J.C. Mattingly: A Socratic Rancher 12-26-11 | TheFencePost.com

J.C. Mattingly: A Socratic Rancher 12-26-11

J.C. Mattingly Moffat, Colo.

My father passed away in December, a number of years ago.

That may explain why I tend to think about him a bit more at the end of each year. This year I was recalling that Father built the house that Mother, my two brothers, and I grew up in, in Fort Collins, Colo. By built, I mean Father pretty much did the entire job. With help from two men he worked with at Heath Engineering (now the Sundance Saloon, out east on Highway 14) he did the excavation, concrete work, framing and finish work right up through building the kitchen cabinets.

I was young at the time, but big enough to lend a hand fetching tools, or picking up at the end of the day. I rode my bike a couple times to Milligan’s Lumber to get small supplies. I remember that I helped Father stake out the site with strings, holding the tape as Father made diagonal measurements to be sure the staking was square. When we’d finished, I stood inside the perimeter, walked around, and declared the house would be too small.

Well, Father told me it was 40-feet by 40-feet, which was 1,600 square feet, more square feet than the house we were then living in. I declared it was just too small, especially the place where our bedroom was supposed to be. I thought one side should be at least 80-feet.

Father explained to me that a square was an efficient shape, yielding more net interior space per foot of perimeter than a rectangle. It seemed like he was trying to trick me with numbers, but when I tried to argue, Father told me to get busy driving more stakes.

I didn’t fully realize at the time what a risk Father was taking by building the house. I recall my grandparents admonishing him for taking out a 10,000 dollar mortgage that would certainly be a ball an chain, but neither their worries nor my concerns deterred Father’s determination to finish the house before winter.

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When it was finally closed in and my brothers and I moved into our bedroom, it was huge. In fact, I’d noticed something that struck me as very strange, something that defied logic: as the space of the house was closed in by framing and then sheet goods, windows and doors, the interior space seemed to get bigger and bigger, until the day I stood in the bedroom with my bed and dresser and study desk, the space was more than ample.

I told Father about this, sort of apologizing for my earlier doubts, and he told me that when I had looked at the perimeter of the future house inside the strings, I’d been looking at that space relative to the rest of the neighborhood, which was quite large. But when the space of the house was closed in, I was comparing it to my personal things, which were quite small. He told me this was “perspective.”

I’ve always remembered this, as a small bit of wisdom from my Father. As the new year comes, I wish for myself, and for all of us, that we maintain perspective. It’s very easy to be fooled in the information age and think that you are too small to have any impact. Conversely, it is easy to be fooled into thinking you are more important than you really are.

It comes down to having perspective.