About Elizabeth Malyon (née Safran)

I grew up in an artistic family and learned all about art at home. Instead of becoming an artist, like my parents were hoping, I went along the path of least resistance and studied Art History and Classical Studies/Archaeology, and got a Masters in Museum Studies. I worked for cultural institutions until the death of my father in 1995. Then I became the custodian of his works of art. I live in Calgary with my husband John and my three cats. We have two daughters - one in the field of science, and one in the field of art.

Alzheimer’s and Adele

Adele and Phoenix010

Adele in her late 70s

My mother died recently.

It was to be expected, I suppose, at her age of 91 and because of the fact that she’d been sick with Alzheimer’s for more than a decade. Knowing all of this, her death still came as a knockout of a shock to me. I’d been fooling myself for years that I was prepared for the end… I was not.

At the time that she was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, the doctor told us that the disease starts long before the symptoms show. My best guess is that it began about 19 years ago, after she was in a terrible car accident – she was never the same after that.

She lived with me and my family – my husband and two girls, for most of those 19 years – except for the last four years that she spent in a nursing home, in a locked ward.

My family watched her lose herself and tried to keep things normal for as long as possible. It was frustrating that neighbors and distant friends and relatives, didn’t see the changes that we did. Frustrating that no one, except the Public Health Nurses who came and went, understood the toll it took on us. It is an unforgiving and terrible disease, and leaves the person you have loved all your life, unrecognizable. Through each agonizing stage of its progression, there are no clear guidelines, because every patient is different.

There are major milestones of the condition, however, that are relatively the same across the board. It was about a year ago that her doctor took me aside, and explained to me that my mother was in the end stage of the disease. She didn’t think that my mother would live out the year – the clearest indicator of the end, she told me, was when the patient stopped swallowing. I wasn’t surprised to hear this back then. I had clearly seen her decline become precipitous in the previous few months. Then, when she was put into a Broda chair and was no longer walking, it was obvious that she was not just mentally failing, but physically failing as well.

Adele and great hat048

Adele: young and happy in the 1950s

Just two days before she died, we got a phone call that she was pocketing her food. In my ignorance, I thought she was literally putting her food in her pocket, which she had done on many occasions before. My mother was very smart, even with Alzheimer’s, and was frequently getting away with things like that – like when she managed to figure out how to unlock her seat belt on her wheel chair and suddenly stand up – a real danger to herself and to others, believe it or not.

But no. Pocketing food means that the patient can no longer swallow and the food accumulates in the cheeks of the mouth. It was the signal that she was near the end, and I didn’t realize it til too late.

There are many books on the subject, but I don’t want to read any of them. I have lived it in all its unpleasant and hurtful details. Nor do I want to watch dramatic films about it – perhaps they help to edify people, but I can’t think of anything I’d rather forget.

And that is the challenge – to forget all those years of decline and loss, and remember the whole and complete person, who is gone.

The doctor at the nursing home is a wonderful, caring person; the kind of doctor you want especially for the elderly who are sick with dementia. To comfort me, she told me that she’d seen many people lose themselves to the disease, and from this personal experience, she knew that we are more than what we say or do. What is left after the ravages of Alzheimer’s, is the core of the person in the purest form. She told me that even though my mother had lost all her ability to remember or speak or put a thought together, she still was a warm and loving person inside.

In the end there was little left of her – even her radiant core had gone out. She was rail thin, and slept almost continually. It was a relief for her to go, I am sure.

Adele & Baby Betty055

Adele and her second baby c 1961

She wasn’t afraid to die. She had talked to me many times about it over the years. She had had a near death experience when she lost her third baby in childbirth in the early 1960s. She saw a beautiful light at the end of a long dark tunnel and went towards it and felt eternal peace. She told me that it was so beautiful that she didn’t want to come back, but she suddenly remembered her two little girls, and had to return. That experience stayed with her her whole life.

If you believe in heaven or an afterlife, you can say she is now with her baby and her husband, her sisters, and her parents, and all of her ancestors, somewhere up there. It’s a nice thought. But I am more comforted to know that she lived a full and adventurous, brave and creative life – never wasting a moment of it for as long as she could.

Even as she lost herself to the disease, she still got up every morning and smiled at the sun.

Adele landscape040








The Argo and Tim Severin

Kommos beachIn 1984 I was working on the South coast of Crete at Kommos Excavations during the summer dig season.

The dig team, comprised of Canadian and American archaeologists and graduate students, had breakfast all together early in the morning before work began, and then dinner all together in the evening after the day’s work was over (and after our requisite gin and tonic time).

