The Outhouse



What a noble architectural achievement. The outhouse. The privy. The backhouse. The kybo. Not much more than a three- or four-foot wide, seven-foot tall building, with a roof, a seat, and a hole. Always placed away from the main living quarters, primarily due to the smell, and a good distance from the well, for obvious reasons. But the outhouse was free of modern day problems, like a backed up sewer, because there was none. No wasted water, because there was none hooked up. And, early on in outhouse history, no toilet paper, because there was none. ThatŐs how the practice of reading while sitting on the throne got started. There were often a lot of pages missing from the magazines.

Actually, the baby boomer generation almost missed the outhouse era. Indoor plumbing started up before 1946, but was slow to develop. Our home had an indoor bathroom by the time I was born, but we still had an outhouse, which we used on an emergency basis. My grandparents, who lived just down the street, used their outhouse as a primary bathroom right up to the mid 1960Ős. I guess old habits were hard to break. In reality, I donŐt think my grandmother wanted to pay for the water a toilet would use. The outhouse was pretty much free.

Outhouses were personalized in numerous ways. Some were quite elaborate, others pretty crude. The nicest I personally ever visited was carpeted, had a padded seat, two holes, was wallpapered, had some pictures hanging, and had a design cut into the door, which provided light. The design most often used was a quarter moon, indicating the outhouse was for females. The male symbol was a star. While seemingly a good idea, most homes only had one outhouse anyway, so the symbol on the door didnŐt make much difference. Your primary protection from intruders was a latch. And I saw more than one ball-bat sitting in the comer.

The most vivid memories I have about outhouses have to do with Halloween. It was a Halloween tradition to tip outhouses over at homes where you didnŐt get a very good treat. I think this was a small town prank carried out by many a Halloweener. I remember three specific occasions where I was involved in tipping over outhouses. One happened to be occupied, which came as quite a surprise to the occupant and the tippers. The second involved one of the tippers falling into the hole, resulting in quite a commotion. And stink. The third had to do with kidnapping an outhouse and placing it on the roof of the high school. That one cost us three days detention. Being young, and all of us having indoor toilets, made us ignorant of the significance of an outhouse and the trauma a tipping or kidnapping could cause the residents. It was really a pretty rotten trick. But we always had one heck of a good time doing it.

My experience with outhouses was somewhat limited. Today, itŐs hard for young folks to imagine going outside to the bathroom, with newer homes having two, three, and sometimes four or more, bathrooms. But there was a time you went to the outhouse, whether in rain, snow, sleet, or hail, ten-degree weather, or ninety degrees, 2pm, or 2am. Some things you just donŐt miss about the good old days. Outhouses happen to be one of them.


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