Learning Greek

… and please don’t say “its all Greek to me”…

I entered my first year at Mount Allison University thinking I’d major in French. I’d been pretty good at conversational French in High School where that’s all we did (little reading and even less writing – it was an educational experiment) and because I was in Canada I thought being a French major would guarantee me work somewhere…

Harry Hamlin as Perseus in the Clash of the Titans

Who doesn’t enjoy some Ancient Greek history now and then?
Harry Hamlin as Perseus in the 1981 movie Clash of the Titans

However, I took one elective through the Classical Studies Department – a survey of ancient Greek and Roman art and architecture and I enjoyed this class so much I changed my major to Classical Studies and Greek – and that naturally meant I had to learn ancient Greek.

Languages have never come easily to me (and when I look back on it I wonder why I ever thought I would major in French). Some people thrive studying languages whether ancient or modern, but not me. It was a daily struggle with all of it. I can honestly say that I had to look up just about every word and parse it for every kind of ancient Greek text that I read (and I read a lot during my academic career).

I finally started to really enjoy it in graduate school when I took a class on Homeric Greek and we read the Illiad and some of the Homeric Hymns. But even for that class I had to pretty much write out each word and study it. But, as I said, I eventually found the Homeric Greek a joy to read.

Ancient Greek texts

Just a couple of the texts that I read in school – one by Plato, another by Sophocles, and my two reference books that I couldn’t survive without.

When I started going to work in Greece on archaeological digs it meant that I also needed to learn some modern Greek so that I could get by on my own. When I was in Athens I generally lived by myself in apartments that I rented from other (much more well to do) graduate students or professors who kept places there year round.

I became very adept at taxi Greek, groceries Greek and restaurant Greek. I also got very good at reading the entertainment paper to find movie listings.

My conversational Greek however left much to be desired, at least until just before I left Greece for good in 1985 – by then I actually spoke more like a native, and a woman at a clothing store kept asking me if I was Greek – well I had to have Greek parents, I must be from some Greek family… and so on. I was buying sport socks so this was something of an achievement for me.

Betty on 2nd floor of the Stoa of Attalos

Me striking a pose on the 2nd floor of the Stoa of Attalos at the Athenian Agora. The offices were behind the partitions… and my cheapo camera has really distorted the columns – but you get a sense of the space and how huge and grand the building is.
c 1981

Going back to the second season that I went to work at the Agora (see my previous post Travels to Aphaia) I mostly traveled alone and lived alone.  I was determined to experience everything I could in the time that I was there including learning more about modern Greek culture. I wanted to be open to whatever came my way…

It was literally my first day back in Athens and I headed down to the Plaka to find a pair of handmade sandals. I knew the store I wanted to go to and headed straight there. Afterwards, I poked around in some of the other shops killing time. And though I had little or no money I wandered into a jewellery store. I was hankering for a pair of silver Bronze Age style axe head earrings (which I eventually got).

the Plaka in Athens, source: wikimedia commons, photo by Spyrosdrakopoulos

Once you get away from all the tourist shops, the Plaka is very beautiful and quiet.
The Plaka, image source: wikimedia commons, photo by Spyrosdrakopoulos

The guy working there persisted in talking to me and since he didn’t have anyone else in the shop he spent some time showing me jewellery. Then out of the blue he asked me to join him and his family for dinner that night. So having made the commitment to myself to live life as an Athenian, I said yes.

I returned later in the evening when he closed up the shop, and he took me home to meet his family. They lived in a very modern apartment building. I remember that the living room had white marble floors and walls and was very spacious with a big picture window.

My modern Greek was non existent at this time (except for my taxi Greek and grocery Greek) and the entire family was there speaking a mile a minute. I think there were about 14 people – brothers, sisters, parents, aunts, cousins – I don’t know…

Soon we all got in cars and drove a long way to a restaurant in an area I’d never been to before. It was packed with local people, and we were put at a long table so that the whole group could sit together. The conversation went rapidly back and forth and I didn’t catch any of it. The fellow who invited me was very polite and solicitous – but I felt like such an outsider and also like an intruder into this family outing.

