The Rose and the Ring

TSS Maasdam

We took the TSS Maasdam home from Europe in the late fall of 1965. We encountered a terrible storm crossing the north Atlantic and a giant wave pushed the ship down onto its side while we were at dinner. All the adults screamed – everything and everyone fell amidst all the broken dishes and food and furniture – a nice waiter picked me up and carried me out of the chaos…
Also I had a passionate fight with a little Dutch girl who insisted there was no Santa, only Sinterklaas.

My family went to Europe on a long tour of art and cities in 1965 when I was 5 years old. My mother was afraid of flying so we crossed the Atlantic to and from Europe on an ocean liner. To entertain my sister and I, my mother brought along the book The Rose and the Ring by William Makepeace Thackeray first published in 1855 as one of Thackeray’s Christmas Stories.

frontpiece for the Rose and the Ring 1855

The story is a delightful fairy tale with a lot of humor in it about the long lost princess and subsequent Queen of Crim Tartery, the beautiful Rosalba, and her eventual discovery and marriage to the handsome Prince Giglio. The story has many funny characters including the First Lord of the Toothpick, the Marquis degli Spinachi, Prince Bulbo and Count Kutasoff Hedzoff.

All the illustrations were done by Thackeray himself and were so delightful I remember making my mother draw them over and over again on a pad of paper to amuse us while we were crossing the ocean and traipsing across Europe. (We also made her read the story over and over again to us too with all the different voices.)Prince Giglio hitting King Valoroso with the bed warming pan

The story runs 147 pages in my little book of Thackeray Christmas Stories published by Oxford University Press (frustratingly my little leather bound book has no date, but given the style of the forward and the binding, I suspect a late 19th century publication date.) As the author of the forward writes The Rose and the Ring  “… is unique and sublime.”Gruffanuff Rose Ring153

So I thought I would share this with you this Holiday Season with a small selection of the funny pictures.

And as Thackeray himself says on the last page of the story, “Merry Christmas Good My Friends”.


A Dog’s Life


Gret was a beautiful German Shorthaired Pointer – chocolate brown all over.

Gretchen came to us the first summer we lived in Canada. She’d been a prize winning hunting and breeding dog for years – the pride of her owner – my mother’s cousin Art. When Art was looking to retire her he thought of us newly moved to the country and living in an isolated farmhouse – we naturally needed a dog for protection, and what better dog than a highly trained elegant hound.

It was the perfect win win situation for both Gretchen and us: she to retire to open fields and forest and marsh and we to get to have a dog – an unheard of dream given that my father didn’t care for pets much and we had already won the war and gotten the cat.

But my father could not refuse the gift of this beautiful dog from my mother’s successful millionaire cousin. And he could see the sense in having a dog that people would respect especially when living in the middle of nowhere. So Gretchen came to stay with us in the summer of 1973.

I loved her on sight and was delighted when I told her to “lay down” and she did (!) by my feet – and despite my bad grammar the dog understood me.

Betty and Gretchen c 1974

Betty and Gretchen c 1974. Here I am ruining her training – getting her to bark and probably fetch a stone that I’m about to throw… she loved it.

She was a very highly trained hunting dog and incredibly sensitive and neurotic. We quickly destroyed all her training. I encouraged her to bark – she’d never been allowed to bark as a working dog, and we let her chase rabbits and other small animals – though she would often stop in the woods and shake and point too.

She was scared of thunder and shook and cried and would climb with all her long limbs into your lap for comfort. And the poor doggy “leaked” as we called it – she was incontinent due to the endless breeding and litters that she’d gone through. My mother was the only one who really sympathized with the leaking – it was very messy and constant and naturally got worse as she aged. Our kitchen rug was quite soaked after years of clean ups. But she was still a lovely dog and we all loved her gentle nature.

Art & Herman color sketch

This is a sketch my father did for a full painting of my mother’s cousin Art with his hunting dog Herman – one of Gretchen’s prize puppies all grown up. The landscape is our backyard.

And even though we knew she was a push over (especially for men with guns) no one else did, which was good – all the locals thought she was a fierce guard dog and often thought she was a Doberman Pinscher – which she certainly was not.

