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

Saturday, October 31, 2020

Letters to Aunt Grace, Part 145: A Canadian visitor

The next section of Bishop’s 10 June 1963 letter to her aunt is a long, dense single paragraph, the letter really getting underway with subjects. Before launching on a story, Bishop began with two questions: “How are you and where are you?” She had once again lost track of the elderly traveller, so opted to “send this [letter] to G V – or C/O Phyllis might be better.” Invoking her cousin was on purpose, it seems, because it prompted a third question: “How is Miriam?” (who would have turned two on 4 June). Miriam was clearly on her mind because she then told Grace about a recent encounter, “last week,” with someone who offered some unexpected information that made Bishop think of Miriam. This person was “a visiting Canadian girl who is a great [horse] rider.” Sadly, she does not provide a name for this interesting person who lived “near Paris!” and was “raising horses and teaching riding.” During their “conversations” this young woman “just happened to tell me a long story about how she taught a little girl – 8 yrs old – just like Miriam, apparently – to ride.” She explained that this activity did “wonders” for the child. Lest Grace think she was offering unsolicited advice, she quickly added, “…I’m not suggesting you put the baby on horseback!” Bishop had just found it “interesting to learn that apparently any kind of physical training, sports, etc – helps a lot.” She added that the child’s doctor “had congratulated” the young woman on “the little girl’s vast improvement in coordination, etc.” Bishop assured Grace that the young woman’s story was spontaneous, that she had not mentioned Miriam at all. 

Bishop further explained that this young woman “has been living in Europe a long time.” She was “visiting friends here who brought her to dinner.” The visit of  this Canadian coincided with a culinary treat Bishop had regularly made thanks to “an American friend … who can use the U S Post Exchange (where government, U.S., people buy everything.” This friend had gifted Bishop with “a large hunk of corned beef and some frozen blueberries.” So, the meal Bishop made for their guess was “corned beef and cabbage, and then blueberry fungy (however you spell it).” [Ed. Note: Bishop had spelled it correctly. This traditional N.S. dessert is also called blueberry grunt.] 

She elaborated on the dessert, noting she made “it in the oven with sour cream biscuits.” She noted that she made this treat whenever “this American happens to give me blueberries – which she does once a month or so.” Well, “the Canadian girl couldn’t tell what the dessert was until she took a bite.” Her response: “My God – its’ been twelve years since I tasted a blueberry!” Even though frozen blueberries couldn’t “compare with the good old wild ones, naturally,” the dessert was “not bad” and the “dinner was a great success.” 

Perhaps the visitor and the blueberries were the cause of what Bishop then observed: “I am going through another wave of nostalgia for the NORTH.” Even Lota was in on the pining, asking Bishop “to write about the price of a little old houses we know of in Connecticut.” Bishop knew such thoughts were “just the wildest day-dreaming – but I’d STILL like to own something in or around G V, I think.” Getting there was the question, of course, “but one never knows, these days.” 

Lota was deep in her job creating the park in Rio, but that would end one day and Bishop speculated that they “might leave Brasil for a good long stretch – I don’t know.” Just in case, Bishop asked her aunt to “keep your eyes opened.” She even pondered her grandparents’ house: “Are Norman (is it Norman?) & Hazel [Bowers] still living in the old house? I mean our – your – old house?” She wondered if they might “ever want to sell it?” Quickly, Bishop asked Grace not to “mention me, for heaven’s sake – both sides of my family seem to think I’m a millionaire, I suspect!” Part of the reason for that suspicion was because she lived in “a big house – but it’s somebody else’s!” She was sure her relatives were “all richer than I am.” 

Typed vertically in the left margin of the letter, Bishop asked if there were “oil furnaces in N.S. now?” She assumed there must be and added, “I don’t think I could cope with an old-fashioned furnace.” 

The letter was now winding down. She had tucked in some money apologizing for its belatedness, “I had the idea of sending you this to get a new hat for the wedding – and then I just lost track of the time.” The newspaper clipping that Mary had enclosed in her letter to Bishop, a description of the wedding, noted “that Mary had a hat of blue tulle.” This prompted Bishop to say that “maybe you’d still like a hat – if this [amount] will buy a hat any more! Half a hat, perhaps.” With a final request: “Please write soon,” Bishop closed with her usual “much love.” 

About a month and a half passed before Bishop wrote again to Grace, on 3 August 1963. The next post will take up its epistle. 

Click here to see Post 144.

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