A to Z Family Stories: O for (ahem…) Outhouse

An outhouse wasn’t just something found in old cartoons and jokes. People actually used them and considered them a step up from … well, a chamber pot. I remember outhouse days.

My parents moved to a farm the year I was born. It had a two-story house, a barn, a sheep shed and an outhouse. The only water was in the barn and mom called it orange water because it was that rusty. Drinking water and water for washing clothes was brought out from town in large cans. There was electricity in the downstairs of the house only, and of course, no running water or plumbing. No bathroom. Mom was just thrilled to have a house of her own. The kitchen was where all the living was done. There was a bed in the corner. It was a safer time then – no locks on any doors.

The outhouse was one of the best structures on the premises, according to mom. Located just a short jaunt away from the house, it had one small high window for ventilation and a chair height bench inside with two holes, plus a child sized bench with a smaller hole. It was a deluxe model. The door had a hook and eye fastener on the inside and a wooden block handle on the outside that swiveled to hold the door shut.

When I was two and a half, before my brother was born, a bathroom was added which opened into the kitchen. A shallow well was sunk into the basement (dirt) floor and running water was brought into the house. Now there was orange water in both the house and the barn. However, the outhouse was still a common retreat, especially as the family grew. It had it’s own charm.

The farm had been bought from the Olson family. They had a son, Billy or Bob (we’re not sure), who went on to be an artist and a sign painter. Although we can’t be sure, we give him some credit for decorating the outhouse walls. Penciled here and there on the inside were caricatures of people and animals that were really showed quite a bit of talent. I remember looking at those walls, hoping to find a drawing that I had missed, wondering about the artist who had put them there. There was a supply of whatever paper could be spared, mostly catalogs and newspapers. Dad remembers what a treat it was around the time of year when peaches were sold, wrapped in tissue paper in crates. You can guess where the tissue paper went. I remember sweeping the floor and cleaning the outhouse and occasionally hunting down a spider or swatting down a hornet’s nest – not your present day bathroom hazards.

The outhouse stayed for a few years even after it got very little use. Eventually it was in the way and was taken down, the hole filled in, covered over. Another remnant of the past, no longer to be remembered, except of course in an occasional blog post. Just sayin’…

2 thoughts on “A to Z Family Stories: O for (ahem…) Outhouse

  1. I grew up with an outhouse. When we finally got an indoor bathroom I felt we were living in Taj Mahal. When living in California, I also came across the occasional outhouse. Here is the thing: Outhouses in Norway (cold weather) sucks. Outhouses in California (warmer climate) is actually not so bad.

    • Good point Inger. An outhouse in northern Wisconsin in the winter is much the same as in Norway. You don’t spend much time in there reading, or anything else for that matter, lol.

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