Living over the store


Recently the phrase, “living over the store,” sailed unsolicited through my brain. I couldn’t remember hearing or reading this idiom for a really long time. Besides the most obvious example of all U.S. presidents except George Washington living over one of the most well-known stores of them all, otherwise I came up with only a fictional TV character: Ike Godsey lived in the back of his general merchandise store near Walton’s Mountain. Locally, however, it occurred to me that John Atkins and family used to live on the second floor of the funeral home he operated in St. Paris. Artist Mike Major and wife Jane transformed an abandoned Westville church into a homeplace for their family and studio space for him. And there are all those second floors in downtown Urbana, existent for generations, with new life currently being breathed into several of them.

In Google I found several references to an academic work coincidentally entitled Living Over the Store by Howard Davis, a professor of architecture. Although a bit stuffy for me, it was interesting to learn that structures combining residence and employment purposes have been around since ancient times. I guess caves could fit that description – however loosely!

In an online article, Aakash Gupta alluded to living above the store early in our nation’s history: carpenters, potters, and smiths “sold their wares in the comfort of their homes.” As the population grew, mass-production needs changed work locations and resulted in town square marketplaces. Eventually, the Industrial Revolution with its manufacturing processes in factories offered employment by companies at locations even further removed from residential areas. In other words, people started going to work rather than already being there.

Filled with enough history for a lazy summer afternoon, I almost dropped a stitch in my knitting when it dawned on me – my dad had lived over the store the entire fifteen years we spent on River Road. Well, maybe he was living ON the store, but the definition certainly applied: he lived and worked in the same location, surrounded 24/7 by his occupation.

I had never thought of farming in such terms. Regardless of season, weather, or mood, he was up at 4:30 AM for the first milking of the day – those ladies of the barn would not be denied their turn on the milking machine. My father could not sleep in, call it in, or opt out of the morning ritual: scooping feed into trenches in front of the stanchions, cleaning cow udders before attaching the milkers, straining

what was collected into ten-gallon milk cans, washing the equipment used – and stashing a pan of fresh milk in the refrigerator in the kitchen. Then he had to repeat the entire process for the evening milking!

He also farmed land on both sides of River Road, one field behind the pasture where the cows sometimes grazed and several fields on both sides of the lane that stretched beyond the barn, plus two small fields across the rickety bridge. Depending on the season, there were cornfields to be plowed. planted, and harvested. Alfalfa became hay that needed baling – before it rained – and sent up the elevator to be stowed in the haymow. Wheat was eventually combined, followed by straw baling. The barn had to be periodically cleaned out – which could stink up the place pretty well. There was always a piece of broken machinery to repair. And in the fall, neighborhood farmers filled each other’s silos. I am exhausted just recalling my dad’s constant, hard work to earn a modest living for his family.

I would add that my poor mother lived IN the store with five rowdy daughters always underfoot: she also helped my dad in the fields. They were quite the team but eventually just lived on the Ford Road farm after working at the paper mill and nursing home in Urbana for a good many years to make economic ends meet.

On the other hand, my career years consisted entirely of living in Urbana and teaching at Graham 15-20 minutes away. I did, however, often blur the lines – so much so that sometimes it seemed I was living in my classroom. Without family or pet obligations, it was easy enough to arrive early and stay late. Although I still lugged piles of schoolwork home with me – mostly papers to be graded – I carved out a little relaxation time – even if it was merely dozing in front of the TV. But I did spend lots of time living over the school!

One obvious way to end this piece is with a brief reminder of the recent pandemic that had many of us living smack dab in the middle of the store. I won’t belabor the point by describing the myriad of experiences that occurred with parents working remotely and kids zooming school lessons all in the same space on top of each other. Despite the inconvenience and near-trauma of it all, during that period Mother Necessity invented some new and better paths while allowing a few old, useless ones to fall by the wayside.

Suffice it to say that we humans are a varied but resourceful species. Professor Davis would most likely theorize that events and psychology and business will keep us forever in transition and that somewhere in the world there will always be someone – according to need or desire – living over the store.

Boomer Blog

Shirley Scott

Shirley Scott, a 1966 graduate of Graham High School, is a native of Champaign County. After receiving degrees in English and German from Otterbein College, she returned to GHS in 1970 where she taught until retiring in 2010. From 1976-2001 she coordinated the German Exchange Program with the Otto-Hahn-Gymnasium in Springe.

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