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

Monday, July 16, 2018

Letters to Aunt Grace, Part 72: Family matters continue

This long delayed post will conclude Bishop’s letter of 18 October 1960. After the rather lengthy, perhaps slightly obsessive analysis of her cousin’s strange, stand-offish behaviour, a dense paragraph that filled nearly one half of the page on which is was typed, Bishop suddenly stopped. This interruption was signalled in the text by an empty line set off from the previous dense paragraph and then the sentence:

“Stop — to take a large stinging [this word scribbled by hand above the type] out of my brassiere —”
(Perhaps this Paraponera clavata, one of the nastiest stinging ants
in Brazil, is the kind Bishop mentions.
Click the link to see all kinds of Brazilian ants!)
Bishop was nothing if not literal and immediate, and this delightful interjection (not, I suppose, delightful for her!) would have given Grace a chuckle and brought her niece’s daily life really close. Bishop did not offer any report of being stung, so the removal was done before any injury.

One might think this interjection would shift Bishop’s focus and she would turn to other things, but family matters continued to dominate — though she did acknowledge that she “must stop wondering and go down and see what there is for Marietta’s (the sister’s) lunch.” If cousin Elizabeth was “baffling,” Lota’s sister was her own sort of trial. Thought “2 years younger than Lota, with two sons and two baby grandchildren,” Marietta was “a nervous wreck.” Whatever the cause of this condition, Bishop told Grace that “we always get so tired when she comes to visit!”

This somehow prompted Bishop to remember to say, “I hope you are keeping well and taking your medicine” and inquiring about her aunt’s leg. Which in turn made her report that she had once again “had a letter from Aunt Florence from another nursing home,”  writing about her “circulation troubles.” Florence gave no reason for the move so Bishop was “waiting to hear from the cousins about what really happened and how she is.” In the end, all Bishop could say about this difficult, cranky, elderly relative was “poor thing.”

Winding down this epistle, Bishop once again urged Grace to write and wistfully concluded: “I wish it weren’t so far away and expensive for you to visit me — I don’t think you’d stall like my cousin, would you?”

She signed off with her usual “much love,” but before she sealed the missive in its envelope, she added a postscript “after lunch” to update the cousin issue. She reported that she “finally got Ray at his office — bright & cheerful as ever.” She confirmed they had moved and had no telephone, “but HE could call, after all.” Bishop and Lota were still waiting to get the maple syrup the Naudins had transported, which Ray mentioned, “Aha!” wrote Bishop, “I’ll send you a check next time.” Surely Grace didn’t want any reimbursement. Bishop also reported that they had “made another date, for the 29th” for their visit, “maybe he’ll be able to get a company car.” Bishop had reached her limit though: “I’ve been inviting them & telephoning them for 5 months,” she scribbled in her almost indecipherable hand at the bottom of the page. She swore it was “the last time I’m going to try.” She quite rightly noted: “don’t they know the young are supposed to make the effort to see the OLD?”

Bishop’s next letter was typed on 29 October, the day of the proposed visit. The cousin saga continued and will be the subject of the next post.

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