The Last Lecture tradition is one in which the university professor is offered the opportunity to answer the question, “If it were your last chance to give a lecture to students, what would you say?”
You might remember the bestseller of the same name which became wildly popular because of the powerful messages dispensed from its brilliant author offering up life lessons not only to his students, but his family, particularly his children based on the knowledge of his time on Earth was coming to an end.
I had the opportunity to watch my mother, Linda Lowe, give a class lecture only once. I was home from the University of Georgia to take summer classes at Darton College in Albany. I suspect I was waiting for her after my class, and instead of lingering in the hallway I slid into the back of the classroom.
It only furthered what I already felt about my mother, my admiration and love for the woman who taught hundreds the profession of nursing. What would she have said if she had been given this unique opportunity to offer up her final thoughts on life? Here is my attempt at just that.
Invest in others … and never ever, give up
Before my family moved to Cherokee County, holidays were always spent in southwest Georgia. They were always too quick, but just long enough to make a trip to Albany Mall or the grocery store, which is actually where you would see the most familiar faces and friends.
Inevitably there would be a student from the college where my mother taught that would approach us to say hello or share their post-graduation activities. One time a student was deeply moved at seeing my mother embracing her and telling me how my mother never allowed her to quit. My mother had quite literally crawled into the foxhole with this student to ensure that she was not left behind, and that support had made all the difference.
Seek beauty … beyond the beauty counter
When my mother was a teenager, she had terrible acne and later as an adult she was still getting pimples at 40. I can remember standing with her at the mirror as she got ready for work and she would roll her eyes at the appearance of a blemish on her chin. Later it would be rosacea all of which she battled with an arsenal of beauty products. And while I acknowledge the imperfections, all I really saw was my beautiful mother.
I can remember her getting ready for a party once in which she donned a little black dress with a ruffled neckline that looked like something Olivia Newton-John would wear off the shoulder. She slipped the gold hoops in her pierced ears, put on her cocktail ring and I was mesmerized. I wanted to be glamorous just like her.
I think she probably only thought herself beautiful a couple of times in her life, but what she didn’t realize is that she seemed to have the gift to make things beautiful around her in whatever she touched.
I can’t read the verse Philippians 4:8 without thinking of her. “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – thank about such things.”
She was a true beauty – when I think upon our conversations, our interests, our love of home, gardens, and family – if we could all occupy our minds in this way.
Tell stories … especially family ones
My mother loved telling family stories, so it is no surprise to you that I became a writer and I adore genealogy. She would tell the stories of how lovely “Great Great” looked when she dressed for town, and what life was like after her grandmother and grandfather lost everything in the financial crash of the 1920s in Miami.
The stories always illustrated the importance of character and being a survivor. I have used these stories to build my reservoir of resilience essential to a Southern mama.
Today, my teenage daughter loves hearing stories about when she was little. After she was born, I had a litany of health issues which separated us briefly – her at home and I still at the hospital. The grandparents all moved into the house and would take turns watching over her night and day while my husband, Doug, would stay over at the hospital with me.
My mother took nights which seems about right given her years working the late shift as an intensive care unit nurse. She would sleep on the couch with her hand draped over the edge of the bassinet so our daughter would know she was not alone.
Choose joy … and laughter
My mother loved to laugh and had a twinkle in her eye when she was up to something. Each summer on an unspecified day when we all happened to be at home, she would grab the sink sprayer and hit my dad with a blast of cold water to the chest – or whatever she could hit. And, from that it would be game on. The entire family would gather together in and outside of the house and the annual summer water fight would begin. Super Soakers from the beach trip, an old school metal garbage can lid to use as a shield, and if you were lucky the garden hose to fill up your armaments.
We would wait for the unsuspecting passerby. I can remember the mail lady driving slowly by watching as different members of our family of four were doused and ran for cover. A memorable form of family bonding, even if it required a mop once everyone had lost their energy to battle anymore.
Enjoy the ride … adventures can be found everywhere
My mother was always up for adventure. In fact, I remember most of our best times together were in motion thanks to a full tank of gas in the car.
On road trips we would go off the beaten path exploring little towns in search of historic houses.
My brother, sleeping in the back seat, would pop up occasionally and ask, “Are we there yet,” and we would say, “Almost,” encouraging him to doze back off.
He didn’t trust us much after he got wise to our antics.
Another time my mother and grandmother had seen an advertisement for someone who was wanting to thin out their day lilies and were selling off bulbs at their home. They arrived at a house and struck up a conversation with the homeowner and proceeded to have a very lovely visit carrying away more than just the plants advertised, but items from all over the landscape. The homeowner, who was clearly as much of a plant lover as they were, refused payment for said plants and everyone was delighted as they parted. It was only as mother and grandmother drove away, they realized they had had the wrong address.
It’s really no surprise that she really enjoyed the adventure of going overseas with my father, Harry, to Germany when he was in the Army. She loved the places she was able to see, and her favorite thing was having the car saluted as she would go on and off base.
Something that came to me this past August when we turned our car into the entrance to the Georgia National Cemetery and the Cherokee County Sheriff’s deputy stood at attention with his hand raised to his brow.
Her last ride.
There were plenty of things my mother told me throughout my 46 years, and I know there were possibly things she wanted to add, but by then it was all but forgotten. Her last lecture in reflection I believe is in fact a life lecture. The impact was not made in final words, but how she lived.