I often took her by myself for long walks into the woods or down the road and across the fields – we’d follow trapping lines or game trails and discover streams and secret clearings. One time I was about 2 miles down the road in the woods when a car full of drunken hunters came careening down the road. When they saw me they stopped the car and started to get out all the while calling to me – Gretchen was no where in sight – off sniffing somewhere – I called to her repeatedly getting more and more nervous as the drunken men made their way towards me (it probably all happened in a matter of seconds rather than the long time it seemed) and then Gret burst out of the woods and ran to me. Though she had lost most of her specialized training she still heeled and I was never so grateful as that day when she came to me and stood next to me. The men saw her and ran back to their car and drove off – afraid that she would attack – thank goodness none of them were carrying rifles or she would have been all over them for pats.

She heeled with me all the way home and I gave her an extra hug and treat when we got back. What a good dog.

Gretchen, Adele and Betty getting the Xmas tree c 1973

Gretchen, Adele and Betty getting the Xmas tree c 1973. Since its almost Christmas and this isn’t much of a Christmas story I thought I’d include this photo of us getting our gigantic tree from the woods. Some Christmas trees came with bird nests and other wildlife remains. Some of the trees lasted weeks in the cold front room of our house.
Note the condition of the road – this is the main road to our house in December – all muddy, slippery, rutted and yucky.

Ghostly Dreams

Ghost house

This is actually the same picture I used in the previous post, just in negative – its not easy finding decent pictures of ghosts so I made my own. (Its my mother walking up the lane to the old abandoned house before we bought it.)

The old farmhouse in Jolicure that we had just moved into was over a hundred years old. We discovered this when we began to tear down the ruined walls upstairs and found that there were remnant newspapers and pages from books dating from the mid 1860s underneath the animal hair plaster.

Soon after moving in, my mother had a disturbing dream that she told me about the next day: two brothers were in the big open kitchen of our farmhouse shouting angrily at each other- they became violent – they shot each other – and both died there on the floor in a pool of blood. She thought it an odd dream but put it out of her mind.

19th c daguerrotype of man with guns

This is not one of the brothers – but I thought it was a good picture that could have been one of the brothers so I’m including it as an interesting illustration. 19th c daguerrotype.

A few months later at the beginning of summer we were invited to join the local quilting club to which my aunt Joanne belonged (and was president of for a while). All the ladies of the area came and sat around a big quilting frame and worked stitching inwards from the four sides of the quilt. The local men came too and played cards but kept separate. It was a time for people to visit and gossip. Towards the end of the evening tea and goodies were served.

My mother mentioned her dream to the ladies for some reason – perhaps prompted by my aunt. There was a silence that followed that I still remember and then someone said that in fact that had happened at our house – two brothers had fought and killed each other in the kitchen.

They added that they thought this had happened in the summer kitchen which no longer existed (but would have been attached to the house) and that it had happened a long time ago – perhaps even before the house was moved into its present location. It was profoundly upsetting on many levels to find it was true.

(I remember thinking that they just said that to make us feel better – that it had in fact happened in the kitchen that we lived in – why else would my mother have dreamt that detail.)

The Amityville House

The Amityville House

My mother had had other fey experiences previously – most notably in the late 1950s when my parents were looking to move out of Brooklyn into a home in the suburbs. One house in particular was very inexpensive and big and beautiful, and located on Long Island in Amityville – it had distinctive half moon windows up near the roof. She recalled feeling a sense of darkness and evil under the stairs when they walked through the house and refused to consider buying it. It wasn’t until the mid 1970s that the house became famous from the book The Amityville Horror – she knew it was that very same house that she’d felt such darkness in.

My mother had no more ghostly dreams in Jolicure, and since our old house creaked and moaned and moved all the time we took all the noises it made for granted.

In recent years I’ve started watching paranormal TV shows and have since learned that certain things can be interpreted as paranormal activity and are quite common phenomena in so called haunted houses. So perhaps the sound of a ball dropping and rolling continuously back and forth across the attic above my room wasn’t a game of hockey between the bats and mice – perhaps it was a ghostly presence up there. Or the curtains of black flies that would swarm in the windows obliterating the light (especially in the kitchen loft) were more than just a gross infestation. And perhaps all the scratching in the walls at night wasn’t just the shrews… we’ll never know now… the house has since been torn down.

