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Outhouses

In the early 50's there were still a few folks and modest businesses that had outhouses as primary or secondary mode of relief in our part of the country. While I did not use them daily, some of our neighbors did, and the closest country store to us had a two holer (one per sex). The farmer that lived closest to us never had indoor plumbing, and because I spent a lot of time at his place I was a regular visitor to his outdoor accommodation. The wooden schoolhouse that I attended for eighth grade was next to a cemetary and a church, and there was a fine row of four or five stalls out back that had been built before flush toilets were installed in the school. When we had an occasional plumbing problem or lost water pressure, we simply switched from the indoor bathrooms to the outdoor privies.

The main unpleasantry about outdoor toilets was the outdoor part. They were very cold in Winter and hot in Summer. Baring ones bottom in subzero nights was no thrill. Most privies did not have fold up seats; the seat was large and flat with a hole sawed out of the middle. The jokes about the Sears catalogs and other quaint wipes were fact-based, but in my youth those behind homes often had toilet paper somewhat like we have now. Businesses like remote filling stations frequently had no paper of any kind, so one learned to be resourceful if forgetful. The home outhouses would usually (but not always) stink far less than public ones. I can remember often wishing on hot days that I could hold my breath longer. As the places lacked light, the jokes about dropping the flashlight deep had some truth to them. But far more things than flashlights got dropped (and usually left) down the hole. The jokes about meeting snakes there never came true for me, but wasps and spiders loved the little houses in the summer. Nosey boys did look for knotholes and occasionally find them.

I had a scare one day when walking from a field into the neighboring farmer's back yard as it was getting dark. A Spring storm had earlier torn the door off the privy close to my path through the yard, and the farmer had tacked a big piece of striped awning material over the open door to cover it. The storm had also left the privy tilted so it leaned top forward, and the flap did not cover the door opening well because it leaned away from it a few inches. Unknown to me, the farmer's older sister was in residence in the privy as I passed and was likely vexed over the lack of privacy afforded by this ill fitting door flap. It was very quiet in the yard. As I passed about 10 feet in front of the outhouse daydreaming about something absorbing to a 12-year old, she bellowed out in a most unnecessarily loud voice "I'm in here!" I jumped about four feet in a half second. She may have yelled so loud because she thought I was headed for the throne. Whatever the reason, I gave that privy a wider berth after that when passing it.

 

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