Alter's Family Album

This picture was taken the afternoon before the celabration for his 75th birthday and understandably shows the pleasure he was feeling in light of the occasion. The Perhift had organized the evening and the whole thing went off with great panache. The actors read from his work, there were speeches, and it was a splendid time for him.



Esselin is standing here in the backyard of the house he and Becky bought in the later 1950's. The address was 2053 North 23rd Street and it was the first time in their lives they had a house and a garden. They paid cash for the place, a good deal more than it was worth, but they didn't know or care. Alter had managed to earn enough for the purchase by working steadily during the Second World War at the heavy construction jobs that were the result of the need to build Army training camps in Northern Wisconsin and munitions factories in Indiana. There were months at a time that he lived away from home in those war years, enduring the heavy labor that war work demanded, even though he was no longer a young man.
It was an elderly house but Alter Esselin, good carpenter that he was, knew how to keep it from falling completely apart. He installed a winch that kept a substantial section of the frame of the house intact. Every few months he had to tighten the mechanism to keep the tension up to speed.

This pen and ink portrait was done by a Russian artist named Ribas, who happened to see Alter Esselin sitting in a café in Chicago one midwinter afternoon in Chicago. Esselin had come down from Milwaukee to Chicago to spend a couple of days with some of his poet colleagues there, and was unaware of the portrait being done. The artist, who had an impish approach to life, circulated his picture among the women in the café and asked them if they would have liked to know a man that handsome, and when a couple of women said "Yes, indeed, Ribas pointed to Alter who had chosen to sit in a somewhat dimly lit corner of the place. Ribas laughingly came over, and gave my father the picture. They became good friends. Ribas was not of Jewish origin but liked the company of Jewish intellectuals.

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