A beautiful childhood memory.
Viewer discretion is advised.

My mother grew up in a place that’s referred to as the Ottawa Valley. It’s the area surrounding our nation’s capital filled with small towns and chip wagons. Every summer when I was young we’d pack into the station wagon and drive up to Renfrew to visit my mother’s parents.

I loved those summer trips. The town was charming in a way even an 8 year old could recognize. People moved slower, the sun seemed warmer and there was a quietness in the air. The town had a genuine penny candy store up the street from my grandparents’ house where they had a glass cabinet filled with candy they’d plop into a paper bag for you.

It was a town that seemed to be frozen in the year 1910.

My grandparents have since died, but the house I used to visit is still there, as are my memories of laying on the thick lawn daydreaming about what candy I would get at the store that day.

When my grandmother died years ago, my Uncle bought the house and lives there today. So when we were up that way attending a funeral a few weeks ago my mother and sisters took a trip to that little town to visit him.

The candy store is now gone, and the kitchen I remember so well has been remodelled, but much of my grandparents’ house is how I remembered it. Weird little toys around and trailing plants hanging over the fireplace mantle. I’m sure you have similar memories of your grandparents’ homes. Even the art hanging on the walls and the knick knacks from the shelves were still there. Things I remember from when I was a little girl. Things that made me feel warm and secure. Things that made me feel I was in the warm hug of my grandparents’ home.

So when my Uncle told me I could take a few things home, things that reminded me of my summers spent there as a little girl, I knew right away what I would take home with me.

Chair With Fern

Oh I’m sorry. You probably think I’m talking about this chair. Or the fern on top of it. No, let’s open up to a wider shot so you can get a better look.

Boobs Over Chair

Boobs. This is the single strongest memory I have of my grandparent’s house. Chalkware boobs.

Chalkware Boobs 2

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Or if you want to get technical about it, they’re “Mammalia Americana”. American boobs. They now hang (or protrude if you prefer) on my office wall. I took down a nice painting so they’d fit. With boobs it’s always hard to get a good fit.

Chalkware Boobs

I’ve mentioned a few times over the years that my grandparents were interesting people. Interesting in the way most people weren’t in the olden days. Interesting the way the criminally insane are interesting.

Which is not to say they were *actually* criminally insane. As far as I know they were never once jailed or institutionalized. And it’s a miracle that none of their offspring or offspring’s offspring were either. Unless you count that one time I was “detained” for the incident in the grocery store. It was the last unbruised peach, it looked perfect and it was to be mine. I took whatever actions necessary to make sure it got into my cart and no one elses. That was an accidental choke hold I had that woman in anyway. Pinkie swear.

In many ways my grandparents were like any other regular grandparents. They had a cottage we’d visit where the kids would fish off of the shore and the grown ups would get looped on the screened in porch.

My grandfather was a small town dentist and my grandmother stayed at home because that was best for the children. And her raging agoraphobia.

They had chattering teeth and plastic bed bugs and questionable specimens in jars. They’d lovingly fill your bed with the bugs before you arrived. It was like a game. Whoever could scar the child for life won.

Was I scarred? Oh yes. And I couldn’t be more pleased. Because if I hadn’t been tormented and influenced by those two freaks I never would have become the freak I am today.

The freak with a soft spot for penny candy, lush grass and an office wall that conjures up good memories instead of good taste.


  1. Kelli says:

    Funny how you never really appreciate your grandparents until you’re grandparent age yourself. I had only one set of grandparents–my fathers’s parents–my entire life. And they were quintessentially the grandparents that others might strive to be: fiercely independent, living off the land (ok, it was a huge garden), always giving of themselves to others, and always the best food! The worst thing my grandmother ever said about anyone was that they were “a pill.” :) We never lacked for fruits and veggies while I grew up (oh how I miss those foot long zucchini’s that got out of control, and those bushels of tomatoes and corn!), and discovering all the amazing stuff in their barn (gorgeous handmade furniture, and collectibles like first-run Fiestaware). We also got to hear stories like the the one about the “Bohunk goose boy” who came to the States, settled on the prairie, and married my grandmothers’s grandmother…or the fact that Frank LLoyd Wright used to buy horses from my great grandfather…. At their funerals (2 months apart), we were touched by not only the stories we heard, but by the sheer number of people they had touched in some positive way. They were truly special and amazing people, and our family wouldn’t be what it is today without their influence.

