ODE TO THE OUTHOUSE
I have always had a fascination with outhouses.
I wasn’t more than 3 or 4 when we lived in Hartford in an old square briquette house. Briquette is a brick-patterned asphalt siding like tar paper and shingles mixed. The porch covered the entire front of the house and there were two front doors: one to the living room and one to my parents’ bedroom. A covered back porch ran the length of the back of the place. The house was perfectly square with four perfectly square rooms. Two bedrooms and a path.
The toilet was a small structure located out the back alley with a worn trail in the lawn from the backdoor to the old worn wood building. I remember having to run that path trying to make it in time many times.
My parents told the story about when my sister was about 14 years old, she would go to the outhouse in our house on Highway 96 and sneak cigarettes. Smoke would be boiling from the top like crazy. When the smoke stopped, my sister would emerge a few moments afterward. My mother would ask her, “Jody, are you smoking?” Her reply was, “Momma, I ain’t gonna lie. I used to but I quit.” The gig was up when, one day in the fall, she threw a lit butt out the back of the hole and caught the alley on fire! There was no denying it now. The entire town followed the fire truck.
We moved to California with my Dad because there was no work in the area for construction workers. In San Pedro, we had a full bathroom and bathtub! Gone were the days of running the yard, day and night, or using the old porcelain pot and having to empty it in the morning or having to bathe on the back porch in a wash tub!
Good things came to an end and we moved back to Arkansas and eventually to Huntington to help my grandmother take care of my cousins. The people that had the house before us had built a nice concrete block outhouse on the alleyway. Story was that teenagers used to thump over the toilets and one time, the previous owner’s daughter was in it when they were being mischievous. She spent the night in the toilet until the morning when the father went to the bathroom.
The house burned one night in November of 1965 as we camped at Sugarloaf Lake near Midland. My parents bought an unfinished Jim Walters home a block away for $2000 dollars including the lot it stood on. The old outhouse was already there.
It was made of old worn wood that had stood the ravages of wind and weather for decades and served the many families that had lived on the lot before us. I thought we were rich. It was two-holer!! Now, there was no waiting…two of us could use the bathroom at the same time! Our only concern was spiders and wasps (which I still call waspers to this day). That pitch dark outhouse tricked your eyes so that when you opened the door and left, you were blinded for several steps until your eyes adjusted to the light.
On a spring afternoon, many years later in 1972, a cloud came up and we were forced to run to the cellar. A tornado of sorts, hit our area. It took a wonderful old walnut tree up and its roots ran completely across our yard and almost beneath our house.
The old outhouse took it hard. It was gone. Picked up and gently placed in the street where traffic, including the morning school bus had to drive around it. I was very, very mortified. That afternoon, my dad and I tied a chain around it and drug it back to the alleyway and restored it to its proper place. Dad decided it was time to embrace indoor plumbing.
In 1977, we moved the new to the lot where the 1965 house had burned years earlier. I returned to playing in the old concrete outhouse. We still took trips down the rock path to that old outhouse. Through the years, I would use the outhouse to sneak cigarettes with my cousins, hide from pesky neighborhood kids and even a quiet place to go and think.
It quickly became a shelter for dog and chicken feed and the outhouse suddenly had become a barn.
When my Dad passed away in 1999, my sisters and I sold the old house place since we all had our own homes. As we went through the house, barns and even the outhouse, I remembered the memories of the years of growing up in and near that old toilet.
It may sound silly, but I took the outhouse door with me when I left. I have it in my home where I use it as a place for my own children’s drawings, good homework examples and new school photos.
I drove past the old home place days ago. The old outhouse roof has rotted in and fallen. Weeds and small trees are growing around the concrete blocks and will soon be forgotten by everyone.
Everyone but me.