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

Sunday, January 26, 2020

Letters to Aunt Grace, Part 134: SS Florida and Florence

Bishop’s next letter to her aunt was dated 18 March 1963, over two months after the previous letter. She was at Samambaia for a week on her own, an increasingly rare circumstance. Bishop had also not heard from Grace in a while, so was “relieved to find your postcard here when we came up for the week-end.” Bishop was worried about the silence and “had just written you a little note to say where are you, what the hell,” but the postcard brought the reassurance she needed and the information that Grace had gone “on a trip to Nassau.” For all her time in Florida, Bishop “never got there, although I got to some of the other islands once.” Grace had gone to this Bahamian spot on a cruise with Mabel aboard the S.S. Florida, a ship Bishop had seen “many times” – presumably in Key West. She hoped her aunt “had a lovely time” and asked, “how long did you stay…?” Bishop noted that this island had “sad associations for me now, because that’s where Marjorie Stevens died.” Grace had known Marjorie and they were fond of each other. Marjorie had been on “vacation with a friend” and “died in the Nassau hospital.” 
The next paragraph was a lengthy account of “more sadness,” which was, in the end “actually of course … a ‘blessing’.” That is, she reported the death of Aunt Florence, “about March 1st, I’m not sure,” the news of which she received in “letters from all the [Bishop] cousins when I arrived” at Samambaia. Bishop enclosed something unnamed in her letter to Grace, which had come from one of her cousins – likely the obituary thatis in the Bulmer family papers at Acadia University. 
(Obituary of Florence Bishop, 1963. AUA.)
Bishop reported that Florence’s death “was very peaceful.’ This elderly, often difficult woman had “2 or 3 small heart attacks or strokes,” and at the end “was almost unconscious, in bed, a week.” Bishop’s cousin “Nancy went to see her the day before” she died, “and Aunt F was quite clear-headed, knew her, and held her hand.” Florence had been suffering not only from heart issues, but also from dementia, probably vascular dementia from the strokes. It was that night after Nancy’s visit when Florence “died in her sleep.” Bishop observed not without some irony that Florence’s “heart must really have been made of iron,” even thought “all her life poor dear,” she “insisted there was something wrong with it!” The cousins had reported “a terrible snow-storm the day of the funeral,” but that didn’t stop “all the relatives and some of her old friends” from attending. The rest were “afraid of breaking their hips, of course – all being of that age now,” so had to stay home. As per her “full instructions,” Florence “was cremated, and then just a simple memorial service.” Bishop thought this conclusion was “very modest and sensible of her.”

Then Bishop shifted gears slightly as she knew Grace would “enjoy a bit of family gossip.” Cousin Priscilla was “on bad terms with Cousin Dorothy.” Priscilla made it to the service, but Dorothy, “who must be pretty ancient now,” wasn’t able to “get to the bus because of the storm.” Bishop let that non-meeting hang in the air with a “…” pause – then reported that two other cousins (Bishop had at least a dozen paternal cousins), “Nancy & Kay,” with whom she was closest, told her that Florence’s lawyer, “one Mr de Malley [sic], so far hasn’t let them  know anything about the will.” Bishop observed that she didn’t “think she left much of anything, and maybe nothing at all.” Bishop knew that Florence was being supported in “the last years” of her life by “a fund Uncle Jack sensibly left her – very tiny – and she couldn’t touch the capital of it.” That capital “reverts to Aunt Ruby,” Jack’s wife, “wherever she is.” Bishop had lost touch with this woman, but suggested she was “on the Cape [Cape Cod?], I think.” If Florence left anything of her own, Bishop believed “the ‘nieces’ are supposed to get it – but how many of us, I don’t know.” She thought only “Kay, Nancy & I.” Bishop guessed it might be “about $200 each,” concluding, “and O’Malley will get the rest!” Being Florence’s executor, this lawyer got “a huge percentage … it seems,” in fees. In the end, it took some years for Florence’s bequests to reach their beneficiaries. Bishop received her legacy from Florence in 1966. One wonders what Mr. O’Malley was doing all that time?!

After this update and gossip, Bishop turned to other matters: her perennial frustrations with the mail and the cost of living. The next post will take up these practical matters.

Click here to see  Post 133.

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