Friday, January 18, 2013

The Strangest Object in My House is....

At Christmastime I was taking pictures of the living room with fireplace and tree, when I noticed something that didn't quite belong. You know, just like the Sesame Street song.... It was an object we inherited from John's parents many years ago:

Yes, it's an elephants foot, made into a waste paper basket. A real elephant's foot. It came from John's mother's family. Her father was the representative of the British crown in Malaya. He used to travel from place to place to hold court on elephant back and this was a foot from his favorite elephant who died. When John's father died and John had to decide what things to ship over to America from the family home he asked the children what memories of their grandparents they might like. Their choices were two: 1. All the Beatrice Potter books, and 2 The elephant's foot.
So we, being more practical had a container full of antique furniture, Asian ceramics etc shipped, plus one elephant's foot.  It's fun to notice guests' reaction when they spot it. Actually I'm rather fond of it.

So do you have an item with a strange story in your house?

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN:  Rhys, that's weird. Yup, weird. Mine is a little less--real. I got this in Atlanta, when I did an On The Road series, travelling all over Georgia looking for interesting TV stories. I found this in a front yard, surrounded by other similar things. It was sweltering, incredibly hot as only Georgia can be, and there was this guy.  Looking very out of place. Calculating now, it was in 1979, so how long ago was that? But I've had him ever since.

HALLIE EPHRON: The weirdest thing in my house is the network of wires that crisscross our basement ceiling. Turns out it's a massive shortwave radio antenna that hooks up to a brass outlet in the living room floor where you'd connect the radio... if you had one. It doesn't photograph very well, so here's another offbeat item.

Meet Osgood. Not sure why we call him that, but he's a mask that hangs on the wall of our sunroom, his eyes bloodshot and forever sticking out his tongue. My husband picked him up during a trip to Venezuela. He used to creep out our kids.

DEBORAH CROMBIE: Hallie, Osgood creeps me out, too!

No weird critters around our house (if you exclude dear hubby:-)). But it's an old house, with lots of quirks. One of the strangest was the space in the old walk-in kitchen pantry that went up right into the attic. We could only guess that when the house was built in 1905 there was a woodburning stove there that vented up through the attic. I have a pre-remodel photo somewhere, but instead I'm going to show you a weird OUTSIDE thing--the swing. The old man who lived here for thirty or forty years worked, we think, for the phone company, and he brought home all sorts of things.  There's a patio made of iron squares, and a full-size telephone pole. And there is the swing, made from industrial pipes. We planted the native coral honeysuckle that twines over it now.  Whenever I think about giving our landscaping a facelift, I consider having the swing dug out. But then... there's nothing else quite like it and I'd kind of hate to see it go...

So who else has something weird and wonderful around their house? Voodoo masks anybody?


  1. My wife's Aunt Ruth once took a community education painting class. When the other students heavily criticized her work, the instructor told her not to pay attention to them: "As long as you're satisfied with what you're doing, you're doing it right." Ruth took this advice to heart and, for several years, churned out some of the most god-awful artwork known to man, one of which she gifted to us. It was a landscape, and we could recognize (sort of) murky trees, a murky stream, and (perhaps?) a murky bridge. Whenever Ruth came to visit, we would scramble to try to find where we had hidden the thing so that it would proudly be on display by the time Ruth came over.

    I don't know what happened to the painting but we haven't seen it for 35 or 40 years, so our last effort at hiding it must have been a pretty good one.

    Ruth is 96 now and still going strong. You can't kill my wife's family with a stick.

  2. Well, we don’t have any elephant foot wastebaskets, cute penguins, or creepy masks and our outdoor landscape does not include industrial pipe swings but we do have . . . some space shuttle tile material and a set of Earth/Moon analog rocks and facsimile lunar soil samples . . . .

  3. We've lived in our house for over 27 years, and have made so many changes to both the inside and the outside. One of which was to dismantle a slab stone wall, sort of low, and replace it with a built-up area so we could have a brick patio in front of the house. While my husband was unstacking the whitish slabs he noticed some writing of sorts on them. Turns out they were some kind of printing slabs. There are a couple hundred of them around, mostly out at the end of the yard now.

    The other weird thing is a carved, ebony mask that my aunt brought back to my family in the early to mid-sixties. Her husband was a CIA station chief in Dakar, and they bought presents for each of Aunt Bobbie's five sisters and three brothers, plus my grandparents. I feel pretty lucky to still have this thing, and that it's still in pretty good shape. But it isn't creepy, and it's not all that big, either, only about 11-12" tall.

    Love the elephant foot! A friend's husband is heap big hunter, and they have an umbrella stand made from one of the feet from his first elephant. (Of two, shockingly.)

  4. Oh, Jerry House, you reminded me of my husband's Uncle Abe whose MANY paint-by-numbers canvases (Blue Boy; Pinky...) adorned the walls of their Queens apartment. Fortunately we did not inherit any.

  5. Great stories! I'm not at home so couldn't think of a thing. But Hallie and Jerry are reminding me of the paintings we used to do as kids--not really paintings, because you filled in the spaces with tiny rocks. Truly hideous. I hope they are in a landfill right the bottom...

  6. The strangest object in my house is probably a bronze clock that sits in my book nook. More of a statue than a clock, it depicts an ostrich standing on top a giant egg. And riding the ostrich is, naturally, a monkey wearing a fez. I found it more than a decade ago at an antique store in Pennsylvania and just knew I needed to own it.

