My Dad and Reading

From the Roller Derby to reading: a Tribute to Art Larson, the inspiration for Cranium CoRE.

Art Larson, the father of Andy Larson, died on Tuesday, August 14th, 2012 at the age of ninety-seven. He inspired his son, Andy Larson, to become an avid reader. It was this influence that caused Andy to create the product Cranium CoRE with RJ Lindelof. The goal is to inspire all children to love to read in a similar fashion using gaming on the net as the vehicle to reach it.

This picture was taken early in June, 2012. This picture shows Art on his skates in the Roller Derby
This picture shows his Purple Heart for losing his leg in WWII

As I look back on my life, one thing is very clear. My dad is the reason I have a love for reading. It is so deeply ingrained in me, I want to pass it on to others. Here is the story of how it happened. I hope you enjoy it.

I grew up in the 1950's. When I was young, baseball was my love. I ate, slept, drank and played it every summer day I could. My father, Art, was not a very touchy, feelly type of parent. He never told me he loved me, that I remember, until I was an older man.

Despite this, I never doubted his love. He was my Boy Scout Leader and my manager in Pony League. My dad knew I loved baseball, so, every other week he would go to the local branch of the public library on the way home from work to pick up baseball player biographies for me to read. His reasoning was intuitive. He figured since I loved baseball, the chances were pretty good that I would read books relating to this topic.

Another side note about my dad is worth mentioning. He had an artificial leg. A WWII injury cost him his leg. Before the war, he was in the roller derby. He was, for a brief time, the fastest man on skates in the mile. He is mentioned in the roller derby encyclopedia a few times.

I can only imagine the devastation of losing your livelihood and your love at the same time. By the time I was born, my dad had lost his leg five years before. I always knew him as my dad, the man with one good leg. His roller derby career was not mentioned much, if at all.

My reason for saying this is twofold. First, it wasn't as easy for my dad to walk as it was for a person with two good legs, and yet, he would take time to walk to the branch library to get me books. Also, there are probably many times in a child's life when they do not appreciate what their parents do for them. It is with a very thankful heart I write this. My dad never complained about his situation. He took the time to get me those books.

I did not really understand the method to his madness until one day he told me. I will never forget it. There are only two occasions when he shared this with me. The following describes the first.

As I recall, it was a Friday. He had come home with the normal passel full of books. It wasn't a particularly great day for me. Maybe I was having a bad hair day or something of equally insignificant importance. My dad laid the books in front of me. One of them had a gruesome looking character illustrated on it's cover. It's title was "Sal Magli: the Barber."

Sal was a left handed pitcher who let his beard grow a few days without shaving it before he pitched for the express purpose of looking more menacing on the mound. He also had a habit of throwing at batters to "shave" them away from the plate, hence the nickname, "the Barber."

Well, I did not particularly like the picture of his face, so, I shoved this book aside. My father said something like " no, no, Andy, I think you will particularly like his story. In my very understanding, eleven year old way I said "What do you do this for, anyway?"

My father was a strong man with big arms from walking with special crutches for years from his disability. He could easily have picked me up with one hand and pressed me into the wall for my insolent behavior this day. He did not do that though.

He simply looked at me and said, "Let me tell you something. If you can read well, you'll probably be able to write well. If you read and write well, you'll probably be able to speak well. If you can read, write and speak well, you'll probably never starve."

To him it was this simple. He was a depression era young man and it made sense to him. He intuitively figured out if he could find my seed of interest, in this case, baseball, he had a better chance of me reading books about that topic.

We all have a seed or two of interest within us. It is a matter of someone, like my father, taking the time to help find out what that seed is and then getting reading material in front of us about the topic. It isn't foolproof, but, it does increase the chances someone will pick up a book and look at it. Hopefully, it then turns into a lifelong love.

In my case, thanks to my dad, reading has never let me down. I have always been able to accomplish things when this skill was required. I am certainly not a speed reader, however, my comprehension was always above average.

The following true, somewhat humorous story within this story will aptly illustrate how it worked to my advantage in at least one situation.

Just after the oil embargo of the mid-1970's and subsequent oil crisis, America did its common knee jerk reaction and decided it would be wise to build smaller, more gas efficient cars and tighter, more energy efficient houses.

