22 February 2011

“There are places I remember....”

One by one the landmarks of my past have been disappearing over the years, each one a favorite haunt where I spent time and enjoyed myself, or a benchmark for a certain period of my life.

First it was the College Hill Bookstore which I’d been going to since I was a teenager.  Located right in the heart of the East Side in an eclectic part of town, it would stay open each night until midnight, and, according to the sign in the window, was “Dedicated to the art of browsing.” Many of my first “serious” books came from its shelves of poetry, novels, travel or philosophy.

Next it was Second Thoughts - easily my favorite second hand bookstore in all creation! The scent of old books when you went inside was nearly overpowering. Assuming you ever got inside.  On the outside wall by the front door there were two enormous bookcases, each one at least seven feet tall and filled to overflowing with books of all kinds in various stages of repair.  A sign pinned over the top announced: “ALL BOOKS $1”  (Get thee behind me, Satan!)  Inside, the shelves groaned with books in every possible category, while behind the counter the owner had a special hoard of 18th nd 19th gilt-edged collector's editions with embossed covers. The general price could be anywhere from two dollars up to twenty, and I don’t think I ever came home from there with fewer than four or five books, most of them from the outdoor shelves.

On the heels of this disaster, my favorite consignment shop closed, albeit briefly. The Stock Exchange was always full of antiques, china, glassware, linens, furniture and old kitchen items, all of them reasonably priced. It was easy to spend an entire afternoon there, wandering from room to room, upstairs and down, poking into the nooks and corners and coming up with beautiful tea cups or pieces of lace or a pair of sparkling Jet ear-rings. It always seemed like the kind of place that would just always be there and it was a terrible loss when they closed. Miraculously, it did reopen several years later and although it was never quite the same I still manage to find wonderful things there. 

And then the final blow fell: the announcement that Ocean House, a sprawling yellow-shingled Victorian hotel overlooking the sea at the top of Watch Hill, would be closing. And not just closing but torn down! One of the last summer hotels of its kind, it had a huge dining room with glass windows on two sides that gave one the feeling that you were eating on board a great ocean liner. Every window looked out onto the sea, and after dinner you could sit on the verandah in one of their weathered rocking chairs, or slip down the back steps and wander along the beach in your bare feet, not caring if your dinner gown got wet in the waves as the tide came in.  I have glass jars full of the beautiful stones I’ve collected on the beach there, and an old photograph of the hotel hangs in the upstairs bathroom. Whenever guests visited from out of town I always brought them there for a true taste of what it would have been like to holiday by the sea in past times.  They auctioned all the furniture and paintings and rumor had it a developer would tear down the building and erect luxury condominiums in its place on the valuable seafront property.  In the end, the Nostalgia Faerie granted my wish and the developers relented, refurbishing the existing building.  It is now the Ocean House Luxury Resort. The dining room no longer has a rocking shipboard feel to it, and the shabbiness has been replaced by the elegant ethos of a private club.  But beggars can't be choosers and at least it still exists.    

There are other places in my life that have vanished: my first school, the housing development where we lived when I was a newborn, the tenement we shared with my grandmother when I was a toddler.  Even the hospital where I was born was razed and replaced by a Walgreens!  (Odd to imagine being born somewhere near Aisle 6...)

As progress lays waste to life's landmarks, I'm thankful for memories and photographs.

“...in my life, I’ve loved them all.”

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