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

Friday, August 31, 2018

Letters to Aunt Grace, Part 76: Doing what you want to

Bishop concluded her 29 October 1960 letter to her aunt with a series of thoughts, questions and comments about family. Before doing so, she reassured Grace that all the “things staying in the Customs in the hot weather” survived the delay “in fine shape.” Grace must have expressed some concern because Bishop noted she had been “worried, too”; but all was well.

Grace had also told her niece that she had given up “making the mats and quilts,” something Bishop expressed regret to hear. Rug hooking and quilting were long-standing domestic activities for the women in Bishop’s maternal family, going back to her great-grandmother. Bishop herself owned some of their creations. The other needle art that was common among them, especially Bishop’s mother, was embroidery, which Bishop told Grace she had tried to start doing herself, “in my old age.” She reported that she worked on “two really beautiful Danish designs for two pillows — but very shortly I turned it over to Lota.” Needle and thread (or floss in this case) were not for Bishop, but Lota had “learned all about embroidery and such in the convent.” Instead, she returned to “painting pictures as relaxation,” an art and pastime Lota fostered by buying Bishop “oils — I’ve always used water colors before.” Painting pictures was also a common activity in Bishop’s maternal family. Perhaps telling her aunt of this decision nudged Grace in that direction. Grace herself took up painting in her late 70s and early 80s.
 (One of Bishop's paintings. A Nova Scotia scene.)
Grace’s letters undoubtedly were filled with reports and stories about family and relatives, news of which Bishop was always eager to hear. The most recent letter must have contained an update about Uncle George Shepherdson. It prompted Bishop to observe, perhaps with some sarcasm, that he “ought to be given some sort of award by the Masons for all that fidelity all these years.” One of his faithful duties was “stoking the wood furnace,” one assumes in the hall where they had meetings. Bishop observed that she “hate[e] to think of him” doing this task, “but, as you say — ‘no one can do anything with him’.” Bishop’s view was that “one just has to let people do what they want to do.”

Taking this view of things, Bishop felt that it helped her “get along better with poor old Aunt F[lorence] than the other cousins.” Conceding the fact that she only saw Florence “in very short stretches,” she could afford “to let her do what she wants … it doesn’t bother me if she wants to drink too much before dinner! Why not, at 85 … I think I’d just let her guzzle!” Could it be that this approach is one Bishop hoped others who saw her only in “short stretches” might take with her?
(One of Grace's paintings. Great Village. AUA.)
This long busy late October letter began to wind down and Bishop knew Grace was on the move again: “Please let me know your next move and address.” Grace was always tending to family and Bishop was “afraid it is a sad time for you,” because of Ellie Boomer Shore’s illness. Bishop asked her aunt to “give my love to Aunt Mabel [Ellie’s mother],” who she speculated must be “almost as old as Aunt F.”

Urging Grace to “write soon,” she concluded with a final “thank you and thank you for the lovely presents,” noting that she had “locked up the syrup. I hate to do that, but I found the cook licking her fingers suspiciously, in the kitchen.” She really was not prepared to share this treasured northern treat!

Just over a month passed before Bishop’s next letter to her aunt, on 6 December 1960, which will be the subject of the next post.

No comments:

Post a Comment