One the Occasion of my Last Afternoon by Kaye Gibbons


   This books reads as a first hand tale of life during the Civil War. I’ve read books with the Civil War as the primary background but those were either books of war strategies and history or romanticized tales of war. Neither give a good idea of what life might have been like for a family that lived through the horror of the war.

   Emma Tate Lowell is a woman who was raised on a plantation with all of the benefits of slavery. Her father is an verbally abusive man to his family and a physically abusive slave owner. Emma has an innate sense that their lifestyle based on slavery is wrong. Extremely close to her mother and older brother, Emma is able to escape some of her father’s wrath through books. Although he would have never approved of her reading such intellectual tales because she would “ruin” herself for marriage. Emma has the good fortune to fall in love and marry Quincy Lowell, a doctor from a successful and prestigious family in Boston.

  Emma and Quincy make their home in Raleigh, have 3 daughters and proceed to create a harmonious and happy life away from Seven Oaks. Emma tells us the story of her life and how the war changes her forever. She talks of working 40 hours straight at the hospital, watching her husband strive to save the lives of the young men brought to him, protecting her daughters from the ravages of war and her own fear of telling her “slaves” that their freedom was purchased years ago. She doesn’t want them to leave.

   Sadness, hope, life, love, justice and injustice is found in this book. I didn’t have any sympathy for the horrid man who was her father until the end when you learn his story. It is a good reminder that we never know why people are the way they are. Everyone one of us has a story. Emma chooses to tell us her story on the Occasion of her last Afternoon in 1900.


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