Corbin Buff | Norbert Blei: a Grandson Remembers

20 06 2015
Corbin Buff

Corbin Buff is currently a senior at Stroudsburg High School. This is his first year on the Mountaineer newspaper staff. Corbin also plays tennis for Stroudsburg’s boys tennis team.

Norbert Blei: a Grandson Remembers

It has been said before that the highest form of art is life itself—the art of life. The idea being that a life well-lived, a human being who has sculpted not simply clay or marble, but their world view and inner essence, shines forth more brilliantly than any ordinary work of art. Walking paintings, breathing sculptures, symphonies that write and rewrite themselves each second; these are the highest strivings of the artist—to become what Henry Miller would call a “living book:” a man or woman who has shaped him or herself into a verifiable work of art.

Norbert Blei was one of these living books. For my grandfather, it was not enough that the books be written. The books are, of course, wonderful and immensely important, but I have always felt that they were part of the bigger work: the life, the man himself. Norbert Blei embodied every book he had ever written, every book he had ever read. And at the same time, he realized that helping other artists along the way, laughing, giving gifts, and any other single action was worth just as much as a book or painting, especially when added up over the course of a lifetime. More simply put, it is both the big and the small things that count.

I don’t think I need to talk about the big things—the books. This is certainly not to undermine them, or what my grandfather achieved in their pages. Rather, it is simply that the books need no one to speak for them. They are there, waiting, and—all deities willing—always will be. And I do highly recommend you read them, if you haven’t already. But although my grandfather’s epitaph does in fact read “find me in my books,” I thought I might try to provide another way of finding Norbert Blei, particularly for anyone reading this who did not have the pleasure of meeting or interacting with him beyond the books. I think a portrait of my grandfather can be glimpsed through his actions; in this case the ones that stand out in my memory.

I mentioned earlier the idea of helping others, artists or not, along the way. I can personally testify that few calls for guidance that came Norbert Blei’s way were left unanswered. Indeed, I still have email after email of his, all written with patience, full of advice for the stuff I myself was writing in my preteen years. No work, however bad or unpolished, was deemed underserving of his attention—even my bizarre, amorphous hybrid poems, which at that point were some strange fusion of Robert Frost’s verse and the lyrics of the Grateful Dead. (I was later informed, somewhat to my chagrin, that he printed out and saved these now embarrassing experiments of my past… That’s how much they meant to him)

I believe I mentioned gifts earlier as well, and anyone who had a good relationship with Norbert Blei knows that he had a gift for giving gifts. For each Christmas and birthday, us grandchildren were given books, and, thanks to my grandfather, they always suited the reader perfectly. Although Norbert was obviously a “literary” writer/reader, he did not force his preferences on you. I suppose the idea was that if one fell in love with reading, they would be led to the “great books” soon enough on their own. I’m currently trying to read my way through the entirety of Kenneth Rexroth’s written work, but one does not start with such stuff. It would hardly interest a 10, 11, 12, 13-year-old, and my grandfather was aware of this. Science-fiction/fantasy books like Eragon or The Rangers Apprentice (gifts of Grandpa’s) are the reason I fell in love with reading as a younger kid. “Love is easy,” as they say, and now reading anything (well—almost anything) is an easy and joyful experience. I owe that to my grandfather.

There were smaller gifts, too, like the gift of food. One of his favorite meals, both to make and to take others out for, was cheeseburgers and milkshakes. Being very chubby when I was younger, I can hardly say I disagreed with his taste. One of the saddest things I remember from my grandfather’s later years was seeing him lose his appetite. This was somewhat odd, as he never lost the love for cooking. My mother always joked that when she was growing up, Norbert used to make 10x more breakfast than anyone could eat, and things were no different when he visited us grandchildren. One of my favorite memories is of him working very hard at night on these Czech dumplings, which we ended up having for dinner. He saw that I liked them so much that he got up with me at 5:30 a.m. the next day and scrambled them into this massive hodgepodge of eggs, dumplings, and bacon. All before I had to leave for school.

