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

Monday, March 23, 2020

Letters to Aunt Grace, Part 141: Doughnuts and Roosters

Bishop’s letter of 19/21 April 1963 finally wound down with two long paragraphs containing miscellaneous chat. Her first point was to report that on a “cold & foggy” Saturday “in the country” (that is, at Samambaia), she “made doughnuts.”  She told Grace that she had “never made them before coming to Brazil.” But now, “about once a year,” she got “the urge to.” She “gave Monica one of the holes – not very good for babies, but of course she adored it.” The clever toddler “kept coming back and saying – ‘Nina wants more’.” Nina, if you remember, was “the 12-yr old who takes care of her.” It was Nina “or ‘Grandma (Lota!)’,” who wanted “more.” You can see the smile on Bishop’s face when she observed, “lying like a trooper!”
This precocious child also had “a sense of humor,” according to Bishop: “when we arrived she looked at Lota very mischievously and said ‘You aren’t grandma! No!’ – a joke she’d thought up all by herself.” Bishop thought such funny stories were “promising” for a child of “2 yrs.” Monica was “so tiny – about as big as Patricia [Elizabeth Ross Naudin’s youngest child] at 11 months!” Monica’s mother, Mary Morse, was “a tall, rangy American,” so the pair looked “funny together,” in Bishop’s view. And now there was another baby due to arrive – Martha. Bishop wondered what she “will be like – maybe I’ll go look her over today.”

This domestic paragraph shifted to another about more social subjects, though still in the family. Bishop expressed her admiration for Grace’s bravery in taking “all your bus trips,” and quickly added that she was “glad you had such a nice time in Alabama,” a place she reiterated she had “never been.”

Grace’s peregrinations brought up the wedding of her young cousin Joanne Ross: “I must find a present,” a task she had been pondering for a while. She had just received “the invitation – very classy.” Frustratingly, Bishop couldn’t “think of a thing” to get the couple. She also wanted “to send you something, too.” Once again she moaned, “It is so hard here.” She did note that “E[lizabeth Naudin] is going by boat,” so that made it easier as “a plane is harder.” Apropos of this kind of search, she then reported that “an American I know just took me out to see an old Brazilian couple she’s discovered.” These elders made “their living, apparently, by making hensand roosters, rabbits, chickens, guinea hens, out of paper,” meticulously it seems, “each feather separate – and exactly like life.” Bishop’s assessment that it was “Not ART,” seems a slight, but she quickly added, “but amazing.” This couple, “aged 81 and 82” were, in Bishop’s view, “cunning.” They lived in “a little house neat as a pin, with huge holy pictures and statues (one Christ is as big as the old lady, I swear).” Besides the creatures, there were “artificial flowers all over the place.”
Bishop told her aunt that she “bought a rooster for Monica – for 50₡.” She told the old woman that she “liked the ‘animals’ better than the flowers.” To which the elder said, “I agree with you – they are more interesting.” The lady continued, clearly buttering up Bishop, “All Americans are intelligent.” Bishop supposed this woman “meant because we come & buy her roosters!”

The final few sentences of this letter were typed vertically in the left margin and across the top of the page. She reported “a big storm at sea a few days ago,” which had caused waves to come “right up around our [apartment] building” in Rio. So powerful was this water that workmen were “still steam-shovelling away the sand, just like snow in N.Y.”

This long, discursive letter ended with a couple quick addenda: “Love to one & all – I am sending [Aunt] Mary a note too. Don’t get too tiddly at the wedding!”

Bishop’s next letter was written about a month later. The next post will pick up at 16 May 1963.

Click here to see Post 140.

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