We sat at a long set of tables in the narrow, treed courtyard of the dig building that housed the dig kitchen. There were two full-time, local women who cooked for the team. They were  an institution there, despite being very screachy, and irritable. They always had a handy spray-can of ByGone  (a DDT laced insecticide) in the kitchen, that they used to keep the flies away. They used it regularly on our food, particularly the butter/margarine.

The food wasn’t always the best (I remember one goat stew that still had fur attached to the meat, and another night we ate small snails that were gritty with sand) but dinners were always accompanied by lots of local wine and lots of laughter.

Severin and crew

Tim Severin, center.

One night we were all having our dinner when a couple of tall bearded men showed up and asked to talk to the Director of the dig. They were ushered to the head of the table and introduced themselves. One of the men was Tim Severin, a noted British explorer and historical researcher.

I had read a couple of Severin’s books and knew about what he did. He followed in the steps of Thor Heyerdahl by recreating ancient sea vessels and then sailing them along ancient routes that were known from myths and legends.

He and his crew had just arrived at Kommos bay with a replica Bronze Age ship, and they wanted to invite all of us to visit on-board, and to talk about the local archaeological sites and their connection to Homer’s Odyssey.

Kommos has a beautiful natural harbor that was used for millennia. The ruins that we were working on dated from ca. 1800 B.C. to ca. 200  AD. During the Minoan period (ca. 1800 B.C. – 1200 B.C.),  the site was an active port and even had a wide paved road that connected the site to a network of palaces on Crete.

On one occasion, several of us went out with the Director of the dig to snorkel and dive in the sea just off-shore from the excavation, to locate an ancient anchor * that was known to exist. It lay there on the sandy bottom and was easily visible, once it was located.


The ship decorated for the Ulysses journey.

The ancient anchor was very near to the same spot that the replica ship was now anchored.

It was a glorious site to see a Bronze Age style ship floating on the “wine dark” sea (an epithet from Homer describing the sea: οἶνοψ πόντος, oinops pontos) in the natural harbor.

The replica boat was made proportionally smaller than the ones that sailed during the Bronze Age, and therefore also had a smaller crew. Severin had built this ship and had named it The Argo for a previous voyage that followed the path of the mythic Jason to Colchis, an ancient land located on the Black Sea. There, according to legend, Jason found the golden fleece and the princess Medea, and brought them back to Greece.

Argo for Jason

The ship decorated for the Jason journey.

The ship was now being re-purposed to retrace the journey of Ulysses (the latin name for Odysseus) from ancient Troy back to Greece. In Homer’s great saga The Odyssey, Odysseus encounters many obstacles along his way home to Ithaca, including being ensnared by a witch, Sirens, a Cyclops, and lotus eaters.

Severin used this boat to follow the natural currents and shorelines of the Mediterranean to hypothesize where Odysseus and his crew met with adventures along their journey home from the Trojan War.

The modern crew was comprised of men from all over Europe. Many were Scandinavian and didn’t speak English. All of us, from the Kommos crew, went out in our bathing suits to the boat, and sat on the deck of the small ship and shared some wine with the crew, while the dig Director and his wife (also a noted archaeologist) spoke with Tim Severin.

Argo under full sail_p1Severin believed that Kommos was the harbor that Ulysses (Odysseus) came to after his time in the land of the Lotus Eaters. He believed that the Lotus Eaters were located in what is known today as Libya – just south of us, across the Libyan Sea. And that is where they had just sailed from.

Severin and his crew only stayed a couple of days and then were off to trace the rest of the mythical journey, and we went back to our routines at work. Severin’s voyage may not have been the most scientific of projects, but it captured the romance of the Homeric texts and stirred the imagination.

I used to love swimming in the waters of Kommos bay, after our work hours were over.  I especially enjoyed floating with my toes pointing towards Africa and letting the even waves wash over me. It was easy to let go of everything when I was floating there with nothing but the deep blue waters, the huge blue sky and the rugged cliffs and rocks of the coast. I was easily swayed to believe that Odysseus visited Kommos during the Bronze Age – why not?


The Siren Vase, showing Odysseus tied to the mast while the Sirens call to him, Red Figured Stamos, 480-470 BC British Museum


A Late Geometric Krater showing a ship dated to 730-710 BC, several generations later than Homer’s Odyssey

* the anchor was published in 1995. “Two Three-holed Stone Anchors from Kommos, Crete: their Context, Type, and Origin,” IJNA 24: 279-291.