At one point when the table was completely covered with dishes of food I asked politely for the bread to be passed – or at least that’s what I thought I’d said. Well, apparently the woman across from me thought I’d asked for something that sounds a lot like bread but actually is the street word for penis… all Hell broke loose…

Betty at bakery in Athens 1981

Here I am with my friendly neighborhood baker during my first trip to Athens in 1981.
I guess its obvious why the word for bread is similar to the word for you know what…
I thought I was pronouncing “bread” fine in Greek – after all I bought bread almost everyday from this bakery – but maybe that’s why this man was so friendly when I went in?

People started screaming at me – at the guy – at each other – I understood enough Greek curses to know that I was being called some not very nice things.

At that point the guy took me out of the restaurant – thank God. I was hoping that that was it for the evening. But no. He took me to the most expensive, newest hotel in Athens, to the bar for a drink.

After all the insulting things I’d been called at the restaurant, I felt really uncomfortable going to a bar in a hotel. I was really suspicious about his intentions by then, so I got out of there as fast as I could and grabbed a taxi back to my place. And thank goodness my taxi Greek was good enough then to take me where I needed to go.

I was so scarred by that experience that I avoided that street in the Plaka for the next few years – I couldn’t bear to see that guy ever again. And believe me I was very – very careful from then on with my pronunciation of the Greek word for bread.


Rockaway Days – back to the 1960s

Beach Baby Betty

Beach Baby Betty

I grew up going to the beach. It was something that our family did regularly in the hot summer months. In an earlier post I wrote about going to Rye Beach in Westchester County, NY which was relatively close to where we lived in Bronxville.

Well, we also went to Rockaway Beach a lot (located on the South Shore of Long Island) in Queens, NY. Rockaway is on the Atlantic Ocean.

The waves and currents can be big and strong there, and I spent a lot of time getting pounded by them while I jumped through them crashing over me.

Surfing at Rockaway Beach

Surfs up at Rockaway Beach – notice the giant boulder breakwater to the left

My parents were both strong swimmers and could get out beyond the surf to swim up and down the beach.

They always kept a wary eye on me – if I got too deep or too close to the piers and giant rocks of the breakers.

Some of the time I spent making sandcastles by dripping wet sand through my fingers till it built up Gaudi-esque towers and masses. betty with pail111

Other times when it wasn’t too busy I loved running into a huge group of gulls that were resting on the shore and having them fly up and around me. I also hunted for shells and other interesting finds that had washed up – like shark egg casings, different jelly fish (even Man of War jelly fish) or crabs.

And I enjoyed drawing in the sand with a found piece of driftwood and watching the tide wash my lines away.

If I was hanging out on the beach blanket with the rest of my family I was likely listening to my groovy baby blue plastic transistor radio (it had a perforated black plastic/leather-like slip case). I listened to the current hits of course.

My father would lie on the blanket and read or just rest. My mother would sit patiently piecing her patchwork quilts with tiny stitches.

1960s transistor radio

My little radio looked a lot like this except it was baby blue

We very often set up our blanket by one of the life guard stands. One summer we were near one guy in particular and he had a girlfriend with a polka dot bikini and I thought they were the greatest. His name was Larry and I cannot remember his girlfriend’s name – only the bikini.

The life guards at Rockaway were stretched all along the beach and when something terrible happened like someone drowning or drifting out to sea or sharks showed up – one after the other they’d stand up and wave and whistle to the next guy down the beach… and they spent an awful amount of time whistling and gesturing to people in the water. It was very exciting when Larry would take off into the water to rescue someone.

Rockaway lifeguard

An actual Rockaway Beach lifeguard in action

Rockaway Beach, photo by Bernard SafranOnce in a very little while, my Dad would get sentimental and go buy all of us some hot fresh knishes from some vendor – that was a real treat – they were greasy, and salty and yummy. Most of the time however, we took our lunch with us. We’d each get a can of soda – I liked grape flavor or Dr. Pepper – and usually tuna sandwiches with complimentary sand, and homemade cookies.

My father loved the beach so much I remember going to Rockaway when it was awful and cold and windy and being forced to suffer there wrapped in sweaters sitting on the blanket near the boardwalk and seeing rats scurrying underneath.

But mostly it was wonderful there, and hot and crowded. Kids were always spraying you with sand, beach balls flying around, guys doing handstands – you get the picture – wall to wall humanity and no sense of personal space. rockaway nyc parks Even if the beach was empty someone would walk miles to come and sit 4″ away.

Airplanes were always coming in and going out of the JFK airport over us and it was fun to try and identify the planes – it was like all the world was going by up there.

