Loo, Loo, Skip To My Loo... (Granniemose BB W/O)Oct 23, 2002 Write an essay on this topic.
Popular Products in BooksThe Bottom Line Happy Birthday, Virginia!
E. B. White, Edith Goodkind Rosenwald, Lessing J. Rosenwald Collection (Library of Congress) - Charlotte's Web: Student Packet Grades 3-4
This is the story of a lost bit of American culture. Or maybe culture isnt quite the right term. All I know is we lost a part of our heritage when we brought our outhouses indoors. I miss em. Life just aint the same without em.
Going to Visit Aunt Mabel
Back when I was a youngun in the rural Ozarks, we had a bathroom in the house. It had a galvanized tub and a bucket for dumping in well water, while another bucket was heating up on the wood stove. It was a bathroom because that is where we took our baths in the winter. In the summer the tub got moved outdoors next to the cistern, where we could pour bath water right into the tub from the tap.
We also had outbuildings. In the country lingo, an outbuilding could be a barn, chicken coop, storage shed, or any number of other things. And at least one outbuilding was also an outhouse. You could get along without a barn, but an outhouse was a necessity. Of course, it might be called something other than the outhouse. The John, the Necessary, Privy, Back House, the Friendly, the Closet, the Throne Room, or The Reading Room/Library (for its selection of fine reading materials). You might announce to the world at large that you were Going to visit the woodpile. You could go off to see a man about a dog, or retire to the reading room. Ladies might take a trip to see Aunt Mabel -or any other aunt who wasnt an actual, breathing aunt. Mrs. Murphy was quite popular with visitors in my neck o the woods.
Off to elementary school in town, we rural kids were quite confused by the bathroom that didnt seem to sport anything resembling a bathtub. To us, it was an indoor privy, or toilet, even if our new-minted teacher wanted to call it a bathroom. I remember day one of school, when my squirming neighbor couldnt remember what to call the darn thing.
Hand waving in the air. Teacher, I gotta go!
Go where? she asked, trying to get him to say bathroom.
.Hesitating. The johnny! The bathhouse that aint got no tub! Whatever you call the @#!*& place you go to pee!
Wisely, the teacher learned to dismiss, without comment, any kid wildly waving a hand in the air.
Keeping Up Appearances; Keeping Up With The Joneses
Outhouses were not only necessary they were rural status symbols. The normal configuration for an outhouse was a two-holer one sized for adults and a smaller one for children. (Wise rural kids knew better than to use the big one, because falling in could be dangerous as well as unpleasant. An old Ozark joke goes something like: Ma, our youngest just fell through the hole in the privy! What should we do? Just leave him, Pa. Itll be easier to make another one than to clean that one up!)
Only the lowliest of the low, and the laziest of the lazy, would be caught with a one-holer. Even though the outhouse was never used by more than one person at a time, a one-holer was just low-class. Live in a one-room shack if you must, but have at least two holes in the privy. A three-holer was considered quite classy, especially if equipped with a nicely carved seat for the ladies, a separate one for the gents, and a small one for the kiddies. Families with three-holers were gentry. They had style.
But bigger is not always better. One upstart family was very proud of its fiver. The consensus among the old-timers was that three was good, but five! Five was just pretentious.
All the Comforts of Home
The well-equipped outhouse had a window, because it would otherwise be rather dark with the door closed. The window was, of course, near the roof both for modesty and proper ventilation. There was a hook to hang a lantern - near the window/ventilation, of course. The lazy sod who plopped his kerosene lamp down on the floor was likely to learn what happens when accumulated gasses in a confined space meet an open flame
There was a bag of lime in the corner with a scoop, to keep the place in proper order and smelling nice. A little shelf for paper rolls. The larger facilities might have multiple roll holders so one was always within reach. (Always considered a nice touch.) There was usually a spot for reading material like the old edition of the Sears-Roebuck catalog and last weeks newspapers. In a pinch, the reading material could serve as backup when the paper rolls ran out. Rural curmudgeons had a unique way of dealing with bad news and opposing viewpoints in print. It was best to read the newspaper before it went to be reading matter, as any picture of a smiling politician tended to disappear promptly, once transferred to the outhouse.
To the sides and round the business end of the well-run outhouse, you were likely to find vegetation. Brightly colored flowers were favored, along with bushes that both enclosed the building and provided winter food for birds. The vegetation, for some reason, tended to be dense, dark, and lush. Some of the tallest sunflowers ever seen in these parts grew at the back of an outhouse. However, rural children learned early that the flower garden was the proper place to pick Grannys bouquet. Flowers picked near the outhouse, be they ever so bright and beautiful, never got quite the same warm reception from Granny.
Youre Not From Around Here, Are You?
