When I was six, my parents took me to Minnesota for my grandparent’s 50th wedding anniversary. The big event was held at the family farm in Motley, complete with wood-burning stove and outdoor plumbing.
I remember I didn’t like running out to a little wooden shack just to tinkle. The hole seemed a bit scary and goodness knows what was down there waiting to attack me as I was doing my business.
In 2004 we visited relatives in the Land of 10,000 Lakes, we found the old blue farmhouse in Elmdale where my mother was born. Although someone else lived on the land, they gave us permission to take photos of the house, barn, old water pump, and yes, the outhouse.
As I contemplated my “O” post, I started to think about outhouses and their functionality and since I didn’t have much expertise in the area I called my Aunt Joanie. As the youngest sibling in the family (14 kids in all), I wondered how much she remembered about the days of the outhouse.
She told me on the farm they had a “two holer”, one hole built up higher for the bigger folks and a lower hole for the youngsters. Their outhouse was a bit special because it was built on a foundation with a cement floor. “No one could tip it when you used it,” she said. I suppose that would be a bit unnerving being out there in all your glory and have the crapper fall over with you smiling at the perpetrators.
She did mention an outhouse prank for those without foundations. The outhouse would be moved from its regular spot, just a bit, so when unsuspecting farm hoodlums tried to tip it, they would fall into the hole containing all the ‘deposits’ which was about six feet deep.
I asked what other risks were involved using the outdoor privy, “Garter snakes and spiders. And when my older brothers thought it was funny to throw knives at the door while I was in there.”
Weather conditions would also affect the use of the outhouse. “In the summer the smell was terrible, but in the winter is was cold. There was a bucket inside the outhouse. We’d fill it with newspaper and light a fire to keep warm.” She said they did have alternatives if was the middle of the night. A white chamber pot with red trim came in handy or the hog’s slop bucket which was kept under the warming side of the stove. The boys devised their own method of night time relief, “They peed through a hole in the screen on the window. But Pa figured it out when the screens began to get rust spots.”
When I asked about the clean-up materials Joanie confirmed it was true they used newspapers and catalogues for toilet paper, although they would ‘ruffle’ the edges to soften them before use. But, sometimes the older siblings from the Twin Cities would visit and they would bring ‘real’ toilet paper from home. “My favorite time of the year was peach season,” she said. “The peaches were individually packed in tissue paper which was put to good use afterwards.”
She did mention the best part about the outhouse was the reception. When her brother-in-law would visit from the city, they would chat back and forth on walkie-talkies. He would go out into the woods near the farm and she would, yep you guessed it, chat from the outhouse. “Maybe it was the porcelain sink but the signal was best from inside.”
Well there you have it, everything you ever wanted to know about outhouses but were afraid to ask. If nothing else, you learned to use a walkie-talkie from inside and if you’re feeling a bit spunky and decide to topple an unsecured outhouse, you’re on your own.
Thanks to Aunt Joanie for your help and valuable information for this post. Love you. 🙂
Do you have unique or amusing outhouse stories? Share in the comment section.