The drive to and from Rockaway from our house in Bronxville, was as I remember it, very long and often incredibly hot. There always seemed to be some horrific car accident on the way there or back that slowed traffic to a crawl; accidents so yucky that my parents would make us girls put our heads down in the back seat til we were well away from the deadly scene.

Bernard Safran, Boats, Broad Channel, oil on illustration board, 1957

Sometimes we’d drive through Broad Channel in Jamaica Bay to get to Rockaway Beach. I loved to go that route and see the houses on stilts and all the boats. This painting is by my Dad.
Bernard Safran – Boats, Broad Channel, oil on illustration board, 1957

It was an especially grueling drive in the heat with a sandy, pebbly, shell and seaweed filled bathing suit on. It was so itchy, I remember sliding around in the back seat to try and get comfortable (before there were seat belts).

I also remember taunting my sister a lot as I got more and more bored – putting my toe or my finger over the territorial line that divided the back seat in half. This usually led to me giggling hysterically and her getting really upset.

Since I was the youngest I got the last shower when we got home – which I thought very unfair (just one of many injustices in a long list of things I found unfair as the youngest). But by the time I was clean and dressed my mother would have dinner ready. It was a pretty great time to be a little kid.

For your listening pleasure click on this link: Rockaway Beach by the Ramones


Rockaway boardwalk hurricane damage 2012

Hurricane Sandy damage to Rockaway’s epic boardwalk 2012.
photo: Todd Maisel/New York Daily News

Hurricane Sandy destroyed Rockaway Beach and many of the coastal communities near it in 2012. It cost about $140 million to open the beach for 2013. To repair the boardwalk they estimate it could top another $200 million. Before Hurricane Sandy, Rockaway Beach had approximately 7.8 million visitors a summer.

‘Innocence Abroad’

I was a really sheltered naive kid and my parents apparently liked it that way. Despite my entire childhood spent at art museums looking at endless nudes (and nude lovers),

ancient sculpture/India

Its amazing the things you can see at museums!

I really didn’t know a thing about the birds and the bees. So it always came as a real shock to find out what was really going on in the real world…

When I started school in Canada – I had just turned 13 years old. In this new school there were girls my age who quit because they got pregnant, which was a revelation to me. How and why’d they do that anyway?

And in case you are wondering why I didn’t learn more pertinent information through the Board of Education – our official sex education in Junior High (in Port Elgin, NB) amounted to a couple of grainy old 1950s educational movies that had very confusing animated diagrams and very little useful information – and most of us kids just laughed at them and threw things at the screen…

Last Tango in Paris movie poster

WHOA! Last Tango In Paris – really naughty

I remember my first confusion about two weeks into the new school, when a boy in class pulled a bunch of kids over at lunch to show them that he had stolen a copy of Last Tango in Paris from his parents. I was unimpressed mostly because I had no idea what the book was about.

And then when he came right up to me and stood about 2 inches from my face and said “too bad you’re not horny” I didn’t have a clue what he was talking about. Total confusion – I mean here we’d moved to the country and the only things with horns were cows as far as I knew.

I had to take a trusted girlfriend aside and ask her what it meant and she told me. Well, she thought that was soo funny…


Cows have horns, right?

They may have had more knowledge of sex than me – maybe even first hand, but there was still a lot of childlike behavior about “courting” there.

One day, in Grade 7 when I was still just 13, I got a note left in the pocket of my outdoor jacket. It read: Do you like me? and it had two little boxes  – one for yes, and one for no, and I was supposed to check which one was correct. First of all it didn’t say who’d written it so I didn’t have a clue. I thought it was just some dumb joke. But no, it turned out that it was a very handsome young fella who apparently checked his own box that he liked me… this came to me from some go between friends, and was confirmed by my friends’ giggles and his longing googly eyes at me. (Too bad he wasn’t my first kiss – darn).

I wasn’t really interested in boys at that point and certainly didn’t want to be tied to someone – the couples in Grade 7 walked around holding hands constantly and hardly talked to anyone else they were so deeply in love (and clearly some of them got pregnant). So this handsome fella soon moved on to more horny love interests. In fact he eventually had to the leave the country after having gotten some girl pregnant – at least that’s what the gossip was.

I had another memorable moment in Grade 10 when I was all of 16. I had a spare period during the day and spent a lot of time hanging around with some of the older, wilder guys – you know the smokers and druggies and musicians – the cool guys. There was nothing to it – it was just that they actually read interesting things and thought about interesting things and I liked talking to them.

