From Out of The Blue, An Unexpected Delight

After my marriage of 24 years ended abruptly, it was my passionate interest in early 20th Century kit homes – Sears Homes – that kept me afloat – financially and emotionally. I loved writing about those houses. I loved learning about those houses. And I loved looking at pictures of those houses.

As it turned out, 2002 was one heckuva year. My beloved, funny, smart, eccentric, endearing mother died on January 1, 2002. In March 2002, my book – The Houses That Sears Built – was published. On May 1st, my marriage ended in divorce and in the blink of an eye, I lost all of my inlaws – people that I’d known and loved and cherished since I was a senior in high school. In June of 2002, my two eldest daughters moved out of the state and I moved out of the family home and into a crummy singles’ apartment.

It was a tough year.

Many mornings, waking up in my singles’ apartment, I’d look up at the ceiling and simply wonder, “What happened to my life?”

The stress of all this change was mind-numbing.

But in the midst of all that turmoil, wonderful things were happening. Six weeks after my self-published tome on Sears Homes hit the streets, a reporter tracked me down and said that he was writing a piece on kit homes, and would I mind being interviewed, and of course, they’d mention my book in the article. About three weeks later, the story ran in the The New York Times. A few weeks after that, I got a call from a New York production company. They’d seen the article and were calling to ask if I’d be interested in appearing in a new show that was being produced for PBS.

The tentative title for the new program was, History Detectives. And from there, it was off to the races.

For the last 10 years, Sears Homes have been my passion, my avocation and my joy. I referred to these early 20th Century kit homes as “My Little Pretties,” and that’s what they were. They really were my little pretties. The whole story of Sears Homes was wholly captivating. The houses were shipped from Sears and arrived at the building site in 30,000 pieces and came with a 75-page instruction book and a promise that a “man of average abilities” could assemble one in 90 days. But to me, they were more than just another quirky little chapter in America’s architectural history. They became the guiding light that enabled me to keep going when I feared that (at the age of 43) my best days were behind me.

By January 1, 2007, my life had turned a new corner. January 1st was my wedding day, and the start of a whole new chapter in my life. And in the last 10 years, my book and I have been appeared on A&E’s Biography, CBS Sunday Morning News, and more. And in Summer 2006, me and my little pretties made the front page of the Wall Street Journal.

Somtimes life’s endings are just paving the way for new beginnings.

Here are a few pictures of my little pretties:

Original catalog image from 1928 Wardway Homes catalog

Original catalog image from 1928 Wardway Homes catalog

Mongtomery Ward Mayflower in Roanoke, VA

Mongtomery Ward "Mayflower" in Roanoke, VA

Sears Alhambra - original catalog image from 1928 Sears Modern Homes catalog

Sears Alhambra - original catalog image from 1928 Sears Modern Homes catalog

Sears Alhambra in Richmond, VA

Sears Alhambra in Richmond, VA