When I was 16 I calculated that I had lived about an equal number of days with “in-houses” as I had with “out-houses.” I am not sure what teen aged math led me to that equation but I have never forgotten about it. This weekend we accidentally built what looks like a classy four holer for our back yard.
I have had the opportunity to use some fine outhouses in my life. The most memorable may be Tubby and Lulu, a southern classic that resided on the far side of Camp Martha Johnson in middle Georgia. Tubby and Lulu did not get much use since campers did not spend much time on that side of camp. Nonetheless, each day they had to have a cup of lime deposited in the business end and the outhouse and the floors and walls had to be scrubbed down with a bucket of water and Lysol. For some reason I never minded the job so it was mine often during the five summers I spent at CMJ. The most memorable story of Tubby and Lulu was of the day one of the campers who was a pain to be around got stung on the behind by a wasp that resided under the lid of Tubby. Thankfully she was fine but her exit from the facility was a fine show for all of us.
Back in the 1970s the Dartmouth College Outing Club maintained a shelter on the Appalachian Trail that sported a 4 holer with library books and antique Windsor chairs for seats. In the 1990s when I was a faculty at Dartmouth I realized that there was such a ridiculous level of riches at Dartmouth that stage props that had been sitting in the back storage for 200 years could be priceless antiques and that chopping the legs off of antique hand made chairs seemed reasonable since there was a whole store room full of extra ones left from a classroom update in 1840.
Another of my favorite outhouses is also in New England and belongs to family friends. They have fur seats so when you have to pad out of the house and through the shed to the attached outhouse not only do you get to avoid the north wind, you are rewarded with a fake fur fanny warmer upon which to sit. The library and the view are not too shabby either.
The outhouses on my grandparent’s ranch were humble and hot and, consequently, locations one was not wont to linger like New England. But, thinking of my grandparents and outhouses reminds me of the story of my grandmother’s fussy city cousin who accidentally dropped her 1950s alligator handbag in an outhouse behind a service station in South Alabama. The story was that she came boiling around the corner, one hand on her hat to hold it on her head waving the other yelling, “Somebody’s got get my purse.” All the country people rolled their eyes until she told them there was $500 in the bag and she would give $100 to anyone who would fish it out. As the story goes, a whole lot of fishermen suddenly showed up.
Somewhere, saved in electronic format from the fire, is a photo of my mom and my spouse posing in front of a two holer at a fishing spot near our house when we lived in Alaska. The “Ladies” side was marked Dollies (a female salmon) and the “Mens” side “Chums” (a male salmon).
When we built our four holer here at the Montana house it was entirely by accident. And, there are no holes to accompany the little houses so while it may look like we have outdoor plumbing, in reality, we have garden storage sheds.
We never seem to have enough space for the accumulated yard stuff. We have 9 foot long bamboo poles for the bean plants that have yielded over 100 pounds of green beans this summer. We have tomato cages and hoops to keep out bugs. We have season extenders that must come down for the winter and go back up in the spring. We have shovels, irrigation parts, wheel barrows and hoses. From April to September it does not seem like a lot. In September when it is time to pack it all away it is a huge amount. We set out to build one large storage shed but the space we could reasonably build it dictated that it was smaller than what could hold everything. I found two 3 x 5 lean-to garden sheds on sale and we thought that could help. Unfortunately, they were damaged in shipping so we ended up with two sets of garden shed parts. The company was kind enough to refund all of our money and they told us to keep the parts for our trouble.
Never leave parts around me. Parts will become something. In this case, with left over scrap wood and a gaggle of stray screws along with some concrete blocks and rebar, we built one 3 by almost 10 foot shed with four doors that looks for all the world like a family sized outhouse.
We still have to anchor them to the ground to assure they don’t tip over in the Montana winter but we now have an amusing addition to our backyard. I can hardly wait to invite guests to step out on the back porch. I just have to figure out just how to word it so that I imply I am inviting them to use the outdoor plumbing without actually telling them it is. I am going to install some solar panels on the roofs to catch enough rays to keep batteries charged for our wintertime interludes without power. Somewhere there is a metaphor for a solar powered outhouse that is not actually an outhouse. Hopefully I can sit and contemplate it this winter.
In remembrance of those whose lives were touched by September 11