Ode to the Outhouse
by James Whitcomb Riley

But when the crust was on the snow and the sullen skies were gray In sooth, the building was no place where one could wish to stay. We did our duties promptly, there one purpose swayed the mind, We tarried not, nor lingered long on what we left behind, The torture of that icy seat would make a Spartan sob,  For needs must scrape the gooseflesh with a lacerating cob, That from a frost-encrusted nail was suspended by a string-For Father was a frugal man and wasted not a thing.

When Grandpa had to "go out back" and make his morning call, We'd bundle up the dear old man with a muffler and a shawl, I knew the hole on which he sat, 'twas padded all around, And once I dared to sit there-'twas all too wide I found,
My loins were all too little and I jack-knifed there to stay, They had to come and get me out or I'd have passed away. Then Father said ambition was a thing that boys should shun, And I just use the children's hole 'till childhood days were done.

And still I marvel at the craft that cut those holes so true,The baby hole, and the slender hole that fitted Sister Sue.That dear old country landmark; I've tramped around a bit, And in the lap of luxury my lot has been to sit- But 'ere I die I'll eat the fruit of trees I robbed of yore. Then seek the shanty where my name is carved upon the door, I ween the old familiar smell will soothe my faded soul, I'm now a man, but none the less I'll try the children's hole.

from The Outhouses of America Tour

Parables from the Privy

The outhouse was pur playhouse. Until the people. from Switzerland disappeared, that is. Well they weren't exactly people. And they weren't exactly from another country. They were a plastic Dutch boy and girl that functioned as salt and pepper shaken in our mother's kitchen when they weren't with us.Inside our "playhouse" the plastic boy tried to read "Beetle Bailey" and convey it to tile girl. The Dutch girl flirted and laughed gleefully in her high-pitched voice. She slipped from the tiny fingers of my sister and went tumbling into (lie dark hole. In shock, tile Dutch boy fell after her.
It was a tragic end we kept secret until our parents tired of seeking the whereabouts of the seasoning containers and bought new, boring ones. It perhaps signaled the end to childhood fantasies. Yet my sister and I continue to search for a salt-and-pepper set like our wonderful, disappearing duo of friends.

Penny Huston Loefer & Patty Huston
My family doctor and his wife were traveling in the mountains and stopped to use an outside toilet that was marked "Pa's" on one side and "Ma's" on the other. He went into the one marked "Pa's," while his wife walked on around to the one marked "Ma's." 1 He said after a few minutes he happened to think it would be fun to put his head near the scat and roar like ;t bear So he did. His wife had been unable to get inside because it was occupied, but he didn't know this. His wife was knocked down by a screaming woman who came running out of the outhouse-door with her underwear partly down, who then ran on down the mountainside.

Bonnie Gallagher Barnesville

The outhouse was the center of a little daily ritual I remember so well. Along about 9 p.m., after Dad had finished reading the evening paper in the living room, he would light up a big cigar, light the kerosene lantern, take me by the hand, and together we would take the stroll to the outhouse.

As we entered the outhouse, Dad would hang the lantern on a nail on the hindside of the door, help me climb up on my little seat and then he'd settle down on the adult side. It was in this position we would discuss the events of the day. All the while, Dad was puffing away on his aromatic cigar.

This was family togetherness of the highest order and for me was one of those precious times with my father can never fo bet.

Ray Gillman
One summer night about 2 a.m. I awoke and had to make the I 150-foot hike to the outhouse. As I sat there, I began to hear footsteps coming closer. A little frightened l said, "Mom, is that you'.'" There was no answer. Now I was getting scared. The footsteps were getting closer, and then there was a thud against the door I stood up and pulled up my pants and stood on the seat. Many quick thoughts go through your mind when you're scared to death - like, am 1 Baler here or should I push open the door and take off running and screaming'? I cautiously tried to push the door open. but it wouldn't budge. Someone was holding the door shut, trapping me inside. I peeped through a tiny crack in the door, and all I could see was a cow 10 feet away. That's when I figured out another cow had lain down against the door. It took about 15 minutes of poking the cow through a knot hole, but finally she got up and moved away.

Marily Lammers

My grandfather and I were the best of friends. When I was a little girl, I would follow stint everywhere. He would go with the other old farmers in the neighborhood to loaf at the local general store on Saturday nights. I would go with him and sit around the potbellied stove and listen to the fellas talk about just how and with what they would make it through the winter, and where they would plant their crops in the corning spring 'where were only two places he would not allow me to follow him. One was the outhouse, and the other was the voting precinct. He said, "You do not need to follow me everywhere:' t was crushed. I lc instructed me to sit on a log at the woodpile while he went to the outhouse.My grandfather passed away almost -16 years ago. I followed him as much as I could, but as he said, "You do not need to follow me everywhere!"

Linda Bierhup

My granddad and his brother ran wires from the house out to their outhouse, so they could find their way in the dark. However, they had ulterior motives. There was a young girl on an adjoining farm who would come over to help in the kitchen. But she always got the boys in trouble by telling on them. After running the wire and attaching the light bulb to the outhouse, they ran two more sets of wires and another switch. They hammered nails around the toilet seat and ran wires around the nails to that second switch. They waited, days on end, until one day they saw the girl go into the outhouse. They waited again until they were certain she was comfortably seated. And then they hit the switch. Granddad remembers she screamed and carne through the door without even unhooking it. With a sheepish grin ,l will never forget. Granddad said, "Mom was not amused at all, because what we had spent hours and hours in building, that girl tore down in a minute"

Paul Young

From  Country Living (July 2003)                                   BACK