In the Heyday of Sears!

My great-grandparents’ home sold, I kept a battered trunk found in the attic. I’m ready to see what’s inside. Carefully wrapped motheaten clothes? A well-worn deep plum velvet dress with tiny waist. A once vibrant red and black plaid wool vest with watch pocket. And a faded sepia-toned photograph: them standing in front of their new house, wearing these same clothes. Eyes closed, I’m with them. I dress in their stories. Patterned and purple as night, they hold my hands. Celebrating, dressed up, I feel their happiness.

Back to the trunk! One last item. A yellowed brittle 1911 Sears Catalog. I open to the page marked by a faded ribbon. Houses for sale in a Sears Catalog? It’s this house! “The Clyde: $2,608. Kit includes 10,000 pieces of framing lumber and everything you’ll need, including doorknobs.” And I have trouble with model airplane kits!

Written for Prosery Monday at dVerse, the virtual pub for poets around the globe. Today, we’re not doing poetry. Rather, we’re to include a specific line from a poem given by the pub tender, in a piece of flash fiction that is 144 words or less, sans title. The line we must use today, worded exactly as it appears (we may change the punctuation) is “I dress in their stories patterned and purple as night.” The line is in the poem When we Sing of Might by Kimberly Blaeser, an indigenous poet. This was a tough line for me to incorporate, partly because of the first person and tense used in the line. This, by the way, is pure fiction.
Images from Searshouseseeker.com

Note: By 1908, one-fifth of Americans subscribed to the Sears & Roebuck Mail Order Catalog. At its peak, it included 100,000+ items on 1400 pages and weighed 4 pounds. It was free to receive in the mail. In 1908, kits for 40 “modern homes” were offered in the Sears catalog. From 1908 to 1940, the Sears Modern Homes Program offered mail-order houses, called “kit homes.” Would-be homeowners sent in a check and in a matter of weeks, they received everything they needed via a train car, to build their new home. IE lumber came precut with an instruction booklet. Everything was included, including doorknobs. Sears advertised their homes (each named, IE The Magnolia, The Clyde) could be completed in less than ninety days, without a carpenter, by someone with “rudimentary skills.” Over 75,000 homes were shipped. There is a website with photos of these homes that still exist across the US. Illustrations above taken from that site: Searshouseseeker.com

33 thoughts on “In the Heyday of Sears!

  1. adda December 6, 2021 / 6:32 pm

    Interesting. I remember seeing S&R’s at my grandparents house. They were fun to look thru and see all the things you could have if you had money. ❤

    Like

    • lillian December 7, 2021 / 1:27 pm

      Many of these homes still exist. You can google about it and find images and addresses of where they are….actually all across the US. Hard to believe when you look at the photos of them today, many of them beautiful, that they were shipped to the first owner (ALL the pieces as a kit) on a train car! Many of the homes were built near a water tower and/or with easy access to railroad tracks.

      Like

  2. msjadeli December 6, 2021 / 6:33 pm

    Lillian, this feels like non-fiction but not sure? They say you can’t go back in time, but I would love to have lived in a time where this was not only possible but happened for 75,000 or so families. Today it’s unthinkable, like so many other things both good and bad. You brought the trunk contents to life so well. A very creative use of the prompt line!

    Like

    • lillian December 6, 2021 / 7:00 pm

      The post is fiction….the person unpacking the trunk and finding all these things.
      The explanation after the post, about Sears early catalogues having house kits for sale., is certainly nonfiction.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. robtkistner December 6, 2021 / 7:29 pm

    That is a fascinating story Lillian. I vaguely remember my father telling me one was able to order “house kits”. I had never seen a picture of one. Today you couldn’t build the front stairs leading up to the porch for that amount. Fun post! 🙂

    Like

    • lillian December 7, 2021 / 1:29 pm

      Well….as someone wrote, I have trouble putting together a small piece of furniture from IKEA, can you imagine an entire house???? Many of these are still standing and looking beautiful! You can google about them and find folks whose hobby is locating them today.

      Like

  4. Glenn A. Buttkus December 6, 2021 / 8:45 pm

    Incredible tale and clever use of the prompt quote. Your writing is so authentic, it sure has a non-fiction vibe. In the late 40’s and the 50’s we used the S&R catalog for everything. It sold cars too.

    Like

    • lillian December 7, 2021 / 1:31 pm

      It’s pure fiction. Except I did do research on these Sears “kit homes” and found it fascinating. Didn’t know they sold cars! Some peoples’ hobby is finding these homes today….and there are still many around and looking quite beautiful as well!

