The Story of the Caldwell Manor

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Storytime in elementary school was my favorite! Remember how in Kindergarten you would sit criss-cross applesauce in front of your teacher’s chair as she read from an outward facing book that allowed you to keep visual contact with the illustrations at all times.

But the moment you graduated from the safety of the Kindergarten reading rug, your teachers began to slowly, and ever so subtly, wean you away from the pictures and toward your own imagination. In first grade, you hardly noticed because most of the books still had a picture on every page; your teacher simply made you wait until she was ready to turn the page before she would flip the book around to show you the pictures. But in second grade the ratio of pictures to words noticeably decreased- which made you question if your teacher was holding out on you. Despite your frustration, by the middle of the year, you found that your imagination was able to fill in the gaps between the 2 or 3 pages the illustrator left you hanging. Then in 3rd grade, the chapter book authors became very stingy with their illustrations, often providing only 1 picture per chapter as if to test if your imagination could accurately depict the author’s true intentions. And then, like magic, from fourth grade on your imagination was so well trained that if your teacher happened to flip the book around for a rare illustration the picture on the page never quite lived up to the vivid picture that was dancing in your head and you almost wished you had been spared the illustration altogether.
Well, consider today’s post to be on about a 3rd-grade level- both in the maturity of content and grammar as well as in delayed gratification of illustrations. I am going to tell you the story of the Caldwell Manor today but will wait a few more days to flip the book around to show you how this story played out in real life. This strategy will give your imagination a chance to play while giving me a chance to finish up the final details of the renovation.

But before I get to the actual story I thought I’d let you peek inside my head to see how this story and resulting renovation transpired. 
Although all our renovations are inspired by a story, many of the stories evolve throughout the renos based on new discoveries or roadblocks encountered along the way; but this renovation has stayed true to the tale that started forming in my head the first time we visited the Manor with our realtor.

The realtor’s lock box was located on the back door leading into the kitchen/hearth room so this was what welcomed us when we walked thru the door:

There was something very utilitarian about the kitchen. The cabinetry almost looked handmade from a surplus of pecky cypress that we would later find throughout the house. It looked like a kitchen that was meant to function not to impress. It would have been a kitchen that had served up countless home cooked meals but not one that would have attracted guests to congregate like so many modern kitchens of today.  Remind you of anything???
At this point “servants quarters” began swimming around in the deep recesses of my mind but did not come to the surface until I saw the juxtaposition of the kitchen to the formal living and dining room behind the swinging butler door.
Beyond those doors the ceilings shot up to a grand 12 feet and the wallpaper, staircase, and millwork suggested that more thought and money had been devoted to this area of the estate.
At this point, the contrasting areas had been tied together in my head and I knew without a doubt the story our renovation was destined to tell.
And the remainder of my tour simply served to solidify this direction.  From the formal library….
To the second story servants living quarters…
1917 Caldwell was destined to be linked to Masterpiece Theater’s “Downton Abbey”
So now I invite you to sit back and imagine me sitting in a wingback chair with a large leather bound antique book open on my lap wearing the following purple smoking jacket:
as I present to you the story of the Caldwell Manor….
This story begins years after the final episode of Downton Abbey aired.

When Miss Sybil Branson, aka Sybbie, turned 18 she asked her widowed father, Tom Branson, if she could skip her debutante presentation at court to study abroad in America before she had to start formally entertaining eligible suitors. Tom, never one to hold to high society traditions, nor anxious to see his daughter married, thought it was a splendid idea and agreed readily. However, when news of Sybbie’s plans to travel to America reached the rest of the Crawley Clan it did not go over quite as smoothly. Leading the debate to keep Sybbie at Downton was her Great Grandmother, Violet Crawley, Dowager Countess of Grantham.
Granny Violet argued that Sybbie already had one strike against her, being the daughter of an Irish former chauffeur, therefore, she could not afford to miss her formal presentation at court if she ever hoped to snag a suitable husband. Plus, she could not begin to understand why Sybbie would ever want to go to America, for “nothing good ever came out of America.” Sybbie’s maternal grandparents, Lord and Lady Grantham, were hesitant about her leaving but in the end gave her their blessing. So Sybbie left for America and wound up in Conway Arkansas to study at the University of Central Arkansas

During her first semester, Sybbie finds that she is much more enamored with the American culture and pastimes than she is with her studies and spends her time at sock hops, drive-in movies and at the local drugstore where she falls in love with the cute, singing, and ice cream juggling soda jerk who works behind the counter.

