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

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.

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