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

Friday, January 25, 2019

Letters to Aunt Grace, Part 97: Aunt Mary’s visit, Part I

Bishop’s next letter to Aunt Grace is dated “Rio, October 10th — 7 A.M.,” a month after her previous letter. This epistle is twice as long as the previous one because it reports the greatly awaited arrival and visit of Mary Bulmer Ross and her daughter Joanne and son John (siblings to Elizabeth Naudin). Bishop packed in as much of an update about this family company as she could, on the two pages she allowed herself. The next several posts will present this update, a bit at a time.

Her first order of business was to explain the early time of day: “I get up at 5 & 6 these days to get to work early.” Being in Rio and with Lota deep into the park work, the phone “starts ringing for Lota! (around 8).” The apartment in Rio was much smaller than their big house in Samambaia, and there was no estudio, so Bishop had a harder time concentrating with all the hubbub.

She then acknowledged Grace’s letter of 27 September, which she had received “yesterday,” though “it really came about a week ago.” It was sent to Samambaia so had to be sent to town by Alberto, “our darling ‘butler’,” who put it and other mail on a bus, but “got everything wrong (he can barely read).” As a result, “nine letters were lost in the Rio bus-station for about a week.” They had finally turned up and delivered to their recipients.

Then Bishop confirmed what Grace had likely surmised, that “all kinds of things” had happened and she “thought you’d like to hear about” them, even though “Mary is writing you, or may even have written by now.” That is, Aunt Mary.
(Elizabeth Ross Naudin, Mary Bulmer Ross
and Suzanne Naudin, late 1950s. AUA.)
Bishop reported that “they arrived the 30th [of September], a week ago Sat.” Bishop had gone “to dinner at Eliz’s that night to see everybody.” She noted that “of course they were all pretty exhausted,” including the Naudins who “had stayed up until 4 the night before — and gone to the airport about 6!” Anyone who has travelled such a great distance or who has received travellers from afar can see in this brief report that things have not changed with air travel — the sleepless anticipation and the sleepless en route. Undoubtedly, Mary and her children would have never yet ventured so far in their lives. Perhaps the furthest south Mary had ever been was Cuba, where she nursed at the Stranger’s Hospital for a year or so, and where she met her husband John Ross.

The day they arrived, Bishop “went that AM and baby-sat [at the Naudins] a bit while they were out, just to see if everything was all right.” The Naudins had a maid but Bishop reported unkindly that she was “rather dumb … poor thing,” so she wanted to make sure the children were okay. She “left around 8:30 — then went back for the dinner-party.”
 (Elizabeth Ross Naudin, John Ross jr., Joanne Naudin.
Early 1950s. AUA.)
Bishop then assessed the visitors. She would not have seen Aunt Mary for many years. She observed, that her aunt (only eleven years older than Bishop) looked “rather old, to me, as I undoubtedly look rather old to her, too!” Even so, Mary was as “good-looking” as ever. Perhaps Bishop had never seen Joanne Ross, whom Bishop thought was also good-looking, but “too bad she didn’t get the pretty nose the others have.” She concluded with, “I think I like John [the son, not the father, who had died in 1959] the best of all” because “he’s so quiet and has such a nice smile and — I think the best sense of humor in that family.” John was also a handsome young man, and clearly charming.
(John Ross jr. He is standing in front of a George W. Hutchinson
painting in Mary Bulmer Ross's home in Montreal. Another version
of this painting was found in Parrsboro in the early 2000s, but the
location of this second painting is now unknown. AUA.)
After this initial reunion, Bishop noted that she “was too busy all week to see anyone — scarcely went out of the apt. except to get a broken tooth fixed.” But the Friday morning of that week “we picked up Mary and drove her up to Petrópolis — in our tiny car, loaded with bags and food.”

The next post will continue the account of Aunt Mary’s visit.