  2. stefani says:

    My brother just asked me last month if I remembered the specimen in formaldehyde that my grandparents had in their garage. I don’t remember but we did decide it was a vein from my grandfather’s leg. My grandmother was in to crafts so I figure she was saving it to make a tastefully done clear-cast paperweight. Good times. I really miss them.

  3. Sandra says:

    When I was 15, I went to stay at my grandma’s place – stayed out late (I thought) playing a pinball game. She looked surprised when I walked in – I realized she’d forgotten I was there, and I could have stayed out longer to play my free games.

    She had the best garden, and was very straight laced. No weirdness there. Well – except for no weirdness; I hope I have a bit of some so my kids and grandkids think of me so nicely.

  4. dana gault says:

    Too bad they don’t light up. Or glow in the dark. I smell a project…

  5. Brenda says:

    Your grandparents sounds like mine. One year for Christmas my Nan & Pop (my mom’s mom & dad) got their 3 daughters (my mom & aunts), boobie slippers…yes, they had boobs on the front of each foot. And penis lipstick. It looked like lipstick your normal lipstick, but when you rolled it up, it was a penis. :) Ahhh…good times. They’re both gone now (my grandparents AND the boob slippers/penis lipstick. But I’ll always have the memories (mammaries) (that pun was stolen from a few of the posts above).

  6. Pam'a says:

    One of the best things about childhood is growing up with all sorts of bizarrity (ok-my word) that seems completely normal… Until decades later when you discover that not everyone’s grandparents _________ (had boobs hanging on their wall, collected taxidermy, etc. etc.) like yours did.

    What a lovely bunch of stories!

  7. Stephanie Hobson says:

    I am the weird grandmother. Such fun. :)

    • karol says:

      Me too, Stephanie. Nothing better than the “weird” label. Beats, “conservative”, or “cranky” any day.

  8. Anne says:

    Your story brought back memories (mamaries?) of visit to my Gramma’s house. Lots of porcelain or ceramic horse figurines and a glass cabinet that held all sorts of interesting things. You are a great story teller!

  9. Fran P. says:

    I remember the sound of my grandmother’s creaky wicker rocking chair. Also the brown sugar sandwiches she made for us.

  10. Amanda says:

    My dad’s family were missionaries, my mom’s family were horse thieves and prostitutes. I’m a happy medium! (And I’m not kidding – the lovely wrought iron bed my grandma gave me when I was 5 was from a 1890s brothel in a ghost town in Nevada…that she knew about. Why yes, my little girl now sleeps in it.)

  11. Maureen says:

    Your grandparents sound like they were a hoot! (I’ve always loved that expression)
    I’m so glad you were able to take a little of your childhood home with you!

  12. Erica says:

    I remember the decanter whose pants dropped so he could pee out the drink, I saw 28 years ago in some shop off of I95. There was also a keychain of an old guy with a staff in one hand and scratching himself with the other.

    My grandmother collected dolls, bears, and stuff for her dollhouses. When I was little she would tell me stories about how the dolls would come to life at night and move around the dollhouse.

    The biggest memory I have of my grandmother, the smell of mothballs.

  13. Safetydog says:

    I also only knew one grandparent. My grandmother once mailed me the rattler she cut off of a rattle snake that had been in her garden. Not too many fond memories. She once called me “Jezebel” because I had short hair. She was crazy. No, seriously, really mean crazy, as in “They’re coming to get me” crazy.

  14. Nancy Blue Moon says:

    I only ever knew one Grandma..she was kinda old and quiet and normal..after reading everyone’s comments here I’m not sure if I was unlucky or fortunate..lol..great stories everyone!! I never thought I would be saying this but “nice boobs Karen”..

  15. Raymonde says:

    When I grow up (or at least grow old), I want to be an “interesting” grandmother.
    Thank you for the inspiration and for a great post! ;-)

  16. jeannie B says:

    I think that anyone who has or had “eccentric” grandparents are the luckiest people in the world. Sleeping in hammocks in the forest and being watched over by a giant dog, grandfather doing stunt falls on spiral stairs, strange collections of things,, chipmunks being invited inside for breakfast, etc. etc. These wonderful memories are what makes life priceless. Grandparents ROCK! I think I’ll get a plaster cast made of my mammaries to hang on the wall too. Well, maybe not.

