Buchman’s home background was even more unusual for the average ordinand of those days. In 1897 his father opened a wholesale wine and liquor business in Emmaus, five miles south of Allentown, and this, combined with his passion for the turf, hardly made him the Lutheran establishment's idea of a model parent for one of their future pastors. In fact, a local minister preached against him and said he would go to hell. However, Frank's father, meeting the minister on the railway station, pulled his leg about the sermon and offered him a drink. This was accepted, and they became friends. Meanwhile his business prospered, and his teams supplied wines, liquor, and soft drinks like sarsaparilla to establishments in four counties.
Buchman’s mother was always ready, in the tradition of the area, to provide hospitality for his friends at the shortest notice. ‘Frank always loved a party,’ said a neighbour, ‘and his mother did too.’ He often referred to her as a ‘great provider’. In the frozen studio portraits of the period, she appears distinctly stern-faced and forbidding. A Scotsman, meeting her in her old age, said she was built like ‘a great square-rigger’. ‘She was tall, her face full of wrinkles, but when she smiled it was like a sunflower,’ he added. Contemporaries stress her sense of humour. At all events, the stern exterior in the photo cloaked an exceptionally tolerant nature, at least so far as her only son was concerned.
By comparison, Buchman's father looks indecisive. But ‘he was’, said a friend, ‘a successful business man who was out to back his son to the limit.’6 He was also generous with friends who got into difficulties; and the years spent in restaurants and behind the bar had given him a shrewd and charitable insight into human nature. That, perhaps, is why his son used later to tell younger men that what they needed, in trying to help people, were the qualities of a good barman - sympathy, willingness to listen and intuition. Buchman said he learnt from his father how to understand people, while he inherited from his mother his personal reserve and a sense of order and of the line that divides right from wrong.
Theirs was a comfortable home in the German style, with a good deal of dark and rather heavy furniture, relieved by pleasant oils and water-colours - several of them, showing considerable sensitivity, painted by the young Frank - and a number of elegant ornaments, including a beautiful Limoges tea service. They had two servants, and wine was regularly served at table.
Sarah Buchman, always to be seen with a crisp white frill at her neck, her hair drawn back in a bun, was both proud that she came from a family of some means* and determined that her son should have the kind of upbringing which she felt their standing as a family merited. Like any good Pennsylvania German, she had an acute sense of the proper order of things; like any good bourgeoise, she longed to see her offspring rise in that order. She hoped he would make his mark in the world, but as a local man of God. In her ambition for him at this time, the temporal and the spiritual were closely intertwined.
(* 'My grandmother came (from Switzerland) with corsets and lace. Few people had corsets in those days,’ related Buchman. (Martin diaries, 12 May 1941.)