Thinking about Lowell Innes yesterday made me pull out my Pittsburgh Glass book. My copy is pretty worn. I still think it’s one of the most finely written books on glass ever published. There are plenty of others that have impeccable research and valuable information, but for a book that you can just sit and read and enjoy, I still think it’s the best.
A few years ago when we visited an antique dealer friend in Maine, he mentioned that the old Innes house had burned down awhile back. It made me inordinately sad. I wanted to have that tiny little bit of my life still sitting there on Jenkins Road in Saco, across from the marshlands, tucked away in time I suppose.
As I mentioned in yesterday’s post, my parents took me to visit meet him in Michigan (see scan of article below). We met him after the talk and he positively crowed to the Ford Museum folks sitting around him, “All of you with your Ph.D’s, but I bet you never got a letter from a 14 year old girl!” After chatting, my mother innocently said, “Oh, we often visit Maine in the summer because my parents live there,” so he of course invited us to his house. My mother was good.
We visited him that summer. I have no pictures. These days we’d have everything photo-documented but those were different times. I recall the house being an old federal home, with a few later Victorian touches, but I might be mistaken. He had glass laid out on tables for me to look at, and his wife Ethelinda, who was so charming, had taken out her collection of perfume bottles for me to see.
I went back one other time, it might have been later that year. My grandmother was ill and we were all in Maine. Judi and Debbie went with me that time and Lowell gave me a nice little scroll flask and several lacy salts. I wrote once or twice more but went off to college the next year. He died in 1986.
Yesterday I found myself googling him and looking for pictures and comments. I found a few. It’s funny. I feel as though I have these old memories of him that are important, but I don’t know that anybody really cares. I still feel like my memories of him are a gift though, a wonderful gift that I carry with me.
I even liked his directions----using the "garish yellow roofs" as a landmark. Those cabins were there for years and years...I think the roofs changed to a garish orange, but now they are gone too.
Some of the words I found about him yesterday:
Lowell was headmaster of Shady Side Academy in Pittsburgh, and taught English there for some 40 years.
Lowell Innes, the ultimate teacher of English literature and writing, said again and again, as a guide to writing, "Don't tell me, show me." Don't tell me someone was a mean old miser, show him being a mean old miser. As words to the wise go about writing, that's pure gold.
The closest I ever had to stern direction from Mr. Innes happened after I returned from a spring vacation visit to Charlottesville, and I told Mr. Innes that I was thinking I might go to the University of Virginia. He looked me in the eye, put his finger to my chest, and in his never-to-be-forgotten Maine accent said, "You're going to Yale, McCullough, and I don't want to hear any more about it!"
Mr. Innes I should add had gone to Yale. (from David McCullough Address, Shady Side Academy's 125th Anniversary Celebration, Saturday, May 2, 2009)
I see Lowell Innes and Shady Side Academy are synonymous. More than anyone else on campus, he typifies the spirit of the Academy. His three button sack, striped poplins, and pastel shirts have set campus styles for years. The green book bag and thermos of coffee have become fixtures around the halls. His "bon mots" pass from boy to boy. Kindly imitations of his "down East" accent are part of every junior wit's repertoire and each year brings a new crop of caricatures for NEWS and ACADEMIAN, Long after we are graduated, Mr. Innes will be remembered for the days in Room IO when Shakespeare and Johnson came alive, for the curriculum and college conferences in his office, and the cryptic notes on the reports to our parents. His forty years of experience with boys and his close association with the universities aid each boy in choosing a college fitted to his special needs. The master-student relationship is much more than business to Mr. Innes, who keeps abreast of the boys' current interests in and out of school. To this friend and educator, we, the class of '56, dedicate our ACADEMIAN. (Shady Side Academy Academia Yearbook class of 1956)
This year marks the termination of Lowell Innes's notable career as an educator and administrator at Shady Side Academy. A teacher for forty years and headmaster for two years, Mr. Innes has also placed many Shady Side students in college. Known for his green book bag, a warm, toothy smile, and a Maine accent, he will retire this year to his home in Saco, Maine. Mr. Innes had been a contributing factor in the intellectual and material growth of Shady Side Academy over the years and will be missed by the teachers, students, and alumni of Shady Side. (Shady Side Academy Academian 1960)
Bowdoin College honored him as well:
LOWELL INNES, native of Biddeford, graduate of Thornton Academy and Yale, for many years able Assistant Headmaster of Shady Side Academy – the early home of many Bowdoin men – a vigorous proponent of precise and disciplined thinking. He has seasoned his scholarship with wit, warmed it with humanism, inflamed it with idealism, never warping it with sentimentality. An outstanding schoolmaster, he has guided youth with sensitive touch, adjusted to the particular needs of the particular boy, gaining respect, affection, and admiration, not only from his students and their families, bur from all colleges to which he has entrusted his boys. For just such qualities we honor him. Honoris Causa, MASTER OF ARTS