Wednesday, September 10, 2008


My brother-in-law, Shippy, whose name was really Isadore, was a law student when he married my sister, Helen. I went to live with them in an upper-floor apartment in Milwaukee, a city I came to know and love, but which like most cities today, has grown and changed to a point where it is unrecognizable from the neat little town I knew in my youth.

I was ensconced in a bedroom that was really a dining room set off from the living room. It had a huge doorway and doors that you could closed by tugging them together. In that room, I had a small twin bed and a few chunks of furniture that were eventually covered by my continual supply of books and papers. Occasionally, Shippy would open the doors, stare into the room with a look of shock on his face, then close them again very quickly, evidently deciding to pretend it didn't exist, that he didn't have a young sister-in-law who constantly scribbled on various pieces of paper, then left the debris scattered about.

Shippy, despite the fact that he was to become a dignified attorney, had a habit of wearing outlandish clothing, such as combining red shorts with a purple top, a floral necktie, with a straw hat perched on his dark hair. One day, sitting on the porch alongside two elderly ladies from another apartment, Shippy walked by and went down the steps to the sidewalk. He was wearing a red Hawaiian shirt, yellow shorts, and some kind of a sombrero, which sported a pink flower dangling from it.

"Who is that man?" asked one of the elderly ladies, her lips pressed primly together.

The other lady shook her head. "I don't know," she said. "I just know he wears a different garb each day!"

The first lady turned in the direction of where I was sitting in a lawn chair. "Do you know who he is?" she asked me.

"No, I'm sorry, I don't!" I replied, mentally asking God to forgive me for lying.

As the years passed, the subject of Shippy's sartorical splendor was the subject of much amusement in our family. Each year, he wore a different outfit, sometimes an orange suit, combined with a floral shirt and a flamboyant hat, sometimes a purple suit, with an pink shirt and a white hat. It came to light, as the years went by, that my creative sister, Helen, sewed the clothing for him, using the brightest, most ridiculous material she could find. It is said that, even in a courtroom, Shippy declared his independence and individuality with his outlandish clothing.

It must have been a shock to Shippy, who was raised by a doting Jewish mother who pampered and adored her only son while demanding the highest of achievements from him, to see that his chosen bride had been brought up on a small farm with impoverished parents and a bucketload of brothers and sisters but, after the first shock, he fit in beautifully. He did, however, try to alleviate the poverty by supplying food for the family get-togethers and slipping a few extra dollars to Mom, who really loved him despite his funny outfits.

One time that I recall, Shippy and Helen arrived for a Sunday visit at the farm, with the entire family in residence that day, all of the nieces and nephews, all of the brothers, sisters, and in-laws. It was quite a crowd! Shippy had brought with him a huge sack filled with round, plump sausages, strung together as though on a string. This folded, delectable purchase awaited our dinner, and all of us declared they would be a welcome relief from Mom's meatloaf.

The babble of that day was louder than usual, with everyone talking at once, small groups gathering in a corner to talk and laugh, and the children running through the rooms. Shippy seemed to be in his element, standing in his bright red suit, teasing the kids, promising to take us all to Milwaukee with him, making as much noise as everyone else.

Just then, we heard Mom shout. Everyone rushed to the kitchen, where Mom and a few of the women were working on dinner. Mom was running out the door, and everyone followed her. There, we saw that Mom was chasing my dog, Puppy, whose real name was Spot Ring Elmer Sweetness Grunt Alfonso, Jr. Puppy had climbed onto the counter and snatched up one of the sausages, then had taken flight out the door, with Mom following him. The long string of sausages stretched out like a flying snake behind Puppy, whose white fur drifted and waved in the wind created by his speed. Everyone in the family took off after Puppy, who was determined to hang onto his booty. He raced down the path to the orchard, with a crowd of people running behind, shouting and calling to him, to no avail.

The fact that the sausages had become grimy and inedible did not matter. It had become a battle between the human race and the four-legged species, an attempt to prove that more brain power and greater reasoning could win over the thieving antics of a determined dog.

"You keep after him and I'll head him off," I heard Bud shout to Connie, as he headed over the orchard field, Hubert following him.

Puppy had other ideas, as he headed for Dead Man's Cave, where there was no way to follow him unless one could jump logs as we children did and risk falling into the murky water. One look at that stinking, frog-filled mess and both Connie, Gerry and Dorothy declared they would not go one step further. We all trudged back to the farmhouse, mentally saying goodbye to the plump, tasty sausages. I can imagine Puppy perched on a soggy log enjoying his sausage feast and smirking at the antics of humans, who actually thought they could win in a race against his superiority.

When Hubert and Bud had made it back, Hubert seemed angry. "That damned dog!" he said. "I should shoot him!"

This raised a cacaphony of protests from the children, myself included. We wailed and screamed and threw ourselves into each others arms in grief. Hubert had to apologize and declare that he was only kidding, but we only half believed him. He was adult, and one never knew just what an adult might decide to do! They weren't trustworthy.

So we dined that day on another one of Mom's meatloafs, filled as it was with the mysterious additives that stretched the meat as far as it would go, far enough to fill the stomachs of a crowd of hungry people. As for Shippy, he was philosophical about the whole event. He and Joe, who called each other Yosh and Josh, discussed the situation.

"You know, Josh," said Shippy. "You have to admire a dog that will fight for his rights!"

"You learn that in class?" asked Joe.

"Yes, I've studied the Constitution," said Shippy, as we children hung on every word, " The dog has a Constitutional right to stage a peaceful protest. What we have seen today is the power of the puppies!"