The Red House 1973

Red House and Barns 1972

This is how the house looked in the spring of 1972. You can see that the roof needs repair and that there is a wonky power pole. Inside there were only a few walls and only a few doors and a jar of peanut butter with a knife in it on the kitchen floor.
Maybe you can understand why a kid of 12 years used to suburban life might find this a bit distressing.

My parents purchased the above isolated farm house in the spring of 1972 for a measly $8,000.00 after a scouting trip to see real estate for sale in the area. They only purchased the house and the half acre that it sat on – a local farmer owned the fields surrounding the house and the outbuildings; we had access from the road via the lane.

We didn’t move into the Red House until January 1973. The house had been abandoned for quite a few years so in the intervening months, while we were getting our papers ready to move to Canada, my uncle Lorne took over making the house liveable. He had new power lines run in and a party line telephone hooked up. He hired some local guys to put a new roof on (one of whom was Teddy who teased me mercilessly on the school bus and even set fire to my hair once with his lighter).

He also had a new oil burning furnace installed and an oil burning kitchen stove with a hot water heater attached (both of which never worked – more on that later). A very basic bathroom was jerry-rigged downstairs – it had a sink, a toilet and a small tub (it was too small to lie down in, and anyway, could not be filled due to lack of hot water) and some fake tile pressed board put in around watery areas. Only a couple of rooms had doors – so my uncle made some out of 6″ x half inch boards nailed together – they kind of fit. The roof of the house had numerous lightning rods on it – and we eventually found out why during our first big storm – it being situated on top of a bare hill with a few big trees on either side.

Old abandoned farmhouse showing plaster and lathe

This is not a picture from our house – but it looks enough like our house did for you to get the picture. You can see the lathing and old plaster with animal hair and the wrecked everything.

There were four rooms upstairs in the main part of the house. Only one of these had complete walls while the other three had broken and rotting plaster and old wallpaper and exposed lathing.

To say that the wind blew through the house is not an exaggeration – even after fixing the walls the wind still moved the curtains in the windows in and out on a good breezy day. And it was cold. Maybe the house had a new furnace but it couldn’t keep up with that cold outside and those airy walls.

Antique oak flooring

The floors upstairs had big thick boards like this, and were a mess with paint and wear – we tried to clean them up and then stained them dark and waxed them a bit.

The flooring in the house was original and consisted of very thick old boards upstairs (probably oak) – they were about 2 inches thick and about 12″ wide. And down the middle of the upstairs hall was a mend about 2 feet wide – all the other flooring met up with this seam. It apparently hearkened from the time that the house had been moved across the lake in the winter with draft horses or oxen – and when they pulled it up the hill the flooring split in the middle upstairs. That was the story anyway – and it made sense – it wasn’t very elegant and it did look like a repair job.

Moving House with Oxen

In 1845, Elizabeth Prince Peabody described a house moving she witnessed in Danvers, Massachusetts. “The building came along slowly, drawn by yokes of oxen. Every yoke had a driver beside it with goads, hurrying them with a ‘Hush-whoa’. It seemed as though there were 20 or 40 yoke of oxen.”

Moving House with Horses

Moving House with Horses

As soon as we moved in in January, the first order of the day was to fix the upstairs walls. First we had to remove the old plaster; then put up insulation; then dry board; then patch and tape the drywall; and finally paint. This included dry walling the ceilings too, not just the walls, and none of us had any experience doing any of this.

Removing the old plaster was dirty but very interesting. It was original to the house and consisted of plaster and what looked like cow hair (but I’ve read now that horse hair or hog hair is more common) – usually a reddish brown color. Underneath the plaster we found old pages from books and newspapers – none of them could be recovered but scraps showed the house dated from the mid 1860’s. We also found old boots, and bits of fabric and clothes that people had stuffed into the gap between the plaster and the lathing strips. None of this was saved much to my regret now.

The lathing strips were often just rough wood cut into as evenly made strips as possible – many still had bark on them. The nails from the shingles outside were distinctly poking through.

Drywall finishing how to

Its So Easy to Drywall! NOT…
Our dry walling team consisted of my parents who were reasonably strong and us two teenage girls with measly arms – that’s it. And we didn’t have safety gear like masks for the dust or hardhats or work boots – its amazing we did this ourselves without some medical crisis.

