Alexander Lynn

When I was a child I had a dog named Bruder. My father bought him soon after our home was built. This was in 1954 and I was two-years-old. He got him in upstate New York from the Bruderhof — a Christian commune founded by German artisans, craftsmen and trade unionists who had fled Nazi Germany before World War II[1]. Bruder is German for brother.

My family was also living in “an experimental community,” or “intentional community” as its founders termed it, called Skyview Acres. Some radical political activists, pacifists, former members of the Socialist Party and some ex-members of the Communist Party USA, got together and bought 144 acres of land (30 miles north of New York City), split up the plots and helped each other build homes on them. This group of “refugees” from WWII, some victims of McCarthyism, a conscientious objector to the U.S. participation in the world war, and other ex-Left-wing types was not as radical as the Bruderhof who were ideologically and practically working class. Skyview folks were more “up and coming”: We had lawyers (my father was a lawyer), doctors, psychiatrists, soon-to-be real drug dealers (connected to banks) — not like the young fellas standing on street corners in urban neighborhoods selling $10 bags of heroin — real drug dealers, people who laundered the money, people who flew the drugs in from Latin America or various parts of Asia.

We had Hollywood actors — again, it was the McCarthy era, so some of these people were in deep hiding from their previously inspired social/political commitments.

My mother called these people the “nouveau riche” in recognition of their identity as pioneers of suburban New York. The founding members established by-laws such that no one could split up their plots for rent or sale — there were 44 families on 144 acres, and it was not going to expand in territory, nor was it going to multiply in any way except through the birth of babies. And folks made babies — Skyview, while cherishing a distinctly Left-of-liberal veneer, was early on slated for modern White American suburban living (in their 2015 description of themselves, they tout allowing “racial minorities” amongst them…[2]): Mommy, daddy, three kids, two cars in the garage, the white picket fence, Fido the dog, Patches the cat and Leave it to Beaver on the tv (to be accurate, they were a little too radical for the white picket fence of the surrounding burgeoning just-north-of-New York City suburbia of the 1950’s-‘60’s).

Every household had a dog representing. There were Dalmatians, Saint Bernards, German Shepherds, and there was Bruder, he was a mutt. My mother explained to us — my sisters and myself — that “mutts are the strongest, the smartest and the most loyal of all dogs;” that purebreds were by definition weak-blooded.

In addition to integrating the suburbs — my father, Conrad Lynn, was African American and our family was one of four African American families in the corporation — my father also married an Italian American, my mother. Yolanda Moreno came from an impoverished working class Italian neighborhood in Manhattan. On the occasion of my mother presenting the wedding ring my father gave her to my grandmother, Angelina Moreno, my mother’s mother knocked her to the ground, jumped on top of her, and proceeded to try to strangle her to death. My Uncle Johnny jumped on “Grandma,” and dislodged her hands from around my mother’s neck, thereby saving Yolanda’s life. I might have seen “Uncle Johnny” twice in my life, as my mother was effectively thrown out of her “family” at the moment of her commitment to my father.

The “nouveau riche” of Skyview were not much better than Angelina. They persecuted my mother, in keeping with sacred traditions of White America when one of theirs becomes a race traitor. They said she was Puerto Rican — they reasoned that no upstanding White woman would marry a “Negro”? They said she was “crazy,” for after all why would a sane White woman marry a colored guy? Some of the good fathers said she must be “hot,” since why else would a White woman voluntarily get with a Black man? My mother was excluded from the coffee klatch of this budding circle of stay-at-home moms/housewives.

So, we kids, in our single-digit years, didn’t go out and play freely — my mother had to make “play dates” with the matriarchs of neighboring families. I’ll never forget the look on my mother’s face when we — my two sisters, three-year-old Gabrielle, and eight-year-old Suzanne, and myself, four-years-old — would show up to the venue of our arranged “play date” only to find that our would-be hosts were not at home — failed to show up to their own home for a date which they had made: the look was a mix of shame, disgust and deep humiliation — Yolanda felt humiliation for her children, like our humanity had just been disgraced and debased.

