I have this memory, from way back in my childhood, of sitting in the passenger seat of my grandma’s giant Buick, watching her scan the small town’s side streets with her eagle eyes, my small hands ready to pry open the huge car door and chase her up the next driveway, pursuing another treasure hunt.
After my grandpa passed away, she had to find a way to support herself and my cousin, whom she was raising. She started going to garage sales and buying antique dolls. She would buy dolls for super cheap, a lot of the time in sad condition, and then she would spend hours putting their hair in rollers, scrubbing their bodies, and sewing little dresses for them. It was a ton of work, but a way for her to stay home with my cousin and work from there.
Every couple of months she would have a doll sale. She supported herself by doing what she loved. She sold tons of dolls but kept the best ones for herself. She had 3 rooms in her home completely filled with antique dolls — some of them worth thousands. For a little housewife from a farm an hour outside Wichita, she became a pretty shrewd business woman. People came from all over to buy from her and sometimes work trades.
As a little girl, going into those rooms was magical for me. When I brought friends over to her home, they were awestruck.
She also had great glassware and vintage rhinestone jewelry. It was the thrill of the hunt for her. She found a fierce competitor in another little old lady, and they would kill themselves racing across town trying to beat each other to every sale. If the other one got to the sale first, the latter would usually just drive away knowing she missed out on the goods.
My grandma was 79 when she died, and right up until her death you would have been shocked to have seen how fast her legs would go when trying to make it to a sale first. I remember going to sales with gram one morning, and we pulled up to a yard sale that hadn’t yet opened. We saw in the rear-view mirror the competition driving up the road, my grandma told me to duck. I didn’t quite understand why until I looked up and saw the other lady driving away. She saw grams’s car empty, thought we were inside, conceded the loss, and drove away. A few minutes later the sale opened, and we were the first ones there (unchallenged). My grandma was a sneaky one.
My aunt also is a yard saler and maintains a few antique booths. She’s amazing about giving me tips-of-the-trade about collectibles and furniture. My mom has been going to sales with me for years too, so you see, it’s in our blood. Everyone in my family has great stories about pieces of furniture or items we use to decorate.
Anyone can buy knickknacks from a box store to decorate their homes and have it look nice. I made the conscious choice to want pieces that have more character — a story behind them. It makes a home more like a home instead of a showroom from a store.
I like to look at a piece and remember the hunt or the person I bought it from. I do have some pieces (like my couch and big chairs) that came from a store. [Shanna Fact] Furniture that has cushions or padding have to be new or reupholstered for me because I have a serious bed bug phobia but everything else has come from a mixture of estate sales, yard sales and Craigslist finds.
The mixture of the old and new keeps things interesting.
I have no doubt grams would smile at the fantabulous garage sales we host, our creative reinventing of the things that were around in her days, and the fervor in our voices as we call each other after a weekend to brag about our latest hunt. I think she’d be proud.
Speaking of keeping old interesting, this is my newest little two tiered table. I chalkpainted it, glazed it with black paint and waxed it. I’m putting it on craigslist today.