The History of a Local Writer: The Life of Martin Buxbaum
About his work, life and favorite time of year.
An American poet, author and editor, Martin Buxbaum was born in Richmond, Virginia in 1912 and died in Bethesda, Maryland in 1991.
Buxbaum was the only child of a diverse family background and grew up with deeply philosophical and poetic view of the world.
He was born blind. Although his parents were very poor, they were able to find a physician who agreed to perform the necessary surgery that could give Buxbaum his sight. The surgery was a success, but the parents didn't know how they could ever pay back the money they owed for the operation.
The physician who performed the surgery was quite elderly and passed away six months later. In his will, he stipulated that the debt owed for restoring Martin's eyesight be canceled.
In 1935, Buxbaum suffered another traumatic physical event.
He had spent the afternoon picnicking with friends in a mountain park. They were having such a wonderful time that before he knew it, evening had come and they had to leave in the pitch dark. Although his eyesight was restored, it was never perfect, making it difficult getting back to his car. With one misstep, he tumbled down a rocky ravine.
Buxbaum always felt that this accident changed his life forever. He had compound fractures and compression on two of his spinal vertebra. The doctors had to literally hammer the vertebrae back in place. At age 23, Buxbaum was told he would be disabled and that in order to walk, he would have to wear a back brace for the remainder of his life.
Although in a full body cast, he would not accept this as his fate. With encouragement from his mother's deep spirituality, Buxbaum focused his mind on positive thinking. He knew that he would overcome his condition.
Buxbaum repeatedly told his physicians that they shouldn't continue making him a brace because he was going to walk out of the hospital once his cast was removed.
Yet his time in the hospital was spent well, as he read everything he could get his hands on -- including a dictionary—which he studied cover to cover.
Six months later, when the doctors removed the cast, Buxbaum did stand. Not only that, but he walked out of the hospital and drove himself home.
After recovering from the accident, he returned to the job he previously held at the Hechinger Company. He had been in lumber and concrete sales, a physically taxing job. Understanding that this would be difficult work for Martin to perform, his boss greeted Buxbaum on his return to work with an offer to become the editor of the company newsletter.
Buxbaum had never written anything before and had no formal education as a writer or editor. He asked his boss, "How can I do this kind of work?" to which his boss replied, "Try."
Thus, began his career as a philosopher, poet, photographer, writer and editor.
A Riverdale resident from the early 1940s to the early 1950s, Buxbaum raised eight children here—all born in Leland Hospital (now Crescent Cities).
During World War II, he was stationed in the ERCO plane factory, working as an editor for the ERCO magazine, The Tale Spinner. The ERCO plane factory was the largest employer in Prince George's County and intrinsically involved in WWII production of aircraft and related industry.
Buxbaum wrote editorial copy, took photographs and drew cartoons for the magazine through out the war. The magazine was upbeat and friendly, focusing on WWII and the professional and personal lives of the employees of ERCO. Its purpose was to boost morale and give a sense of cohesiveness to the employees of the factory.
While living in Riverdale, Buxbaum began writing personal verses and philosophy on scraps and bits of paper, which he kept in a shoe box under his bed.
A friend suggested that he should publish these verses in a book. After attempting to failing get a major publisher interested in his work, Buxbaum decided to self publish in 1958.
That first book was called "Rivers of Thought" and soon had a companion book, "The Underside of Heaven."
These delightful works are filled with photographs, drawings, poems, observations and philosophical thoughts concerning the world of Buxbaum and his family at the time they lived and worked in Riverdale.
By the 13th edition, "Rivers of Thought" had sold over 100,000 copies. In all, he published eleven books.
In the 1953, the family moved to Bethesda when Martin became director of communications for the Marriott Corporation.
He edited their monthly publication "Table Talk". At its peak, "Table Talk" reached 400,000 readers from coast-to-coast. It was the largest publication of its kind in the country. After his retirement in 1976, he continued to keep the publication going, sending it out to 300 of his closest friends and received much acclaim.
Buxbaum was awarded six bronze medals from the Freedom Foundation, including the highest award-- the encased George Washington Medal of Honor. He was named Poet Laureate of the state of Maryland for 1967 and Syracuse University now holds his manuscripts. His name and verses continue to be widely quoted today.
The winter was one of Buxbaum's favorite times of year and many of his poems and photographs focus on the holiday season.
Here's a selected poem:
The New Year
(Reprinted with permission from Kate Prado)
The Old Year stands with empty hands…soon he will be no more…
The New Year waits, anticipates…
The future's open door.
The last tick of the clock spells out…
The changing of the year… The silence
of the night is gone…as all the world
Horns and whistles –bells chime!
…Glasses raised to Auld Lang Syne!
…Flashing lights and voices call…
"Happy New Year to us all!"
And yet –a tiny echo comes… from
Christmas, barley gone…"If each
one works for peace on earth… THIS
Year may be its dawn!"