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

Friday, September 6, 2019

Letters to Aunt Grace, Part 125: More about babies

After the account of their recent company, Bishop turned to her cousin in the 31 July 1962 letter. And after having just praised Elizabeth Naudin’s daughters for being better behaved than Harriet Lowell, Bishop embarked on a rather critical account of her cousin’s parenting.

She began this critique with a positive, reiterating again that the “new baby is adorable,” describing her like “a pink doll, really.” But then she reported something alarming, “she had pneumonia, at 3 weeks.” She wondered if Grace had heard. “E spent several days in the hospital with her” because “she was in an oxygen tent.” Bishop suspected she had “caught a cold from one of the others, poor infant.” Bishop had seen Patricia last on 4 July “I think!” and “she looked fine.” Catching something from her sisters seemed inevitable to Bishop, “(grandma E know all!),” because they “have too damned many colds — one right after the other.” “Grandma E” believed it was so because their mother “never opens her window!” She also kept her daughters “indoors much too much of the time,” as least in Bishop’s opinion.

Having blurted all this out, she added a caution, “Of course I never breathe a word of this — so don’t you ..!” Bishop knew she shouldn’t “criticize … but when I go there I nearly stifle.” Frustratingly, for Bishop, her cousin’s home “has one of the most magnificent views in the world, honestly.” But rather than basking in it, “she stays indoors with all the venetian blinds drawn tight.” Bishop couldn’t understand this modus vivendi, wondering, “do you suppose it’s to spare the carpet?” Or, perhaps, it came “from having lived in a cold northern city all her life.” For Bishop, “one of the advantages of living here — where there are so many disadvantages — is that you can really live out-doors all year round.” To prove her point, she noted that it was “why I think L & I almost never have colds, grippe, etc.” Even though two previous letters had reported bad colds, first for Lota and then her.

After all this venting, Bishop concluded, rightly, “But it’s none of my damned business I know very well.”

She then shifted to a child much farther away: Miriam. She reported to her aunt that she had not “had a chance to see Decio (that doctor),”* who had caused Phyllis some offence. She was hoping that when she got “back to Samambaia,” where she hadn’t been “for 3 weeks now,” she would see him because he was “up there for a vacation,” so he would have “more time” to talk.

Bishop clearly thought a great deal about Phyllis’s daughter and observed, “I suffer whenever I think of poor little Miriam.” She felt her situation was “a cruel thing” and declared in characteristic parlance that “life can certainly be awful.”
(Grace and Miriam, 1961. Source: Acadia University Archives.) 
Another “//” signaled a shift to more baby news, this time for Grace: “I think you must have still another grandchild now, and hope all went well.” This baby was the first child of Bud and Lois Bowers. I never met Bud and Lois’s children, who all lived in Ontario. Bishop quickly noted that they were going to have “some mail sent down [from Samambaia] today,” so she was hoping “to hear from you.” Perhaps with news about theses new additions. Grace’s family was expanding quickly.

As her hurried letter began to wind down, she noted that she had “so much work to do I don’t know where to begin.” The apartment in Rio was too chaotic a place for her to work (undoubtedly, she missed her estudio): “the phone rings too much … too many interruptions … Lota is too busy.” She had decided to rent ‘a room from a friend,” a place to work. She would “go out every A M from 8 to 1.” They had decided that it was “the only solution.”

Another “//” began the final wind-down with a plea for her aunt to “forgive this confused and gossipy note.” She promised to “write more lucidly in August!” Their friends would “be off to Argentina & Peru by the 10th, I think.” She was sort of wrong about this prediction. The fact that “there are revolutions in ALL the countries here,” something of a “speciality [sic]” the continent provided “for distinguished guests,” perhaps spoke to the disaster that was about to unfold for Robert Lowell.

She signed off with “much love to you as always,” and turned back to the chaotic life she was leading at that moment.

The next post will take up Bishop’s final extant letter to Grace for 1962, accounting for the happenings with the Lowells and other news.

*Note: I have since discovered who the doctor Decio is: Decio Soares de Sousa.

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