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

Saturday, October 13, 2018

Letters to Aunt Grace, Part 82: Diversions

The final paragraph of Bishop’s 30 January 1961 letter is not nearly as long and detailed as the previous one, but it contains a hint of a change in their lives that had far greater impact than the arrival of a baby. Before this reveal, Bishop returned to Grace’s letter and responded to a plan her aunt had mentioned: “I think you are wise not to go to Florida, under the circumstances” (none of which we know in detail, but all related to the stress and strain among Grace, Mabel and Hazel as they cared for and dealt with the illness and death of Eleanor Boomer Shore).

Bishop paused with a dash and then typed, “Don’t please think of my birthday!*” Bishop would turn 50 on 8 February and Grace had already thought about it. The asterisk pointed to a scribble at the bottom of the page where Bishop thanked her aunt “for the nice (& unusually sensible!) card —” As for Bishop, she asked Grace if she knew “how old I will be?” and declared, “I simply don’t believe it” and she had decided to “just ignore the whole thing. —//” That double back-slash seeming to end the matter for further discussion.

At this point, the other big change was introduced. Bishop reported that they were regularly “going to Rio because Lota has a wonderful new job — or is about to — very important, with the new government.” This job was to head up the development of a large section of waterfront in Rio: the construction of Parque do Flamengo. Carlos Lacerda, the new governor of the state of Guanabara and an old friend of Lota, recruited her for this major urban renewal project.
Bishop declared that she was “delighted” because it was “just the kind of thing she can do.” Nothing so ambitious is ever as simple, straight-forward or easy as it seems and Bishop noted that “being politics it’s all uncertain still.” The uncertainty soon resolved and before long Lota was totally immersed in the whirl and stress of this mega-project and they were spending much more time in Rio. In the end, this project took a huge toll on both women and on their relationship, but in these early days, the excitement and rightness of it dominated.
 (A view of the park completed.)
At that moment, Bishop told her aunt that she was “extra glad” for Lota “because it will take her mind off her troubles with the adopted son.” This family strife was, according to Bishop, caused by the son “who behaved rather like our relatives, only worse.” Bishop promised to “tell you the awful story” sometime. This trouble had “upset” Lota so much “because she was so devoted to those five ‘grandchildren’ — we both were, and are.” Strife in general and perhaps in this particular, Bishop suggested, came about because “most people cannot accept things, I guess — can’t bear to feel grateful,” but rather chose to be “spiteful.”

Shaking off this upsetting subject, Bishop assured her aunt that for them, these new diversions were balm: “there is ‘Monica,’ and this job,” and she herself was actually working, “trying to get two books done in 1961.”

Even with her own relatives’ bad behaviour, Bishop closed with “Give my love to everyone” (one puts up with a lot in family) and urged her beloved aunt to “keep well and write soon.”

The next correspondence from Bishop were in the form of two postcards, one in March and one in April. They will comprise the next post.

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