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

Monday, August 2, 2021

Letters to Aunt Grace, Part 152: Life in the Village, 1947, Grace to Elizabeth 3

Grace continued her letter to her niece with a plea for her to visit: “I hope you like your new Maine Village better than the last. I wish you had come to N.S. first, but do try to come yet & bring Marjorie [Stevens], if she would like to come.” 

In fact, Bishop and Marjorie Stevens spent most of the summer in Nova Scotia, going first to Cape Breton, Breton Cove to be exact, for six weeks, according to Brett Millier (191), and then to Great Village for a month, until “the third week in September.” (Millier 194) 

To reinforce her desire to see her niece, Grace also noted: “Will [Bowers, Grace’s husband] says he will be looking for you both & will be very disappointed if you don’t come.” 

Phyllis Sutherland, who was married and away by this time, showed me the little house, a short distance from the busy Bowers’ farm, where Bishop and Stevens stayed. 

As further inducement, Grace boasted about a pride and joy: “We have a grand garden lots of peas, beans, carrots, beets, greens, lettuce, etc.” All this produce and more meant that Grace had “canned a lot & still am at it. I will soon have my 3rd box of cans used 50 to a box.” A special treat was “a few raspberries today to make a little jam & I’ve put down quite a lot of blueberries.” 

As with many letters, Grace’s now began to wander over various subjects. She noted that “Phyllis & Ern [Sutherland] are still on the Island (P.E.I.).” Ernest Sutherland was a contractor who built houses. She continued, “They want Will & I to stay in New Glasgow with them, next winter, but we haven’t decided what to do yet.” Will Bowers died in 1948, so it is unlikely that they followed through on this offer. 

(The main house at Elmcroft, the Bowers Farm, AUA)

The Bowers’s farm was a major operation and one of its biggest crops was hay, for all the cattle and horses: “We have a very heavy crop of hay this year, the barns are nearly full now & it is about half in I guess.” 

Another turn brought in a friend of Bishop’s whom she had met in New York City: “Dorothy Johnson Linkletter called me up the other day & wanted to know when you were coming home. She has invited your friend Zilpha [Linkletter] to visit her here at her home, but she wants to have her when you are here.” 

I had the great privilege of knowing Zilpha Linkletter, who lived in Halifax. Zilpha was a provincial civil servant for decades. I met her long after she had retired and had a number of very pleasant conversations with her about her memories of Bishop. She was in possession of Bishop memorabilia, including letters, which she highly prized. She had a strong connection to Dalhousie University and was one of the people responsible for helping to get the honorary degree for Bishop that Dalhousie conferred in 1979.

Grace knew that Bishop might need more context for the Great Village link: “Dorothy’s sister Elizabeth [Johnson] is being married in the big church [St. James Presbyterian] next Wed[nesday] (25th). Dorothy came home for it. Toronto I think she lives.” Weddings tend to happen in spring or summer, though middle of the week is a bit odd. This event makes me suppose that Grace’s letter was written sometime in May or June. Bishop was in Cape Breton by July, so this timing seems reasonable. 

This was the other reason Grace was writing to plead a visit: “I told her I didn’t know just when you were coming but perhaps you might be here the last of this month or the first of next.” Grace clearly wanted to see Bishop, even though she had seen her only the summer before: “So do try to come & don’t cut your visit short like you did last year.” Meaning 1946 when Bishop had to head back unexpectedly to sign papers for the sale of her and Louise Crane’s house in Key West.

Grace’s letter was winding down. She shifted again to a relative – a problematic one: “I think George [Shepherdson] goes away the 1st of Sept. & expects to be gone quite a while. George’s wife, Maud Bulmer, died in 1940. He moved back to Amherst, N.S. Perhaps Grace wanted EB to know his movements so she could time her visit to avoid him. Though he had told Grace that “he was coming over before he went, but I don’t look for him now.” 

(Phyllis Sutherland and Grace Bulmer Bowers,
early 1940s, before Phyllis married. AUA.)

The letter ends with a slight complaint, a rare expression for the redoubtable Grace: “Must stop & get ready for bed. I have to get up at 5 a.m. this week, as Rod [Bowers, Grace’s son] goes to work at 6. It’s terribly early to get up. I don’t like it.” The retired nurse who used to do night shifts on a regular basis, was getting older and one can appreciate her desire not to get up so early. 

She signs off with, “Will be looking for you & Marjorie. Love Grace” 

Click here to see Post 151.

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