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

Saturday, November 3, 2018

Letters to Aunt Grace, Part 85: More updates

The final paragraph of Bishop’s 30 June 1961 letter is a mixed list of updates. She reported first that “Lota is working hard,” assuming that Grace would understand it was because of the new job Bishop had mentioned in her January letter. She observed that “life is very strenuous these days and thank heavens it is cool now.”

Next she noted that she had not seen Elizabeth Naudin “for about 3 weeks.” She reported that the Naudins “have a car now so can come to see me, I think.” But that clearly had not yet happened, so Bishop was going to “call Ray today.”

An interesting but still tentative development was a wire from her “N Y agent … about a job they want me to take on.” This refers to the Time-Life book about Brazil that Bishop worked on in the early 1960s. The letter that had been sent to her about this project “of course, got lost,” and she wasn’t sure she would “feel I can accept … but if I can it will pay pretty well, at least.”*
(The cover of the Time-Life book Bishop did.)
The next item on the list was Grace’s report that she had “layringitis [sic].” Even though Grace was “a long way off, maybe” this problem was “the same kind of flu that’s been going around here.” Lota has succumbed and “lost her voice completely for three days (a terrible problem for a Brazilian!)” and especially so with her new job gearing up.

A “//” signaled a shift in tone to “Our three orange trees are all bearing,” which meant that Bishop was making marmalade, “2 dozen jars.” Both the oranges and the preserve were “delicious.”

She then reported that “Sunday night we had six guests for supper,” and asked her aunt: “guess what” they had: “pancakes and maple syrup.” Bishop was stretching out that 1960 gift as long as she could, writing that she still had “a quart or more left.” This number of people were kept supplied with pancakes because “the cook had taught her husband how to fry them, too,” and “they had two frying pans going.”

A dash signaled the next shift, back to family. Bishop had recently heard from her paternal cousins “Kay & Nancy” with “grim and horrible news about Aunt F.” She avoided particulars. Bishop confessed to feeling “awful about her,” but she didn’t “know what to do.” Just what “awful” means is somewhat ambiguous, but still she felt she was somehow not doing all she could to support these relatives. Bishop confided that she trusted Nancy, “but no one else in that family.”  Bishop wondered if Florence “should be moved to another nursing home …. I just don’t know.” The problem, according to Bishop, was that Florence “behaves so badly that no place wants her.” She concluded that the whole situation was “tragic.” There was no love lost between Bishop and her difficult aunt, but still she kept tethered to that Bishop side, staying in touch. She noted that if she did “make any money” that she would “make a quick trip to NY, and then go to see for myself.”

Another “//” signaled the end of this short but packed letter, urging Grace to “take care of yourself” and “write me again soon.” She asked specifically for her aunt to tell her about her health and to “send a snapshot of the baby [Miriam Sutherland].”

Bishop’s next letter to her aunt was written just over a month later, a longer one with more detailed updates of nearly every topic mentioned in this June missive. The next post will introduce 26 July 1961.

*Note: Bishop did accept this commission with Time-Life. The fraught process of editing the book, which has become legendary, took her to New York City. In the end, Bishop was not happy with the result. Some subsequent scholars and commentators also take exception to it, such as Clarice Lispector scholar Benjamin Moser in a 2012 New Yorker essay.

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