Thursday, August 03, 2006

Outdoor plumbing

There was a reference to an outhouse in a blog I read yesterday, and my mind immediately flashed back to the one time in my life when I had the misfortune opportunity to visit an outhouse. It happened sometime in the 50s, when we lived in Missouri, but I have no idea whose property we were on or why we were there. I do, however, have some pretty specific memories about my outhouse experience:

The smell.
Admittedly, one outhouse is a small sample, so I don't know if they all smell that bad. The scent of that one seems to have permanently imbedded itself in my brain in a matter of minutes. There's no doubt in my mind that if someone blindfolded me and led me into that outhouse, I'd recognize my surroundings without touching a thing.

The darkness.
It was broad daylight outside, but the only light in the outhouse was the little bit of sunlight coming through the cracks between the boards and the cut-out on the door. Must have been scary at night. (Lanterns, maybe?)

The floor plan.
I don't know whether this is an unusual thing or not, but this particular outhouse was a two-holer. That may have been the first time in my life I'd ever considered the possibility that there might be pairs of people who'd enjoy sitting side by side as they answered Nature's call.

The black holes.
Maybe outhouses are designed to be dark so people can't see what lurks beneath the cut-out seat. When I looked in, all I saw was blackness. The hole appeared to be very, very deep.

My little sister's love. This one surprises you, no doubt, but it's the reason why this outhouse memory is an important one for me. I don't know how old we were, certainly no older than six and ten. However old my sister was, that's how many years it had been (from my spoiled perspective) since she'd ruined the good thing I'd had going on. She'd singlehandedly destroyed my queendom by virtue of (a) being born and (b) being especially cute. I would be grown before I'd understand that she hadn't done it on purpose.

That day at the outhouse, though, I found out she loved me in spite of our sibling rivalry. I might never have known her true feelings even then if she hadn't peered into one of those deep black holes and become mightily afraid. As for myself, I was desperate. I moved past her, pulled down my shorts and my pastel, day-of-the-week panties, and perched over the edge of a hole that was way bigger than my skinny bottom. And that's when my little sister, in an act of love that moves me to this day, dropped to a squat on the ground in front of me, wrapped her arms tightly around my dangling legs, and held on for dear life until I was finished.

Sis, I haven't thought about this in years and years, and I wonder if you remember it at all. Whether you do or not, I just want to tell you how much I appreciated your concern that day. That was possibly the first time in my life that I came close to falling into deep s**t, and you were there to save me. Sure wish you'd been around some of the later times.


  1. you are right out houses do stink!
    you sister showed great love for you. mine might have shoved me in.

  2. i never under stood the two holer either. just a little too much togetherness.

  3. oh, my! What a good sister to have!

    Interesting-my 2006 calendar's theme is Outhouses. Presumably all unused, though I'm not reading the captions.

    My mother still tells me stories about how she had to use the outhouse before her family got indoor plumbing. I think we take our water closets for granted. I looked up "flush toilet" on Wikipedia. The entry helpfully includes a photograph of a toilet, in case you didn't know what it looked like. ;-)

  4. I am 51 years old and we did not have a bathroom or running water until I was 16 years old. I was always afraid there was a sitting hen down in the hole in the John, my Sisters were probably afraid there was a snake in there.

  5. Wonderful, wonderful story! Having spent a good part of my childhood in Patsy's neck of the woods, I knew all about outhouses. I remember sleepovers at friends where we used a chamber pot that slid under the bed! Your sister is a dear...having been the youngest child myself, I remember well the older sibling resentment and the love you keep giving anyway. Carmon

  6. is too much to ask any of the Sisters to be nice...that is
    not one of the words that describe any of us. You know we think highly of you or we would not visit your velvet memory sack!

    Booger Hollow near my home had a double decker outhouse! A two holer is bad enough...but picture a double decker, Velvet. I know the image is not a lovely one. I don't think you will store it in
    your velvet sack.

    The Sisters grew up storing things in old "tow" sacks. There were no silk or velvet around. Cotton flours sacks were found and we all had dresses made from them. Grandma even saved the twine from where we opened the feed sack. She crotcheted it!

    The Sisters do enjoy your memories!
    I want Mama Too to help me out with a parking space!

  7. velvet i am nice i am trying to give you fleta.

  8. sister sweet sister is nice she commented on you post about parking lots but totally forgot it all but mother love. me i can't hold back!

  9. Fleta....what a prize that would be!!!!!

  10. Patsy, maybe the two-holer was invented so people would have someone to talk to when they sat in the outhouse for a while. After all, it's too dark to read in there.

    Janet, I can imagine an outhouse calendar. From the outside, they do have a certain amount of charm.

    4th Sister, spiders and snakes would have been my worry, too. In fact, some people here in bayou country worry about snakes in modern toilets when floodwaters affect our city sewer systems.

    Carmon, I never saw a chamber pot, either, but I remember my (senile)great grandmother accusing my aunt of stealing hers out from under her bead.

    Sweet-Sister, we didn't have silk or velvet, either. Maybe that's why those things feel "special" to me. I did have cotton-sack dresses when I was little, though.

    And to those of you who mentioned what a good sister, I have, you got THAT right! Don't know what I'd do without her.

  11. Oh what a wonderful memory! We just had a family reunion and my aunt had put some books out for us to take. They were books of photos that were my grandmothers. I grabbed up a few, hoping one would hold a photo of the cottage they had in Luther, Michigan. Sure enough, I found one. We would visit in the summers and the only place to do the deed was an outhouse. You described it so well! I was always so afraid that spiders would know!! You have such a gift of story telling! Thank you!

  12. Katie, it's nice to see you here again. Sounds like you had a wonderful family reunion. There's nothing like old photos and family stories to take you right back to your childhood.


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