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

Saturday, February 29, 2020

Letters to Aunt Grace, Part 139: More Miriam

The next subject of Bishop’s 19/21 April 1963 letter shifted back to the family; a subject Bishop still felt was sensitive. She knew Grace would receive her epistle “away from N.S.,” so her aunt could “destroy it,” as she didn’t want her to “have to say anything to Phyllis.” Fortunately, Grace did not comply with Bishop’s suggestion, perhaps because she knew Phyllis didn’t mind Bishop’s concerns over Miriam, who was not almost a year old, who had Down Syndrome.

Bishop broached this subject with a question she had “been meaning to ask you for some time,” which was if Grace had “ever read Pearl Buck’s book about her little girl who was like Miriam? (only worse, I think).” Bishop was recalling the title from memory: “‘THE CHILD that Didn’t Grow Up’ [sic] – something like that.” Bishop declared rather categorically, “I don’t like Pearl Buck, but this is a very moving book.” She felt Grace “might like to read it – although you’ll cry your eyes out.” Bishop was close with her title, the actual one being The Child Who Never Grew.
(Pearl S. Buck. Wikipedia)
Bishop had heard from her cousin at Christmas, and Phyllis had sent her “a snapshot of all three children,” that is, Miriam with her older brothers, Wallace and David. Bishop thought the boys were “nice looking … aren’t they,” and with perhaps a tone of slight surprise, observe that Miriam looked “pretty alert and normal.” Phyllis  must have told Bishop that Miriam was “very slow about walking … oh dear.” (Well, Miriam learned to walk just fine.) Back to the Buck book, Bishop noted Grace could get it “in paperback,” but cautioned her aunt not to “show it to Phyllis.” Why such a concern, I don’t know. Phyllis never hid Miriam, and she and Ernest Sutherland did all they could to ensure Miriam was fully part of the family, even as they recognized her issues and limitations. Finally, Bishop thought the book “might give you some ideas how to help her.”

Bishop then reported that “there is also a new Dr. Spock book I have ordered.”  She was a keen reader of this child psychologist – clearly more interested in his work than that of experts such as Melanie Klein, whom she also read, but one might argue not with the regularity of Benjamin Spock, as least if her letters to Grace indicate anything! She noted that this new book “discusses the same subject” as the Buck book. Bishop promised that “if it is as good as he usually is on everything to do with children I’ll get a copy for you, too.” I am not sure just which book she refers to, but in 1961, Dr. Spock published Dr. Spock Talks with Mothers. In 1962, he published Problems of Parents.
Reassuringly, she observed, “So much can be done to help such children even if they are slow.” She was quite sure “there’s no reason why Miriam can’t turn out healthy & happy and just about as bright as any of us!” Quickly, she added that she was also sure that Phyllis “is a good mama – lots of love and encouragement – hugs & kisses – etc.”

Not quite done with the subject of children and challenges, she recommended her aunt “go to see the movie about Helen Keller – I think it’s called ‘The Story of Anne Sullivan’ (her famous teacher).” But she warned again that Grace “will cry your eyes out! – I certainly did.” All this crying echoes something Bishop wrote to Phyllis in a letter send just after learning that Grace had died in 1977, in which she remembered she and her Aunt reading Pollyanna together and weeping. Clearly, Bishop had acquired the tender Bulmer heart. After all, Gammie laughed as quickly as she cried.

In spite of that inevitable response, Bishop declared that the film “is really awfully good, and as exciting and full of suspense as any murder-story.” The film was based on a book of the same title, which Bishop also thought was “marvelous.” She regarded Anne Sullivan as “a wonderful woman.”

I could find no film or book with the title Bishop gives. The film she must mean is “The Miracle Worker,” which was done in 1962, starring Patty Duke and Anne Bancroft. I remember watching this film on tv in the early 70s. The film was based on a play of the same name.
(Helen Keller and Anne Sullivan. Wikipedia.)
This long letter was now about mid-stride. The next subject was a turn, towards an object that triggered childhood memories. The next post will pick up that object.

Click here to see Post 138.

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