The Agony of Sewing Butterick Pattern B5824

(I actually wrote this post last year in 2016, but wasn’t ready to post it then – the experience was still too vivid and horrible!)

I recently finished sewing a pale, shell-pink Spring coat for my daughter for a birthday present. I’d been out shopping with her over the Christmas holidays and we’d seen a similarly colored coat that she’d loved. The cost of it was prohibitive and I thought to myself that I could make one for her. HA HA.

Kimono by Betty

My lovely assistant on one of the kimonos I made.

I had just started sewing again after a long 15 year hiatus. I had a new sewing machine that purred like a dream machine, and I was feeling physically and mentally good enough to take on this project.

I had successfully made three kimonos from a traditional Japanese pattern for Christmas gifts, and I was on a roll.

I’d learned to sew from my mother who was a very experienced seamstress. She made most of my clothes while I was growing up, and throughout my twenties and thirties. She preferred sewing with Vogue designer patterns because they were pretty much guaranteed to look incredible when finished, and the directions were always clear.

Adele white evening outfit

My mother in a Givenchy dress and coat that she made c 1965.

So in January of this year, I was at a fabric store and there was this beautiful, pale, shell-pink, soft coating on sale for 50% off. It was brushed and had a nap, and it felt like mohair even though it was synthetic. I eyed it for a while and then told the sales lady about my wanting to make a coat for my daughter.

She instantly suggested a pattern and in minutes had me buying the fabric, lining and interfacing, buttons and thread, and I was out the door with a heavy bundle to cut out and put together.

The pattern was a Butterick pattern and rated EASY.

Easy my foot!

If I hadn’t had experience with sewing and several reference books and the trusty internet, I never would have had the coat turn out as it did. There were a lot of tailoring issues that arose for which there were no instructions (such as having to reinforce the shoulder seams of the coat so they wouldn’t stretch and pull out of shape while supporting the weight of the skirt – or knowing how to baste and press the collar edge so that it would turn properly).

Butterick pattern B5824

Butterick pattern B5824.

The lesson I learned was that I should not have relied on the instructions that came with the pattern. They were incomplete and did not take into consideration numerous problems of construction along the way.

I was almost completely finished with the coat when I discovered that the woman who’d designed the coat had a blog and she had done an online “Sew Along” with this pattern a few years ago. Had I known that this existed it would have saved me hours of sweat and agony. I learned from reading her posts that she had also found discrepancies in the pattern and had to figure out fixes along the way, just like me.

I feel badly for her – she designed this lovely coat, but the mistakes and omissions in the pattern are Butterick’s responsibility and what can she do about that? Not much.

Coat front

The front of the finished coat. I ended up only sewing one button on and one snap underneath.

The coat has a huge, circular, swing skirt and is based on a 1950s Dior design. There were a lot of pieces to cut out and put together.

The first crisis happened when I was cutting out the coating fabric. I always find it a terrifying process to have to cut out each piece twice – one right way and one upside down, on a single layer of fabric. My fabric was 60″ wide and had a noticeable nap, and I could only lay out a couple of pieces on the floor at a time. I squished each pattern piece as close as possible to the next in fear that I wouldn’t have enough at the end of it all. And sure enough, I got to the end of the fabric and couldn’t cut the skirt front-facing on the grain. I had to turn it at a 90 degree angle and cut it. Luckily it was the facing and the nap wouldn’t show, but I worried that it would pull the wrong way.

It took me more than 2.5 hours to cut the pieces out. I measured and measured and pinned and repinned. I literally sweat buckets and had blisters on my hand by the end of it.

Even though the fabric had been half price, it had cost a pretty penny and I knew that there wasn’t much of it left, if any, at the store. And – there was a smudge of dirt along one side of the selvage (no doubt why it was 50% off, but it had not been shown to me at the store) so I had to be careful of cutting around that too – ugh.

Coat lapel

Coat lapel

I was beat after that ordeal so I waited for another day to cut out the lining.

OMG. The woman again had cut me a piece of fabric just too-short for the layout of the pieces.

Were these too-short lengths of fabric due to the pattern guidelines or the sales woman? I was too distraught to figure it out.

The lining also had to be cut out one piece at a time on a single layer of fabric. The fabric was very lightweight and pretty, but it had to be cut so as not to cause fraying along the edges. And like before, I had to be especially careful to keep all the pieces on the grain of the fabric as marked on the pattern pieces. At the end of the length of fabric I had to scrimp and figure out how to fit in the final 2 pattern pieces. It was agonizing and I ended up with two skirt panels precariously cut upside down from the way they were supposed to lie, and with one of the panels not on the grain – it just wouldn’t fit any other way.