  17. Langela says:

    My grandparents, Grandma especially, were just the opposite. In fact, Grandma came across a photo of her as a baby and she was naked. She burned the photo so no one would ever see her in such a state! She just passed away a few weeks ago and left such a legacy of class.

    I also noticed how grungy those boobs were. They must have gotten “felt up” a lot! :)

  18. Bill Grigg says:

    Finally, boobs.

  19. Ruth says:

    I never met any of my grandparents (Well… I ‘met’ my maternal grandmother the night she died. Does that count?). I hardly think they would have been quite as colourful anyway.

    Those mammaries are tiny! I don’t think that’s the gold standard anywhere in the world these days… not with all the implantation and padding going on, but I guess we can revisit this post to see how things were in ye olde days. Neat mammaries… and the memories are cool too. :-)

  20. Mila says:

    You’re such a great writer, Karen.

  21. Suzanne @ Le Farm says:

    Thanks for the mammories…All you need next are a perfect set of kahunas hanging from you trailer hitch!
    My nanu had a barber chair with a child seat made out of iron and leather.
    The haircut I got was horrendous but the memories of sitting in that chair like the Queen of Sheba was priceless!

  22. claire vice says:

    When I saw Ottawa Valley and then RENFREW I had to reply. My husband grew up in Renfrew where he and his brothers and sisters lived till they went off to university in Ottawa. His parents lived in a beautiful home on Quarry St until they passed away. Many memories indeed. We were the only ones who had children so every long weekend we would drive up to Renfrew so that the grandchildren could visit with their grandparents who never ventured much further than the main street. We too have memories of stopping at the hotel in Tweed for lunch [there were no boobs on the wall but there were animal heads], the chip wagons along the way and the many shops on the main street. Can’t believe the Renfrew connection. I must pass this blog on to my sister-in-law. She will love it and maybe you could share with me on my email your grandmother’s family name.

  23. Tanya H. says:

    You inherited a lovely rack. Congrats?

    Incidentally, I used to have my teeth cared for by a small-town dentist in Renfrew…

  24. Thera says:

    My one grandmother died when I was pretty young and the other I never really knew, but I can just imagine the kind of grandmother I will be, I need a set of boobs to hand down!

  25. Melissa in North Carolina says:

    AWESOME! I feel so sheltered. The best memoies I have of my maternal grandma (grandpa was gone before I came along) is a fruited jello mold served with whipped cream in the can and a blue frog planter. Oh, and smoked fish complete with eyes.

  26. Darcy says:

    Oh yes!!! The memories!! I received from my Grandparents home the little wooden man in a barrel. When you lift the barrel, his _____ stands straight up. It was the first thing my brother and I would check out when we arrived for a visit as youngsters.

  27. Mary Werner says:

    My grandma bought a couple guppies then they started having babies and she had to begin this weird collection of jars in which to keep the latest offspring. Her collection went around her large bedroom baseboard until there were 2 rows of guppies in jars. She had a pond outside but just couldn’t stand to think of racoons getting them. As a grandmother I also have taught my “boys” how to burp the alphabet, and once made my sweet granddaughter shoot a bird at an even older women that was tailgating me at 80 mph! She backed off. My grandpa used to argue seriously with us to watch the shows on TV – saying the lone ranger better than superman because it was real. My other grandpa had tiny doors built into the walls of the kitchen with a “ladder” outside them (long dead branch) so the chipmunks could come inside and eat breakfast with him. He always put out nuts next to our oatmeal and they would come in and eat. There was even a small statute of a boy on his “bar” that when we pulled his movable pants down, he peed seltzer water. Boy there was always a fight over which one of us kids got to make drinks for grandpa. Now that I typed this, that was a very strange thing to have around but it was a common thing to see at “Florida souvenir shops” back in the day.