So, I played in the backyard with Bruder. Bruder was a large mongrel with short brown and white hair; he was strong and we loved to wrestle together. He used to “guard the house”: like many other dogs in the neighborhood, he was the outward-most representative of the “fiefdom.” Yes, Skyview, close up behind its liberal “cooperative” veneer (it was called “Skyview Acres Coop”), folks were some very competitive people — an up and coming petite bourgeoisie. 1960, they were buying their cars and upgrading the shingles on their office doors. My father was as competitive as any of them — though he remained a communist and acted as criminal defense attorney for some of the most revolutionary elements of US society, such as the Puerto Rican Independentistas who went into Congress and shot Congressmen[3], and a decade later the Black Panther Party, nevertheless he would brag to me (I’m nine years old) that his car was “better than Mason’s car,” even though next door neighbor Max Mason was also an attorney — he simply wasn’t as good as my father, as proven by the fact that he couldn’t afford as good a car…

We had the president of a national Christian association, the Executive Director of the Fellowship of Reconciliation, there were Quakers among the founding members — many of the folks were philosophically pacifists; i.e. opposed to any type of violence. Their children were among the most violent people I have ever experienced in my 62 years on the planet….

And the dogs reflected this underlying violent bent. As I said, they were the outlying protectors of the property, the fiefdom, and they would fight each other over the slightest transgression of territorial custom.

We kids used to compare the dogs, and Nabby, a giant German Shepherd from the lower part of Skyview’s land — down by the baseball field and the man-made lake — was supposed to be “the toughest dog in the neighborhood.” One day Bruder and I were out for a walk down the street when Irv Wolf, Nabby’s owner, came driving by, and Nabby jumped out of the back window of the car right on top of Bruder — and it was on, world war three, a life and death struggle. Irv jumped out of his car and tackled Nabby. I was eight-years-old; I did my best to pry Bruder away — but he was about my weight and at this age stronger than me. We managed to get them apart after miens were torn and blood was spilled.

My mother loved Bruder — he was treated like a member of the family. That came from my mother’s history with animals: When Yolanda was a child, before she was placed in an orphanage (her step-father didn’t want children around), she was in charge of the family’s pig. She used to tell me stories about this pig who was her best friend, who used to comfort her when she was distraught — there were instances when she would be alone and crying in the basement of their home, and her pig would snuggle her to console her. One day she came home from school and her pig was skewered over the hot coals, getting him ready for dinner — he fed the family for the next couple of weeks….

The dogs of Skyview used to fight all the time. But, on this one night they decided to have a dramatic denouement. They staged an all-night battle. There were upward of twenty of them in a ten-hour fight to the death. It was “the mother of all dog wars.” They could be heard barking, snarling, howling and screeching throughout the night, all over town.

The battle raged until sun-up when silence finally ensued. When it was over, at least three families found their dogs lying dead in the creek which was tributary to the man-made swimming hole. Many other of the dogs were never seen again. Weeks later other boys in the neighborhood would deny they ever had a dog…

This morning at the close of the debacle, I heard a whimpering at the front door. I opened the door and there was Bruder, with no hair, no skin; he was just open flesh and blood — bleeding head to toe. My mother screamed softly, and then hushed herself. My father (who did not have the same relationship with Bruder as the rest of us — as an African American man, he had the direct personal experience of being treated “worse than a dog;” literally, he had gone through the experience of White people favoring a dog’s welfare over that of a Black boy…) did not take on Bruder as a “friend” or “family member” the way my mother and I did. My father came to the front door, gazed upon Bruder’s horrifying countenance, and said gruffly, “Put him in the basement.” And that’s where Bruder went for a few weeks until his wounds were healed — his skin and hair restored.

Bruder was the only dog in the neighborhood who survived this carnage. Everyone else had to either get another dog or simply throw in the towel — Bruder was the champion.

But, as he got older he got more protective and hostile of outsiders to our family. The Civil Rights Movement was turning into the Black Liberation Movement, the early ‘60’s were turning into the late ‘60’s, and the locals became alarmed at the strident militancy of my father and his clients. The latter included, but were not limited to, Robert Williams who organized a local Black community for a military defeat of the Klan in North Carolina, before (with my father’s help) he sought refuge in Cuba[4]; The Republic of New Africa, which was fighting for the establishment of an independent Black Nation in the Black Belt section of the South of the US[5]; the Revolutionary Action Movement (RAM) which was undertaking urban guerrilla warfare; Amiri Baraka’s Congress of African People was hold up in a housing project in Newark before federal troops removed them militarily; the Young Lords Party (the Puerto Rican iteration of the Panthers) and, of most concern, the New York chapter of the Black Panther Party.

