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
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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