  28. judy says:

    This was wonderful and completely explains why you are so completely lovable and also wonderful! way too much from a complete stranger…………. but hell I’m an American and very very old. no grandkids though- when they coulda they didn’t want to and when they decided it might be worth doing the mates were past the baby making age.

  29. julesie says:

    OMG! I am not a morning person and this was one of the first things I read today. HILARIOUS. I giggled like a school girl. Definitely weird but funny too. My grandpa collected things. Mostly antiques but not really nice ones. I’d say he was a hoarder, the type with land so he could buy a school bus , gut it out so there would be space for “stuff” including a child’s coffin from the 1800’s with a cracked faced dollie in it. Creepy. At the estate auction some college guys bid on the coffin and turned it into a coffee table. Some how I think you would have really liked those guys and their vision for that antique coffin. When Grandma died he moved a 1950’s mannequin into the living room and put her in Jackie O sunglasses and a wedding dress. I am pretty sure at age 19 I didn’t have near the appreciation for his fine taste as I might have later on. Ha. And so none of these charming pieces of history have ended up in my home. Pretty sure Grandpa would have really, really loved those boobs. Thanks for making me smile on a sleepy morning.

  30. marilyn says:

    hilarious…you could crochet a cute little bikini top for them or bedazzle them..perhaps some tasteful pasties? that fern looks like a crispy wave fern, we have them at the store right now..only 9.99

  31. Tigersmom says:

    What a lovely pair! Just think of how you could decorate them both seasonally and for the holidays.

    • Laurinda says:


      • Cassie says:

        Ohhhh my! I can just see the different pasties and tassles for the holidays! Love your posts Karen, thank you, thank you!
        Perfect rememberance post too, grandmas are so special, mine were very different from each other and both cherished. One could make my brother and I snort, giggle well let’s just be honest- have to change our pants…tightest cheeks in town, I can still here her squeekie “lower cough” as I’ve just read in a book. I’m laughing just thinking about it!

  32. Su says:

    Nice ya got the ‘girls’ to look over you…. grandparents rock! :)

  33. TeePee says:

    Ok. Here goes nothing. I was a little reluctant to say anything the other day when you put up the ” Nudity and Swearing ” post because….well, I’m a guy on a obviously female dominated website. I was afraid of making a commit that would offend. But after this? I can say it! Boobs rule! Even if it’s side boob of a cougar in a tree or wall “Art”. Boobs rule!

  34. Dagmar says:

    I remember my grandparent’s farm back in Poland as a child. It was sprawling with a giant warehouse full of baby chicks, it would have been your dream come true Karen. There were what seemed liked hundreds to a 4 or 6 year-old, since they ran a chicken farm. My brother and I were given our mid-day naps in the adjacent forest, on the family hammocks, amidst the smell of pine trees. And there was a large German shepherd named Tarzan, whom I don’t remember, but I am told used to watch over us, because apparently there were wild hogs in the woods. And yes, my grandparent’s home was certainly a *magical* place. To this day, whenever I need a pick-me up, I turn toward sunflower seeds, because my grandfather would grow these ginormous sunflowers. Whenever we ran out of games, the sunflower got chopped down in order to keep us busy. I guess that is my version on penny candy.

  35. Christine says:

    Thank you for this story. I love love love never knowing what to expect from you!!! And might I say: that’s quite the American Classic ya got there :)

  36. Tracy says:

    The weirdest thing about my grandarent’s house was their Usiks (grandfather worked in Alaska), which, if you are unfamiliar, is the petrified bone of a walrus penis. Grandpa would hand it to some unsuspecting visitor and ask them to guess what it is. Invariably, they’d try to take the “top” off and caress it gently/thoroughly before my grandpa revealed the answer. Seriously, we should have taken more pictures back then.
    The other weird thing: my grandfather would throw himself down his spiral staircase because it made me and my sister laugh (we were quite young). Just toss himseld down the stairs, head first. My grandma would be screaming “Jack! No! Jack!”, which only seemed to provide additional encouragement for him. Clearly, this was before cable. And no, thankfully, he never got hurt doing it.

  37. Sally A says:

    I seriously laughed out loud which is unheard of for me at 3:30 in the morning! I definately feel better about my two large framed prints of Dogs Playing Poker and a crow wearing waders in my living room. I have this thing about animals pretending to be people. It tickles me.