Long story short (because after all this is just the prolog), after too many dates at the drive-in movie with the singing, juggling soda jerk she discovers she is pregnant. Knowing that her family would never allow her to remain in America if they knew she was pregnant with the baby of a common singing, juggling, soda jerk she did what she felt she had to do to take care of the situation- she convinced the talented soda jerk to audition for America’s Got Tallent so that he could have a shot at becoming a famous, million-dollar winning, singing, juggling soda jerk which would surely promote his status in the eyes of her aristocratic family. Afraid that he would not leave her side to compete if he knew she was pregnant, she decides to withhold the news of her pregnancy from the jerk until after he returns home from the competition. This decision, in the end, proves foolish because after he steals the hearts of America and the judges, he is awarded the top prize and is immediately whisked off to Las Vegas to headline his own show on the Vegas Strip never knowing that Sybbie was in Conway about to give birth to his first child. Therefore, Sybbie is all alone when she gives birth to a little girl whom she names Violet (a strategic tribute she hoped would serve to help soften the reaction of said namesake when the time came to introduce the two).

After the birth of Violet, Sybbie decides she can no longer keep the baby a secret from the soda jerk and makes plans to travel to Las Vegas to deliver the news in person. BUT the night before she was scheduled to leave her Aunt Mary called to let her know that Granny Violet had contracted Pneumonia and the prognosis did not look good. She told Sybbie that Granny Violet had been asking for her and that if Sybbie wanted to see her great granny again she should catch the next flight back to Downton. Fearing that her arrival to Downton with a surprise baby might kick her great grandmother right thru death’s door she concludes she can’t possibly bring baby Violet to Downton at this time. Homesick, overwhelmed, sleep deprived and alone Sybbie leaves baby Violet on the steps of a local church with a note that reads “Violet, I will return for you very soon. Love, Mommy.”

18 years later.

A young lady is roaming the streets of Conway unsure of where to go now that she has aged out of the orphanage.  She is grateful the nuns at the orphanage helped her secure a job sweeping floors at the local drugstore but the pay is hardly enough to cover the rent of even the most modest housing. She knows the kind pharmacist at the drugstore would invite her to stay at his house if he knew she was without a home but she hated to burden him with her troubles.

She finds herself on Caldwell Street and slows down to admire the beautiful older homes that line the street. She is imagining what it might be like to live in one of these homes when she spots a forest smack dab in the middle of Caldwell Street. She decides to cross the street to get a better look. Upon closer inspection, she discovers that the vegetation is not a forest but rather overgrown landscaping that has overtaken a rather large house.

She is just about to turn away and continue down the street when something purple catches her eye. She pushes the brush aside to find 2 large purple entry doors. She has always been drawn to the color purple but recognizes it is an odd choice for door colors, therefore becomes increasingly curious about who might live behind those purple doors.

Fighting against her introverted nature she tentatively knocks on the door. When no one answers she regrettably walks away from the curious house and finds a homeless shelter to stay the night. The next day at the drugstore she can’t stop thinking about the mysterious purple door house and decides to revisit the place when she gets off work. This time, when her knocks go unanswered she wonders around back to give those doors a try. As she knocks she peaks thru the glass front door. What she sees gives her cause for concern. The place looks like it has been ransacked with its overturned furniture and opened cabinet doors and drawers. Nervous the owner might be in some type of trouble she tries the door knob and is startled to find it unlocked. She hears her voice timidly ask, “Hello, is anyone home?” as she steps inside. Once inside, a feeling like she has never experienced before washes over her. She couldn’t explain it if she tried, but she feels like she is home for the first time in her life. As she slowly walks thru every room of the house, it is like the clutter and mess just disappear as the walls seem to whisper “welcome home, we have been waiting for you.” That night as she slept on her cot at the homeless shelter she dreamed of royal balls, extravagant dinner parties and butlers with English accents.

Over the next few weeks she visited 1917 Caldwell anytime she wasn’t at work. Each day she would roam the rooms for hours letting her imagination fill with what felt like forgotten memories and then tear herself away just in time to make curfew at the shelter. Until one night she didn’t leave. She had meant to just rest her eyes in the master bedroom but the next time she opened her eyes she discovered it was morning! She knew after tasting the best sleep of her life she would never be able to return to the cold hard cot of the shelter.

