We will now reminisce on the days of yesteryear when the outhouse and its indoor associates were the “order of the day.”
While my children have some personal knowledge of those days, my grandchildren have no such memories. Let me reminisce about those days.
Prior to the mid 1900s, almost every home possessed an “outhouse,” a little house somewhere out back where the necessities of life were dutifully taken care of. No modern indoor bathrooms with the running water and commodes were in most homes of those days. Before 1900 even the most affluent in society still had the “outhouse” on the premises.
One can see the outhouse nearby when visiting the homes of such notables as Andrew Jackson, Abraham Lincoln, and other historical figures.
It is said that William Howard Taft was president when the first bathtub was installed in the White House and he was such a portly individual he could not fit into it. So, outhouses are very much part of early American living.
First, let me describe a typical outhouse. Usually it was a little building about 6-by-6 feet in size. One door would be on the front of the structure. On the back side of the outhouse would be what resembled a bench with two or three round holes in it. Underneath the holes would either be a pit for human waste or an open area that would occasionally be cleaned out.
Inside, somewhere near the seat would be a discarded Sears-Roebuck Ward catalog, the ripped-out pages being used as “toilet paper.” No such thing as our present-day rolls of tissues for such purposes.
The outhouse could accommodate two people if it were a “two-holer” or even if it was a “three-holer.” So visiting could take place while taking care of “mother nature.” Unfortunately, wasps loved to make their nests in the outhouse, presenting a threat to one while using it.
Now there were other means of taking care of one’s bodily needs. Since the outhouse was some distance from the residence and nighttime can be very cold, bodily needs could be taken care of via what was known as the “slop jar.” This was a 2-gallon or so round metal bucket with a handle and a lid. Bodily needs would be taken care of in it during the night and then would be taken to the creek or somewhere else outside and emptied and cleaned the next day — ready for the next night.
Can one imagine one of today’s youth using such a thing?
My first recollection of the outhouse was the one that stood at the end of a concrete walk leading some distance from the house where I was born and raised. It was a “two-holer” and had the usual old catalog for toilet paper. It had an open pit which my grandmother would occasionally clean out with a rake or something of the sort.
One memory that I will never forget of this old outhouse was that the chickens could come up under it and peck at the waste.
Ugh ! Here I am as a 4- or 5-year-old boy sitting on one of those holes taking care of “business” when an old hen decides to give my rear end a healthy peck. It hurt and I ran to the house crying. I was afraid to go back to the outhouse for days, though had no choice but to do so.
During the days of the Great Depression, the government sponsored a “back-to-work” program called WPA, or Works Progress Administration. One of the projects was to build outhouses. So, thinking our outhouse was outmoded, WPA built us a new one. It had a “pit” under the two-hole set — no more cleaning it out like the old one. They left the old one, so mostly we continued to use it.
Most of the churches and schools of that era also had outhouses one for the males and one for females. I well remember the old outhouse at Union Hill School where I went to elementary school. It was somewhat larger than the home variety, but had the usual bench with holes and also a trough in which the boys could urinate.
Since we had a woman principal, it was thought to be a safe haven for boys who wanted to smoke. I still remember the day when the principal “raided” it and brought out possibly 10 boys caught down there. She proceeded to “smoke” them with her trusty paddle! Fortunately, I was not one of those.
Mischievous boys have been known to physically turn the outhouse over, even more fun if someone was in it at the time. That was a prank thought hilarious, even if it did result in the boys having to pay a price for their actions.
I can think of no place much colder than an outhouse on a cold winter night. The “little house on the hill” or the “little house out back” had, of course, no heat. With temperatures in the single digits or even zero, it was extremely cold out there!
So, with “mother nature” calling, one had little choice but to leave that warm feather bed and make the way to the outhouse. Many cold nights have been interrupted by such a venture. Or, if the “call” was not to the little outhouse some needs could be taken care of by simply going out doors. Still cold!
One advantage of the Sears catalog was that it had lots of pictures of things to “wish” for, so looking at it (or what was left of it) could help pass the time while sitting on “the hole.” Too, we always avoided the stiff pages of the catalog, so usually that was what was left after it had been around for awhile.
It has been probably nearly 30 years since I have used an outhouse. Fond memories — maybe not so fond — linger of those days. I wonder what the youth of today would do if they had to use such a facility ! Would I like to go back to one of them? An emphatic, “No!”
The outhouse — a memory of yesteryear. What a memory that brings!