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

Friday, August 16, 2019

Letters to Aunt Grace, Part 122: Checks and balances

Bishop’s next letter to Grace, dated “Rio, May 31st, 1962” (the proper month this time) was a brief epistle that expressed a fair degree of frustration. The principle cause was late-arriving, aborted or lost letters — and problems with a gift Bishop had sent.

Bishop was responding to a letter she had received from her aunt, but she was late getting it because it had been sent to Petrópolis and Bishop was now in Rio most weeks. She began her letter saying she still had one “I wrote you last Friday,” one she had “never got a chance to mail.” When she and Lota returned to Samambaia on the weekend, she found “yours of the 12th.” She decided to forget “my old one” and “just write you another note.”

It was clear to Bishop that letters were getting lost, “oh dear!” Most importantly, Bishop reported that she “never got yours with the returned check in it.” This item was the cost of living bonus she had received from The New Yorker, which she had just signed over to Grace to help with her Florida visit. Grace’s letter from 12 May did not mention Bishop’s previous letter, so she assumed “apparently you never got mine with the page from TIME in it.” Grace did eventually get that letter, but space-time, Grace’s travels, and Bishop’s back and forth between homes were wreaking havoc with the ebb and flow of correspondence.
(After reading the last post, a friend found an actual copy
of the March 1962 TIME online, bought it and
sent it to me. This is the page with EB's photograh
and part of the review of her work.)
Bishop also assumed Grace had not received the letter “in which I tried to clear up what I’d meant about the child-psychologist here.” So important was this matter to Bishop that she wanted to “say it again: I’m sure you know I wouldn’t ‘interfere’ for the world.” She declared once again that “everything you’ve said about Miriam’s treatment since birth sounds absolutely up-to-date and right.” Still, in her defense, Bishop couldn’t help but add again, “it isn’t every day one gets a chance to talk to one of Melanie Klein’s few students.” She was quite sure Miriam’s doctor would “know who she was, too,” Bishop reiterating that Klein, “[who]died a few years ago; worked for years and years in England … and for nothing.” 
(This is a print of the original photo Bishop provided TIME
for this piece. This print was sent to Grace and is signed on the
lower left corner. Grace framed it. It was passed on to Phylli
 and now is part of the Bulmer family material at Acadia
University. This image was taken at Samambaia.
When I visited that amazing place in 1999, I and others went
looking for this spot and found it, near her studio.)
Bishop’s child-psychologist friend “gets about $50. an hour, even here.” All she thought was that “he might have some bright ideas about later education, possibilities, ways of helping her to keep up with the rest, etc.” Bishop had told Grace that this person was their neighbor in the country, but she noted this time that she hadn’t “run into him lately,” so a consultation was, in the end, “beside the point.” She asked Grace again to “tell P[hyllis] I’m sure she’s doing a fine job.” Bishop just felt that it couldn’t “do any harm, can it, to talk to someone whose speciality [sic] is such things?” She reported once again that this doctor had “just got back from lecturing in Europe on things just like Miriam’s case.”

In the end Grace received both the previous letter, with Bishop’s lengthy explanation and clarification, and this addendum. So, in the end, Phyllis would have heard emphatically about her cousin’s good intentions.

The other matter Bishop wanted to address, which upset her considerably, was the “returned check.” She noted again that “letters and checks take so long,” and clearly were prone to “getting lost.” Grace had received that monetary gift from her niece but when she went to cash it, it bounced! Bishop’s explanation was as follows: the account on which the check had been drawn was one she set up “just for convenience while we were in N Y and for a month or so afterwards.” Because the check was likely delayed in getting to Grace (travelling around as she was), by the time it reached her, Bishop had closed the account without realizing there were still “two checks … outstanding — yours, and my telephone bill!” She had “straightened out the phone bill — but what to do about my ‘present’.” “Some present!” she said in exasperation. Her solution was to send “another check, un-bouncable [sic] this time — for the same amount.” Grace must have mentioned that the penalty for an NSF check was “%10,” as Bishop wrote it. Bishop hoped “surely you didn’t pay the percentage ahead of time?” She asked Grace to “let me know,” and she would “see what I can do.” The remaining money in the New York account had been “all transferred to Pittsfield, my regular account.”

Typed across the top of the page, like a masthead, was Bishop’s original intention that this “present” was “to help out in Florida,” but her aunt could just “use it on yourself, now!”

This brief letter wound down with one large paragraph containing a few updates and one interesting bit of news. The next blog will deal with this conclusion.

Click here to see Post 121.

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