A Dog’s Life

Gret

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.

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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.