"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.

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