    When my grandfather died, I took the huge Elk head that always hung over their couch…and I took the couch (button tufted back, rolled arms and down stuffed cushions…AWESOME! And heavy). I named the head Herman. Did you name the boobs? You know, besides the Latin name.

    P.S. The Dogs Playing Poker prints are two different scenes….it would just be tacky and weird if they were the same.

  38. dana says:

    OMG so funny! I love it! I thought maybe you would throw us a curve ball and say its the black plastic container that says 19.99.
    My grandma had a big fat Buddha (Budda?) on a “credenza” next to her “davenport”. Whenever to this day I hear someone say those words I remember Grandma.
    She also had a candy dish full of Brachs caramel chews & butterscotch hard candies. She would yell at all the grandkids if she heard the clink from the lid. THOSE ARE FOR COMPANY!! We WERE company.

  39. sara says:

    Only $6.95?? “Satisfaction guaranteed or money back”!?

  40. Sherry says:

    I so look forward to your post to end my day with a smile and warm feeling (mostly). My grans were more conventional in their decor but their homes gave me the same feeling of safety and place.

    I also “cherish the mammaries” of those times we visited and the experiences shared.

  41. Auntiepatch says:

    My grandmother lived in Joplin Mo. during the crime spree of Bonnie & Clyde. She was going out with a police officer at the time and he gave her Bonnie Parker’s jewelry (after the big gun fight) to wear to a Halloween party. My mother donated them to a museum in Joplin after my grandmother passed away. Some of the ugliest stuff I ever saw!

  42. Kathline says:

    It sounds like a wonderful place! My grandparents were characters, too. Grandma collected stuff – all kinds of stuff, and animals – live ones, though. I see those shows now where people rummage through old folks stuff and plan to make a mint off the treasures. If I knew then what I know now! Thanks to Grandma I’m still a treasure-hunter and adorer of all types of animals.

  43. TucsonPatty says:

    Wait – now it is a peach, and not yogurt that sent you to the slammer?
    I love the mammaries. We just played Yatzee at my grandma’s house.

  44. Grammy says:

    You have no idea how happy this makes me.

    I never knew my grandparents, so I had no role models for my current position. I can now be secretly pleased me when my grandson says something he’s said or done is “not for school” according to his parents. It’s usually something he learned from his grandfather or me. You turned out fine, so I’ll use that as my gauge.

  45. Mindy says:

    Amazing. My grandparents’ house was filled with taxidermy. And there were animals in the freezer that hadn’t been stuffed yet. And cow tongues. To eat, not stuff. Uh huh. Try going to sleep with an angry beaver on your headboard. Or an owl family staring you down. Uh huh.

    • Karen says:

      LOL! Love the taxidermy grandparents! I’m starting to realize I probably could have told the more terrifying grandparent stories I had. ~ karen!

  46. Lin says:

    Nice boobs! Thankx for the mammaries….I woulda loved your grandparents. I only have one memory of my maternal grandmother from when I visited her when I was 6. She lived in the prairies and she took me with her to visit a neighbouring farm. She boosted me over the fence and very seriously said ‘if I tell you to run, you run as fast as you can and get over this fence!’ I said I would even tho I didn’t understand why. She didn’t tell me to run and I found out later we were short cutting through the farms bull pasture and she wasn’t sure where the bull was. Grandmothers are cool!

  47. ruth says:

    Renfrew might be a lot more interesting than anyone thought!

  48. Andrea says:

    My Grandmother painted ceramics…. frogs… with anatomically correct human genitalia. Freaks.

    • Andrea says:

      Come to think of it…. they might have been salt and pepper shakers. Though for the life of me, I couldn’t tell you which was the salt and which was the pepper.

  49. ruth says:

    Is uncle shifty from this branch of your family? I like stories about uncle shifty.

    • Karen says:

      No, Uncle Shifty is actually from the fella’s family … although now that you mention it, the fella’s family also grew up in and around Renfrew. I now have a quizzical look on my face and a strange interest in/fear of our family trees. ~ karen

  50. Janet says:

    Good mammeries, ah memories, are hard to come by these days, you chose exactly what most of us would select…we just wouldn’t tell anybody! You rock.

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