If anyone has ever done dry walling you know how heavy and awkward those boards are – and here we were trying to install these boards up on the walls and ceilings – it was back breaking work trying to hold the boards up while my father screwed them into place.

Even worse was the endless sanding that was necessary – we did a really bad job on the plastering and taping and sanding to be honest and left big lumps and screw heads visible – but at least there were walls afterwards. No one was complaining about quality.

Shrew SGaspensis

There are several zillion type of shrews apparently in North America – this one looks a lot like my little roommates and is actually located in New Brunswick.
Credit: painting by Nancy Halliday from Kays and Wilson’s Mammals of North America, © Princeton University Press (2002)

At night the house came alive with creaking like an old boat. There were various critters living there too- in the walls and in the attic were bats and mice and other things. We had a regular crew of shrews – animals so small but fierce that our big old killer tabby cat left them alone. I once woke up to find a shrew sitting on my pillow next to my face.

And so we had a lot of scratching in the walls, and “someone” was up in the attic above my room rolling moth balls back and forth all night.

I was kept home in the beginning for a couple of months to help with all the work and probably to help me get used to the new life we were leading. It wasn’t til early spring before the road went liquid that I started school. But that’s another story.

The Great White North

It was mid January 1973 the day the giant moving van showed up at our house in Bronxville, NY.

The moving guys first loaded all the heavy stuff from our house into the truck – boxes of books, boxes of records and the Encyclopedia Britannica set – some wardrobe boxes and a couple of mattresses and some paintings – but then there was no more room for all of our furniture and other belongings. A second truck had to be sent for.

Ford Maverick c 1971

The Safran family car by this point was a Ford Maverick c 1971. I had no idea we were driving around in what is now considered a muscle car. The one shown here is a bit souped up compared to our blue model.

We had a schedule of some sorts, and we couldn’t wait – so we left my Nanny in the house to make sure the rest of our stuff got loaded onto the second truck, and we got into our car with our cat and drove away.

I remember sobbing hard in the back seat – the sight of my Nanny waving goodbye was too much for me – I knew deep down I’d never see her again.

At least we had Babby with us in the back seat in an old green wooden crate. If Babby hadn’t been there I’d have been histrionic – as it was my father yelled at me to shut up and stop crying.We drove out of our neighborhood in silence and onto the highways that took us north to Canada.

We drove all day and late into the night, till it was dark and snowing – I’m guessing we were somewhere in Maine when we stopped. We pulled up to a dark, cold looking motel and got a room for all four of us and then smuggled the cat and his litter box inside and spent the night in there in misery. I don’t remember what we ate but probably cold sandwiches that my mother brought.

Adele Safran, Lorne and Joanne  Bell and Luke the dog

My mother Adele, my Uncle Lorne and Aunt Joanne Bell, and Luke the dog – one of my bestest buddies ever.

The next day was more driving – more roads and endless forest. We arrived at my aunt’s house in Jolicure, New Brunswick, Canada before dinner and it was a relief to be out of the car and into a warm and welcoming home. It was my mother’s birthday the next day  – January 18th.

We spent a couple of days at my aunt’s place as I recall, waiting for the moving trucks to arrive. That was alright by me because they had a barn and a house full of animals to visit including a horse and a goat, cats and a big fluffy dog.

One of the moving vans eventually arrived at my aunt’s farm one day during a heavy snow storm. We all piled in our vehicles and drove along with the van to our new home about three miles down the road into the woods.

The road to our house was a dirt road and deeply rutted and covered with ice and snow. The moving van wasn’t prepared for this and slipped and ditched itself suddenly just below our laneway. The rest of us stopped in horror and stood helplessly in the middle of nowhere in the freezing cold and heavy snow, wondering what would we do? The house was situated up a very long narrow drive up a hill – were we going to have to carry everything out of the truck and lug it there? How was the truck going to get out of the ditch?

The abandoned house down our road

This is a shot taken from our road looking towards the abandoned farm nearby. It was the only house visible for miles. Beyond that were woods – and in the other direction were woods.

Luckily my uncle had it all covered – he drove out to the crossroads and enlisted a few neighbor farmers to come along with their tractors and they managed to pull the truck out of the ditch. (The first of many times the local farmers pulled us out of ditches). The moving truck then actually made it up the lane to the farmyard and unloaded our stuff into the house. Only the first truck had shown up – the second truck didn’t arrive for weeks…

The Red House in Jolicure at dusk

The Red House and its barns in Jolicure at dusk. You can see that the buildings are located on the top of a rise. If you walked over the rise to the other side you’d see Long Lake and forest.