      Like

  5. K.Hartless December 6, 2021 / 9:05 pm

    I love the surprise of an old trunk,and then this amazing house. Fun facts, Carol. Great prosery.

    Like

    • K.Hartless December 6, 2021 / 9:12 pm

      I enjoyed this, Lillian. Realized I put Carol’s name above. It has been a long day.

      Like

    • lillian December 7, 2021 / 1:32 pm

      Glad you enjoyed. I did research on these house kits and found it so interesting. There are many still in existence and in beautiful shape, across the US. Some people have locating Sears Kit Houses as a hobby!

      Liked by 1 person

      • K.Hartless December 7, 2021 / 10:19 pm

        Oh, that sounds like good fun. I will have to look into more of them. Wish I could by a dream home piece-meal and put it together.

        Like

  6. lifelessons December 6, 2021 / 10:44 pm

    I remember being able to buy a house through the catalogue. Clever use of the prompt, Lillian.

    Like

  7. Ingrid December 7, 2021 / 12:42 am

    Oh my goodness! And I struggle with IKEA furniture. Fascinating, Lillian!

    Like

    • lillian December 7, 2021 / 1:34 pm

      I hear you in terms of struggling with IKEA furniture! I found it fascinating to do the reserach for this post. There are people whose hobby is finding these Sears Kit houses across the US today. Many still exist and are in excellent condition too.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. areadingwriter December 7, 2021 / 4:43 am

    oh this is so adorable. love the bliss of family roots captured here.

    Like

  9. Ain Starlingsson, forestbathing hermit December 7, 2021 / 5:23 am

    I think that Sears catalogue was famous worldwide! Really interesting storytelling, the way you opened that trunk…

    Like

    • lillian December 7, 2021 / 1:34 pm

      I found doing the research for this post really fascinating!

      Like

  10. merrildsmith December 7, 2021 / 6:38 am

    I knew about the Sears kits of course, but thank you for the reminder. Well done, and it did seem so realistic.

    I know it’s so difficult to pick Prosery lines. I didn’t find this one difficult at all, but I have struggled with others.

    BTW, Lillian–I was thinking about you yesterday. We went to Longwood Gardens, and we walked through the organ museum tucked within the Christmas Conservatory display.

    Like

    • lillian December 7, 2021 / 1:38 pm

      Ooooh….I wonder if they have concerts on the organ this time of year? Sadly, we are travelling to Chicago this weekend for a funeral of a dear cousin. Our daughter (she’s chair of the music department at Phillips Academy at Andover and is an organist) will be playing the prelude for the memorial service. We’re told it is a historical organ….was once in Washington DC and is called “The President’s Organ” as it was played for presidents Calvin Coolindge through Nixon…maybe longer…for services they attended. It was bought by the church in Chicago….so will be intersting to hear it….except for a very sad reason.

      Liked by 1 person

      • merrildsmith December 7, 2021 / 1:56 pm

        I’m so sorry for your loss, Lillian–but it’s nice you’ll be able to see your daughter and that she’s playing the organ. I knew you had a child who was an organist. From the Longwood Garden’s Website: “The Longwood Organ has the distinction of being the largest residential Aeolian ever constructed and is a stunning specimen of American Art Deco organ design and engineering.” And yes, they do have concerts.

        Like

  11. Misky December 7, 2021 / 7:54 am

    I had no idea! What a fascinating write. Thoroughly enjoyed it.

    Like

    • lillian December 7, 2021 / 1:39 pm

      Thanks! Glad you enjoyed. I found doing the research for this post really really intersting! Many of these homes are still in existence and in very good shape. Some people’s hobby is locating Sears Kit homes!

      Liked by 1 person

  12. rothpoetry December 7, 2021 / 11:02 am

    What a great use of the prompt! I love the story and the history behind it. Sears was ahead of its time. With the building boom contractors are still buying packages of housing framework for their new houses.

    Like

  13. lynn__ December 7, 2021 / 7:01 pm

    Enjoyed looking through the trunk with you, Lillian. It’s amazing what was in the Sears catalog…once saw a car in a museum that Sears & Roebuck sold.

    Like

  14. ben Alexander December 8, 2021 / 3:39 am

    Would-be homeowners sent in a check and in a matter of weeks, they received everything they needed via a train car, to build their new home.

    No Way! This is one of the most fascinating tidbits I’ve learned recently! Thanks, Lillian ❤

    🙂
    David

    Like

  15. Bill December 8, 2021 / 4:45 pm

    Yep, back in the day, that was the way. I’ve only ever seen one (and knew what it was). Well told.

    Like

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