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

Saturday, August 24, 2019

Letters to Aunt Grace, Part 123: Foreshadow

Bishop concluded her 31 May 1962 letter with a paragraph filled with updates and news. First, she noted that she had “been to see Elizabeth [Naudin] twice since she got home with Partricia.” This new member of the Naudin family “was 18 days old the last time” Bishop saw her. Bishop described her as “a lovely pink baby, trying to raise her head and eating like a little pig.” Patricia’s sisters, Suzanne and Diane, “naturally have rather mixed feelings — love and hate her at the same time!” How sibling-less Bishop comprehended the response of these two “little girls” is a question, but she was an active observer of children and Lota’s adopted son had a brood, so she had had a chance to watch sibling interaction up close.

In her previous letter to Grace, early in May, she had noted that Lota was sick with a cold. Now she reported that she had “a horrid cold this week.” Grace must have reported the same condition because Bishop quickly wrote, “I hope yours is better!” Bishop noted that she “rarely gets colds,” so she was “furious” because “they immediately turn to asthma.” In this instance. Bishop reported that she was “wheezing like a grampus.”

In response to something Grace, a career nurse, wrote, Bishop observed, “Yes, I don’t believe much in all those medicines, either.” She noted that she was “allergic to penicillin so that’s no help to me!”

With her characteristic “//” Bishop shifted gears to some interesting news, reporting that “my friend Robert Lowell, his wife [Elizabeth Hardwick], daughter [Harriet] — age 6 — and a Radcliffe girl to take care of the daughter, all are arriving the end of June.” She noted that this group would be staying “for a month,” though not with her and Lota. Lowell and Hardwick would be “lecturing” and “will be entertained.” Even so, Bishop anticipated that they would be “pretty busy too, having them up to the house, etc.”

She told her aunt that Lowell was “my best friend — he and Lota are.” Yet she stated with some force that she was “dreading … all the COOKING — since our cook can’t boil an egg.” (Maria had been spared comment for some time but couldn’t escape criticism in this state of anticipation.)

Bishop reminded Grace that she had “sent you the page from TIME with him, another poet friend, and me, on it — some time in March.” But since Grace had not responded, Bishop “guess[ed] you never got it.”

Then another “//” shift and a more positive observation: “I am loving the G V book [History of Great Village] and am working on a long story using a lot of information from it.” Bishop is undoubtedly talking about her memoir about Arthur Bulmer, “Memories of Uncle Neddy.” Though not published until 1977, this piece came together when she had received the portraits of her mother and Arthur as children. The Great Village history was an excellent source of the kinds of details for which she was looking.

Yet another “//” and a return to her cousin and her new baby, confirming to Grace that she had written to “you the day after E’s baby was born here — you asked about that — so do you suppose that’s still another one missing?” One solution to the poor mail service was to “mail everything from Petropolis from now on.”

She concluded her short letter by saying she hoped “you are better,” and that she didn’t “know where to send this — G V or N[ew] G[lasgow].” Grace was clearly back from Florida because Bishop commiserated with her: “your trip does sound uncomfortable,” and “I loathe flying, too,” noting, “I always take lots of sedatives!” This latter declaration was typed vertically on the left side of the page. She crammed in one more question: “Did Hazel forward my B[razil] book from Florida or did it come direct?” That wayward volume was a long time getting to her aunt. She signed off with a scribbled “much love, Elizabeth,” because there was no more room on the page to type it.

Bishop’s next letter was not written until the end of July, a two-month break, because that fateful visit by Lowell and Hardwick came off with a rather troubling conclusion. The next post will begin that story.

Click here to see Post 122.

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