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

Saturday, March 23, 2019

Letters to Aunt Grace, Part 103: Reiterations

Bishop’s final letter of 1961 (12 December) began to wind down with a few more reiterations of the things that were on her mind. The remaining three short paragraphs are a bit scattered, giving a sense that she had to go but still wanted to stay connected to Grace, from whom she had not heard in awhile; but considering Bishop’s trip to NYC and Grace perhaps not knowing where to write, this silence was not surprising.

The first final subject she broached was to reiterate how much she “did enjoy seeing Mary and the children in Rio” — this “did” seems slightly defensive, as if somehow Bishop thought Grace might have been told otherwise. Immediately, she asked if her aunt and cousins had told Grace “about the marmoset — little monkey — we had that Joanne was so crazy to take back with her?”
One of the aspects of her life at Samambaia which Bishop appreciated and enjoyed was all the creatures, domestic and wild. It reminded her of her grandparents’ home in Great Village with its menagerie of critters. I have no idea where they got the marmoset (to go along with the cats, dogs and birds they had), but Bishop noted that “we found him a nice home before we left, thank goodness.”

After this brief reflection on a visit that had happened in October, Bishop returned to her now, “This has been a short nightmare trip.” The Time-Life Brazil book had dominated their stay and caused Bishop deep frustration, which she had alaready vividly conveyed to Grace in previous letters, so Bishop didn’t have to reiterate the particulars of that “nightmare.” She did somewhat wistfully observe, “We are hoping perhaps to get back next spring or fall.” That “perhaps” would have said it all to Grace, who could likely see that Bishop would not return any time soon. And the certainty of it was Bishop’s proviso, “if I save enough of this money …. IF I leave now!” (Remember, the IRS was forcing her out sooner than she thought she would have to leave, if she wanted to prevent paying hefty income tax.)

After this scattered moan, Bishop isolated in one line (perhaps like a line in a poem) her regret: “Please forgive me — I really feel awful.” Grace would know this to be true, that the disappointment would really have been deep on both sides. Still, to add a bit of salt to the wound of this disappointment, Bishop jumped right back to “my Worcester cousins,” whom she had taken time to see. They had been “very nice” and Bishop felt some need to reiterate, “I think they are all really doing their best for Aunt Florence.” She told Grace that having seen them and Florence made her “feel a little beter {sic}.” Expanding on this topic, she felt that her cranky paternal aunt was “relatively happy there,” and thought that it would be “wrong to move her again,” because “places she can afford are hard to find,” by which it seems she means that Florence’s financial resources were depleted. Knowing that Grace had her own experiences caring for the elderly, Bishop noted that “one nurse she does like,” a bit of a surprise, clearly: “the nurse calls her ‘honey’ and Aunt F asked her to call her ‘Florence’,” obviously a breakthrough from Bishop’s perspective, but something that “scandalized Priscilla,” one of the cousins. Bishop noted this cousin was “always on the snobbish side!” From Bishop’s point of view, that her aunt actually “likes someone, at least” was “nice.” This “nurse seemed the one civilized person around, I thought.” Knowing Aunt Florence’s nature, however, one might suggest this nurse was more saintly than civilized.

At this point, Bishop had to stop herself from going on, and she was running out of room on the page. What she really wanted was to “see you and have a long conversation.” One last weak reiteration, “well — maybe we’ll make it in the spring or fall.” But all those qualifiers reveal the dim hope of it happening. Fearing that Grace had “been sick or something,” Bishop signed off “With much love to you as always.” And so ended an eventful year for Bishop. The next post will commence 1962.

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