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

Friday, February 16, 2018

Letters to Aunt Grace, Part 52: An update and a conclusion

Bishop’s letter of 12 November 1959 ended as many of them did, with a mish-mash of subjects, though this time it was as if she was filling in to divert herself from the death of her old friend Marjorie Carr Stevens. In the midst of the final updating that concludes this letter, Bishop interjects (set off again by dashes): “Maybe I shouldn’t burden you with my sad news, but you did know Marjorie and I thought you’d like to know.” Bishop quietly adds, “I was awfully fond of her and feel dreadful about it.” From the accounts she had received, she knew that Marjorie’s death had been difficult, so Bishop says what we all say in the face of such information: “I hope and pray she didn’t suffer very much.”

The biggest diversion Bishop offers is an account of Lota’s grandchildren, “five, now,” who had visited “several times” recently to swim, because “it is getting hot again.” The grandchild who got most of Bishop’s attention was “Lotinha, not quite two.” This toddler was “the best swimmer of all — she is amazing.” Bishop observed that she “bobs like a cork.” Fond of water and swimming herself, Bishop admired this innate ability. She observed, “she’d walk right into, or onto, six feet of water if we didn’t hold onto her.” Not only did the wee one want to go into the water, “she refuses to come out, even after her teeth are chattering.” Bishop then tells Grace a little story about this natural-born swimmer, one that her aunt undoubtedly appreciated fully: “She wore a bathing suit for the first time the other day — a small rag of her brother’s — but didn’t like it — screamed ‘Take off my bikini! Take off my bikini!’ — so went as naked as a cherub, as usual.” The spot where they were swimming was the pool Lota had created near the house at Samambaia. Bishop noted that “the water is deep and icy cold.” It came out of the mountain that loomed behind the house. Bishop told Grace that she had some “snapshots” of the children, and would send some to her aunt “when I get copies made.” Bishop sent her aunt a number of photos from Brazil, but if she followed through on this promise, the photos to not survive.
(Lota's house at Samambaia in the early stages of its construction.)

Even though it was only early November, Elizabeth and Lota were already thinking about the Christmas holidays: “We hope to get to the beach, again — Cabo Frio — for Christmas but haven’t been invited yet!” They had gone to this beautiful spot a number of times. I wrote about one such visit in Post # 38.

In the end they did go, but at this point, it was uncertain, so Bishop observed that if an invitation was not extended, “we’ll try to go to another famous beautiful old beach place and stay at a hotel for a few days.” Just where this was she doesn’t say. However it would unfold, Bishop said that she and Lota needed to get away because “it is getting just too complicated here, with servants, ex-servants, Lota’s (boring) relatives, [and] ‘grandchildren’.” In the face of this ménage (menagerie?), “It’s easier to give them all a little something and then go away.”
The conclusion of this letter was interrupted by “Lunchtime,” but upon returning Bishop began to wind down in earnest: “I hope you are all well now — how is the leg?” This query prompted Bishop to bring up the subject of support hose: “I keep reading about those new stockings that look like nylons but seem to give SUPPORT at the same time.” But Bishop then wondered if such devices might not be “heavy enough for your needs?” Grace was an ample woman her whole life.

Then a zig back to the beginning of the letter: “Tell me if you don’t get the little books” — that is, the cookbooks about jelly and jam, and cookies — “or if you’d like any others” (books, that is). Being so far away, there was little Bishop could send her aunt by way of gifts, but she noted that books were “one of the few things I can manage to send to you.”

Then a zag back to Grace: “I do hope you are well and that the job is easy and that you are enjoying it.” Just what job the seventy-year old Grace was doing is not indicated, but she still had a few years of nursing left in her.

Having closed her letter with the usual “With love, Elizabeth,” a P.S. was added: “I’d intended to try to get Mary Morse to bring back the maple syrup for us!” Whether this was a gift Grace had hoped to send (she had sent it before), or just one they asked Mary to secure herself, is not clear. In any case, Mary had changed her travel plans and returned to Brazil sooner than expected. Not getting this gift, hearing about the death of Marjorie, wondering about Grace’s health: all these things prompted Bishop to write: “maybe I’ll get there myself.” A plan to go to the U.S. during the upcoming winter had been given up, Bishop writes, because “$ is absolutely impossible for Lota now and she has a big land deal on.” Bishop trails off this somewhat sad letter with “but sooner or later —” Isn’t that so for all of us.

Bishop’s next letter to Grace followed closely in the wake of this one, prompted by receiving one from her aunt.

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