Sunday, January 20, 2019

Letters to Aunt Grace, Part 96: Expenses

The final two short paragraphs of Bishop’s letter of 10 September 1961 contain an assortment of subjects. Grace had told Bishop of another important family development, which prompted Bishop to say: “You are going to be very elegant for the wedding.” I am not sure who was getting married, but likely it was either Wallace (Bud) Bowers or Rod Bowers, Phyllis’s brothers. It would be about the time for such events to happen. Phyllis had been married for some time, but the boys took longer to settle down. I knew Bud and his wife Lois for many years, but never thought to ask when they were married. Being “elegant” indicates this union was an important one for Grace. Mother of the groom would do it.
(l. to r.: Wallace (Bud) Bowers, Lois Bowers, Phyllis Sutherland.
Standing: Maria Lucia Martins. Early 2000s. Photo by Sandra Barry.)
Bishop’s interest in Grace’s attire is not surprising, as she was particular about her own clothing. She dressed simply, but she usually had clothes tailor made. She told her aunt that the trip to New York City meant she “had to have clothes made…” She found this requirement “annoying, because when I get back here it will be HOT and I won’t be able to use them.” New York in October and November would be anything but hot. That said, she indulged because “they’re cheaper here, a lot.” This expense made her think of another expense that was greater in the U.S.: “I just pray I never get sick in the USA — I have no Blue Cross or anything like that.” Having to go to “a hospital makes my blood run cold — the expense.” This train of thought brought her back to her aunt’s recent health ordeal, and she remarked how glad she was that “you got through it so reasonably.”

Then a quick question, prompted by another of Grace’s comments: “Where does the $10 a day come from?” Not a lot of money today, but in 1961, probably a nice monthly stipend to receive. Just what its source was is hard to say. A pension?

Bishop was finally winding down for good with this rather brief letter, reiterating that it was written mostly “just to say I feel cheered up about the baby [Miriam Sutherland].” Even so, she knew it was a trial for the parents: “poor Phyllis and Ern.” And she hoped “the little boys [Wallace and David] aren’t too strenuous for you.” Which indicates that Grace was with the Sutherlands, helping out while the parents clarified matters with their little daughter. Wallace and David loved their little sister and were devoted to her all their lives. They were both still quite young in 1961, so Phyllis and Ern had their hands full. Bishop understood this situation and urged her aunt to “Please take it as easy as you can.”

As the letter came to its close, Bishop alerted her aunt to the fact that she would not be able to write “for some time since I am away behind with this damnable book [the Time-Life Brazil book].” She asked Grace to “let me know where you’ll be,” and closed “With lots of love.”
In the margin of this letter, which fit on one page, Bishop typed a p.s. to clarify the postmark on the envelope which was “Copacabana Palace.” She told her aunt that they “mailed letters up the street at the hotel now, in Rio — they have a stamping machine & it’s safer.”

The envelope clearly shows this impressive stamp and also shows that Bishop sent this letter to Great Village, even though she realized Grace was helping Phyllis, who at that time lived in New Glasgow, N.S. Someone in Great Village (at the Bowers farm) dutifully re-directed the letter to its proper coordinates in that town: “486 Chisholm St.

Bishop’s next letter was written exactly a month later, and will be taken up in the next post.

Saturday, January 19, 2019

Elizabeth Bishop birthday party in Key West

The poster below arrived via our Facebook page the other day. Nice to see that somewhere someone will celebrate Bishop's 108th birthday in February. Wish I could "Come Flying" and join the festivities in Key West. I am sure a lively time will be had by all. We hope that the folks there will let us know how things go and send us a photo or two!

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

A Poem + A Recommendation


Small and circumscribed.
So my world has now become.
Middle class cairn. Crumb.

[The title is Mi'kmaq for 'Sandpipers.' The third line is an anagram of the first, which is taken from the conclusion of the inimitable Tootight Lautrec's "Welcome to my Opening" video, devoted to Margaret Atwood's novel The Handmaid's Tale. I will confess to being not very fond of Margaret Atwood's work, but hearing Lautrec-sensei's sensitive reading of the first chapter just may make me reconsider. Do yourself a favour and give it a listen/look -- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=viwcs0NHj50 ]

Saturday, January 12, 2019

Letters to Aunt Grace, Part 95: The reassurance continues

Bishop’s next letter to Grace was written less than a week after her last (26 August/4 September), at least it looks that way, for Bishop herself wasn’t sure of the date, which she typed “Monday morning — Sept 10th? — Rio.” This missive was prompted by “getting all your letters,” so clearly Grace had been writing. Bishop still felt that she was “way ahead of you,” since she’d just sent off the previous one, written so recently; but “all” these letters certainly required a response, which Bishop did, even as she was still in Rio.

She wanted to write quickly to say how “very relieved” she was “to hear you sounding so well — cheerful, at any rate!” Bishop had been so worried about Grace because of the health issues, the cancer scare.

