Dad with parents.
I write this as only the first reflection about my father, Samuel Emil Blum, who died this morning at the age of 92. Ninety-two years is a long time to prowl around the Earth. My only sadness about his death is the hole it leaves in the lives of people who loved him. In all other ways, today is a celebration of his life!
There are many others who lived closer to him than I did over the decades and they will will miss him for his good nature, kind heart, and joy of being alive.
My Father was a content person. He loved his work, loved the people around him, and for the most part he didn’t get absorbed by the anxiety and drama that life serves up.
He was born in 1920, which seems like a very long time ago, but he had an insatiable curiosity that kept him young. He liked books more than television, and though he had great achievement in his work with prestigious recognition, accomplishment and honor, it wasn’t something he ever boasted about. Though he did pioneering scientific work in lasers, semiconductors, and scores of other projects from his early days as an industrial chemist to his latter days as one of the scientists responsible for LASIK surgery, he was never “Dr. Blum,” but always Sam, to everyone. He was always a guy from a little immigrant anarchist colony in New Jersey.
There wasn’t a hint of pretension in my Father. He often said that he was fortunate to have conducted science during what he and his colleagues called the “Halcyon Days.” By that he meant in an era when research and discovery were not completely tethered to devices and bottom lines, and the possibility to do honest, probing science existed. He worked for IBM for thirty-one years, and when he retired he did not know how to use a computer. It’s not that he was old school, but rather that he and others “invented” old school. He taught me to think.
He underwent a humorous transformation when visiting our property. He became “Sam from the farm,” a rather liberal embellishment of how things were in his Stelton childhood, where his father raised chickens and his parents gardened. If he stretched some of those earlier experiences a lot…we’ll what’s the harm in that?
He liked taking drives and knew most of the roads in New York State, and certainly all in Westchester, County. For much of his life he enjoyed getting a malted at an ice cream stand along the way, even better if it was “thin.” He didn’t like chemical concoctions called “thick shakes.” He loved finding farm stands and interesting places along the way. He loved to drive and really really really was appreciative of the freedom of movement a car afforded him.
He loved going to Atlanta to stay with Nayda and Myron. He had some great stories about adventures exploring in Georgia and felt comfortable and at home while there.
Sam always thought that the way you travel somewhere was to “rent a car” and muck about. We traveled together a lot and I was lucky to do a lot of mucking with him in and out of the United States.
We visited France, Hungary, Peru, the Czech Republic, and the southeast United States. We went to the Grand Old Opry in Nashville, Machu Picchu, and Musee D’Orsay in Paris. We went to the Budapest Opera House. We went to Dollywood! We rode in a dugout canoe on a tributary of the Amazon river when he was seventy-nine. We wanted to visit his parent’s homeland in the Ukraine ten years ago, and as we thought about it Dad said, “Look, we’ll fly to Istanbul, rent a car and drive to Odessa.” Dad loved that I handled all the details of the trips and that he could just go along for the ride, and when I mentioned that it might be a bit dicey to explore the Ukraine because things were a bit on the lawless side, he asked “How bad could it be?” When I showed him the official Ukrainian Tourism Website advising potential visitors that car companies were not renting private cars at the current time due to high rates of armed theft, he became uneasy. But it wasn’t until we read that it was possible to hire a private car with an armed driver who would sleep in the car to protect it, that we gave up on the Ukraine. A few months later we drove through upstate New York in a spectacular ice storm and went to the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown. The only other people there that day were two journalists from Japan! The Hall underwhelmed, but nature did not. It was an amazing trip.
Sam had a lot of fantasy going on all the time. Whether wanting a Bayliner boat, a Texas cattle ranch, or a Humvee all terrain vehicle, Walter Mitty had nothing on my father. I never knew what was coming next in his fantasy world, but I enjoyed the ride. Not only do I look like my father, I think like him as we’ll. I’m proud of that.
Anyone who knew my father, knew that he liked to drink. What most don’t know is that he gave credit to his mother for this affection, saying she introduced him to the occasional need for and enjoyment of a “shot.” (How can you argue with mother’s love, yes?) The last coherent sentence he said to me was four years ago when I tried to get him to eat his dinner, which he was loathe to do because he was quite content in his lounge chair with a tumbler full of Scotch. Responding to my prompt about dinner, he told me he already had what he needed. When I said that “Scotch isn’t food,” he simply held the glass aloft in his well recognized pose of “libation,” and said, “No, it’s better!” Hard to argue with that.
I loved my father. He was a good friend to me and many others. His faults were never malicious. He was fair minded, without judgement, and showed up for people when they needed him.
I will miss him terribly, but ninety-two years is a hell of a run, and I celebrate his life.