Janet Sheridan: Outhouse oddities and strange socializing
February 16, 2012
A few years ago, Carol Jacobson, my deceased mentor and friend, showed me an old photograph of a three-hole outhouse that once served a family in rural Moffat County.
I remember wondering why a family, isolated among uninhabited acres, would need a three-holer, and I've continued to fret about it.
Two holes I can understand: one cut smaller so little children don't slide away into muck and consternation.
But three holes could only mean a get-together, and I don't see pit toilet as a site for socializing.
I remember the outhouses from my early childhood as small, utilitarian buildings that smelled bad, not at all appropriate for enjoying the company of others — never mind appetizers and drinks.
I wonder where the owners of a three-holer, living on a homestead 50 miles from the nearest neighbor, found enough people for conversation and canasta? And surely anyone making the effort to visit would expect to be entertained in a more welcoming place than the outhouse.
Outhouses were never part of my daily routine, but I vaguely remember my father banging and cursing as he converted a small storage room to a bathroom in our Lake Shore home.
My older siblings claim that finding their way through the torn-up room and loud trauma of Dad's endless remodeling made them long for the abandoned outhouse.
I also heard alarming stories from classmates about the outhouses that still dotted our rural community: midnight dashes for relief through snow drifted chin-high, and sobbing city cousins who refused to walk the scary night path where cows mooed and things moved.
Arnie Olson, late for school, once told Mr. Ralphs that he missed the bus because he was studying the BB guns in the Sears catalogue his family kept in the outhouse for toilet paper; Rebecca Jensen's Uncle Harold, sick from his vigorous celebrations of the New Year, vomited so forcefully that he launched his false teeth into the pit and had to go toothless until he could afford a new set.
Halloween in Lake Shore meant toilet tipping: a favored occupation of the boys too old to trick-or-treat and too young to take a date to the Spook Alley Sock Hop. The activity puzzled me: who'd want to sneak through a muddy field on a cold October night, topple an outhouse, then flee the released odor and awakened owner?
I suppose a heavier three-holer could have prevented this youthful prank, unless a Boy Scout troop was involved.
I wonder if building an outhouse big enough for a party was an early indicator of our current tendency to celebrate formerly unheralded events: When my grand niece lost her first tooth, her mom invited other toddlers over for ice cream and a viewing.
Friends of mine hosted an empty-nest party when the last of their nine children left home, and I once received an invitation to a coming-out party for an acquaintance who'd had a face-lift.
Can festivities for a defeated sinus infection be far behind? Perhaps we could throw a party when the vet says the family hamster will pull through, or when no family members have been featured on America's Most Wanted.
Think of the fun we could have making merry because Grandma found her glasses or little sister returned her library book on time.
Perhaps food is to blame for our increased interest in partying. When celebrating, we eat things we normally wouldn't. After all, we can't offend the hostess by leaving the clam dip untouched or refusing the frothy drink topped with an umbrella.
I've belonged to book clubs where the liveliest and lengthiest discussion doesn't concern the books read, but the food provided.
My mother-in-law belonged to a knitters group for half a century. Twenty-five years ago they stopped pretending and left their knitting home so they could spend their time talking and eating.
And they'd stopped meeting in outhouses long before that.
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