She explained the location of the letter: “We came down from the country last night.” En route they had “stopped at the Petropolis P O where I found yours of the 2nd [of September].” Even though she had written at some length about the political situation in Brazil in the previous letter, she added again, “As you know — all kinds of awful things have been happening here, but things are settling down new,” unfortunately “in a way we don’t like at all.” Bishop’s response to all this unrest and change was: “Poor Brazil — she’s in for a hard time, I’m afraid.” Much of the trouble was with “that president!” (see Post 93). All their “hopes in him” were dashed because “he just went crazy (already was) and ran away…” Bishop observed that “it is a strange world where a poor man can get sent to jail for stealing oranges and the president can run away and throw the whole country into chaos — almost civil war — and nothing will happen to him at all.” She speculated that “he’ll probably come back and run for office again!” One has to pause here and wonder what has changed in the world? Presidents are still “crazy” and throwing their countries into chaos. Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.

Bishop reported that she had seen the Naudins “last week,” and noted that “poor Ray annoyed me again!” She couldn’t abide “his attitude … that none of it [Brazil’s trouble] has anything to do with him.” That it was “business as usual.” Bishop assured her aunt that she did not “attempt to argue with him or anything,” because “it’s hopeless.”
 (Grace Bulmer Bowers, circa 1963.
Grace scribbled on the back of this image:
"keep in attic." AUA Doesn't she have
the most reassuring face you've ever seen!).
The next paragraph returned to a subject that had occupied a good part of Bishop’s previous letter: Miriam Sutherland. Grace’s letter clearly brought further news about just what was going on with this new member of the Sutherland family. Bishop’s primary motive for responding so quickly to her aunt’s letter was to write about this news: “what you say about the baby sounds awfully good to me. SURELY she must be really all right.” Grace had reported that she was “looking at people, smiling, and looking at her hands, etc. — all according to schedule,” all good signs for an infant. Bishop confidently asserted, using a term that is long out of favour in this matter, “I am positive if she had any mogoloid tendencies at all she wouldn’t do that.” All of Bishop’s assertions to Grace were, she said, because she had “been reading up in the baby books we have here,” so she clearly regarded herself as informed. She was sure that if it was serious with Miriam, “she’d be awfully slow — and wouldn’t see people, develop normally like that, etc.” She speculated that “the doctor was just being awfully awfully cautious — thought he might discern some of the characteristics,” so he was diagnosing “on the safe side in case her parents had to face something awful about her.” Bishop wondered if the issue might be her “esophagus? — have they x-rayed her, I wonder?”

By way of further reassurance, Bishop reported that the Naudins “little Diane was very slow, apparently — but bright enough, all right.” And then there was Mary Morse’s “adopted daughter Monica” who “has slanting eyes, too (I suspect a little Indian blood) — and short fingers,” but she too was “certainly bright enough.”

Bishop wanted all her speculation and queries to be for Grace only, “For heaven’s sake — don’t show my letters to Phyllis.” Bishop meant well and her thoughts were only because she cared and the situation “just seemed so sad I couldn’t bear it.” But whatever Grace had written returned reassureance to her niece: “what you say doesn’t sound a bit like what the books say about the symptons.”

This brief and hurried letter then went into its wind-down, which will comprise the next post.

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

A Year-Old Poem

Pound and Pence: a Visitation

Here in the bughouse
irrelevant narcissism
mars biographies.

Bishop's miss the Marsh
bearding iris in their fen,
crisp and shivering,

while brave Daniel Swift
to draw upon his own life

along with us all
he assumes the excitement
we feel -- we all feel --

when our emotions
too far exceed their causes.
Lions in Winter

they're not and we're not,
but surely we don't deserve
Michael Wolff's clothing

sheep as they look up
in so much fire and fury?
What could we have done?

The Vice-President 
dozes in his velvet chair.
What is to be done?

                                      9 January 2018

Sunday, January 6, 2019

Letters to Aunt Grace, Part 94: More reassurance

Bishop’s long letter of 26 August 1961 closed in a rather ad hoc, scattered way. She acknowledged the rather messy typescript of this letter by declaring that her “little old typewriter skips badly.” A “//” offered a gap before an odd comment, that was clearly a response to something Grace had written: “That must have been quite an adventure at sea for Uncle G.” Which George she meant is unclear. Great Uncle George Hutchinson (long dead) was a globetrotter and travelled often by sea. Uncle George Shepherdson (still living but elderly) rarely if ever, as far as I know, ventured onto the water. Here is another moment when we must regret the loss of Grace’s letters to her niece and wonder what on earth happened to them, knowing with fair certainty that they were likely lost or even destroyed (not by Bishop) at some point.

