The Outhouse

©Jeanne E Webster


How many readers remember the outhouse?  For that matter, how many ever used one? 

Memories…my, oh my.  Way back in the mid-1940s, my family lived in rural western Massachusetts, where the hills meet the sky.  We had an outhouse that set back from our house 100 feet or so.  It was a shabby structure. I mean, who is going to paint an outhouse?  And what for?  You wanted it to blend into the scenery, not be the focal point of the whole back yard.  We didn’t weed much back there either, so that helped it set into the surroundings easily enough.

It was a two-seater; one door but two seats.  They were hard and cracked and one had to watch for splinters.  As a small child I would dangle on the seat and pray I didn’t fall in.  I did look into the hole a few times and it seemed like it went clear down to China. The “holey” look was not lingering…especially in midsummer.  I think our house had a crescent moon on the door but am not sure.  It was probably to allow steam and aromas to escape into the atmosphere! The steam would roll out of the slit like steam off a freshly baked apple pie, aromas not similar. 

I don’t remember how deep the pits really were; quite deep.  I could see all kinds of living things down there.  It was a regular bug zoo!  Creepy crawly things, things that could snuggle up to you and you wouldn’t even know they were there till tomorrow when you’d see their bite marks.  Then you’d have to spend the rest of the day wondering what bit you.  Eventually you decided it was a parson spider or a carpenter ant.  Maybe it was a long toothed fairy centipede.  You usually never knew; it was always a guess.  But you were satisfied with your choice.  Life never got boring.

The house was reached from our home by a sod worn path that went directly to it.  First you went from the kitchen through the storage room, then out the side door towards the woods.  It was quite an adventure, and many times it wasn’t pleasant.  It spelled relief but with a price tag.  You never knew what was waiting for you in there.  We kids usually asked if anyone else had to go before venturing out on a solo run. 

I remember sitting in the outhouse one fall evening.  It was dark and I was always spooked anyway out there by myself.  I was trying to hurry up when I heard a rustle behind the house.  It would “scratch scritch and scratch,” then a pause and “scratch scritch and scratch,” again.  The rustling kept getting closer and soon seemed like it was ready to join me inside! Aborting my procedure rather hastily, I pulled up my drawers and peered outside into the darkness.  I flashed my trusty light into the direction of the sounds, holding it in front of me as I snuck around the front of the facility.  A pair of rabbit’s eyes froze momentarily before disappearing into the dark.  Whew!  My heart thumped and shook all the way back to the house. 

Black bears were prominent in western Massachusetts, which was a cause of concern, especially to children. I always had a feeling the bears would smell my leavings in our outhouse and come down from the hills for a looksee.   I really respected those bears and dreamed, rather, had nightmares, about them many a time.  I could even “see” them looking into my bedroom window on the second floor!  They were from the tribe of tall bears.  They lived on top of the mountains and were more elusive. They never bothered us much, just the shorter ones. 

Back to the outhouse–the worst thing about an outhouse is the critters, the tiny ones that sneak up on you.  After departing from doing your duty, all you want to do is itch, as you can still feel them crawling on you.  I learned not to be afraid of bugs.  To this day I’ll take on a giant spider in the house while my husband stands in the hallway yelling, “Get the bug spray!”  I’ll even nail them with a good hard shoe or slipper if I have to. 

I imagine outhouses aren’t missed by anyone today.  I mean, how could you Jacuzzi in your tub or shower barefooted in one?  And after dark, who knows what lurks in those shadows.  I was there.  I know.

10 comments on “The Outhouse

  1. Funny! Memories not from our house, but neighbors or other relatives. Thanks for taking us down memory lane. We can all remember the bugs.

  2. Dicky says:

    My wife’s grandma had one nearby her old house in Hong Kong. She used it too when she was a little girl. The bugs you mentioned made me itchy!

  3. Pam Ford Davis says:

    I was blessed to always have indoor plumbing! Neighbors had one until they got an inside bathroom and I used one my grandparents had a few times.(They had a nice bathroom inside their house.) My husband shares stories of his childhood outhouse experiences. His family had a billy-goat tied not far from the structure and the goat would try to butt them while they were on the way!

  4. Had one, used one in rural MS! We had a one door, 3 seater with one seat being small for those of us who were small.

    What memories all of us “outhouse people” have!

    Thank you for posting this endearing story.

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