On the third night she slept over, she was awakened by a loud noise. As she lay frozen in fear, she listened to what sounded like tiny foot steps scurrying above her. When the footsteps seemed to grow in number she quietly crept upstairs to investigate. When she got to the second floor she discovered that the noise was actually coming from inside the attic. So very quietly she peeked her head thru the attic access door to see what was causing all the commotion. Never in a million years could she have predicted what she would find….
It was a pack of raccoons playing cards! The sight made her gasp out loud which in turn alerted the raccoons to her presence. “Hey, who invited you?” asked the biggest coon clearly annoyed at the interruption. “Me!?!” shouted the girl, “What do you think ya’ll are doing in MY house? Now, Scat!” She said this while making sweeping motions with her hands toward the hole in the roof where the raccoons must have entered. At this, the big raccoon said “Lady, we have been coming to this attic for our weekly poker game for the last 5 years, so we know this house ain’t yours. YOU are the one who needs to go.” At these words, the reality of the situation hit the young girl and she realized she really didn’t have any more right to be in the house than the coons, so she decided to make nice. She said, “Your right, it’s not my house and therefore, I have no right to kick you out would you please forgive me and allow me to introduce myself- My name is Violet.”

Violet then went on to explain that she had been an orphan since she was just a few months old. Her mother had left her on the steps of a church with a note promising to return for her one day soon. The elderly pastor that found her took her to an orphanage where he volunteered so the nuns could look after her until her mother returned- but she never did.
She then told them about finding the house with the purple doors. She admitted that she had always thought her name was a clue to her mother’s favorite color and as a little girl had looked for her mother in every woman that passed by wearing the purple hue. She said she had thought she had outgrown the habit but found herself wondering “what if” that first time she knocked on the purple doors. She said, “I know it’s silly, but when I walked in and found purple in nearly every room, the little girl in me believed my mother had left it just for me.”

When she finished telling her story. She looked up to see not a dry eye in the room. “That is the saddest story we have ever heard, of course you are welcome to share this estate with us” said the spokesman for the Coon Tribe. And from that evening on Violet and the raccoons were the best of friends. They even joined together to help clean the place up.

Violet couldn’t remember a time she had been so happy. The raccoons took away her loneliness and each room of the house added to her contentment. The kitchen made her feel loved and cared for,  the formal areas gave her a feeling of importance and of worth, and the bedrooms gave her a peace like she had never experienced. These feelings led to a confidence that gave Violet the courage to ask the kind old pharmacist for a promotion to work behind the soda counter- something she had always longed to do. Each night she came home from work the raccoons would get so excited to see her they would often lose control of their bowels, much like an excited puppy. 
(sidebar: that explains the piles of poop we found in the attic)
And with that, I think you have earned an intermission. Get up. Stretch. Walk around. Grab a snack. I’ll wait. 
You back? Ok, let’s continue.

One day while Violet was serving up a coke float, she sees a beautiful older lady walk into the drugstore with the most enviable straight posture she had ever seen. She sees the lady walk up to the kind pharmacist to ask him a question. She then slowly turns around and looks in Violet’s direction and seems to freeze. When she composes herself she walks over to the soda shop counter and says in the most proper English accent “Violet, my name is Mary Talbot… your great Aunt.”

At these words, Violet faints. When she comes to, she finds herself on a cot in the backroom of the drugstore with Lady Mary sitting by her side.
Violet listened as Mary explained that she had recently found an old diary that belonged to her niece, Sybbie Branson. In the diary, Sybbie writes of Violet’s birth and existence in America. Mary explained that Sybbie had left America to say her final goodbyes to her Great Granny before she died. From the diary, she gathered that Sybbie had planned to tell the family about Violet after the funeral but tragically Sybbie died in a car wreck on the way home from Granny’s funeral.  Only recently did Mary’s maid, Anna, discover the diary hidden in a secret compartment of Sybbie’s suitcase. She said, “Once I learned about you, I hired a private investigator to locate you, and, well, here I am.” “Although, I must say, if I had known you would be the spitting image of my late sister Sybil, I think I could have found you myself,” she laughed.

The news of her Mother’s death left Violet both sad and relieved. She was sad to know she would never meet her mother but beyond relieved to know it was not by choice her mother never came back for her. Her head was swimming with questions for her Aunt Mary, so she asked the kind pharmacist if she could have the rest of the day off. As they were walking out the door, the pharmacist said “Ms. Talbot it sure was nice visiting with you. Your accent reminds me of a girl I once knew back in the day I was just a singing, juggling soda jerk behind that counter over there. In fact, that same girl was the one who convinced me to enter a competition that later afforded me an opportunity to go to pharmacy school and buy this drugstore for myself.” Mary stared back at the pharmacist and opened her mouth to speak… but instead just smiled and walked out the door but Violet heard her say under her breath “I’ll leave THAT for another day….”

