Wednesday, June 7, 2006

"The Little Outdoor Toilet"

Sharing Wonderful Southern Comforts

My grandparents, Mama and Daddy, took me in upon my leaving the hospital when I was only three weeks old . Four years later, in 1949, Daddy bought a farm of our own and built our new house. At this time not many mountain folk were financially able to have indoor bathrooms so down by the creek Daddy and my two uncles, Richard and Don, dug a deep hole and set a little wooden building over it. This was "the little outdoor toilet".

If people waited until the last minute to go to the bathroom at our house, it became a serious matter when they discovered that the outdoor toilet (outhouse) was quite a distance from the house. Using an outhouse is an experience I"ll never forget, and over the years I developed a deep, passionate hatred for the little outdoor toilet. I remember our toilet well, especially on the long, cold winter nights when a foot or two of snow lay on the ground with more falling.

Poorer than some mountain folk, we owned only one porcelain "pee pot" with a lid; the one kept under Mama's and Daddy's bed. Mama had given me an eight-pound lard bucket to put under my bed as they were plentiful. When she ran out of home-rendered lard she bought Pure Lard in metal buckets. She saved them for a variety of uses such as: berry-picking, milking cows, carrying water from the spring, playing kick-the-can, or for a "pee can" under the bed.

Mama wouldn't let me use the bucket for anything other than peeing to avoid the long-suffering of other family members, and the fact that it had to be kept clean. On a cold winter night I was in trouble if I had to do "number two". I'd have to wake Daddy to light the old kerosene lantern then proceed to hunt the Sears-Roebuck catalog (good for wishing too). Sometimes we didn't have spare paper; however, we were usually well-supplied with corn cobs. It was my job to keep the basket filled with cobs as I helped Daddy shell corn for the chickens, guinneas, duck, turkeys, and pigs. I like catalogs best! The trip to the outhouse in the winter was always cold and lonely but fast. Our winters started in October and usually continued through March or April before the snows and cold would ease up.

Another reason I hated the outhouse involved my Aunt Jean, who lived in Oregon and her visits home -- thank God-- were few. Sometimes I was glad God put Oregon all the way across the country! I really love my Aunt Jean and enjoyed having her visit except for the many trips we made to the outhouse. She is Mama's youngest daughter and at that time was in her 20's (now in her 70's) and full of mischief. She had a twinkle in her eyes and possessed a floor length, PINK, chenille housecoat which she would put on a first light to make her regular trip to the outhouse. Since the outhouse stood about a hundred yards from the house she would usually dash out the door, paper in hand. Spotting the big white turkey gobbler lurking outside, she would run back in and yell, "Freda, get your stick and hurry!!". I'd grab my stick kept by the door and take off running after her.

At first glance our old turkey gobbler appeared docile. Truth be told, he was overcome with a passion for meaness like no other we had ever had. He was white as snow but his face and neck changed color with his moods. When showing off for hens, his face and neck would range from a deep turquoise blue to a pale sky blue; however, when angry or excited they would turn to violent red. He would then strut, make a loud noise by dragging his wings on the ground, and puff up like a huge, white, feathery balloon apt to burst at any moment from over-inflation! A bluff more than anything else, this was still effective enough to keep men inside their cars for protection. For years no one realized that he really was not after the men, but the other gobbler which he could see in the car; his own reflection!!

This cantankerous turkey passionately disliked hot PINK or RED colors. He seemed to lurk just outside the back door, waiting for trouble, especially when Aunt Jean was home. The moment she popped out the door in that old pink housecoat, he would strut, bobbing his head up and down 'til he looked as if he were an Indian doing a war dance. He'd turn as red as the "poke" berries which he loved to eat so well, while drumming his wing tips on the ground with anger. I'd whip him away, escort Aunt Jean to the outhouse, then stand guard because I had actually seen him so angry that he would "flog" the door. Aunt Jean must have enjoyed the turkey's exhibition or she would have worn something else to the outhouse. She kept that housecoat for years.

