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

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Letters to Aunt Grace, Part 113: Gatherings

The next paragraph of Bishop’s 18 January 1962 letter settled into their recent domestic activities. Before this update, however, Bishop hoped Grace would “get away to Florida, too, if you really want to go.” Grace occasionally spent time with her sister-in-law Mabel, who often spent time with her daughter Hazel, who lived in Hollywood, FL. Bishop assumed that was where her aunt would stay, though she couldn’t help but add, “I think you need to get somewhere restful, too,” knowing well that time with Mabel was not likely to be restful. 
(Grace and Mabel in Florida, 1960s. AUA.)
She wished “to goodness this [place] weren’t so far away – or that I was living in the country all the time and not all this going back & forth.” Yet having said that, Bishop suspected that Grace would likely be “bored there” (in the country) because “there is so little to do and it is SO quiet.” If a visit was not possible, Bishop was also at a loss how to “help with this trip” financially, because she was “still waiting to get paid finally for my job.” She suggested that perhaps when Grace was done with her visiting, and if she got “stuck or anything,” to “let me know.” She felt that she “could certainly help” Grace, at the very least “get back home again!” Grace had been visiting Mary in Montreal and was next off to visit with her son Rod, all before going to Florida. Bishop wondered: “How do you get from Montreal to Brantford, and where is it.” She wished she “had an atlas handy.” Bishop hadn’t seen Rod for years and wondered how many children he had, “two, hasn’t he – or just one?” This subject brought up Miriam again, Phyllis’s daughter. Grace had clearly been giving Bishop updates about the child’s progress and Bishop declared herself “feeling hopeful” about “little Miriam,” saying that “maybe all will go well” in any case. Echoing something the always-loving Grace said, Bishop wrote, “And as you say – loving care makes an awful lot of difference.” She also noted the benefit of the “attention of other children,” meaning Miriam’s older brothers, noting “they do develop faster when there are older children around.”

Bishop’s characteristic “//” signaled her shift, finally, to “Monica,” who Bishop declared “is a darling.” She was already starting to talk: “she says ‘Mama’ at last.” And Bishop noted that this doted on child “loves to give kisses,” particularly when they were all driving together: “she will suddenly lean forward to Mary,” and say, “ʻMama, Mama.’ and give her lots of smacks – mostly in the air.” Bishop echoed a word she’d used previously to describe this child: “cunning” – quite an adjective for a person who was “about 15 months” old.

Another “//” shifted things to Elizabeth Naudin, who “is spending six weeks up in Teresopolis.” This proximity meant that “they are all coming to lunch with us in Petropolis this Saturday – if it doesn’t storm again.” Bishop had visited her cousin “before she left.” Elizabeth Naudin was pregnant with her third child and Bishop, “thinking she was lying down, housebound, etc.” was surprised when she “walked in on a bit feijoada – a black-beans-and-rice-party – for three or four couples, children, etc.!” This signaled to Bishop that her cousin was “feeling a lot better.” Clearly, Elizabeth Naudin had settled into her life in Brazil.

Yet another “//” signaled an account of a gathering of their own: “We gave a luncheon last Saturday for Lota’s co-workers on the park.” Bishop observed that this gathering was “about time.” She also reported that she had done “all the cooking,” moaning the fact that “our Maria can’t cook and never will learn anything.” As an aside, she noted that they were “finally giving up and looking for another couple” to help at the Samambaia house. Even though they liked “them pretty well still in other ways … they spoil so darned easy!” By which she meant that with Lota and her away so much all they had “to do is air the house and feed the cats and water the garden most of the time.” When Lota and Elizabeth returned, she noted, “they think we’re expecting too much” when they “want[ed] a little cooking and washing done.” Bishop reminded Grace about Maria’s miscarriage and observed that “although we … did everything we possibly could about that poor little baby – (and if we hadn’t been there what would she have done? – died, probably,” Bishop reported that “they are so ignorant that now they are sort of blaming us because it died.” Bishop’s response to all of this was “Oh dear.” Bishop not only described them as “ignorant,” but also as “babes in the woods,” which, she noted “they don’t even see … of course.”

After that digression she returned to the gathering of Lota’s colleagues, with Bishop cooking “all Saturday” for “18 people … and it was hot as hell.” The menu included “iced cucumber and mint soup.” Main course was “Beouf Bourguignon – a sort of de-luxe stew of steak, mushrooms, all kinds of things – cooked for two days, almost.” 
(Beef Bourguignon)
In addition, there were “little carrots and onions fresh from the garden.” To top it all off, “Brazilian style – two desserts – or three,” including “a huge chestnut pudding, all decorated with nuts and cream.” As well as “sliced pineapple with liqueur.” And, finally, “a large chocolate cake.” In Bishop’s view it was “much too much, I thought, but it vanished like snow.” To accommodate all these people, they “set up four card-tables.” And as if Mother Nature was collaborating (during a time of stormy weather), “the rain held off until they had left.” The gathering dispersed “about 6 o’clock.” And Bishop concluded this account with, “we were all naturally exhausted by then.”

No more “//s” but Bishop shifted gears again. The next post will conclude this newsy letter.

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