By nightfall we were alone in the house with the kitchen stove burning and the furnace kicking in to warm things up. Thanks to the moving company, we had tons of boxes but little in the way of furniture. So we sat on boxes of books and ate mac and cheese from a mix made in one pot for dinner.

My father sensed that some levity was needed on this night of drama – we had landed in a centuries old house isolated in the woods with no other house or light in sight for miles – the cold was oppressive, as was the darkness outside. So he pushed aside some stuff from the living room floor (the front parlour) and found some old LPs and the record player (which was a big heavy piece of furniture and so had been included in the load) and played records and taught us to fox trot. It is a brilliant memory – the golden light of the only lamp in the room; the 1940s music playing; and dancing with my father in this old farmhouse in the middle of nowhere.

We were in this together now for better or for worse.

Jolicure: temporary mailbox for the Safran family

A breadbox became our temporary mailbox when we moved to the red house in Jolicure. It wasn’t long before the postman refused to go down our road to deliver mail and we had a real mail box put up at the official corners of Jolicure proper.

Kidnapping our Cat to go to The Great White North

Tiger Cat by Bernard Safran 1966 oil on masonite 18" x 24"

My beloved cat Babby painted by my father in 1966. He sold this painting when I was a kid and it turned up at auction in Florida in 2007 and my husband won it for me for Christmas.
Tiger Cat by Bernard Safran, 1966, oil on masonite 18″ x 24″

When my parents decided in 1972 that we were going to move to Canada I was heartbroken about leaving Babby  – the independent, and sometimes feral tabby cat that visited our home everyday in Bronxville, NY.

I first saw Babby when I was just a tot. A neighbor, Mrs. McLelland, called my mother to tell her to bring me over to see a litter of kittens that her cat had just had. The kittens were all piled up together in a cardboard box in the kitchen behind the warm stove. Babby was one of those kittens.

He soon moved into a house across the street from us with the Jantz family – they had a dog, and two kids that I played with. One time when I was over at their house and the kids and I were playing in the backyard, the dog and the cat somehow opened the fridge and dragged out a turkey carcass – we found them both happily gnawing away at it on the floor.

Babby quickly decided that visiting my family was part of his daily rounds. Though he obviously enjoyed our company, garden, and house, he was a fierce cat and not very cuddly. I got scratched and clawed a lot over the years, but I just loved him more and more.

It didn’t take long for Babby to find life at the Jantz house too hectic. He soon preferred the home of a Russian artist living up the street. He may have changed houses, but he continued to visit us everyday. In the summer he would often sit under my mother’s lounge chair in the backyard. In the winter he would climb our back screen door til he could peer in at us at the kitchen table. That was the only way we ever saw his spotted tummy for those first few years.

Rojankovsky, Animal Tales, Golden Book 1967

a cat that resembles Babby by the artist Feodor Rojankovsky

He eventually moved from the first Russian artist’s house to another Russian artist’s house a street over. (my Dad was technically the third Russian artist Babby lived with)

Feodor Rojankovsky was a famous children’s book illustrator and he painted tabby cats into a lot of his illustrations. Perhaps when Babby showed up at his door he liked the look of the cat.

We learned that the Rojankovskys were leaving Babby to starve when they went away for vacations. People used to think (and still do it seems) that cats can manage on their own. Poor Babby was suffering and had to resort to eating scraps of garbage, birds and mice, and whatever he could beg. One neighbor, Mr. Varley, shot pebbles and marbles at the cat with a slingshot because he was eating birds – I really resented that and never liked the man much because of it.

My father forbade us from feeding Babby at my house. He seemed okay with the cat coming inside and hanging around – he would even pet him sometimes – but no food ever. I know though, that during those times when Babby was starving, my mother did sneak things to him by our backdoor- tuna, chicken and other scraps.

Girl Scout Betty with Babby

Girl Scout Betty with Babby

Over the years Babby spent many happy hours with us – I’d come home from school and he’d be sleeping on my bed. Sometimes he’d come in in the evening and watch TV with us in my room – things like Star Trek or the Ed Sullivan Show. I remember one night the cat went absolutely freakishly wild and zoomed around my bed coverlet upside down with all four feet hanging on and his eyes like giant shiny saucers.

