These musings are dedicated to my family’s memories of my father and his love of bright sunshine, children, poetry, art, flowers, and trees.
I always thought that my father was the smartest person I knew. He freely and cheerfully offered his expertise about issues ranging from weather forecasts (we were always hoping for snow) to mathematics and various philosophies and religions. When I was in school, he joyfully and hopefully quizzed me on multiplication tables, making songs out of “7 times 3 equals 21” or “8 times 4 equals 32.” He also tried to help with the periodic table of elements, although I never mastered that one. When I studied piano, he was quick to point out the intersections between music and mathematics. Alas, I wasn’t destined for a career in mathematics, although, for the record, I did sail through Calculus at Emory University, and, when I was a professor at the University of North Alabama, I chaired UNA’s “Strategic Planning and Budget Study Committee.”
I shared my father’s true loves of reading, languages, study, and travel. When I was four or five I read “The Bobbsey Twins” out loud to him and learned that “Charles” had only one syllable, instead of two—important information for a future that would include reading and teaching books written by Charles Dickens and Charles Darwin. He was always generous with me and with my friends and teachers, but we privately laughed about teachers who made mistakes in their lectures and mispronounced words such as Bedouin (which my teacher pronounced “buhDEWin”). Many of my teachers had themselves been students of my father when he taught at the University of Montevallo, and I realize only now how much they must have cringed whenever I walked toward them announcing that “my father says this is wrong!”
My mother, a professor herself, tried to stay out of my quarrels with elementary and middle school teachers, but even she was appalled when a teacher lowered my grade on a book report (required to be written by hand) because she couldn’t understand my handwriting (never mind that I, unlike other students with better penmanship, had actually read the book we were supposed to summarize.) Neat handwriting was not one of my father’s gifts either, and he helped me on my next assignment by typing the text for me, a satire about how penmanship is more important than thinking or deep reading. My brother later proudly announced, “all of the Lotts have terrible handwriting!”
My father and I loved looking at maps so that I would visualize my future destinations—England, Italy, Scotland, etc. These geography lessons have stayed with me to this day, but I remember particularly a visit to a neurologist at UAB who, presumably as a test of my spatial awareness responded to my statement that I planned to take a group of students to England by stating that “England is on the same latitude as New York, so it should be cool.” “Really?? Try the same latitude as Iceland!” I responded politely, but laughed with my father at lunch when I had safely left the hospital, about another misinformed person in authority. I should mention, however, that he respected deeply anyone with different expertise, from doctors and lawyers to roofers and engineers. A neurologist can’t be expected to be particularly adept at geography any more than a plumber can be expected to know Middle English! We used to joke that mechanics were like magicians to him.
When my family moved from Florence to Montevallo, my son, JD, enrolled in elementary and middle school where he and his friends participated in a Model United Nations competition. They were representing Jordan, and JD’s “Papa” immediately offered to help assuring him that “I know A LOT about Jordan!” He did know a lot about Jordan and the Middle East, having met dignitaries such as Yasser Arafat and Queen Noor. He was delighted to see that his children, grandchildren, and their friends inherited his loves for travel, adventure, and study.
Hospitals and MRI’s
One of my more recent memories of my father is his time in the UAB hospital being tested with MRI’s. I was also having MRI tests done, almost at the same time, and I remember being hyper aware of how claustrophobic my father must have felt given how trapped he had been already, stuck in a hospital bed for weeks on end. But my father’s brilliance was still on display even on his worst days, when, for example, he responded almost reflexively to my son’s description of an essay that he was writing on the Hittites and their practice of blending cultures with their conquered people. Religion, currency, and architecture, he chimed in. When we came home to our house in Montevallo, I was able to tell my son that I had been to Anatolia (modern-day Istanbul), with my parents, and still have a souvenir, a Kllm rug that I bought on the trip.
I will conclude with a haiku that I wrote in my childhood and discovered recently in my files. It reminds me of my dad.
Peering through the trees,
I see the gold medallion
Nature’s finest coin
– Anna Lott, PhD
Anna grew up in Alabama, spending her entire childhood in the same house where her parents still live today. Anna is a retired Professor of English and Women’s Studies from the University of North Alabama, where she charmed her loyal and adoring students for almost twenty years until a bad MS exacerbation convinced her that she should start spending her days playing games on her iPad, reading and writing whatever and whenever she feels like it, and watching the birds feed outside her window.