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

Monday, April 29, 2019

Letters to Aunt Grace, Part 108: Domestic matters

The next part of Bishop’s 3 January 1962 letter to her aunts shifted to being back home, to domestic matters, in particular to their cook at the house at Samambaia. Elizabeth and Lota returned to Rio, but as Bishop noted, they “went up to the country for the 24th& 25th of December. On Christmas Day night their “cook began to have her baby… — two months too early.” Before the actual birth, they “got her off to the hospital” in Petrópolis on the morning of the 26th, where “the baby was born.” Bishop noted that in the midst of this “great excitement,” their friend “Mary Morse was on hand and helped give it [the baby] oxygen.” Even though it was put “in an incubator and had the best care,” this tiny infant, “about 6½ months,” did not survive, “but only lived three days.”

The cook was married to their “butler,” who was, as Bishop observed, “broken-hearted.” This tragedy was the most recent in a long line of “seven or so miscarriages.” Truly sad. Elizabeth and Lota were, on the other hand, “relieved.” Bishop uncharitably noted that “the poor girl is so dumb,” adding parenthetically to Aunt Mary that she “will remember her — Maria?” Bishop felt that Maria “couldn’t possibly take care of a normal baby, much less a premature one.” Being an obstetrics nurse early in her career, Grace would have known her share of premature babies.

Elizabeth and Lota’s relief was tempered by the fact that this couple were “going to keep on trying.” In the face of such determination all Bishop could ask was, “what do we do in the meantime?”

Bishop tended the unwell Maria, “spent all last week-end up there cooking.” This thwarted mother spent her time “in bed eating chicken and refusing to comb her hair, etc.” Part of the reason for this behaviour was “Superstitions.” One of these, as Bishop related, was “the lard she ate (just the thing, of course — should be from a male pig, not a female, nor a castrated pig ….)”

Ever the cosmopolitan modernist, “Lota just  blows up.” Having come from a rural childhood with devout grandparents, superstitious ancestors and an abundance of community folklore, Bishop noted that she was “more patient, but it is pretty hopeless.” She also conceded that even with these troubles on both sides, “they have their good points,” which included “never leav[ing] the place, even for an afternoon.” Elizabeth and Lota were less and less often in Samambaia and the cook and butler “take good care of the cats.” And what was more, “they both can shoot — in case of burglars!”

After this saga, Bishop shifted again, assuring Aunt Mary that she “got the snapshot of Pouchie [Mary’s cat] and have it right here on my desk.” She had to admit that this feline was “handsomer than Tobias,” one of their three cats, the other two being Suzuki and Mimosa. All the cats “were so glad to see” them when they returned on the 24th. On Christmas Day they “all rushed to have breakfast in bed” with Bishop.
Elizabeth Bishop and Tobias. Source:
Carmen Oliveira, Flores Raras e Banalíssimas 
(Rio de Janeiro: Rocco, 1996), between pp. 64–5.
Then Bishop declared that she had also written Aunt Mary, “a long letter just after [Mary] left” in October, and “before I went to N.Y.” Bishop seemed to think her aunt has not received that letter in which she had related “how we found a good him for the little marmoset,” that had so charmed Mary’s younger daughter Joanne. Bishop observed that she had “loved him, too,” but could not “keep a monkey in the house” because “he was giving me asthma.

The next part of this long letter winds down the joint part of the epistle, after which Bishop added over a page just for Grace. To be continued in the next post.

No comments:

Post a Comment