The House my Grandfather Built

My maternal grandfather – Colin Webster Innes (1893 -1964) – was an architectural engineer by profession.

Colin Webster Innes by Bernard Safran 1978

My maternal grandfather Colin Webster Inness, painted by my father Bernard Safran (1978, oil on masonite, 16.75″ x19.5″)

He worked on skyscrapers in Chicago and New York, and eventually became the Vice President of Rheinstein Construction Corporation in Manhattan. (In addition to skyscrapers and office buildings he also worked on the New York Times building, luxury homes, and hospitals in the New York City environs.)

My grandparents had built a country house in upstate New York that my grandfather had designed himself. It was a small salt-box style home with a wing addition.

They also owned a couple of properties in Bronxville, NY, just before I was born. Including a double lot with a house on it at 73 Gard Avenue.

In the beginning my grandparents rented the house at 73 Gard Ave to my aunt Coline and her family for a few years, while my grandparents lived closer to the Village of Bronxville on Kensington Road.

country house477

The country house in upstate NY that my grandfather designed and built.

The property on Gard Ave had a large open yard that ran down to McIntyre Street – and it was big enough to build another house on… and that was what my parents ended up doing in 1959. (I wrote an earlier post about my parents’ search for a home in the late 1950s which included seeing the notorious Amityville house that was up for sale)

My parents used my grandfather’s blueprints from his country house to build our house.

Eventually my grandparents moved into the small house at 73 Gard Avenue, and that is how I grew up with my Nanny next door (my grandfather died from arteriosclerosis when I was three and a half).

Gard Avenue 1959

The house at 70 Gard Avenue just after it was built. You can just see my grandparents’ house in the background on the left.

Our house had a simple floor plan – the main floor of the main part of the house consisted of the kitchen, my parent’s bedroom, an open living room/dining room and a small lavatory off the kitchen – accessible to the studio that was located in the wing addition. The studio also had a door into it from the living room.

There were two doors on the front of the house with one door that directly entered the studio. And there was one door at the back that entered the kitchen.

Upstairs there were two bedrooms and one full bathroom. My room faced Gard Avenue. It was a cozy little house.

Gard Ave front path

The front of our house at 70 Gard Avenue circa 1965. My mother had rock gardens in the front and back yards.

Gard Ave living room481

A view of our living room/dining room looking into the studio. The paintings are museum copies of Old Masters done by my father at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. We had a fireplace (barely visible on front left) that we enjoyed – I remember roasting chestnuts in it.

Living Room Bronxville by Bernard Safran 1967

This painting by my Dad shows the other end of the living room including the fireplace. My mother is sitting in “the big chair”. and those lamps flanking the sofa had live goldfish in them at one time. There was a built in bookcase to the right of the sofa that you can’t see in this painting -above the bookcase hung the notorious painting of The Three Graces that my father painted using my mother as model, much to my childhood chagrin (see my earlier post). The Living Room, Bronxville by Bernard Safran, oil on masonite, 1967, 15″ x 20.5″

 

Gard Ave l482

The view up Gard Avenue from our corner – our yard is on the front right. My grandparents’ house is the next house up the street where you can see a stone wall. Note the big beautiful trees – sadly they aren’t there anymore.

 

Bernie in studio blk and white

My Dad in his studio in Bronxville. You can see the door that opened to the front of the house on the left. The painting on the easel is of my grandfather Colin Webster Innes and my Nanny, Elsie Innes. And for bonus points – if you look closely you can see the sofa that my Dad took naps on everyday.

Gard Ave backyard snow

This view of the back of our house was taken from my grandparents’ back yard. On the left is the two car garage that we shared with them.

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Child’s Play: 1960s

When I look back on my childhood I realize that I had some interesting friends when I was little.

Betty c 1966

Me in a party dress c 1966

I went to PS 8 elementary school located in Armour Villa Park in Yonkers, New York. Many of the kids that went there were from well to do  families that lived in the area; many of their parents were high powered professionals who worked in NYC – a thirty minute commute by train. There were also a few UN ambassador’s kids too. So when I went to my friends’ houses they were invariably bigger and fancier than my own little home, but it never occurred to me that they were privileged or any different from me.

PS 8 in Armour Villa Park

I can’t believe I found a picture of my old elementary school and the original square building looks exactly the same as when I went there. In the mid 1960s they built a small addition to the school while I was there – but now the school looks enormous with big additions on all sides. Those three windows above the main door were the principle’s office – I only had to go there once and I was so scared – so scared I don’t even remember why I had to go there – probably for talking too much… the usual reason I had to stay after school.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, by grade 6 many of my friends were out of my life completely – even at school. They had either moved away, had been sent to exclusive private schools, or I wasn’t allowed to play with them due to my father’s intense paranoia of everyone..