Even more scary were the many unwelcome visitors and boarders which frequently inhabited the outhouse. The monstrous bird spiders would move in, web, babies and all overnight, then pretend to pay rent by catching insects. The spider's legs, long as those belonging to an octopus, looked as if they might reach out and wrap around me at any moment. Their funnel web created a mysterious aura about the spiders, giving them the advantage of being able to sneak up on me. While I sat concentrating on the task at hand, one would dash out to the mouth of the funnel to peek, pause for a moment then dash back inside as if hooked by a rubber band. It could break the strongest concentration, and many times I'd have to make two trips to complete the task or leave with pants the slightest bit damp. It was hard to run and wipe at the same time.

Daddy called the other creature a "thousand-legged worm" and I believed it too!! That worm was about two and a half inches long and completely surrounded by legs. It looked as if it were dressed for trick-or-treat at Halloween in its costume of black and bright yellow, and being unable to tell one end from the other, I wasn't sure whether it was coming or going, but I was usually going! I could feel each of those thousand legs tippy-toeing through my hair at the base of my neck. Often I left without finishing the paperwork!

Most of all I hated the outdoor toilet because it was far from the house. It was in my fifth year of life on a sultry, Sunday afternoon in August, that family and visitors crowded around Daddy on the large front porch listening to him reminisce about horse-breaking in the stable for Paul Bruce, fishing with Gudge Barnette or some bear hunt with Glen Whitt. Daddy was sitting on the front steps whittling magically on a stick. Everyone the this period of relaxation that follows a week of grueling, hard work on a tobacco-dairy farm. Now and then sunlight reflecting from a car traversing the Blue Ridge Parkway would flash through the trees while the drone of a single plane stirring the billowy, buttermilk clouds would slice the peacefulness like a knife. Even the flies were lazy and deliberately slow while savoring each passing breeze for a tantalizing odor.

I just couldn't stand it much longer! I had to go pee! I didn't want to miss the story nor the fascinating game of mumblepeg between two boys on the porch, so I had dawdled too long and knew I would never make it to the outhouse. Mama could plainly see that I was to the fidgeting stage already and since she had to go too, she said, "Come on. Just this once we'll sneak around behind the house but you have to be careful and not be seen". We went out the back door to the right and above the house, passing bedroom windows and near some small bushes. While getting into the squatting position I glanced at Mama doing the same. At first it was funny because of the mischievous thing we were doing until I saw the black snake, coiled and ready to strike only a foot or so from Mama. Being acquainted with snakes from egg-gathering and berry-picking, I was a fast thinker and mover even at five years old. Yelling, "Snake!", I grabbed Mama's hand. Still in the sitting position with my pants down, I waddled along pulling Mama to her knees with her pants still down, and out past the bushes at the front corner of the house into full view of our front porch. People who I don't remember or prefer not too, were now racked with uncontrollable laughter. It must have been a sight to behold!!

This incident led to the gradual demise of the little outdoor toilet. Mama was normally a very shy, easily embarrassed, sweet little old lady but when confronted she became a brick wall of determination. When Daddy sold the tobacco that fall, she insisted on having and indoor "toilet" installed, complete with a tub for bathing. For me it meant no more carrying water for Saturday baths in front of the Home Comfort wood stove in the kitchen, but more important; NO MORE TRIPS TO THE OUTHOUSE!

The little outhouse stood neglected, while insistant pink, white and blue morning glories poked their bright, proud heads through cracks in the door, adorning it with the hope that perhaps someone might pause to say, "Look at the pretty little toilet". The knot holes in the boards watched with sad, basset hound eyes as if pleading with me to stop and sit, even if only for a moment. The door swung open wistfully with each passing breeze while the rusty hinges sang a mournful song.

Hickory shakes from the roof would rise with each wind as if tipping a "Good Day!" to passers by. Gradually the rusty nails began to shrink and slip from their holes causing the boards to sag, allowing spirits from the past to float through the cracks.

With time the little outhouse came down, board by board as Daddy stacked them away, filled the hole with dirt, then planted a grapevine where the little outhouse once stood. The grapevine struggled for survival and still weaves its way through a knobby, gnarled, old weeping willow, but to this day the vine has never seemed healthy nor put forth many grapes. From the past a wispy little voice hauntingly seems to say, "It's my way of getting even!".

Though I hated the little outdoor toilet years ago, soon to be reconstructed, it will proudly welcome each visitor while nestled in its own special place among day lillies, foxglove, iris and azaleas at the edge of my yard.

Each of my stories are written with loving memories of my days with Mama and Daddy, the best parents ever.

Freda Kuykendall
1991

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