This was just the beginning.

hem of coat

The dumb pattern for the skirt lining was inches too short for the coat so I hand sewed the lace over the interfacing that they had me attach at the beginning of the project. The circumference of the skirt is several meters – times that by hand basting it 5 times to get all of this done and then hand sewing the hem and lace into place… ugh.

Each step of the process had challenges to face. One of the worst problems was the skirt lining – I’d cut it out according to the pattern as I said above, but when it was sewn together the length of each piece varied because all of the panels were on the bias and hung unevenly. There was no information in the pattern about this eventuality – but there are many posts online about hemming bias skirts. The most common advice was to hang bias cut, circle-skirts for weeks with weights hung on the bottom edge before trying to hem them; otherwise you end up with an uneven hem.

So I hung the lining for 3 weeks with weights on the bottom edge, and at the end of 3 weeks I measured it and measured it and measured it again, and then finally hemmed it as per instructions.

I was sure that it was perfect before I sewed it into the coat like the pattern said to.

Despite my best efforts the lining hem hung unevenly, and worse than that – it was inches too short for the coat thanks to the faulty skirt lining pattern pieces.

I got back online and read that the designer of the coat encountered this problem too, and her solution was the same that I came up with – to sew a wide band of lace onto the inside of the coat fabric to cover the unsightly interfacing that had been attached at the beginning of the project. The lace did the job – it covered the gap and the raw seams, but it took several meters to do it and had to be basted and then hand stitched on both edges: several extra meters of thread, a lot more sweat, and an added and unexpected expense.

That is an ENORMOUS and UNFORGIVABLE error for Butterick to make. The pattern is at least 4 years old and they haven’t bothered to add an amendment to the package to let you know about the incorrect pattern pieces!

Another major problem with the instructions – they assume you can make the button holes on your machine, so there is no mention, or option, of making bound buttonholes before putting the bodice together (which honestly never occurred to me because I was following their construction process step by step). I had finished sewing the coat at that point, and had no choice but to make machine-made buttonholes. In the end, this wasn’t even an option.

The sleeve lining stitched into place.

The sleeve lining stitched into place.

The buttons on the coat are meant to be big and decorative – larger than the maximum 1″ buttonhole that I soon discovered was the biggest size that my machine made.

When I realized my machine’s limitations, I did go out to get smaller buttons (which took me a long time to pick out, because that’s me at a fabric store). I practiced making machine buttonholes on layers of scrap fabric and they came out okay, so I went ahead to try and stitch one on the front of the coat.

It turned out that the fabric and lining together were too thick to make machine buttonholes, particularly because of the location of the buttonholes right above the waist seaming (even after my careful graduated trimming and pressing the bejesus out of it).

Imagine multiple pieces of spongy coating material joined together at the waist (8 skirt panels, 2 pockets and 2 front facings), add in interfacing, and then sew that onto a bodice that is thick with seams and darts.  It was very tricky to join cleanly and even more difficult to trim.

And don’t forget that the lining was already sewn in place.

The machine jammed. The foot wasn’t feeding, and the stitches were impossible to completely remove from the delicate surface of the fabric. I was extremely peeved to have finished the coat so well up to this point, only to have the front and center of it marred by this disaster.

I steamed it – I painstakingly tried to remove the tight stitches – I brushed it – I cried – I swore… nothing made it perfect again. So I gave up trying.


The only solution I could come up with – a giant heavy duty snap.

I called three tailors in the City to see if they’d make my buttonholes. Nope. No one would do it.

I had no options left so I went out and bought a big snap and sewed that into place.

I then sewed a large button over top of it on the outside, for decorative purposes only.

After a final pressing, the coat was at last done, and all I could see were the problems that I’d had making it.

The coat weighs a ton because the skirt has so much yardage in it. (It actually weighs more than my big arctic, down-filled, winter coat.)

I mailed the coat to my daughter and thank goodness it fit, and she likes it, and it looks beautiful on her. So I guess “All’s Well That Ends Well”.

But its going to be a very, very long time til I ever buy a Butterick pattern again.

Angels on Fire

Christmas card color print detail by Adele Safran

Linoleum cut print of our house in Jolicure. Designed, cut, and printed by my mother Adele Safran, for a Christmas card. The light is on in my room upstairs.

Living in a rural and isolated place like Jolicure, we relied on the company of our own little family, and that of my aunt and uncle and cousins who lived just a few miles away. So naturally Christmas was a time for our families to get together and eat and drink and visit.