The finer points of outhouse etiquette often eluded new residents. Dr. E. Schumaker, M.D., newly arrived from a teaching gig at Two-Lane (the med. school down in NOrleans), was hell-bent on making his new clinic sanitary. No matter that the water was piped in from a well and electricity was barely adequate to run the overhead lights. One brilliant idea was to equip the outhouses with stainless steel seats, which could be easily cleaned and disinfected daily. He didnt understand why the old-timers looked rather doubtful at this brilliant innovation. Hesitantly, one patient finally explained that those nice, shiny seats might be a good thing down south in NOrleans, but winters are cold in the Ozarks. When it is minus 20 degrees, there are bits of anatomy one simply does not want in contact with stainless steel.
Near public buildings were outhouses segregated by gender. The Gentlemans House sported a star or sunburst on the door, or had a window in that shape, while the Ladies showed the crescent moon. The symbols are ancient, and were quite necessary in a medieval Europe where the general run of folk were illiterate. The local wags like to tell the story of young Reverend Mason, newly arrived in the Ozarks to begin a ministry. (Truth be told, they are probably making the whole thing up, and the Good Reverend never really existed. The denomination of the ministry tends to change with the teller, as does the exact location. )
But as the story goes, the Reverend disliked the sun and moon symbols on the outhouses, and wanted no taint of paganism in his new buildings. His congregation wandered out at a break to find one outhouse sporting a stylized L for the Ladies and an ornate G for the Gents. They studied the two for a bit, then the blushing ladies headed down the path to G while the men sauntered to the L. The congregation had not seen the letters as letters, but as pictographs. They agreed that the Reverends symbols were understandable, if somewhat indelicate. No one is quite sure how the Good Reverend realized his mistake, but one Sunday the outhouses had the sun and moon back in their proper places.
Progress Of A Sort
Time passed in the Ozarks. Houses got indoor bathrooms, outhouses fell into ruin (and disfavor), while arts and crafts fairs sprang up like weeds. It was only a matter of time before someone decided that a decaying outhouse was artistic. Restored outhouses started showing up among the paintings, quilts, and pottery at the art fairs (or Arts & Crafts Faires for those who thought archaic spelling made them appear more refined.) It is hard to forget the look on Grammas face upon seeing a gussied up outhouse for sale. For more than $1000, and touted as a potting shed. She looked it up and down with a peculiar look on her face, then said Um. Well. Im not going to repeat what she said, because Granny could be both pithy and to-the-point. Lets just say it was something about potting sheds and the handy location of fertilizer. And killing two birds with one stone, so to speak.
Real outhouses were quaint and artsy, while portable metal boxes showed up at sporting events and other public gatherings. The art fairs selling $1000 privies (not to be used for any obvious purpose) invariably had a back corner filled with ugly green metal boxes with names like Port-A-John. The verdict of the old-timers: ugly metal, portable (AAARRRGGHH!) one-holers. No class.
The Grand Tour
Art books about outhouses. Organized tours of preserved privies. The rather bizarre scene of a bus full of well-dressed people standing around an ancient outhouse taking pictures. A well-maintained old outhouse had become a tourist attraction, which would have astonished the original builders no end.
And the ultimate move to the internet, where you can now go on a virtual tour of the best and finest outhouses. Heres one of the more interesting, for those so inclined: http://www.jldr.com/ohindex.shtml#tour
I recommend The Outhouse She Waited 20 Years For (and you thought you had been in some slow-moving lines!), and the 2-story outhouse (Think about this one. Just .. think about it.)
A Room With A View
And coming full circle, outhouses are back! (Er, ..because they would hardly be in front, now would they?) And no, I havent quite gotten around to building one of my own. (Plans available on the internet.) But then, I dont really need to. If I get nostalgic for a nice outdoor privy, I can stroll down to a nearby retreat center that has some of the most beautiful, well-designed outhouses in the country. They have a nice view, because they only have three sides. The third side is open, so there is a view. A rather spectacular view, in fact.
Oh, and by the way by view, I mean the view from the inside looking out. (That was what you were thinking, right?) Because they are built on a hillside and elevated, you cant really see in from the outside. Unless, of course, you just happen to be a hunter with a tree stand and binoculars.
You can see some of the little rooms with a view at the Wattle Hollow website:
And if you are ever in my neck o the woods, stop by the retreat center and take a tour of the outhouses. Use one and enjoy the view. (Well, maybe not during hunting season.)
This little essay was to honor the 80th birthday of one of our finest members Granniemose. Happy Birthday, Virginia! You can read all of the entries in the Birthday Bash at this site:
And finally for anyone wondering how I got from Virginias birthday to the subject of outhouses. No, I did not look at Virginias picture and think Oh, yea. Outhouses! Nothing of the sort! In thinking about the last 80 years, I was musing about the changes in our culture. Much of it has been good, but we have lost some of the richness of our past, as well. There are wonderful things that Virginia (and I, and others born a bit more than 30 years ago) have experienced, that are mysteries to the young. Well that, and the fact that Virginia likes a good laugh now and again. But no, I really dont associate Virginia with outhouses. Not at all. Of course, if someone were to find some relationship not that there IS, of course!- then I would have to assert that Granniemose is definitely a three-holer. The kind with all the proper touches to make visitors feel at home. The best kind. The kind with real class.
|Read all comments (28)|Write your own comment|