When we were facing the reality of moving far away and leaving Babby in New York, my mother and sister and I plotted to take him with us. My mother sent my sister and I to Manhattan one day late in the year to go to the Canadian Embassy and find out if we could bring a cat into the country. This was the only time I’d ever gone into the city with just my sister and though she was 5 years older than me (and in 1972 she was then 17 and I was 12) it felt like a daring adventure.

Somehow we ended up at the wrong address and we traveled up the elevator to discover that the building was being gutted and there was no embassy there. It was very scary and eerie stepping off the elevator – there weren’t any walls – just sheets of dirty plastic blowing around stripped girders and the debris of the wrecked building.

Destroyed Building NYC, by Bernard Safran

This is what it looked like when we stepped off the elevator, but imagine the wind blowing through sheets of dirty plastic hanging down. This picture isn’t of that particular building – but it is a destroyed building in New York City taken around the same time.
Photograph: Bernard Safran

Had we stepped too far we could have fallen down stories to the street below. It was shocking. We quickly got back on the empty elevator and went down to the safety of the street.

We persevered that day because this was for our beloved pussy cat. We somehow found our way to the proper address and the appropriate person to answer our question. The Canadian embassy staff were delighted by us girls showing up and were so nice to us – and we happily found out that we could bring a cat into Canada without quarantine.

Igloo on Atlin Lake BC, photo by Juergen Weiss

Okay so this is what I knew about Canada when we moved there: Canada had a lot of snow and ice and igloos….
Igloo on Atlin Lake BC, photo by Juergen Weiss

We returned home triumphant and my mother then tactfully asked my father if we could bring Babby with us to the great white north.

Going to Church

This is very much like the ONLY picture of Canada in my grade school social studies book that went along with a couple of paragraphs of text that included such useful information like Canada grew potatoes and had trees.
So the sum of my knowledge was that I knew there were white people who went to white churches and there were igloos in Canada…. and they had trees and potatoes.

My father relented – seeing how distraught we were and that’s how we became cat-kidnappers. When the time came for us to leave, my mother had a makeshift crate for Babby and we smuggled him into the back seat of the car between me and my sister.

So that’s how and why Babby left New York to live the rest of his long life in true bliss in the Canadian wilds with the one family that truly loved him.

Babby lived to be twenty years old.

Paintings of Life on the Streets of New York City: 1960s and 1970s

As promised I am posting a few of my late father’s paintings of New York City. He chose the subject of life on the streets of New York because it was his home, and he knew it, and loved it.

The paintings give a humanist perspective onto the often overlooked people of the street. I will be writing more about this series of magnificent paintings in the future, but for now a small selection for your viewing pleasure – and Yes, they are paintings.

To see more paintings by Bernard Safran visit

PS the color of the reproduced images of the paintings below doesn’t really reflect the vibrant color they were painted with – I’m sorry for that (the color is better if you click on the image and go to the original upload which also shows more detail for some reason).

The bottom line is – you have to see them in person to really appreciate them. (Photography of paintings by Glen Reichwein)

Bernard Safran, In the Park, oil on masonite 1972, 24" x 30"

Bernard Safran, In the Park, oil on masonite 1972, 24″ x 30″

Close up of  In the Park by Bernard Safran, oil on masonite 1972, 24" x 30"

Close up of In the Park by Bernard Safran, oil on masonite 1972, 24″ x 30″
Please note that if you click on this image you can go to a one to one scale image of this.

Bernard Safran, Gossip, oil on masonite 1986. 19.75" x 28"

Bernard Safran, Gossip, oil on masonite 1986. 19.75″ x 28″

Bernard Safran, The Market, oil on masonite 1970, 24" X 30"

Bernard Safran, The Market, oil on masonite 1970, 24″ X 30″

Bernard Safran, Sleeping It Off,  oil on masonite 1986, 16" x 32.75"

Bernard Safran, Sleeping It Off, oil on masonite 1986, 16″ x 32.75″

Bernard Safran, The Alley, oil on masonite 1972, 33" x 38"

Bernard Safran, The Alley, oil on masonite 1972, 33″ x 38″