Practically every year that we lived in Jolicure, NB, we had Christmas dinner at my aunt Joanne’s house – she always made tortierre (a French Canadian traditional meat pie) for the occasion and spread the table with many delicious dishes like her signature green beans with nuts.

Jolicure, New Brunswick by Bernard Safran

Looking towards the hamlet of Jolicure, New Brunswick, Canada from the turnoff of the Trans Canada Highway. Jolicure proper consisted of just a few farm houses and barns as seen here. Our house was 2 miles beyond the green roofed house in the center of the painting . Jolicure, New Brunswick by Bernard Safran, oil on masonite

And, frequently we had them over to our house on Christmas Eve for drinks and merry making.

It is naturally freezing cold and snowy outside and very dark at this time of year – the sun goes down early in the Great White North in December. So this particular Christmas my aunt and uncle and cousins drove in along the miles of our bumpy rutted dirt road, through the black forest, to our red house blazing with golden light – the only light visible for miles in the darkness.

Embroidering by Bernard Safran

In this painting by my father, my mother sits embroidering (posing with a cross stitch sampler of mine) in front of the kitchen Franklin stove. Embroidering by Bernard Safran

Inside our house we had our two Franklin stoves going with hot fires to warm the kitchen and my father’s studio in the kitchen loft above it. The stoves were connected to the same flue (a metal tube about 8″ or 10″ in diameter also called a stove pipe) that ran the height of the house from the kitchen up through the ceiling to the studio above it, and then up to the roof where a chimney released the smoke and fumes.

We had to put the stoves into the house by necessity – our original oil range in the kitchen failed us terribly the first year we lived there, and the furnace did little to combat the freezing air that penetrated the old 19th century walls and windows of the kitchen wing. Even with the Franklin stoves, it could get bitterly cold just a few feet from the fire. My father who painted in the studio all winter, would sit at his easel just inches from the flames, while downstairs we sat as close as we could to the fire as well.

Betty Christmas 1973

This is me in front of our first Christmas tree in Jolicure in 1973. My mother made the outfit for me for Christmas- the kilt was made from her family tartan Innes. (My father painted me a year later in the same outfit). We got our Christmas trees straight from the forest surrounding our house and they sometimes came home with bird nests and lichens for extra decoration.

On this particular night I remember everyone feeling very jolly – lots of laughter and drinking going on, when all of a sudden the kitchen filled with acrid smoke. Suddenly we could see that the flue pipe was burning hot. Through the seams of the pipe you could see the bright intense orange glow of fire, and smoke was coming out of the seams as well as coming off the surface of the metal – the painted coating was bubbling and burning.

We quickly put out the fire in the kitchen Franklin while my father, uncle and my cousin’s boyfriend ran up to the studio to check the flue up there. Sure enough, the flue was on fire upstairs as well, and up close to the roof – the rafters closest to the flue were already charring and smoking.

My father was storing paintings in the rafters and one oil painting on canvas that sat closest to the flue, caught fire. They pulled it down and stomped on it and managed to somehow extinguish the flames.

Buckets of water must have made their way up there too, but I only remember the shock of the moment.

We were miles from the next house and even more miles from the volunteer fire department. If we hadn’t acted so quickly and didn’t have company over, we could have lost everything.

Sadly all that remains of the painting on canvas that burned, is a small piece of an angel’s face and hand.

In Memorium










linoleum cut and calligraphy by Adele Safran – from her Book of Poems


I recently lost my beloved Aunt Coline. This is dedicated to her memory and to all her loving family.

Coline was my mother’s little sister. There were initially four Innes girls: Barbara, Joanne, Adele and Coline, and they were a force of nature.

They had powerful spirits and each had a great sense of humor and zest for life.  I had the happiness of knowing all of them throughout my life.

My mother is the last remaining sister.


The Innes girls c 1944: Barbara, Coline (center back), Joanne and Adele (sitting front center).

The Circus and The Great Santini


circus degas miss-la-la-at-the-cirque-1879

Miss La La at the Cirque Fernando by Edgar Degas, 1897


Before anyone attacks me for liking circuses – let me categorically state that I am against the use of exotic animals in circus acts. Times and attitudes have progressed and society now understands (for the most part) that chimps, tigers, lions, elephants, hippos, bears and other animals should not be forced to suffer in captivity and be made to perform tricks for people’s entertainment

Indeed, thanks to Dr. Jane Goodall’s breakthrough research on the chimps at Gombe, it is now widely understood that animals (other than humans) have emotional lives, many demonstrate culture and social history, and have intelligence far beyond what was previously accepted.

