Thursday, April 20, 2006

The Little House

For his livelihood, my father served as one of the early efficiency experts emerging in 1930s, for a large multistate electrical power company, and in fact, saved the company from bankruptcy by reorganizing different practices and structures so that the company was able to cut costs dramatically.

But for his well-being, Dad pursued carpentry and philosophy. Having grown up on a farm, he had learned that we are empowered to improve our physical world by using our minds and hands to effect change. Consequently, when I was entering my teens, he decided to redesign and reconstruct the house and the garage.

Before this extravagant undertaking, he had built a small house in the backyard that served as a laundry room, a workbench for woodworking, a printshop for my newspaper ventures, and a small library of books on history, science, and philosophy, which my Dad avidly pursued. To put this in perspective, this was during the Korean War, and my news source was the Associated Press via the old radio we kept in "The Little House." As an aside, that radio gave me the shock of my life (and one of my first lessons in physics when I grabbed the metal stump of the tuner [the wooden knob had fallen off] while in my bare feet on a wet floor).

For Dad, The Little House. was a retreat for his pursuit of history and philosophy (he would include science as a part of philosophy). He would buy books from estates for his library in the Little House, and began to amass a distinctive collection. He had never gone to college, but had completed studies by correspondence school in accounting, history, and philosophy from LaSalle, a prominent pioneer in distance education.

Now, as I was in middle school, he began his significant project of expanding our dwellings, enlisting my help as an extra hand where I learned how to build things. Briefly, he completely changed the front entrance of the house, combined the dining and living rooms into an enormous room for formal entertaining with a prominent place for the Knabe Piano, remodeled the kitchen to include a counter for eating and food preparation, and constructed a large dining/recreation room as a multipurpose space, including a new invention that was becoming popular: television.

Rather than attach the garage to this new home, he built a creative open port that could be used as a garage or a rehearsal and dance space with a side that could open to the backyard where an audience could gather. At the back of this space he build a new "Little House" which could double as a guest room, with its own bathroom. and library-like shelving to house his growing collection of books. Even after he tore down the original "Little House" we referred to this new room as The Little House, which in the spirit of Darwin's theory had evolved to a new species. On many an evening and well into the night, my Father would disappear to this sanctuary in pursuit of knowledge, but ultimately, I believe, he found wisdom.

Of course, it wasn't until later years when I read Hemingway's "A Clean Well-Lighted Place" that I fully understood my Father's urgent need for this clean, well-lighted room. Like Hemingway and all of us, he felt confronted by the looming nothingness.
What did he fear? It was not a fear or dread, It was a nothing that he knew too well. It was all a nothing and a man was a nothing too. It was only that and light was all it needed and a certain cleanness and order. Some lived in it and never felt it but he knew it all was nada y pues nada y nada y pues nada.
In history, science, and philosophy, Dad was seeking an answer to the void, to nada. Somehow, in the quietness of The Little House, he found brief glimpses of answers, moments of conscious awareness that gleam in the darkness like distant galaxies.

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