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

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.

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