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

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Letters to Aunt Grace, Part 110: Gifts

Bishop began the ”just for you” part of her 3 January 1962 letter to Grace with a declaration, “Oh dear, I am dying to have a good gossip with you.” Even though she had finally received letters from both aunts, she still wondered if Grace had got “my check safely?” that is, her Christmas gift. And she admonished her aunt, “Please spend every penny on  yourself.” Then, without even a pause, she shifted to, “I do hope that Miriam [Phyllis’s daughter] may turn out to be all right.” Grace had clearly updated Bishop on this new member of the family, now about six months old, which prompted Bishop to respond, “what you say sounds quite hopeful.” Phyllis had also been in touch and Bishop asked her aunt to let her cousin know the “card” came “last week — and I’ll write her soon.” Having been so busy in December meant that Bishop “didn’t send out any cards” because she “didn’t have time.” She paused and clarified, “no I did send two,” which she “stole” from “my friend Loren’s supply” (she and Lota stayed in Loren MacIver’s apartment in New York). One of those cards went “to [Aunt] Mary and one to Aunt Florence.”

She returned to the subject of Phyllis about whom she felt “sorry … so much work” with Miriam. In contrast, Bishop wrote, “this poor little illegitimate baby our friend Mary [Morse] adopted — Monica — is so bright.” In Bishop’s mind, the whole thing “just isn’t fair.” She continued describing Monica as “so gay … always grinning and laughing.” She noted how much she had “missed her … while I was in N.Y. — I never remember missing a baby before!” She wished Grace “could see her — you’d love her.” Monica was “about 14 months and can sing (a little).” She was getting active and mobile, able “almost [to] climb out of her play-pen.” Bishop described her acrobatics, hanging “over the top” of the bars, and feared that “in a few days she’ll fall out and break her nose.”

This doted on child still “isn’t very pretty — big mouth, big teeth — and her ears stick out — but she has lots of curls.” The latter feature was “a pleasant surprise to everyone because … as a baby” her hair “was straight as a string.” Clearly, Monica was a delight in Bishop’s life at this time.

Another shift back to the vagaries of communicating had Bishop declare, “I am so sorry about my presents” — meaning gifts Grace had tried to send to her niece. Just what happened is unclear, but somehow they were returned. In any case, Bishop quickly said, “I’d love to have the table linen” (perhaps some of her mother’s. Grace had sent Bishop some of her mother’s embroidery one other time.) Bishop asked her aunt to “please keep it for me.” And suggested that Grace “Just send me the book, sometime.” She noted that “Books do come safely” and advised her aunt to “Leave an end a little open so they can see it’s a book,” and to improve the odds of delivery to “write BOOK — LIVRO — on it, good and big.” Doing so meant it would come “book rate — slow, but cheap.” Whatever the book was, Bishop assured Grace, “I’d love to have it.”

Then she made a request: “if ever you happen to see a cook-book of Nova Scotia recipes — if there is such a thing — I’d like to have one — and I’ll pay for it, of course.”*

Going back to the table linen, Bishop noted there was “an old lady near us in the country who earns a little money by doing some embroidery.” She could “get her to finish the set” because she does quite nice work.” Unfinished table linen does sound like it could have been something of her mother’s work, never finished. “In the Village” refers to Gertrude’s beautiful embroidery, some of which was incomplete, still in the embroidery hoop.

Grace had also offered a “pitcher and basin and soap dish,” which Bishop remembered “very well — save them, too!” Mailing such items was not possible, but Bishop once again said, “I really think we may be getting back next year.” If that happened, they would “have another five or six weeks” and if she was “not earning money,” she could “stay even longer,” at least so she thought. She trailed off this part of the letter wistfully, “I’ll really get to see you —”

This “just for you” part continues on for quite a bit longer. The next post will finally get to the core of the “gossip.”

*Note: The most famous Nova Scotia cookbook was Out of Old Nova Scotia Kitchens by Marie Nightingale, but it wasn’t published until 1970. It went through dozens of printings. Bishop surely would have loved it.
The Nova Scotia Archives has a wonderful site containingdigitized versions of over a dozen old N.S. cookbooks and also digitized images of hundreds of hand-written recipes found in various collections. Bishop for sure would have loved this site.

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