Betty with braids, c 1974

Betty with braids, about 14 years old, c 1974

For Christmas that year my mother had given me a long sleeved shirt from a store at the Mall. It was a bright turquoise blue and had a big varsity type number across the chest. Hey, I thought it looked good on me and my mother seemed to think so too. But one day I wore it to school and I was standing around on my free period with this Grade 12 dude and he kept snickering to himself. I was getting pretty annoyed, and when I got mad he told me. In fact he couldn’t believe I didn’t know what I was wearing – he thought I was in on it….

It was a giant 69. Yes folks, my mother gave me a shirt with a giant 69 across my boobs – the universal symbol of a very well known sex position. Thank goodness for this guy telling me. I never wore it to school again and I never told my mother about it either – obviously my parents didn’t have a clue.

Also in Grade 10 (a real turnaround year), I was reading a book for English class called the Mountain and the Valley by Ernest Buckler. One weekend I was in the kitchen reading it and my mother was ironing and I came across a word I didn’t know.

The Mountain and the Valley by Ernest Buckler

The Mountain and the Valley

“Hey Mom what does this word mean?” – I show her the book and she just looks blank. “Let’s ask your father, Dear” and so she goes up to the studio to get my father. Both of them come down to the kitchen and exchange glances at each other –  “What exactly are you reading?” asks my father, so I tell him its a famous Canadian novel and I’m reading it for English class. “Oh” – more exchanged glances and then he shrugs and says “Go look it up in the dictionary” and leaves the room. I go look it up in the dictionary ….

…m a s t e r b a t i o n…. hmmm, I read the meaning of the word and still didn’t get it. So I just left it alone – it was clear my parents either didn’t know its meaning or they didn’t want to say, so I just read on. Luckily I didn’t ask what it meant in class – that would have been deadly… and thank goodness I didn’t have a shirt with that on it too.

the mountain and the valley image google

Ok, this has nothing to do with my post except when I googled images of the book The Mountain and the Valley this came up and I thought it was just too good to pass on…

Through the Eye of a Needle

My first sampler age 7

My first sampler age 7

My mother taught me to embroider at an early age and I’ve continued doing needlework for my entire life.

Detail, sampler finished age 7 Betty SafranWhen you look at the projects I did as a teen in particular, its obvious that I had a lot of time on my hands out there in that isolated farmhouse, and a fair amount of patience and skill.

My first learning project was a crewel work sampler when I was 7, and with it I learned all the basic stitches – the french knots were the hardest by far.

The Erica Wilson kit I made as a kid

Erica Wilson kit

When I finished the sampler, I  moved onto a crewel work pillow cover from Erica Wilson’s line of embroidery kits; the end product was fine enough to be used on the living room couch.

My sampler finished age 14

My sampler finished age 14

In 1973 after moving to Canada, my mother gave me a new sampler kit – this one was much bigger and more elaborate than anything I had done before. I worked on it feverishly and finished it in a year. It’s something that I am proud of to this day.

A friend of my mother’s made the same kit around the same time as me – hers was perfect with each stitch exactly formed and she criticized my work because it didn’t look like hers, but I felt that mine had more beauty and character (though I didn’t dare say so – I had better manners then than I do now).

The next sampler that I made  was counted stitch based on the pattern of an antique sampler in the Women’s Day collection of American Needlework. The sampler was worked on dark gray linen to look like a child’s school slate. It was even about the same size as a slate…

Original Slate Sampler  by Anzolette Hussey dated 1825

Original Slate Sampler dated 1825

I had to dye my piece of linen to match the original and then carefully reproduce the design. It was a wedding gift to my cousin so I embroidered that commemoration in the area that the original girl had embroidered her name. It was very hard work with a lot of eye strain due to the dark and somewhat shiny linen, but it was worth it.

After finishing the Slate Sampler I started a new counting stitch sampler for myself from the same collection.

I was challenging myself with more complicated work with each project – the stitches on this sampler were exact and exhausting

The Cat Sampler - detail

The Cat Sampler – detail

– in some areas there are tiny little features that are 1 x 1 stitching – one thread of floss across two crossing threads of linen

The Cat Sampler with my cat Nimbus

The Cat Sampler with my cat Nimbus

– extremely fine work (which I don’t think I could do now unless I had glasses like Professor Farnsworth from Futurama).

