Thursday, August 08, 2013

Living over the store

There’s finally some forward movement on the Ghost of Filene’s Past, which has been haunting downtown Boston for a good long time. As my gym overlooks what has been up to now the non-building site, I have had ample opportunity to look wistfully at Filene’s still-standing graceful Beaux Arts façade, which they’re going to be keeping when they erect the new glam office-retail-luxury living space. Maybe I’ll even live there someday, perhaps when we decide we need to live in a full-service rather than full-aggravation building, and/or when Boston experiences a Sandy-type power storm, and we have to seek higher ground. (First I’ll have to look at those MIT maps of what Boston’s flood plain will look like if the 100 year storm strikes sooner rather than later to make sure that Filene’s is above it all.)

Even though I know that it won’t be Filene’s below me, I’d be perfectly happy living over the store.

Until I was seven, we lived not above the store, but above my grandmother, in her three-family house. We overlooked a building that for a long while had been a grocery store, and the family that owned the store lived in the flat above it. The family was completely exotic, especially by Main South Worcester standards of the 1950’s. The daughters, who were  roughly the same age as me and my sister Kath, had long dark curly hair worn wild, and, I believe, pierced ears. I also remember that they wore rather florid clothing. I remember them in off the shoulder blouses, running around barefoot. I thought they were gypsies. (They weren’t: the family was Jewish.) Anyway, they moved out, and Kaplan’s Market was replaced by Pat’s Laundromat. No great loss for us, as we shopped just down the street at Morris Market, not Kaplan’s. Still, I envied those Kaplan girls living over the store, which seemed so much more interesting than living over the grandmother.

I also envied the folks who lived over the Esso station on Route 9 out Spencer way. Not only would they have been able to smell gasoline all day – an odor that I completely adored as a child – but the flat, supported by stone pillars, extended over the pumps, making it something of a canopy, protecting the attendants.

We didn’t get our gas there, but we frequently passed it on rides, including our regular fall treks to Brookfield “Happy Apple” Orchard. 

As my taste improved – at least I like to think so – I swapped out my desire to live over the Route 9 Esso station for a longing to live, not over the Happy Apple building, but in the charming little farm house next store, the one with the apple cut-outs on the shutters. Who wouldn’t want to live in the middle of an orchard, especially in spring, when the apple blossoms were blossoming, and in the fall, when the Happy Apples ripened?

While it is far more likely that I’ll live on top of old Filene’s than it is that, at this advanced age, I’ll find myself living in the middle of an orchard – apple or other - whenever I pass the Happy Apple house (which is about once a year), I think about how wonderful it would be to live there. (I have completely outgrown any desire to live over a gas station and smell the fumes.)

Thoughts of living over the store were triggered by an article I saw on the other day on a repurposed funeral parlor that’s for sale in Hudson, Massachusetts.

As is true of so many funeral parlors in these parts, this old house began life as a house-house in the late 1900’s. But as sensibilities changed and wakes were outsourced from a home game to an away game, nice old homes like this one became funeral homes. (Drive through any New England town and you’re almostfuneral parlor guaranteed that there’ll be at least one gorgeous old Victorian that’s now a funeral parlor.)

The place for sale is rather nice looking, and I suspect it made a pretty nice looking funeral parlor back in the day.

One of its finer features is the extra large three-car garage which, while not attached to the home, is large enough to accommodate at least one hearse.

I’m pretty sure that the downstairs room converted pretty handily back to their original purpose – all those nice pocket doors, etc.  And remember: they don’t call them funeral parlors for nothing.  These rooms were meant to be lived in, fine details and generous proportions. After all, they used to fit row upon row of folding chairs, not to mention room at the top for the casket. And all those baskets of gladiolas.

But it’s the rooms in the basement I’m wondering about.

I suppose the cool room would make a fine wine cellar…

And that double-wide floor drain would be perfect for the laundry area…

However creepy and embalmy, I’m Irish enough that I could easily live in a converted funeral parlor. Or even a living-breathing (metaphorically speaking) still active one.

After all, I knew several girls who did just that.

I was a “scholarship girl” at the high school that catered to Worcester’s Irish aristocracy.

While not quite up there with doctors, lawyers, and mayors, funeral parlor daughters were definitely part of the ascendancy. Off the top of my head, I can think of five girls whose families owned funeral parlors. One had her very own Mustang: definitely rich! I wasn’t all that friendly with her, but I was reasonably friendly with another funeral parlor daughter – and this one did live over the store.

I visited her home on a couple of occasions, and the upstairs décor more or less mirrored the downstairs: Victorian furniture, including ones that looked kinda-sorta like this. Much fancier than anything we had chez Rogers, that’s for sure.

Those funeral parlor folks, they sure knew how to live. (Or could afford to.)

With an office in my home, I suppose it could be argued that I do, in fact, live over (or under or on the side of) the store.

But it’s not the same as living over a place where fruits and veggies are sold, where fuel is pumped in, where folks are shown out.

Anyway, those are my thoughts for the day…

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