One year we went to California to visit our aunt and uncle and grandmother for Christmas. Grandpa was there too. On the kitchen table of my aunt/uncle’s house was an elegant display of nuts and other snacks, where I would return constantly to consume every last cashew that had been put out, thinking that no one ever saw. Later though, when we got home to Pennsylvania, there was a box waiting in the mail for me from Norbert Blei. Weird, I thought. I had already received my customary birthday gift of books. What could it be? The box was opened to reveal a large can of salted cashews and a note: “Happy Birthday, Corb. Love, Grandpa Blei.”

I could go on and on with stories like this, but you hopefully get the idea. I just think it’s very important we all remember Norbert Blei the man, the father, the grandfather, the gift-giver, the cook and the food-lover, as much as we remember Norbert Blei the writer. I was fortunate to be close enough to him to witness all these multitudes, and thus consider myself lucky and blessed to be influenced by my grandfather not just in the sphere of writing and literature, but in my entire way of life. I hope the anecdotes I shared bring forth memories of your own time with Norbert, and shine light on who he was as a person for those of you not fortunate enough to have met him. — Corbin Buff

Norbert Blei and Corbin Buff

Norbert Blei and Corbin Buff

Norbert Blei and Corbin Buff

Norbert Blei and Corbin Buff



14 responses

20 06 2015

Wonderfull written
like grandfather
like grandson

Request if needed
this day and age
to run in Sewer Raccoon News

D. Zep Dix

20 06 2015

Hey there– glad you liked the piece so much. you can repost as you wish. I appreciate it!


20 06 2015
Jude Genereaux

Norb is beaming sunbursts up there Corbin, bursting through with pride at your wonderful tribute, so well done: you’ve nailed it. And him ~ our Hero.
Láska vesmíru … Jude.

20 06 2015

Wow, Corbin. Nice work ! You will be a featured writer at Reed College in Portland, Oregon next year as a freshman!

20 06 2015

Beautiful piece! I tried to post comments to Corbin, but no go. Thanks to him and Klaus, GB

20 06 2015
Jean Casey

Great piece. You caught the essence of the man who understood incllnations and fed them. A can of cashews says it all. Write on!!!

20 06 2015
Al DeGenova

Great piece Corbin. Well-said and beautifully felt. I’m sure Norb is beaming with pride and love.

21 06 2015
Hope McLeod

Though I don’t know you Corbin (am a friend of Jude’s) I feel your spirit shining through this piece as if we we perched together at the end of a summer dock in deck chairs swapping fish stories. Thank you for this gem. I wish I’d known your grandpa. Am getting to know him, however, through books that Jude sends me periodically. How lucky you are to have had such wisdom served on the same plate as dumplings. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and best of luck to you whatever path you choose in this life. Maybe writing????

21 06 2015
Jeff Blei

A Beautifully written message from a grandson to his granddad. No better Love is shown than this. A simple but important message to us all that we share our lives fully with those we love…Thank You Corbin and Best Wishes for continued success during your time at Reed.

21 06 2015
Joyce Wetlesen

Corbin, what a beautiful tribute to your grandfather and what a remarkable writer you have become. I would love to read one of your grandfather’s books. Is there any one in particular you would recommend to me? Would love to hear from you. Sincerely, Joyce Wetlesen

22 06 2015
Bridget Buff

I really loved reading this Corbin! You truly have a gift for writing. You captured dad so well. Whenever I read your writing it makes me wish you had more time with your grandpa than you did. You and he had such a special bond and love of books, bookstores, and writing. I am so grateful you have these memories. Thank you for sharing them on the blog. Grandpa loves it too!

27 06 2015
Betsy Titterington

Well done Corbin! Loved your grandfather and loved reading about him through your eyes. Michael & I certainly can attest to your reflections on Norb and food. We had many a great meal with he and Jude around the dining room table. Often he had made many elements of the meal. YUM!

24 08 2015
Tim Stone

Beautifully written Corbin. You captured your grandfather.

20 04 2018
Eden DeGenova

Just saw this Corbin. Beautiful memories. And yes, so much of Norbert was more than his writing.

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