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Percival Marcus (Pert) Lowell

29 October 1992

My name is Augustus Percival Lowell. Pert Lowell was my Grandfather.

A boat yard — to a land-locked child — can seem a place of wonder and magic and the master of such a yard a mystical sorcerer. That is my earliest recollection of my Grandfather, the Wizard of the River, who tamed the rumbling river beasts and dragged them from the water with ropes and wooden rollers and sweat, or drove them through the mythical land called “Downriver”, past the country club and through grass-lined channels, by distant salt-boxes to “Plumisland” and the sea; who molded wood and paint and cloth and rope to his will; who could, with the slightest flick of his finger on a frozen morning, coax steaming hot chocolate into a paper cup from a whining, paint-spattered box. A giant, white-haired wizard, and, like all proper wizards, inaccessible to mere mortals.

Of course I, the rational adult, know he was not a sorcerer; yet my child’s eyes, like all children’s eyes, saw truth without understanding it and so adapted it to fit a simpler, younger view of the world. My Grandfather was not a sorcerer, but a Lowell, and to my child-self that was just as mysterious, just as powerful — and, ultimately, just as satisfying.

The truth: he was inaccessible; it was his nature, and that of every other Lowell, to mask his tenderest feelings behind a great stone face, to judge others by his own private and unreachable standards, to deny his own weaknesses and tolerate with difficulty the weaknesses of others.

That truth — that essence of spirit, passed through generations of Lowells to the present — became clear to me only after I began working in the boat shop, the sorcerer’s apprentice seeking wisdom in the house of the master. As I worked and learned, I also observed, and what I saw, in his moments of quiet contemplation and explosive exasperation and genuine pride for his craft, was my father and his sister, and my brother and myself.

What also became clear was the depth below that inaccessible surface, a depth which could be inferred but not explored, which showed itself only rarely in small gestures and unguarded phrases: a self-reliance and pride in his craft that kept him active well after others would have retired; a self-assurance that would accept no dissent; a love, not easily shown but there nonetheless, for his life, for his family, and especially for his wife.

I thought once about my grandparents, and what odd coincidence had brought them to a life together: he, who radiated his confidence from within, from his own appreciation for a job well-done, and she, who drew her confidence from without, from the pleasure she might bring to other people. How hard it must have been for her, for love and appreciation, as is so often the case, were the hardest emotion for him to express. Yet love he did. I saw that the last time I visited him, when a mention of her name brought a tear to his eye and a tremor to his voice.

It was the same passion he held for boats.

In truth, my apprenticeship was less than successful, for I have inherited neither my Grandfather’s skills nor his temperament. Yet I do carry my Grandfather’s imprint, his confidence in his own abilities, his courage to follow through on his beliefs, and his joy in the act of creation. Those are his gifts to me. I wear them with pride.

© Copyright 1992, 2005, Augustus P. Lowell

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