Mom's remark flushed out old memories

By: 

Roger VanHaren

Dear readers: I’ve had a week full of appointments, so I’m resurrecting a column from 2006. Forgive me.

About a year ago, while my mom was in the hospital after suffering from two heart attacks, an incident occurred that I was delighted to hear about. My mom, God rest her soul, was 90 at the time, and even though she was greatly distressed by the heart attacks, she was able to retain her sense of humor. Because she was so weak, Mom asked my dad, also 90, to help her into the bathroom and to stay with her while she did her duty. So Dad took a chair into the bathroom and sat next to her.

Mom said it reminded her of the old days of the “two-holer” out behind the old log house.

When my sister told me this story, I was transported back into the “golden-olden” days of my kidhood. Boy, how that place stands out in my memory!

Our outhouse was a “two-holer” — two holes side-by-side on the 2-foot-high hard wooden bench of the little 5-by-5 outhouse about 20 yards from the house — far enough so that the stench from the pit reached the house only on the days when there was a stiff northeasterly wind. One of the oblong holes was a little smaller than the other, sort of kid-sized.

If you’re a farm-raised kid about my age, you probably also have some pretty clear memories of those little duty houses. The outhouse was our “bathroom” (don’t you love euphemisms?), but no bathing was done there. It was not an elegant room; decor was not a priority. It was all about functionality.

Sometimes we had real toilet paper, but not often enough. Toilet paper was a real luxury, and we didn’t usually have it unless some of our “city cousins” were going to be coming to visit. We had better things to spend our meager cash on than this soft unnecessary stuff. There were newspapers, the Sears and “Monkey Wards” catalogs, and farm magazines in the outhouse that weren’t there for reading. We tore a page out, crushed it up to make it a little softer, then used it. Mr. Whipple would have cringed for sure.

In the summertime, the stench and the flies were problems, so sometimes we’d throw powdered lime or lye down into the hole to neutralize the stench somewhat. Sometimes the flies would get pretty bad. One thing was for sure, you wondered where that fly that landed on the dinner table had been.

Wintertime was the worst. If you had to make that “50-yard dash” in the dead of winter, it wasn’t fun to have to put your bare bottom on that icy seat. We had “chamber pots” under the bed to use during those frigid nights. These were used exclusively for “No. 1” and not “No. 2” (remember those euphemisms?). If you had to do No. 2, you still had to make the dash to the outhouse. In the mornings, someone would have to take the chamber pot outside and dump it, then wash it out. Nice job!

What happened when the hole under the outhouse got full? Well, my dad and my grandpa would dig a new hole a few feet from the outhouse, move it onto the new hole, then take the dirt and fill in the old hole.

What about privacy? Well, sometimes there wasn’t any. If it was a two-holer and two members of the family had to go and couldn’t wait — well, you know. Most people have two or three bathrooms in their homes now, but I didn’t know of anyone who had two outhouses in those days.

Oh, yeah, those were the good old days!

I found this old take-off on a famous Longfellow poem and I thought I should include it. What do you think?

Beneath the spreading Dutch elm tree

The weathered outhouse stands,

A sanctuary where you’re free

From labor’s harsh demands.

Of all the big city’s luxuries,

Tile, porcelain, or chrome,

None satisfies and gives sweet ease

Like that fragrant shack back home.

Contact Roger VanHaren at rjmavh@gmail.com