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

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.

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