General Store

Fri, 12/10/2021 - 9:45am

There are two framed posters, made from Providence Journal photographs, dated only 1930, on the wall in the town hall. I wonder, increasingly, if we should affix to their backs details of the buildings shown.

The photo shown with this column is of one of the buildings on the wall, one with a particularly tortured history.

It sat, originally, where the little parking lot below the church spreads, all shiny new black asphalt these days. It was my great-grandfather’s general store, with a wide porch and broad, inviting stairs in old postcards. It is featured in some, more often shown as general background for some activity around Rebecca. We look almost like a small town anywhere, decked in patriotic bunting, ladies and gentlemen appearing to be wearing light colored, sometimes white, dresses and dark suits, respectively.
It was a world of buggy traffic and that limited. It seems there was always something festive going on, filling the streets, although in reality, cameras, were likely brought out more for such occasions. Now, we live in an overload of images, and I wonder if a 100 years from now what will be accessible and documented.
My, great-grandfather’s store, on Fountain Square, off the road to the steamboat landing down at the Inner Basin of the Old Harbor, is now longer in place on the poster of the wall. In its place, if one knows where to look, is bare dirt, looking like... it’s hard to have an initial impression when I remember first seeing the ProJo photo and thinking “they just moved the Post Office.”
There is a file in my house I almost rid myself of last summer, then it was summer and put aside until fall. I’d stumbled upon it one day, probably in a box, most certainly not in a file cabinet, the record of the moving of the building intended to be retrofitted into the Post Office.

The company was, I think, from Providence and featured a large gabled house on great beams, I always presumed moved successfully. The file is full of correspondence, invoices, estimates, the inevitable weather-related-delay conversation.
There were bills for the boxes some still remember, with their dials, I do not remember our combination, it may have been too high for me to reach or I may just not remember. The box number has remained the same.
I’ve photos of my grandfather, the Postmaster, in front of the building on Air Mail day, in 1938, quite an accomplishment from here. It looked both the same and very different, the windows more detailed and the porch not yet in place. I was on the Zoning Board — long after the facility had moved over to Bridge Gate and the building had been sold — when application was made for a front line variance to allow the porch.
I could not visualize it, there did not seem to be room, but the drawing was in front of us and everyone else seemed to think it a good idea so I went along.
It is interesting, today, to look at the old photo on the wall, and imagine back to the late 1920s having to create a foundation rising from the sand where there had been nothing. People still traveled with great trunks and my grandfather’s express office was in that basement, the core of Finn’s. He wrote to my aunts in Boston, the day after the 1938 Hurricane, that he had not sustained much damage, although the water had come almost to the deck of the lower office.

It was all dune grass, then, and the undulating topography must have stopped the raging water, it and the cinder block ice plant that was smashed to a ruin.
Then the government took a lease on problematic land, filled in part with the spoils of the harbor, then it moved back to the hill over the harbor.
The other building, tucked away on High Street, the Bowling Alley, was not moved by any fancy mainland company. It was simply dragged up the street, although as told by a high school student at the time, it was certainly as interesting. A capstan was pounded into the street and the leveraged power of a team or two of oxen utilized. Only problem was . . .turning that long building on a right angle and squeezing it into the space. Anyone who remembers the wavy bowling alleys should understand.
The bowling alleys came up on some social media platform the other day, summer bowling was a given and I had another of those insights on how extraordinarily divergent our worlds were even then. We had winter bowling when I was little, or our parents did, the women one night, the men another, probably because someone had to stay home and take care of the kids.
There was no plumbing and the heat came from a pot-bellied stove someone had to go early and stoke. My dad, who had run down the street from high school at the Masonic Hall to make a few pennies at lunch was still returning. Someone who set pins said they feared the way he lobbed the small ball down the alley; he had the league high score, probably from keeping the ball just above the quirky wood.

But back to the matter most immediately at hand, Christmas decorations in town. There is a strange reversal of what used to be, the big National, past its prime, a somber gray creature lumbering over the harbor, showed no joy when we were children; today it shines. The General Store/Post Office was open and active, the space that became Ernie’s a mysterious void; today they shine.

The church had to have had some lights, this may be my imagining but I thought we gained an outside tree one year when the one purchased for inside proved too
tall. It doesn’t seem possible, we lived in old houses with low ceilings, our fathers were adept at “trimming” trees.
It wasn’t much, but we didn’t know any different. Today, Christmas season in town is nice.