And now on with the show!

clown cropped

Not all clowns are scary – some, like this fellow, are absolutely wonderful.

As a child I loved the circus.When I was very little my family went to see the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus at Madison Square Garden in New York City. It was truly a spectacle. I loved all the sparkle and drama.

And I admit that as a kid, I loved seeing all the animals during the show. I especially loved the horses and wanted to be one of those lovely ladies that leaps about and does acrobatics on the broad back of a horse.

And who doesn’t love to see tiny poodles dance around in skirts?

One of my favorite TV shows when I was a kid, was simply called Circus and featured international circus performers every week.

And I never missed the Ed Sullivan Show which regularly featured circus performers, as well other more famous acts (like the Beatles).

circus horse 1890

Circus lady with horse 1908

I was also a big fan of the 1956 movie Trapeze starring Burt Lancaster, Tony Curtis and Gina Lollobrigida, because there was a lot about circus life in the movie – how the girls learned to stand on the backs of cantering horses, and particularly how the acrobats trained and performed on the trapeze.

(Burt Lancaster had actually been an acrobat before he became an actor, and performed with the Kay Brothers circus early in his life.)

circus movie Trapeze

Burt Lancaster, Tony Curtis and Gina Lollobrigida in Trapeze, 1956

When I was maybe 10 or 11 years old my mother gave me a book to read called Umberto’s Circus. It was a charming story about a small European circus trying to just get by. It made me love the circus even more.

The last time I went to an old-fashioned circus, I was in my twenties. There was a trapeze act as usual, and as usual it was a family act. They came out to great fan fare, climbed the high tower to get to the trapeze swings and performed without a net below them. That was the draw of the act – trapeze without a net.

During most trapeze acts one or more of the acrobats falls by accident into the net underneath – this usually brings a huge gasp from the audience. Sometimes, it seems to be intentionally done to heighten the tension during the terrifying leaps. This time, however, the high flyer fell all the way to the floor and didn’t move – it was a real and deadly accident, and it was terrible to witness.

Ringmaster, Petit Gougou as Monsieur Loyal at the Monte Carlo Festival of Circus, 2011 (www.montecarlodailyphoto.com)

Ringmaster, Petit Gougou as Monsieur Loyal at the Monte Carlo Festival of Circus, 2011 (montecarlodailyphoto.com)

Now back to more happy memories with –

The Great Santini!

One of the happiest and most memorable circus experiences I had, was one Summer when I was 13 or 14. My cousin took me to see the circus in Moncton, New Brunswick.

My sister and cousins were all a lot older than me and so when I did get to go along with them somewhere, I was always just tagging along, quiet, out of the way – the dumb kid that no one really took any notice of. But this time my cousin asked me to go with her – just me, and it was very special.

It was a hot sunny day and when we arrived at the parking lot there were already many cars there. The circus tent was full with a noisy, excited crowd.

As we were walking through the parking lot a man approached us and introduced himself. He said he was The Great Santini and that he was the sword swallower and knife thrower in the circus. He wasn’t in costume, just street clothes, but he looked like a circus performer. He had slicked back, collar length black hair and a mustache and goatee. He looked devilish.

circus knife thrower 1890s

Circus Knife Thrower 1890s

He flirted with us and I can’t remember what he was saying, but we giggled, and declined his attentions and went in to watch the show.

The circus was not a famous one and had some not so fancy acts. I seem to remember that there were acrobatic goats that walked along a board about 3 feet in the air (or something like that), but it was very entertaining and it was very sentimental.

circus Lucy-long-knives-300

I Love Lucy, 1951

When The Great Santini came out, he was wearing a dramatic black body suit with winged sleeves. The costume had red and gold flames all over it and he wore high black boots. He had the usual knife throwing wall that a glamorous woman has to stand in front of, and he had a tall shiny silver rack holding long, shiny, scary looking swords.

He swallowed the swords, he juggled the swords, he swallowed fire and blew fire from his mouth, and he threw daggers with relish.

He was a great showman. It was very exciting to have met him in the parking lot.

The weekend magazine in the newspaper even featured a big color photo of him blowing fire. I kept that magazine for years. Unfortunately, my parents threw it out when they moved from the farmhouse, and it is now gone forever.

