Photo by Carol H. Goldstein
My father was not a farmer. His great grandparents—fleeing the increasingly violent antisemitism of the Russian empire during the late nineteenth century—left Minsk and settled in rural Indiana. They opened a general store in a town so isolated that the few Jews who lived there worshipped on Sunday. The family moved to Indianapolis, where his father and uncles opened a hardware store. As a child, the closest my father came to nature was the thin line of trees separating his house from the neighbor's.
When my father was eight, his father took him to look through a telescope in the backyard of a family friend. They saw Vega, bright and blue, high in the summer sky. My father declared that he wanted to be an astronomer.
"You can be an astronomer, Sam," my grandfather answered, "but you probably want to have a store, just in case."
When my father was eighteen, he joined the army and repaired radios in the Pacific. He studied engineering when he got back, wanting no part of the family store. Soon, he got a job helping to build a radio telescope in West Texas for Harvard, which led him to another job working on a radio telescope, this time in Massachusetts. At forty, he was teaching astronomy at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, where I was born.