Who was Pat Lovett?
That was the question I thought I’d be answering here today. But how can you define a person who graced the earth for nearly 97 years?
When she was born, commercial radio was a new thing. Movies were jerky, silent affairs.
She lived to collect movies on CDs and record them off an invention called TV, using something that wasn’t even imagined when she was a child: satellite broadcasts beamed straight to her backyard.
Which means there’s a lot about her I don’t know. Not that she was a closed book. It’s just that she was a book with many chapters, interconnecting in the unexpected literary tapestry of a long life, well lived.
If any of you have ever read a John McPhee book, you know what I’m talking about. He wrote in tapestries, with threads appearing and reappearing and merging into unexpected patterns.
He would have loved her.
I’m talking in literary metaphors, I realize, because she, among other things, taught me to love books and writing.
When I bicycled across the country in 1986, I took it for granted that I would keep a journal, recording the experiences I knew I would want to remember. But she was a letter writer who taught me that writing was to be shared.
Each night, I wrote a couple thousand words on a legal pad. Every few days I mailed them to her. Then, using another invention undreamt of in her youth, she transcribed them on a computer and mailed them out to the family. Better yet, she sent me the files. Files that became the backbone of my first book. A book I doubt I would have written if I were the one who had to do all that typing.
I should also use drama as a metaphor, because she loved that, too.
She taught me how difficult it is to do humor, and how nobody truly appreciates it because done right, it looks so easy. She induced me to study Mark Twain and see how every comma, every syllable, works toward that impeccable timing that looks so simple, but isn’t.
She taught me, when I write fiction, to think not just like a writer, but a thespian, donning a character like an actor dons a role, then pointing the character in the desired direction and waiting to see what happens.
And, as far as I can tell, she did all this without ever giving me a single bit of actual instruction. She just was, and I just absorbed.
I realize I’m telling my stories here, not hers. But that’s because she was a major force in making me who I am today.
That, of course, is something that can be said about many parents. But she never set out to mold me. I could have become anything I wanted, and she would have been pleased. Well, except maybe a bank robber. She probably wouldn’t have appreciated that.
What she did was to give me nuggets of wisdom that years later I realized were an entire gold mine I had eagerly plundered. Dare I call it the Mother lode? Mark Twain might approve, though he’d want me to work more on the timing.
Not that all nuggets were immediately obvious.
When I was young, I was what my British friends would call a right little nerd. Some would say I still am.
I’d learn something interesting, come home and want to tell Mother all about it as she cooked dinner. Or, more precisely, lecture her about it.
One time, my grand discovery was aneroid barometers. She wasn’t much of a scientist and I went way over her head, sure that if I could just get her to listen I could force her to understand.
She responded by making it into a joke. Suddenly, she was frustrating my inventing stories about critters called fur-bearing aneroids. They became a family joke that lived for decades. One that I perpetuated, actually, because (a) it was so Mother—she really did have an impish sense of humor—and (b) it ultimately made me a better teacher, writer, and coach because she’d taught me of the need to be attuned to your audience—another metaphor from theater, now that I think of it. And one, I might add, that is wickedly hard to do on Zoom.
Another thing she imparted was her farm-girl love of fresh air.
Growing up, I remember she very much disliked air conditioning. We had one, but she rarely wanted to turn it on, despite pleas from her kids. She’d rather open the windows and breathe what God provided.
It would only be when Dad came home on a steamy Midwestern afternoon, and gasp “Pat!” that she’d relent.
It was another thing that shaped me. I came to love deserts and their fierce afternoon heat. I learned how to heat acclimate (never turn on the air conditioning!), so I could run and bike and hike in conditions where others swooned. I learned how to train people to do the same—a valuable lesson for a coach.
But she also knew when not to shape me.
She had a lifelong dread of thunderstorms. I don’t know why; all she ever said was, “I know what they can do.” I suspect she’d seen something memorable on the farm. All I know is that she bent over backward not to infect me with it. I think thunderstorms are beautiful and exciting—though I admit I’d rather not be camping in the middle of one. But the fear she felt, she sheltered me from.
So who was Pat Lovett?
Many things, and I’m looking forward to hearing other chapters of her book. Preparing these remarks, what I realized was this: She knew what to teach, and what not to teach.
May I live to be as wise.