Too bad there is no record of The Great Santini online that I can find – but he must be out there somewhere.

circus DecorativeOrnament_vector

And now for some photographs of circus performers new and old for your enjoyment !

konchak snake handler

The Great Konchak

cirque du soleil

Cirque du Soleil (www.wsj.com)

circus triple cycle highwire

19th century triple cycle highwire

circus tightrope

circus poster of gorilla

Created before King Kong existed – a hand painted Sideshow banner

circus tall walkers stilts

Life Magazine

circus 1910 trapeze

Life Magazine photo Nina Leen

circus snake charmer 1900scircus little girl on horse

James Stewart starred as Buttons the clown in the 1952 Academy Award®-winning film "The Greatest Show on Earth." The film was the 25th to win the Oscar® for Best Picture. Restored by Nick & jane for Dr. Macro's High Quality Movie Scans Website: http:www.doctormacro.com. Enjoy!

James Stewart starred as Buttons the clown in the 1952 Academy Award-winning film “The Greatest Show on Earth.”

Life Visits the Circus in Florida- Acrobats clowning around on ropes

Life (Magazine) Visits the Circus in Florida- Acrobats clowning around on ropes. photo Nina Leen

circus george bellows circus 1912

Circus by George Bellows, 1912

circus horse toulouse lautrec

by Toulouse Lautrec

circus Pierre-Auguste Renoir 1879 Jongleuses au cirque Fernando

Jongleuses au cirque Fernando by Pierrre Auguste Renoir, 1879

Circus-Barnum and Bailey dog

This is the kind of dancing dog I remember, Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus

circus At-The-Circus-by-Ottokar-Walter

At the Circus by Ottokar Walter, 1889

circus Bridgman-American-Circus-in-France-1869-1870

The American Circus in France by Frederick Arthur Bridgman, 1869-1870

circus toulouse latrec entering the ring

Entering the Ring by Toulouse Latrec 1899

circus WC Fields Sally of the Sawdust

A scene from the movie Sally of the Sawdust starring WC Fields 1925

circus sideshow art

Life (Magazine) Visits the Circus in Florida

circus trapeze artist

Life (Magazine) Visits the Circus in Florida

circus dog Fifi Roncycircus acrobatscircus old postercircus trapeze Gaston Paris Roger-Viollet-Photo-Agency-since-1938

Life Visits the Circus in Florida- Acrobats and stage performers in various stages of action.

Life (Magazine) Visits the Circus in Florida

Cavalia edmonton sun acrobats

Scene from Cavalia from the Edmonton Sun

cavalia edmonton sun

Scene from Cavalia from the Edmonton Sun

circus wagon

Circus Wagon. When the circus came to town it usually paraded down Main Street with a series of intricately carved wagons pulled by the circus animals and showing the performers.

circus Nellie-McHenry-A-night-at-the-circus-by-H-Grattan-Donnelly-1893-Theater-Poster



Cavalia Odysseo-11

Cavalia is a contemporary circus employing only humans and horses. It is a love song to the Horse.


Cavalia. The horses are royalty, and treated with respect and admiration.


circus charlie chaplin

Charlie Chaplin in love with a circus girl in The Circus, 1928

Two dogs dance during a performance at ZoppŽ Italian Family Circus at Chandler Center for the Arts, on Friday, Jan. 6, 2011. Michel Duarte/The Arizona Republic.

Two dogs dance during a performance at ZoppeŽ Italian Family Circus

circus contortionist

Contortionist late 19th century

Juggling with fire

Juggling with fire, 19th c

circus clowns-or-798393

Congress of Clowns

circus tatoo lady national geo 1931

Tatoo Lady from National Geographic 1931

circus zelda boden

cavalia stallions

A final and beautiful image from Cavalia


Summer Teen Tragedy

Lupins by Kim Manley Ort

High School ends in June, and then Summer comes with all its promises.

A&W drive in restaurant

A&W drive in restaurant 1970s

In 1977 I’d just finished my sophomore year at Tantramar Regional High School in New Brunswick, and had a boyfriend who miraculously had a car.

We went on several dates that year with other couples to movies, to the mall, and to the drive-in A@W where they delivered burgers and fries and sundaes to the side of your car on a tray that hooked onto the open window edge.

This boyfriend took me out on Graduation night at the end of June to the Grad dance and then to all the parties that were happening all night long up at the beach and in the nearby woods.

beach bonfires

The night of Grad there were multiple bonfires along the beach (photo from https://muse.theodysseyonline.com/author/ashleighmcclure)

There were huge bonfires along the beach at Murray Corner; endless beer, and drugs available; crazy antics; fist fights; sex in rustic cabins; and driving around in cars all night to rendezvous, rev engines, and race.

