letter, with Bishop’s thoughts leaping from subject to subject, another indication of her hurry.

Upon receiving the letter, Bishop reported that she “called up Elizabeth yesterday to tell her — no, the day I got it, Tuesday — but she was out and hasn’t called back.” This observation triggered a little sidebar about how things were going with her cousin. Bishop explained that Elizabeth “has never telephoned me once although I’ve left messages, etc.” Trying to account for this silence and giving Elizabeth the benefit of the doubt, Bishop offered: “I think perhaps she is afraid of the telephone here!” Surely, Bishop knew this reason was as silly as it sounded (perhaps that was her intention, knowing her aunt would get her meaning). Then she added, “Or [afraid of] trying to talk to our maids, etc.,” admitting “it is hard at first.”

Even with this lack of communication, Bishop was intent on fostering a connection, telling Grace that when she and Lota go “down to Rio next week,” she would “go to see E again.” The Rio run was for more dental work: “both Lota and I have to have a tooth pulled, one each that is, next Friday.” In spite of a standing invitation, Elizabeth and Ray Naudin had not yet ventured to Samambaia for a visit: “so far, they’ve had to spend their Saturdays and Sundays apartment hunting, I think.” That “I think” is perhaps another hint Bishop was detecting resistance from her cousin. Even so, Bishop and Lota still wanted “them to come for a day soon.”
(The living room in the house at Samambaia.)
Bishop also reported that “there’s been no milk in Rio for two or three weeks (one can get powered milk, though) and I wonder how she’s liking that!” Bishop had heard something from her cousin, enough to tell Grace that she “seemed very pleased with her cook when I spoke to her.” Cooks were of interest to Bishop, who had been sending her aunt a running commentary on their cook travails. Bishop noted that Elizabeth boasted that her cook “just didn’t go in the kitchen but took what was put on the table.” Bishop was a bit envious of such good fortune, declaring to Grace, “I don’t think she knows how extremely lucky she is — she might have had to try ten cooks!” Then she updated her aunt on their own cook situation: “And we have such a nice girl who can’t cook a bit but we’re trying to hold onto her and her husband because they are such good workers.” Clearly, the training of this young woman continued, with, seemingly, limited success. Bishop noted that on the “weekends when we have company it seems to me I spend all the time in the kitchen cooking and never have a chance to talk to the company…”

After this diversion and update, Bishop got to the primary subject of her letter, though she did not linger on it: “I was glad to hear your heart is all right.” Grace must have had the cardiogram test that Bishop had asked about in an earlier letter. If Grace’s heart was okay, she still needed “medicines for the artery business.” Bishop, ever interested in all things medical, observed “they seem to be learning more about that all the time.” Besides the arteries, Grace’s leg remained an issue and Bishop urged her aunt to “take it easy and keep off your leg as much as you can.”

Knowing that Grace enjoyed a drink now and then, Bishop passed on some advice given by “one older friend of mine,” who “was ordered by her doctor to have two old-fashioned cocktails before dinner each night, to slow down hardening arteries — maybe you’d like to try that!”

All this talk about health prompted Bishop to offer another update: “Poor old Aunt Flossie [that is Florence] — her new home was all too good to last, of course.” Florence was still resident in this nursing home, found for her by her nieces, but Bishop’s cousin Nancy had written that she was “starting to get complaining and full of fight again… She is so difficult.” That said, Bishop surmised that “they are all treating her with more respect, though, since they found all that money hidden away (I told you about that didn’t I?).” Not in any letter that has survived. Though likely Grace would not have been surprised. Bishop “suspect[ed] she [Florence] even did it on purpose, just to show them!” Bishop just couldn’t give Florence a break, concluding, “she is awfully silly, but she has a certain hard-headed streak at the same time — from Grandpa [Bishop], probably!”

Thus ended the first two paragraphs of this hurried letter, which will require two more posts to complete. The next post will focus on gifts.

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