One girl, Anna, was the only kid I knew who went on to Burrough’s Junior High when I did. She amazed me by showing up there in Grade 7 with bright turquoise eye shadow – the only external change from her usual small, plump, innocent appearance. She had long dark braids (like me), and she dressed much the same in kilts and shirts, sweaters and thick woolen stockings.

One of her claims to fame was that she lived for a while in Ava Gabor’s Bronxville home (I guess her family rented it). We weren’t allowed to go into the main part of the house – especially the living room – I remember it as pale green with very fancy silk upholstered furniture and every surface, including the floor, seemed to be covered in plastic. The other memorable thing about that house was that it had a beautiful outdoor swimming pool surrounded by a wrought iron fence and masses of roses. I was very jealous of this – especially when I arrived one time and Anna was just leaving the pool for the day like some Shirley Temple kind of kid movie star in a one piece bathing suit…

Newfoundland Dog

This is a giant male Newfoundland dog – and its one of the few pictures that features the ever present drool – that’s why I chose this image. You also get a good idea of how big the mouth of a Newfoundland is especially to a little kid.

I only saw her father once – he was very tall and he looked a bit like Boris Karloff to me – her mother looked a lot like Anna to me – short, plump and sweet and she had a British accent I think. My mother told me once that her father was in oil which mystified me: how is one in oil and what kind of oil? and what did you do with oil anyway?

Anna soon moved to another elegant house and at the same time acquired an enormous Newfoundland dog named Emma. The first time I met the dog she gently swallowed my arm up to my elbow – I remember my shock at this, and how I slowly pulled my arm all dripping with saliva, out from her mouth. Emma was young and rambunctious and loved to bounce around us when we played in the children’s big play room.

Another friend, Cory (short for Cornelia) had “help”, and when I was over we’d be fed in the kitchen at a little table by a lady who worked there (a cook, a housekeeper??). Like many of the homes I went to, we were only allowed to play outside in the yard or in my friend’s room. We usually went up the back staircase from the kitchen to her room – avoiding the main house. The downstairs of the elegant house was pristine, but my friend’s room was a total disaster – a real comfortable mess (as most of the upstairs of these elegant houses were).

On one occasion I was invited to stay for dinner and it was a terrifying experience. The dining table was very long, dark and shiny, and big as I remember – so it seemed like I was a mile away from the safety of my friend. And both of her parents (her dad in a three piece suit on one end, and her mother dressed for dinner and in heels at the other end) were there and they asked me polite conversational questions – which at that young age was a nerve wracking task to get through. Also, they served artichokes which I’d never seen before and it was very scary and humiliating to have to admit I didn’t know how to peel the bits off, dip them into the sauce, and then politely nibble the ends off.The Russians Are Coming

This friend of mine, Cory, had a fabulous birthday party one year out in her big yard. At some point we were all ushered into a room to watch a private screening of the movie The Russians Are Coming The Russians Are Coming – (I think it was before the film was released to the public). All of us kids sat in a couple of rows of chairs in front of the big screen, and a bunch of men in suits sat and chain smoked off to the side.

I was invited out with Cory and her mother on a couple of occasions to go into the city: once to go to the ballet at Lincoln Center, and sometime around 1970, to go to a zoological show there. I remember holding a snake and feeling its smooth dry skin. But the most remarkable experience was going into the giant theater and having the lights go down and listening in the dark cavernous room to the first recordings of whales singing – it was mesmerizing, and made a huge impact on me… (to see beautiful video of humpback whales and hear them singing go to: http://www.youtube.com/user/TheOceaniaProject?feature=watch)

I didn’t know (until researching this post) that my childhood friend Cory grew up to be a very important and influential person like her parents… If I could only remember all the names of my childhood friends I’d probably find that a number of my old school chums also went to the finest schools and became significant people – it was that kind of community.

My little friend Ya Ling was apparently a member of China’s Imperial Family...  her mother was a very distinguished woman and she proudly told my mother this fact once over a cup of tea.

david cassidy

David Cassidy

Bobby Sherman

Ya Ling was my only friend at that age who was a big fan of pop stars; she had posters of Bobby Sherman and David Cassidy and the Partridge Family up in her room. And she was also my first friend with a skateboard which we unsuccessfully attempted to ride in front of her house on her quiet street, and on the uneven stones of her back patio.