When neighbors would come onto the property, Bruder would attack them. The land could not be subdivided, so suburban New York remained country inside Skyview’s borders, and people would cut through each other’s property through paths in the woods. And Bruder was attacking folks, even as they passed by on the street. The good fathers came together and reached a solemn decision — Bruder had to go; he had to be put to sleep.

My father acceded to this demand — he chose to do this. Conrad Lynn otherwise had a habit of choosing to not accede to the directives of powerful forces in the society on a regular basis. To McCarthy he said, loudly, “Yes, I’m a communist. What are you going to do about it?” He was a very publicly vocal personage, alongside of those who chose to hide from McCarthy. My father’s vocality was his protection. But, he acceded to this demand of the locals, and Bruder was remanded to the local ASPCA (American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals), about five miles away from our home, where he would await his execution. (At this time in the history of the ASPCA execution followed capture within three to four days….)

A couple of days later I was sitting on the couch in our front room, facing the window to the front yard, gazing outside in a contemplative stupor, when I heard this murmuring. I went and opened the front door, and there was Bruder. He had escaped the ASPCA (have you ever heard of such a thing?), and found his way back home in three days. This image of our dog escaping the executioner could not have been more emblematic of the times for our family, what with my father’s clients escaping prison, escaping to Canada on the “underground railroad” he had erected for conscientious objectors to the US war against the people of Vietnam[6]. Members of the Black Liberation Army, the organization created in response to the FBI’s genocidal COINTEL program[7] — such program which was murdering Panthers, Young Lords and American Indian Movement activists all across the country — were taking refuge in People’s China under the protection of the great Mao, and in Cuba at Fidel’s behest.

The attendant at the ASPCA explained that all the dogs bark incessantly and furiously without respite, while Bruder would just lay on the floor of the back of his cage with a depressed look on his face. To the others, he would slide their food underneath the front gate. With Bruder, he could see it was safe to open the gate and bring him his food. In this circumstance Bruder took the opportunity to rush the attendant, jump over his back and flee the scene. It took him three days to get home.

I was screaming, “Bruder’s home! Bruder’s home!” My father followed my sisters and my mother to the door. After a deep breath was taken by all of us, my father came down with his ruling: “Put him in the basement.”

And Bruder stayed, against the edict of the town fathers.

Over the next few years, parallel to the decline of the Black Liberation Movement, and the end of the US war against the people of Vietnam, Bruder entered old age. I was ascending towards adulthood, and the storyline of “Puff the Magic Dragon” (1963), the famous Peter, Paul and Mary song, aptly describes how my friendship with Bruder fared these two life conditions, one of a dog and the other of a boy:

Dragons live forever but not so little boys, Painted wings and giant strings make way for other toys. One sad night it happened, Jackie Paper came no more And Puff that mighty dragon, he ceased his fearless roar.

Bruder began to get decrepit. He was always my mother’s protector, from the beginning; he was my dear friend, but now he even growled at me if I got too close to Yolanda. When disoriented he growled at my father — this was, as the medical term has it, contraindicated; my father was not the one to suffer dictates from a dog. But, understanding Bruder’s declining mental faculties, even my father showed a little tolerance.

Just as I was getting ready to go off to college, Bruder died, and my mother presided over a formal burial ceremony in the side yard of our house. Bruder was a mutt. He was the strongest, smartest and most loyal of all the dogs in the neighborhood. Bruder means brother. He will be remembered for his contribution to the liberation of humankind.

Alexander Moreno Lynn

[1] Zablocki, David. (1971). The Joyful Community: An account of the Bruderhof, a communal movement now in its third generation. Penguin Books.

[2] ADMIN. (2015). “Our history.” In Skyview Acres: A historic cooperative community in New York’s beautiful Hudson Valley.

[3] Clayton Knowless (1954–03–02). “Five Congressmen shot in House by 3 Puerto Rican Nationalists; Bullets spray from gallery.” The New York Times. p. 1.

[4] Nelson, Truman. (2013). Negroes with guns. Martino Publishing.

[5] Obadele, Imari Abubakari. (1984). Free the land!: The true story of the trials of the RNA-11 in Mississippi and the continuing struggle to establish an independent Black Nation in five states of the deep South. House of Songhay.

[6] Lynn, Conrad. (1968). How to stay out of the army: a guide to your rights under the draft law. Monthly review Press.

7 Churchill, Ward and Jim Vander Wall. (1990). The COINTELPRO papers: Documents from the FBI’s secret wars against dissent in the United States. South End Press.