Violet invited her Aunt Mary to stay with her at 1917 Caldwell while she was in America. When Lady Mary follows Violet inside her heart sank to see the state of the home her great niece was living in. And then when Violet’s welcome home committee came scampering down the stairs to greet them…. it was Mary’s turn to faint. When she awoke she was greeted by a raccoon applying a cold compress to her head.
After Mary fainted a second time, Violet encouraged the raccoons to wait up in the attic until after she had an opportunity to prepare her aunt Mary for formal introductions.
When she awoke the second time she immediately grabbed Violet’s hand and started walking her toward the door. As she walked she told Violet she was going to take her home to Downton where she belonged and that she would never have to live in such a place again. At this Violet stops and shakes free of Mary’s grip. She tells her Aunt that she loves her home and would not leave it. In an effort to entice Violet to Downton Abbey, Mary proceeds to describe the 120,000 sq foot estate in detail from the welcoming grand formal parlor down to Ms. Patmore’s kitchen. As she describes the Castle a tear forms in Violet’s eye as she realizes for the first time why she has always felt such a connection to the Caldwell Manor. Desperately wanting her aunt Mary to understand she takes her by the hand and leads her on a formal tour of the home she strongly feels is reminiscent of the one Mary just described.  Mary struggles to see the resemblance but as Violet points beyond the mess and decay to the bones of the home she begins to understand the connection Violet has for the house.

When Mary concludes there will be no convincing Violet to leave her beloved house on Caldwell, she does the next best thing and offers to stay in Arkansas to help Violet fix the manor up to Downton standards. Violet laughs at the thought of Lady Mary staying in Arkansas to help with a renovation. But Mary assures her she is plenty capable and ready for manual labor and as for Arkansas… they have pigs at the Abbey so she is quite familiar with “calling the hogs.”

So after Lady Mary’s private investigator tracked down the owners of 1917 Caldwell and paid them a sizeable sum to officially transfer ownership to Violet they set off to renovate the Caldwell Manor.

As they worked, Mary told her stories of Downton and the characters that made up her family. With each story parts of Violet’s life seem to click into place. For example, when she learned her grandfather was originally a chauffeur from Ireland she realized that helped explained her fascination with the Irish sheep farmer at the end of the road. (Donaghey Story)
The day she learned she was named after her great great grandmother, Violet Crawley, and not the color, she immediately went outside with a bucket of paint and colored over the purple doors. She explained to Mary she never really liked the color purple but tried to convince herself she did because she thought the color was special to her mother.
Violet cherished the time she spent renovating the Manor with her aunt Mary but it wasn’t without challenges. As is true with any renovation unforeseen complications awaited behind nearly every wall and she and Lady Mary often disagreed on the choice of finishes. Mary tended to lean toward the more opulent and Violet the more practical. But in the end, they created an English Style Manor that even Mary agreed had the essence of Downton Abbey. At the conclusion of the renovation, Mary returns to Downton but not before Violet promises to come visit Downton in the near future.

That Fall, Violet traveled to Downton to meet the rest of her family. While there she realizes that as much as she loves her version of Downton Abbey in Conway she loves the people inside the original Abbey more. With that realization, she decides to sell the Caldwell Manor and move to Downton. 
This is where you come in! You have the opportunity to write the rest of the Caldwell Manor story by making this piece of Downton your very own. The Manor should be hitting Zillow by the end of this week, so call Rory at (501) 472-8787 if you would like a personal tour. Also Mark your calendar for Sunday, September 24th from 2-4pm for the public Open House.
The End
Oh wait, I forgot to tell you what happened to the raccoons… Shortly after Lady Mary decides to stay to help with the renovation, the raccoons see the KIA SOUL commercial with the hamsters and decide they want a piece of the limelight too so they packed their bags and headed to Hollywood. They eventually landed a gig to be the face of Clipsal- an Australian based electrical accessory company.

8 thoughts on “The Story of the Caldwell Manor

  1. Haley says:

    Cute! What about the soda jerk? Did he ever learn his daughter was violet? Also… I live right next door to The Manor and I'll be a great neighbor! �� Buy this house! -Haley


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