The Partridge Family

The Partridge Family

Ya Ling and her parents once took me into the city to Chinatown where we had a big feast of roast duck (my first time seeing a whole roasted animal and my first time trying hot curried bean curd) – they also bought a giant bag of fortune cookies that my friend and I ate in the back seat of their car all the way home – I remember it was raining because I can still see in my mind the shiny black streets and the bright glowing lights of Manhattan reflected in them.

One of my happiest memories was from when I was over for her birthday party and we were playing a dare game – it was my turn and and I had to go kiss one of her uncles. The men were downstairs playing some game at a table in the living room – they all seemed terribly old to me. So I ran downstairs with my friends giggling behind me, ran through the kitchen to the living room and kissed the lucky uncle who sat closest to the door on the cheek. Everyone laughed – it is one of those crystal clear memories for me, no doubt because of the heightened emotion of the moment and the intense feeling that I was suddenly part of a warm loving, happy family.

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.

Let’s Fast Forward to 1972

In the fall of 1972 I entered grade 7 at Burrough’s Junior High in Yonkers, NY. Let’s just say I didn’t adjust to the change…

Betty Safran with hand made model of Parthenon 1972

This is me in 1972 just a few months before entering junior high. I’m shyly posing with my to-scale handmade model of the Parthenon. You can see that I was what they’d call today a geeky kid – thoughtful, sensitive – not a tough nut.

At the time that Burroughs was built about 4 years earlier it was meant to be a revolution in education – take the sheltered middle class kids and mix them with the rough tough kids and things will even out. However the experiment didn’t go well – at least not while my sister or I were there… gangs of kids controlled the halls with violence (I only went to the washroom once at Burrough’s – it was too scary to be alone in the halls and bathrooms) and tormented kids on the buses.

Burroughs Junior High, Yonkers, New York

This is my old alma mater Burroughs Junior High in Yonkers, NY. Isn’t it an attractive prison-like depressing institution?

And one day a mobile race riot came (they were going around in buses) and our school was then surrounded by riot police decked out with all their gear and vans… it was a fun place.

Not only did I develop a strong bladder, but I also started having intense stomach pains that lasted for several years after that…

Betty Safran and Babby

This is sweet me with Babby the neighborhood Tabby.

Things in Manhattan were really devolving too – check out the movie American Gangster by Ridley Scott if you want an atmospheric tour of what it felt like in the city in the 70s.

And in our neighborhood a Mafioso boss broke building codes and built a house across the street from our house and trucks came and went at all hours as did big men (think the Sopranos). We heard from a neighbor soon after we left Bronxville that the guy’s pretty little wife was killed by a car bomb.

And there was a new presence of drugs in the schools and on our quiet streets – I went out to school one day and found a whole pile of used needles on the slope of our yard near the sidewalk….

My parents had been talking about moving somewhere remote and away from New York  for a few years. Real estate catalogues from Ireland, Australia and the rural US, were lying around the house. Even though I hated my new junior high – I didn’t want to leave my home, my Nanny who lived next door, or my beloved Babby, our visiting tabby.

In the spring of1972 my parents decided to go up to Eastern Canada and visit my mother’s eldest sister Joanne and her husband Lorne, and look for some cheap rural real estate that we could move to.

Willy Rayworth house Jolicure

This is how my sister first saw the red house on the hill – from a canoe on Long Lake.

After looking at several remote houses on a windy and open marsh, and a couple of Victorian charmers in small towns, they quickly decided on a red farmhouse about 3 or 4 miles from my aunt’s farmhouse in Jolicure, New Brunswick. This was the house that my sister fell in love with about a year earlier when she was up there visiting.

Locally it was known as the Willy Rayworth House. It had been famous for its spring water and for the dancing parties that had been held in the large kitchen in its heyday. The house when we saw it had been abandoned for some years and looked pretty in a shabby, run-down kind of way.

I guess I didn’t realize at the time that we were going to move to this house forever more. So it came as a shock when it became a reality. I remember lying under the Christmas tree in 1972 looking up at the flashing lights and weeping because I didn’t want to leave, and my father yelling at me to stop – we were moving and that was final.

And we weren’t allowed to tell anyone where we were going…

Adele makes a book: Part I

My mother Adele had a spirited and fearless appetite for learning. She approached everything in life with zest and when she set her mind to it she could do just about anything…she was an inspiration to me.

Adele Safran painting in the garden

Here’s my Mom painting in the garden at her small easel, wearing her big straw beach hat and standing in her flip flops. She was first and foremost a painter.

When I was little and she was busy rearing us kids, she pursued a variety of creative interests. It was during this time that she decided to learn calligraphy, print making (with linoleum cuts), and book binding.

She started by teaching herself all about calligraphy.