I signed up to take a two week course in Bath, Maine to learn how to build an energy efficient house from two lawyers who had decided to drop out of the legal world and help people construct efficient homes. Pat and Patsy Hennin are their names. They dramatically changed my world.

Pat gave the lectures in this class. He was left handed and had a habit of erasing things on the blackboard with the outside of his writing hand to save time. Very early on the first day of class, I asked what seemed to me to be a good question. I inquired to know what a plumb bob was.

Pat responded with, "Let me guess. You aren't a carpenter, are you?" My response was "No. Why?" He then said that the class requirement was to be a carpenter. Since I was never told this and never saw it as a part of the class description, I never thought about it. By this time, now in the class, it was too late to do much about it.

After a few more inane questions like the first one, Pat's jet-black hair looked gray. He would run his chalk-laden hand through his hair while taking a deep breath before he answered the question. It was a method akin to letting steam out of a kettle so it didn't explode. He finally said, "I'll tell you what. Write your questions down and come up at lunch and at the end of the day. I will take however long is needed to answer them. Otherwise, this two week course will take two months."

Well, I hung on by my nails, pun intended, and took copious notes for the remainder of this class. You have to understand. I had never built anything before but a nice doghouse while in college that my dog never inhabited. A non-carpenter does not take a two week crash course and then come back and build an energy efficient house….or, do they?

Despite the tremendous odds against it, I figured, if I could draw the blueprints, I could build the house. It took me months of weekends to finish the blueprints. I flew back to Bath, Maine for a weekend to let the Hennins look over the blueprints to make sure, from their perspective anyway, the plans were solid. They passed muster and were accepted by an architect who stamped them for me. Then, somewhat unbelievably, they were accepted by the county where I was going to build. Now, I was off to the races, or, so I thought.

I was working for a company selling books to the education market. Summer was very slow typically and most sales people spent time with family making up for the lost time during the rest of the year from traveling. My big idea was to find a carpenter's crew who wanted to moonlight on the weekends to help me build the house in the summer after my plans were accepted. Nice idea, however, it was a crazy, boom time for building in the county I chose to call home. Consequently, there was way more work than carpenters to fill the bill.

I had talked my dad (remember him?) into coming out of retirement in Florida, to help me. After the third carpenter's crew stood us up, I said to my dad, "It looks like if this house is ever going to get built, it's going to be up to you and I to do it. Are you up for it?" My father, God bless him, said "Yep." The rest is history.

We built a contemporary, cedar sided, passive solar home out of an original design that started on a napkin. Except for the well and septic system, we did it all. We did have some help with the plumping and electric, but, even this was mostly from our efforts. It was such a good story, that the now defunct Sun Times newspaper came out and ran a story that was picked up by many other newspapers on the eastern half of the United States. This particular Sunday issue, in the winter of 1979, a horrendous winter, had the story on the inside front cover, the whole page with a picture to boot!

How do I explain this? My dad and reading! You see, I got two great books, which I still have, when I went to take the class in Maine; one was "This Engineered House" and the other "From the Ground Up." In addition to my notes, I used my ability to read these books to help me understand what needed to be done. You want to know the icing on the cake?

The title of the newspaper story that Sunday was "Couple Hammer Away at Inflation!" We built this house without a mortgage. I tried to get one, but, no lending institution was nutty enough to lend money as a construction loan to someone who had never before built anything. In fact, they all thought I was goofy for asking. A few banks did say, if I actually got the house framed, which they thought to be a tremendous long shot, they would then have collateral to consider it.

As it turned out, I used my commission money over the two-year time frame it took to build the house and never had to go to the lending institutions for a loan. That was a story all by itself, or, so the paper thought.

I sincerely believe that anyone could have done what I did from a strictly "knowledge base" standpoint. Because my dad got me baseball biographies as a child, I transferred my reading for enjoyment to reading to educate. Not so incidentally, when my father, years before, explained to me if I could read, write and speak well I would probably never starve, the "probably" meant that you still need to have a desire. He told me there were plenty of well-educated, homeless people living on the streets in America due to choices they made despite their education.

My goal in life is take this baton my dad handed me and pass it on to as many parents as I can before I leave.

- Andy Larson