Professor Farnsworth of Futurama created by Matt Groening

Prof Farnsworth

It remains unfinished – one of many projects that I have to work on before I leave this mortal life… or I could just frame it unfinished – after all it is beautiful as it is.

Throughout my teens I continued to embroider on my jeans, jackets, on little sachets – on anything that I could think of like Christmas tree ornaments, and eyeglass cases.

Sachets filled with balsam c1970s

Sachets filled with balsam c1970s

I experimented with other needle arts too. I did needlepoint when I was a teen during the time that my mother and aunt were creating and selling needlepoint kits. I used their extra left over wool to make my own designs.

I also quilted at the Jolicure quilting club and while there worked on whatever quilt was being finished: stitching the tiny even stitches to pull the top and bottom of the quilt together with a thick batting between.

I pieced two quilts of my own: I have an entire quilt top which still needs quilting and enough patchwork squares to make a sampler quilt. Making the sampler quilt squares was fun; – I got to try different patterns and I soon learned that I liked the geometric piecing more than applique piecing. When I look at each individual square that I made I can remember the time and what was happening when I was working on it.

Unfinished patchwork star

Unfinished patchwork star

And through my teens I sewed and made some of my own clothes (from Vogue patterns naturally).

Speaking of unfinished projects I am now working on a needlepoint pillow cover of a tabby cat. Another intricate piece that despite the color guide requires some consistent counting to do right.

The Contented Cat by Elizabeth Bradley

The Contented Cat by Elizabeth Bradley; a work in progress

I put it away for a while and then rediscover it and always find the work soothing and enjoyable but it requires a certain energy that I find sometimes I can’t muster. I am already looking forward to making another in the series. When the pillows are done I will place them on my couch and not let anyone touch them – not even my beloved cats.

Note: as with all my posts – you can click on most of the images to see a larger version, then hit back arrow to go back to the post.

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.

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.

Trick or Treat – Queen and Doggy

By the time I was in Grade 4 I was already immersed in Egyptian art from my many hours spent at museums.

Egyptian musicians Dynasty 18th Metropolitan Museum of Art

Nice outfits, Dynasty 18

I also read a lot about ancient Egypt, and like most kids found the art and culture fascinating and beautiful. So when I was finally old enough to wear the Safran Egyptian Queen costume I was thrilled.

My mother had originally made this Halloween costume for my sister several years earlier.

The wig was made from strips of thick hair-like wool fabric and it sat very comfortably on the head. I liked it especially since the ladies of ancient Egypt also wore wigs that looked a lot like this one (to me anyway).

Betty Safran as an Egyptian queen

“Hail to thee oh Cleopatra my Queen” – that’s what the school janitor said to me as he bowed… and that’s when I discovered what it must feel like to be revered…too bad it only lasted one short moment.

I chose to wear a red cloak. We made it from a bed sheet that we dyed with Rit dye in the bathtub – a very exciting process for me.

Once it was dry and pressed, I had to stand still while my mother figured out how to sew and form the sheet into some kind of garment that I could walk in and keep secure around my neck.

I made the golden “beaded” collar under my mother’s direction – I stapled bits of paper onto a sparkly piece of fabric – a lame, but effective enough substitute for the real thing.

Getting the thick black eyeliner put on was difficult and uncomfortable but it made me feel glamorous and exotic.

And what a triumph when I went to school on Halloween and the janitor bowed down to me in the hall!

In 1970 my mother decided for me, that Grade 5 would be the last Halloween I would celebrate. I guess she had tired of the whole thing and she was ready to retire from costume making.

I still feel a touch of bitterness and disappointment about my last Halloween; me being only a mere child of 10 years. However, we are talking about my costume here in this post not my feelings – and I have to admit the costume was pretty cool.

I went as a Dapper Dog –

Dapper Dog costume083My mother spent some time creating the head-covering mask that made me look like a dog with nice floppy long ears. On top of this I wore a hat and for the rest of my costume I wore what looked like a suit. I seem to recall that I also had fuzzy mittens from the same fabric as the head gear.

As you can see in the photo I have a suitable 1970’s Flower Power necktie on too.

…So that was it for me for Halloween.

It was a good run while it lasted.

(next year I’ll have to dig up the rest of my childhood costumes to show you)

Steinlen black cat