Exploring the old house of Chris Safrit’s grandmother
Another boyhood friend, Chris Safrit, lived about a half mile up Old Concord Road from me in the direction of Salisbury. His home was across the road from that of the Canup boys, John, Paul and Tim, Vernon Bernhardt being down the road from them. In an era when the word “cool” was used a lot, Chris seemed to be more hep, “cooler” than the rest of us. His sister Glenna was some years older, and I recall her as being very beautiful.
The Safrits also belonged to Saint Paul’s Lutheran Church, as, of course, did a good many families along our stretch of road. Chris’ mother, Catherine, was also a longtime member of the choir. Her musicality extended beyond singing, as she was a fine pianist, also taking in students, I think.
The Safrits’ home always stands out in my mind for its outside decor. Attached to the brick was a large, very stylish, beautiful, metallic treble clef (not meaning any slight, but the poor symbol encompassing what the pianist’s left hand plays, and what the lower voices sing, falls far short in consideration for decorative purposes).
One day, a bunch of us neighborhood kids were at Chris’ home when his mom decided to provide a memory game for our entertainment. She placed a wide variety of little items on a tray, then set the tray in the middle of the table for us to stare at for a minute while committing the items to memory. After removing the tray and its contents from view, she asked each to take a turn telling what he remembered having seen. On that day, I was the kid who had remembered the most; but I don’t say this to brag, only mentioning because it still sticks in my mind.
Chris’ father, Robert Safrit, was a fine man, as were all of the men along Old Concord Road in those days. Being a fan of Westerns (who wasn’t then?) and World War II movies, I noticed a certain character actor often appearing in both who bore a strong resemblance to Rob. His name was Lyle Bettger. Bettger played bad men of the Old West, bad Germans of the then not-long-past war, and is also especially remembered for playing the highly jealous elephant trainer “Klaus” in the Cecil B. DeMille movie “The Greatest Show on Earth.” The resemblance was only skin deep, however, as Mr. Safrit was a true gentleman, a good American of German descent, and when the Clyde Beatty-Cole Brothers Circus came to the Rowan County Fairgrounds in the early 1960s, I feel pretty certain that he was just a spectator like the rest of us.
Graduating from the seventh to the eighth grade at Granite Quarry School, I soon discovered that Mrs. Safrit’s talent extended to the realm of teaching. She required the class to do oral reports, feeling that speaking publicly was a necessary art for children to know. I gave a “talk” on rocks (what else, right?) and still have it mentally filed, so if you need someone to give a talk on rocks at the drop of a hat (or rather, in 11/2 hours, the Danville-to-Salisbury driving time), just give me a call.
One time, Chris led several of us on an exploration of his late grandmother’s old house, which stood next to his home (both houses now gone). I remember it as being one of those two-story farmhouse types in which grandmothers always seemed to be living back then. These days, they reside in bungalows, duplexes, townhouses and apartment buildings especially crafted for the elderly. In my youth, grandmothers most always lived in those old farmhouses, with much too much room for that lone grandparent, the children having long since moved away and the husband having departed in death some years before.
Heading toward the vacant house, we passed through its back yard, traversing a little stand of golden-brown, foot-tall, waving grass (wind-caused, of course). In retrospect, the grass reminded me of “broom,” or some dwarf variety of that decorative plant native to the Argentine pampas.
The house’s interior was vacant, the furnishings having probably been claimed as posthumous “mementos of mother” by her children.
Its windows were still intact, aiding the afternoon, autumn sun in raising the temperature within. It felt warm there, but the warmth was “cold” in nature, being produced only by “greenhouse” physics, not from having been kindled by the hand of man.
In what was once the living room, (where nothing had lived for some time), there were hundreds of dead bees on the floor. The greatest clustering was in the old fireplace, from which their tiny carcasses statically radiated over a good portion of the living room floor, the numbers decreasing as the distance from the hearth increased.
There were also some spider webs, minus spiders. The webs’ residents had either given up and left or given up and died. If a hundred or so of the hundreds of dried, lifeless bees had been hand-scooped from the floor and squeezed, there would probably not have been even one drop of collective blood produced to slake a spider’s thirst.
In that vacant place, there was a dearth of both “macro” and “micro” life.
I’ve never known such small, “programmed” creatures to be particularly enamored of people. Despite this, it seemed that not long after Chris’ grandmother departed the home in death, its littlest residents abandoned the will to live.