The next subject was feline in nature: “Is that cat Punchie or Paunchie?” The cat in question belonged to Aunt Mary Bulmer Ross because Bishop immediately acknowledged: “I  know how Mary feels about him.” This empathy concerned the cat’s loneliness and how sorry Mary was about it. Bishop noted that “our three [cats] get so lonely without us.” They were back from Rio for the weekend and she told her aunt that she had all of them “on my bed” at breakfast, “all purrring [sic] like mad — so happy to have someone in the house.” So lonely were they for Bishop and Lota that “they go in the bathroom and almost beg to be brushed.” Bishop clarified with a scribbled, parenthetical: “(I keep their brush there).”
 (Lota (l.) and Elizabeth (r.) in the living room at Samambaia.)
She was really getting to the end of her letter and hoping that after having “given you two long lectures, on child care and international relationships” that Grace wasn’t “bored stiff.” And acknowledged that she really had to “get to work.” A final housekeeping question: “Did you get the check all right?” She thought “probably” her aunt did, but she still worried because “sometimes they do get stolen.” Grace had clearly not confirmed receipt as Bishop noted, “probably you just forgot.”

The next bit of housekeeping was about the pending trip to the U.S. She confirmed her intention to “stay over [in Brazil] into October just long enough to see Mary and then we’ll try to get to NY.” Bishop wanted her youngest aunt (Mary, you will remember was planning to visit the Naudins) “to come up here,” that is Samambaia, and hoped that “it rains before then” because “everything is horribly dry and brown.”

And that was it for this epistle, concluding “With much love” and the admonition for her aunt “to take care of yourself.”

But in the end this closing wasn’t all for this rambling letter. There is a lengthy post-script dated 4 September. Bishop apologized for the delay: “I’m sorry — I thought this got mailed to you the other day but apparently it got left out.”

So, she took the opportunity to add a few more lines. She wanted to reassure her aunt, “in spite of what you may be seeing in the papers,” that “everything is pretty quiet in Rio.” She noted that there was “just one spot in town” where there was “trouble, and we avoid that.” She reported that the “vice-president is coming back today — probably,” but observed “we hate him, and dread what he’ll do.” However, in spite of all this, “apparently civil war has been avoided at least.”

She added more reassurance that they were “fine and everything goes on as usual for me.” Lota, on the other hand, “goes to the governor’s palace to be with her pal the Governor a lot.” As a result, “we keep well-informed.”

She added that “Saturday morning I went to see Elizabeth [Naudin]” and learned that “Ray had to go away with his father that afternoon and for the night but she had someone to stay with her and they seemed to be taking everything very calmly.” Ray might be calm, but he was “complaining about Brazil as usual ..!”

She also noted that her youngest aunt would be “arriving on the 30th [of September], I think,” and wondered if Grace was “going to Montreal” before that. She herself would “try to get to N Y about October 15th.”

She again assured Grace that “Elizabeth is very calm.” She even generously gave Bishop “some sugar!” A real gift because “we hadn’t a grain in the house.” Because of the political unrest, “there had been a rush to hoard things — probably unnecessary, the way things look today.” Again, she urged Grace: “Don’t worry — everything is fine.” And reiterated, “Let me hear from you,” saying that they would be back at Samambaia “next week-end I hope.” And this time, the letter finally concluded for good, “With much love.”

Bishop next letter was written less than week after, on 10 September, in response to one from Grace. The next post will pick up the narrative.

Wednesday, January 2, 2019

A few openings remain at the EB House for 2019

Happy New Year one and all. This post is to let you know that there are still a few slots open for 2019 at the EB House Artist Retreat. The first year of its resurrection (2018) was a great success and thanks to the hard work of steward Laurie Gunn and the support of the Great Village Preservation Society, this year will be even better. Below are the terms for staying at the house and a list of all the weeks available and taken (highlighted) -- there are still lots of slots during prime summer and fall, but they will go quickly, so get in touch with Laurie as soon as possible. Also, a reminder that the EBSNS AGM and 25th anniversary celebration will take place in Great Village on Saturday, 22 June 2019. We'll be posting information about our exciting program for the day as spring approaches. Wishing one and all a healthy and prosperous year.