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

Saturday, August 10, 2019

Letters to Aunt Grace, Part 121: Health and well being

The next item Bishop mentions in her “April [sic: May] 3rd — 1962” letter was the old Time-Life-Brazil-book hobbyhorse. Grace’s letter conveying Phyllis’s upset around Bishop’s suggestions for Miriam did not contain any confirmation about this gift, prompting Bishop to write: “Have you got your Brazil book yet?” She had received word that “all the other U S copies seem to have arrived,” and even “[Aunt] Mary got hers 1st because they sent out ‘foreign’ copies earlier.” But Grace had been travelling, which likely explains the delay. Grace most definitely got a copy. It is now at the Acadia University Archives.

Once again, Bishop urged her aunt to “Please remember — the pictures weren’t my doing, nor the captions under them, nor the chapter-titles!” This book continued to plague and frustrate Bishop. Explaining it had become an obsession.

Then came an update about Aunt Florence, who Bishop had heard “was very far gone.” Her cousin Nancy “was even sent by Aunt F’s own doctor to make funeral arrangements” because he had been unable to “find her pulse and said she couldn’t possibly live through the afternoon.” Cranky old Florence had other ideas. Nancy reported that upon returning that evening “Aunt F opened her eyes and said ‘Where have you been? They forgot to give me my breakfast and I’m starving’.” Though amazed by “that vitality,” Bishop still “wish[ed] the poor thing would quietly die in her sleep now — she is too miserable.”

The next update was about their recent Easter holiday, which was “very quiet … or not so quiet, I guess — people arrived unexpectedly one day and we had eight for dinner and I had to cook it all.” Surprisingly, Bishop didn’t go on about their poor cook Maria — another obsession. Instead, she reported that “Lota was in bed with flu, and still had a bad cough.” Not only had Bishop done the cooking but she had done the shopping, a special trip which she recounted for her aunt. One of their “American acquaintance[s] … whose husband works for the U S government here, took me to the Post Exchange,” this oddly named place was “the big store where government employees can buy things, cheap — U S goods.” Even though Bishop had “no right to go there, being a private citizen,” she relished the opportunity and had “fun for once and I laid in a supply of good flour and a lot of odds & ends.” One of the treats, “just for sentiment’s sake,” was “two boxes of frozen blueberries,” which meant “blueberry pancakes — with maple syrup.” Yes, the syrup Grace had sent them a while back. Bishop reported that she still had “almost a quart left,” which she was “hoarding like a miser.” The real treat was “a huge T-bone steak,” not available in Brazil because “they cut meat completely differently here.” This delicacy cost only “$1.60,” which Bishop observed was “cheap in either country!” She also bought “little pork sausages — they don’t make them here.”

Perhaps because Lota was sick and finding herself getting seriously embroiled in the politics of the big park project, Bishop told her aunt that they had “about decided when Lota gets fed up with this job — or gets kicked out,” they would “retire to Petropolis and start farming.” Bishop’s plan was to “raise pigs. I adore pigs — too much to have them killed, I’m afraid, but maybe I could toughen up.” Grace’s husband William Bowers had been a pig farmer and Bishop’s visit to Elmcroft in 1946 had triggered her poem “The Prodigal,” in which pigs figure prominently.

Bishop then informed Grace that she “must go to the dentist.” Bishop had ongoing issues with her teeth. She had “had a tooth out last week,” which resulted, “oh dear,” in “another awful gap,”

The final paragraph of this letter shifted focus to Grace. Bishop wondered again if her aunt had “got all my letters — silly question!” She knew that Grace was still in Florida so added, “Give my love to Aunt Mabel and Hazel.” This letter was the first of 1962 to be addressed directly to Hollywood, Florida. Bishop had finally caught up with Grace, who must have spent some time in “The state with the prettiest name.”

She urged her aunt again “please write me.” Then realized that “you probably have and I just haven’t got it yet.” She hoped that her beloved aunt was “well — how’s the leg? The heart? — All the organs?” Then she asked if Grace had “tried Metracal [sic: Metrecal] for keeping the weight down?” Bishop noted that she and Lota “use it for lunch here in Rio — to save time and cooking, and also to keep thin.” Her recommendation was lukewarm: “it isn’t bad, particularly flavored with coffee, I think.”

She concluded her letter with another “Please write soon,” and also a plea to “explain to Phyllis, won’t you?” She trailed off, reiterating, “I had no idea of being bossy or anything —” and her usual “Much love.”

The next letter from Bishop is also dated from Rio, 31 May 1962, probably the correct month this time, and will be the subject of the next post.

Click here to see Post 120.

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