Sunday, October 20, 2013

Viola's Memorable "Estate Sale Purchase" (or Home is Where Your Stuff Is)

Someone recently asked me where I got my love of going to estate sales.  That's easy to answer: from my grandmother.

Viola just loved antiques and, for many years, actively sought them out at yard sales, estate sales, antique shops, thrift stores, and flea markets.  This was long before the Internet allowed buyers with a cell phone to look up the resale or investment value of an item at a sale on the spot, as I see today.  Armed with a paperback antiques price guide and a magnifying glass, Viola sought out and brought home teapots, mechanical banks, carnival and cranberry glass, Indian jewelry, pots and baskets, Victorian-era dolls -- even a matching cobalt blue onionskin Tiffany glass vase ("vahse") and plate that she paid $2 for at a yard sale.  Once when she was traveling, she bought an antique brass bed that she shipped home disassembled on a Greyhound bus, but usually the things she found would fit inside a brown paper grocery bag and could be stored in a bookcase.

Native American pot, American carnival glass, etc.,
found by my grandmother at estate sales and elsewhere, circa 1970

Most of the time when I go to estate sales, I transport the treasures I find in my handy L.L. Bean tote bag (which I also found at an estate sale).  Okay, I keep two tote bags in the car, just in case I find a lot of good stuff.  By restricting my purchases to those that will fit in the tote bag(s), I can easily get them home.

Even though I've found a few larger items that I needed help transporting (like the oak pub table), I don't think I'll ever find something as large as Viola once found at an estate sale.  

She not only bought the entire contents of a nine-bedroom, four-bath, 6000 square foot brick house...she bought the house as well.  

If the outside of the house, built in the early 1900s, was spectacular, the inside was even more so.  The small, now-smudged photos Viola took more than 40 years ago don't do it justice, but they are good enough to give me an idea of what made the house so appealing.

Dining room with European cut glass chandelier


Entry Hall
Kitchen, complete with happy family members and cowboy hats.
(Not sure what the cowboy hats were about.)

Living Room

I only visited the house a handful of times -- not nearly enough -- but even after all these years I think I could draw a pretty accurate floor plan. 

The leaded glass around the front door, the secret "servants' stairwell" leading from the ground floor upstairs, the massive claw-foot bathtub on the second floor (that took forever to fill), the prisms on that unbelievable chandelier in the dining room casting rainbows of morning sunlight on the walls, my grandmother's delight in living in such a place  -- all engraved themselves on the inside of my brain, and there they remain to this day.  

The house had been built to impress, but it still conveyed a companionable peace and friendliness to the teenaged me. As British author Elizabeth Goudge wrote of another old house in her 1948 novel Pilgrim's Inn:

...[She] had a feeling that this house had a personality of its own, some sort of great angel who grew with the house and was enriched, or otherwise, by those who lived here; and she felt too that this angel was well disposed towards her.  It was a genial sort of angel, and remarkably patient....

I remember the house so well.  I wonder if the house remembers me?  

I will find out.  The people who own the house now run it as a bed and breakfast inn, and (Thank You, Lord) they have a vacancy next week.

To be continued....

This story is one in a series on the historic red brick house at 801 Flynn in Alva, Oklahoma.  This Prairie-style mansion was built in 1906 by local businessman George W. Crowell. 

My grandmother bought it from his heirs in 1968, and lived there for several years. 

The house has changed hands several times since then; it’s now The Vintage Inn, a bed-and-breakfast.  

I went back to visit in October 2013.   All the blog posts I wrote on the visit are collected here:


  1. Lovely heartfelt story. I am so excited for you. I hope I don't lose this post so that I can find out how you enjoyed your stay. Please take and post lots of photos.


  2. The opportunity to wander through my grandmother's home again is a pleasure I would never pass up. It is the type of home that calls out to someone who wants to preserve history so I hope only little changes are noticeable and not something on a large scale.

    1. I will take, and post, photos in days to come!

  3. Thanks, I am looking forward to seeing them. The RSS feed is coming through so I won't have a problem finding them when you post. Enjoy this special time.

    1. Just posted the first update on this post. I will do at least one more.