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

Monday, March 30, 2020

Letters to Aunt Grace, Part 142: A leaving and a returning

Bishop’s next 1963 letter to her aunt is dated 16 May. By this time, Joanne Ross Eartly’s wedding had happened and Bishop began with the hope that Grace “had a gay time” and “that you’ll write me all about it.” It appears that Elizabeth Ross Naudin and her family did not actually make it back in time for the ceremony, which led Bishop to wonder if Grace would “still be there” when her niece arrived. Bishop was still not sure how Grace got to Montreal from Florida: “Fly? Not more bus trips?” Grace’s toing and froing was so regular it caused Bishop to ask: “How are you? Where are you –and are you going to stay put for a while now, I wonder?” Her title for Grace: “The Flying Grandma.”

Bishop reported that “E sailed on the 11th.” She had seen her cousin “about a week before they left but not again because I had that horrid ‘flu’ or whatever it is that everyone has here.” Whatever it was, “a bad cold – I’m not sure” (not covid-19!!), she stayed away, of course, so as not “to give it to the babies.” After weeks, if not months, of agonizing over a wedding present, Bishop finally settled on “a luncheon set … mats & napkins,” which would have been light and easy to pack. As promised, too, she also sent small gifts for Grace and Mary, “two boxes of soap,” which she left “at the hotel” before the Naudins departed. She admitted that they were “not a very thrilling present,” and moaned once again that it was “so hard to find things here.” For Bishop, the best part of the gift was not the “nice soap,” a kind “I like myself”; but rather the “wooden box, old-fashioned, with hinges,” in which she place the “three cakes each.” Bishop loved these little boxes, useful “for odds & ends, sewing things etc.”

Then Bishop reported that she had spoken “to E on the telephone to day goodbye” and was told by her cousin that “she’d unwrapped everything and mixed them up with her clothes, because of customs.” Bishop was flabbergasted, concluding “the poor girl is absolutely nuts.” She explained to Grace that one was “allowed to bring in $100 worth of shopping, each, to begin with.” She noted she had “never had a bit of trouble with customs coming from here – taken all kinds of groceries, antiques, jewelry.” I was puzzled by these observations, and perhaps Grace was, too, because one of Bishop’s complaints about Brazil was its slow customs process. In any case, she averred, “Lota even took all her own flatware – silver – once!” To where, she does not say. Bishop wondered if “E thinks Canadian customs are tougher, I don’t know.”

The end result of this dismantling was, Bishop assumed, that Grace and Mary “won’t get the little boxes … the only nice thing about my gift,” a feature for which she “even paid extra.” Bishop was exasperated, declaring to Grace that she was “somewhat fed up with my cousin, as you can see,” a feeling she quickly added was “no doubt mutual.” Bishop felt that Elizabeth Naudin “is just too aggressive, really.” One can hear the sigh as Bishop typed: “Well – I certainly tried – all along, I mean since she came to Brazil.” These last few words were scribbled in the right-hand margin in her tight, indecipherable scrawl.

She was not entirely without sympathy and compassion, though. She reported to Grace that “they had had a bad night before they left because Patricia had another attack of asthma.” Bishop understood al about this condition and one can hear the empathy in her “poor baby,” who she described, curiously, as “like a little mountain.” Bishop hoped that once they got back to Montreal that “maybe Mary will be able to do something about her [Patricia],” and if nurse Grace was still there, she would undoubtedly be a help, too.

As if to shake off this generally frustrating, unsatisfying family subject and experience, Bishop suddenly declared: “Well – Cooper made it – I just heard on the radio – hurray.” Bishop was talking about Gordon Cooper. As Wikipedia reports: “In 1963 Cooper piloted the longest and last Mercury spaceflight, Mercury-Atlas 9. During that 34-hour mission he became the first American to spend an entire day in space, the first to sleep in space, and the last American launched on an entirely solo orbital mission. Despite a series of severe equipment failures, he managed to successfully complete the mission under manual control, guiding his spacecraft, which he named Faith 7, to a splashdown just 4 miles (6.4 km) ahead of the recovery ship.”
The rest of this rather short letter, which will comprise the next post, addresses a number of family matters and a couple more news-worthy subjects.

Click here to see Post 141.

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