Adele Safran's books on Medieval manuscripts and calligraphy pen nibs

A couple of my mother’s books about Medieval manuscripts, and some of the pen nibs she used for making her own manuscripts.

She studied Medieval illuminated manuscripts, and different handwritten alphabets until she found a style that she could make her own.

In the beginning I remember she used feathers to make her pens – I think they must have been goose feathers – they were big and sturdy and white. She cut the tip of the feather at the exact angle for it to fill with ink and to make it form the right width of line as she wrote out text. Eventually she started using a pen that had interchangeable nibs. The pen was easier to use than feathers, but it was still a very difficult thing to do properly.

It took a lot of practicing to get the right style so that she could form the letters without thinking too much. The letters needed to look even and balanced and have a visual rhythm to them.

Some of Adele's books, materials and tools for bookbinding

Some of Adele’s books, materials and tools for bookbinding

It wasn’t enough for her to just learn calligraphy – she also learned how to bind the pages she made into books.

She decided to make a book of her favorite poems – and to make three copies of it by hand; one for my grandmother, one for my sister, and one for me (more on this book in an upcoming post).

To illustrate the book she made a different linoleum cut for each poem.

Linoleum mounted on a block of wood, two cutting tools, and a sharpening stone

Two of Adele’s linoleum cuts for her book of poetry and two cutting tools, one plain mounted piece of linoleum and a sharpening stone.
Like many print making processes – its the area that you don’t carve away that will pick up the ink and make the final design you see on paper. The prints will be the opposite of how they appear here (light will be dark; dark will be light).

She printed each picture by hand, using a large smooth spoon to rub the ink from the lino block onto paper. (She later bought an etchings press and a font of type to use for making other books).

One of our neighbors in Bronxville was Mr. Valenti Angelo. Mr. Angelo was a famous artist, book illustrator and author and he helped my mother learn how to make and bind books; it was very generous of him.

My mother took me to Mr. Angelo’s house on several occasions. Mrs. Angelo would make tea or lemonade and we’d sit and visit for a few minutes in the garden or the living room before going upstairs to his studio where he kept his printing presses and his beautiful paintings.

Valenti Angelo by Bernard Safran 1968

This is a portrait of Mr. Angelo that my father did in 1968. My parents used to say that Mr. Angelo had a fine head – meaning that he had great character and personality, and that he was a handsome man.

He would let me look at books that he’d written and illustrated while he talked to my mother. I remember liking his children’s book Nino so much that he gave me a copy.

Nino by Valenti Angelo

Halloween 1968: My Pony and Cat Trick

In 1968 when I was in Grade 3 my mother made a papier mache horse costume for me.

Betty Safran in her horse riding costumeWe regularly watched The Ed Sullivan Show on TV and I think we saw some performance with dancers wearing similar costumes and this inspired my Mom to make one for me.

I saw the horse come to life as my mother made a wire armature and then covered it with papier mache. It was a beautiful white pony with a fushia mane and tail and I adored it. It wasn’t an easy costume to wear – it was big and awkward, but it was awesome. I wore it to school on Halloween and proudly pranced around the school yard in the PS 8 yearly Halloween Parade.

The cap on my head had a kind of Baroque style brooch on it that attached a feathery plume. I felt very grand. When I walked or cantered my stuffed little legs would bounce up and down.

Halloween c. 1968 Betty Safran in her horse riding costumeOn Halloween night that year, my sister went Trick or Treating with her friends so my mother took me by myself. But I wasn’t alone for long –  as soon as we left our house, Babby the neighborhood tabby cat joined us.

Babby wasn’t our cat, he lived with other people, but he visited us everyday and he and I had known each other since he was a baby and I was about 2.

So he came Trick or Treating with us that night, up and down the streets.

It was raining and the streets were shiny and black. Every time a car went by, its headlights would sheer across the asphalt and blind me for a quick second. I was so afraid that Babby would run in front of a car and get hit… but he was a street smart cat and sometimes I could see him as a black silhouette running along the edge of the street through the grass and bushes.

BabbyEvery time I’d go up to a door and ring the doorbell, the door would open and Babby would run into the house. I’d get my candy and then suddenly the people would notice the cat in their front hall or living room and there’d be a scream and shuffle and Babby would run back outside and go on to the next house with us.

It was the only time I ever really had a true Trick to play on Halloween – it was also the only time the cat came calling with me on Halloween.

When we moved from Bronxville, NY to New Brunswick, Canada we left my pony behind in the attic – it was very hard for me to let go… it had been such a remarkable costume made just for me, and such a weirdly wonderful night with Babby.