  7. Roberta, those are called mosaics! I had a kit for a trivet when I was kid, but mine was made with little ceramic tiles.

    Yes, the landfill is the only good place for them.

  8. I've just remembered another strange object that sits in my den. It's an Eleanor Roosevelt doll--absolutely hideous. I got it when I was speaking at a bookstore that had a display of these historical and literary dolls. After my speech I was asked to choose something and at that moment an assistant, moving furniture, knocked over the shelf and poor Eleanor fell to the floor. Everyone joked about how she's scare any child so I knew she needed some love and took her home.

  9. The house we live in was previously owned by my husband's aunt and uncle who left some furniture and many knick knacks.

    My favorites are two hand-made ceramics -- one a sort of ash tray and the other a mustard-colored pitcher.

    The inscription on the pitcher is: "Every blade of grass has its own drop of dew." But the small ashtray is the winner with its inscription (written into the wavy edge of the round dish): "May the Bullocks' Lodge be comfortable, their friends be many and their sausages be long."

    It is signed on the bottom with a name and the date: March 1948.

    Many of their other things left the house as donations or through yard sales, but I couldn't part with these odd ducks.

  10. My house is filled with books and toys, so young nieces and nephews always had plenty to do . . . and many frog pictures, statues, puppets that friends have been passing along to me since I recorded my Frog and Friends CD. Oh, and a robot cat, since I'm allergic to the real ones.
    When I needed help cleaning, I knew I had the right person when Terri said, "Oh teachers always have lots of stuff. I won't be able to get it all with each visit, so I'll alternate the rooms that get thorough dusting."

  11. One of my uncles was working abroad and sent my grandmother an elephant's foot stool. It arrived the day after she died. (Shudder)

    Many candidates for oddest object in our house, but my hunny's framed collection of ancient acupuncture needles is probably the strangest. Some of them look like small spears. (Double shudder)

    Me, I gather things like the 1960s' kerosene road pot, or flare. It sits by the front step and captures rust--and every visitor's attention.

  12. What scares me about this question is that I can't think of anything, yet sometimes a visitor will point to something in my condo and ask "what is THAT?" We get so used to seeing some odd items that they cease to look odd to US, you know? Stuck way in the back of a closet is the body-cast style brace that I wore for many months after spinal fusion surgery. That is definitely out of the ordinary; I always thought of it as a torture device! I can't just toss it in the dumpster because it needs to be in a bag. Probably a large trash bag will do..but does it go into the Regular dumpster or into the Recycle dumpster??? Decisions!

    Otherwise: do the skeletons in my hall closet count as "unusual"?

  13. Our house in Marblehead was built around a 300-year old stone wall. A couple of hundred years later someone added on a kitchen and made a wraparound-the-room window seat with a hinged lid, so you could lift it and look at the wall underneath. I guess. My closet had a huge boulder in it. so I didn't really have a closet. My room was warm, though, because the dining room fireplace abutted it on the other side.

  14. Deb Romano, too funny!

    I looked at the swing in our yard this morning and decided it is probably going to take a bulldozer if we ever decide to get rid of it...

  15. In the gloomy basement of the house where my (perfectly lovely) grandparents lived, my grandfather created an enormous electric train display. But hanging in the dark corner above the maze of trains was a noose. His father, the county sheriff, had used it to hang a criminal. One of my aunts, a psychologist who often testified at trials, took it when the house was broken up. Now that she's gone, I have no idea where the noose ended up. Is it weird that . . . I'd kinda like to have it?

  16. The strangest object in my house used to be four feet of heavy iron chain with links thicker than my thumb that was under the workbench when we moved in and stayed there because it was so heavy. We gave it away to a guy my husband worked with who collected chains.

  17. I have had a handmade piece of heavy 1960s pottery since I was very young and single. A friend made it and gave it to me. It looks like a mountain with three holes in the peak. It's hollow inside, but you couldn't get anything in there. I've tried using it as a container for floral arrangements, but it doesn't work well for that. for many years I used it to hold stick incense when I burned it. It's a very bizarre piece.

  18. So funny. LOVE the elephant's foot but it might be sad to live with it. Osgood is definitely creepy and Deb Romano, you're so right about the things we get used to. In my house, it might be the Mongolian baby carrier which i have hanging on the wall. Or ythe heart-shaped piece of cement that says JAH Rhubarb on it (found in my pond. Or it may just be the thing we are now used to. I had the bright idea to tile our fireplace with non-matching vintage tiles. Some days I think it's gorgeous and other days - Yow..that was a mistake.

  19. Ro, I'll bet your fireplace IS gorgeous!

  20. A long time ago, I had an itty bitty bathroom, and I'd toss my jewelry on the itty bitty window sill. I don't know how I managed this, but I knocked a favorite ring off the sill and into the toilet AS IT WAS FLUSHING. :-( So I decided to make a window-sill tray. Long and skinny. Out of a slab of clay. With a little help from my boyfriend, I glazed and fired the thing. I've kept it all these years. It's such an amateurish thing, but I like it. Now it sits on my dresser, and I still toss jewelry into it.

  21. Yes, Hallie, I gave it away. I was happy that he had some neighbor kid with muscles who could carry the thing up out of my basement and down into his where he displayed his chain collection.

    Now that I think about it, having a chain collection is a little odd.