It was the 1970s and we were living in a rural area and driving was a pastime that many of the teens in the area were involved in. There was a lot of reckless driving and speeding. Several kids during my High School years were involved in serious accidents.

The worst and most memorable for me, happened that summer. A boy I’d known for 5 years, who sat near me on the bus and joked with me all the time – a boy with a happy heart, bright sparkling eyes, pink cheeks and white blond hair was killed in a head-on collision.

It happened one night when my boyfriend and another couple arranged for us to have a lobster boil at a nearby beach. They built up a big open fire in the sand and set a giant pot of saltwater on it to boil. The live lobsters were from the nearby fishermens’ wharves and were waiting pitifully on ice in a cooler for their last hurrah – a fast drop into the boiling water. There was another cooler loaded with beer.

It was a gorgeous Summer evening with a warm breeze coming in off the water. We laughed, walked ankle deep in the ocean, ate and drank, and joked around. We were young and happy and feeling the wonderful, expansive, exquisite joy of being alive that comes so rarely in life. A time when kisses were blissful and being close to another person felt liberating and there were no responsibilities.

New Brunswick lobster boats and wharf

Lobster boats lined up at a wharf in New Brunswick.  (photo http://2.bp.blogspot.com)

We were basking in our happiness when a car pulled up to the parking lot and called us over. The driver leaned out of his window and in a hushed voice told us what had happened.

A friends of ours had just died in a head-on collision just minutes from where we partied. 6 kids were in the car and were all killed in one swift, brutal moment.

The news hit me like a heavy fist in the chest – I couldn’t breathe – I couldn’t comprehend how something so unbelievable could ever happen on a night like this. To kids our age. To a friend I sat with on the bus. A boy who was out for fun, just like us, on a warm Summer night. It could have been us.

They had been joy riding along a country road, swooping down a hill, when they smashed into an oncoming car. The police called in a local woman, an off duty nurse, to join them at the scene. The nurse arrived ready to help, but not ready to discover that one of the teens in the car was her son. The tragedy was too much – too horrible to comprehend.

We became robotic upon hearing the news.

We cleaned up our fire and garbage in silence and got into my boyfriend’s car for a slow and intense ride home. I know I was in shock when I walked into the kitchen to find my parents at the table, surprised to see me home so early. I told them the news and they seemed indifferent, to the point of being uncaring. It was incomprehensible to me that they responded so calmly and with such a bland response. I burst into hysterical tears and remember being told to calm down and go to my room – “these things happen” they said with a shrug.

These things happen.

Unfortunately its true, but no comfort when they happen to people close to you and you are young and unprepared for the shock and certainty of death. Unprepared for the reality that life can be beautiful and cruelly cut short in an instant.

I don’t know the details of how the cars crashed. Who, if anyone, was at fault. I don’t even remember if the other driver survived or had passengers in the oncoming car.

In my mind I imagined the scene – the carefree feeling in the car packed with six kids out for a night of fun: the windows wide open to the warm evening air; the feeling of freedom that comes at that age when you’re away from adults out in a car on the road; the joy of speed that teens seem to love.

teens in backseat Bruce Davidson Magnum Photos

Image Bruce Davidson/Magnum Photos

I’d been in cars like that – kids laughing and joking, maybe a couple in the back kissing – a bottle of cheap booze being passed around for a swig. The defiant freedom of being a kid with a car.

I was terrified many times by show-off boys careening around roads at high speed.

One time the kid speeding his Dad’s giant Cadillac down the Trans Canada Highway, set it on cruise control and hiked his legs up over the steering wheel to guide the car –  I screamed hysterically in the middle front seat, to stop and let me out – the other boys in the car laughing even harder at my terror (they were drunk from shooting beers down their throats before going out on the road and no one was wearing a seat belt).

Returning to school in September was hard. The boy’s former girlfriend was still inconsolable – breaking into tears at all times of the day, unable to focus on anything. I remember that sappy song Last Kiss grating on my nerves every time I heard it on the radio – its whining refrain angering me with its stupid words.

The shock of that terrible accident has never left me, as I’m sure its never left his closest friends, and his loving and emotionally destroyed family.

It seems to happen every year- a group of kids out for a joy ride never thinking about the consequences, killed in a mindless accident. Its always a shock, and always a tragedy.


Note:  there are numerous websites dedicated to statistics for teen car accidents. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety provides statistics based on American road collisions and goes back to 1975. Its worth noting that the numbers have significantly reduced since they peaked in the 1970s.

Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) also provides statistics and current information on youth and impaired driving in Canada. (Interestingly enough New Brunswick receives a D- from MADD.)