Liz Swain 4:24 p.m., May 24
A chilly, wet day in San Diego, on the Mexican frontier of California. At home.
17 March 2012
I sit in the dining room – or rather dining area, since there is no wall, per se, between the dining and living room – it is all part of an open space, with windows running along one wall, huge picture windows looking out into the back yard garden. A wall of six tall windows, each five foot wide by almost seven foot high, reaching up from barely six inches above the floor to more than a foot over the top of my head, six of these wide sheets of glass – separated by scarcely six-inch wide pillars – stretch across the western wall of the living room, and then bend at ninety degrees, around the northwest corner (where the dining area sits).
It is like a wall of glass, looking out onto the rain, and I am very happy to be sitting inside, and writing.
This is a lovely, middle-class, American dream house, with its comfortable kitchen and pleasant living room/dining space, its three bedrooms and two bath, and its small front and back gardens planted with trees, shrubs, flowers and other bits of vegetation, which altogether make the yard feel much larger than it actually is. The garage out front was converted in the 1960s into a separate space with two more bedrooms and a bath for my stepbrothers. One of those rooms is now full of my stepfather’s castoff furniture and filing cabinets, and the other is a library and storage space also half-full of junk. My mother keeps talking about doing something with those rooms, maybe making one into a guest room so people can stay here with us sometimes; but, so far, nothing has changed.
The three bedrooms in the main house are occupied by her (the master bedroom suite with main bath and dressing room), then the second bedroom where I sleep, and the third, smaller room with second bath attached, where the television and a huge bookcase reside, along with a convertible sofa (where we currently allow guests to sometimes sleep).
It is not a mansion, but it is by no means a small house. I am sublimely fortunate to be able to live here. Sometimes I think I may be experiencing the best years of my life, washing dishes and cooking dinner and driving the car and feeding the dog and generally keeping house for my nonagenarian mother, the widow of the man who built, and for fifty-odd years, inhabited, this wonderful home.
I say “built” – but I don’t know for sure, only assume he had a hand in designing and constructing the house where my mother and I are living the last years of her life. When Mom follows him, sometime in the next ten or twenty years, I assume the home will pass on to his three children, my stepsister and stepbrothers, they will inherit the property and I will leave, to finally return to Mexico. Until then, I am here. Yet even now, five years after my second father left us, I can sometimes almost see him, sitting right over there, on the sofa, reading a book, or at the kitchen table in the morning, perusing the newspaper over coffee, or later at night watching television, with his glass of scotch and bits of cheese he would share with the dogs.
He was the man who taught me how to build a fire in his fireplace, without using any paper whatsoever. He was the man who first exposed me to the Franklin Delano Roosevelt conspiracy theory (that he knew about Pearl Harbor, and in fact forced the Japanese to attack). He was the man who first confused me with his notion that nuclear power plants are beneficial because they will provide a necessary level of human mutation, in order that we may evolve as we must, to face our future in outer space. He was one of the few men I ever found with whom I could constructively argue cosmology and the expansion of our four-dimensional universe. He was the man who invented – and patented – a system for solar-powered distillation of sea-water by eduction on a massive scale. No one, as yet, has built the monster projects which he foresaw will save our civilization from dying of thirst.
He was my second father. Other people might call him my step-father, and that is what he was. But I must admit his influence on my life, and my benefit from his existence, intelligence, and property. The mere fact that I can sit here in his dining room, gazing out his picture windows at the blustery drizzle falling across a vast freeway valley view (his house sits on the edge of a hillside) is proof that I still live in his shadow. Or in his reflected sunlight, if you like.
I have been fortunate in my life, in possessing two intelligent, loving men for fathers. The first, my birth, or biological father, as is the custom to say, was with me for the first 28 years of my life. He was a rocket engineer and World War Two hero. Not to mention an alcoholic, which killed him at 56. The second, my step-father, was a loveable curmudgeon, photographer, and one-time genius inventor. The first two-thirds of my life can thus be divided into two equal halves. Twenty-eight years as a child and young man, from 1950, when I was conceived, to 1977 when my Daddy died; and then the next 29 years of my life from 1978 until 2007, my stepfather was with my mother until he passed on.
These two men, and my only son (who is now 32 years old) have been the three most important men in my life. (Except for myself, of course, as I am supremely selfish, arrogant, and egotistical.) I know I would be nothing without them, past, present, and future. However, today, on this page, I am especially thinking of my second father, in whose house I live and write and create art, throughout these last however many years may come of my dear mother’s life.