Outhouse memories

The outhouse in the heat of summer was another matter.

Outhouse memories

Up until I was about 10 years old our time-tested method of getting rid of bowel movements was in the pit toilet (outhouse), a very “organic” way of dealing with the problem. In Nakusp, our little house was located out behind the pigpen. The location was a good one because the smells from the pigs certainly overpowered any smells arriving from the outhouse.

Outhouses are two seasonal, namely, winter and summer. In winter, it was alwasy an unpleasant rush through frost and snow, made necessary by various degrees of urgency. Now, if you have never sat your bare butt down on a frosty wooden board in a small smelly, windy, unheated building, be it only briefly, you cannot fathom the experience. I used to try to stay elevated an inch or two above the icy board, which too, some athletic ability.

There was no fancy little roll of soft white paper to finish off the job, but rather a collection of magazines, newspapers, and catalogues. If you were unlucky enough to arrive when only the shiny pages remained, the agony was prolonged. At Christmas time the little squares of sof colourful wrapping around each Japanese orange were hoarded in private caches to ease the discomfort of being caught with shiny pages in the outhouse. I even know of a family where one of the younger kids grabbed a cream cheque, the handiest thing around when in his dire need, and used it. This was actually retrieved, cleaned up and cashed! The advantages of winter time was that the smells seemed to be less intense, there were no flies, and the stay was shorter.

The outhouse in the heat of summer was another matter. First of all, there were flies attracted by the pungent aroma that no doubt stirred their gastric juices and drew them from afar to the fly smogasbord under the little house out behind the pigpen. The ones that were constantly there in summer seemed to by flying around in a stupour, crashing into walls, which should have indicated to us humans that the air was suspect. It wasn’t so much the flies in the uppper part of the outhouse that was disgusting, especially if you thought about where they had likely just been walking around. It was the sounds of mosquitoes and bees buzzing around under the seat in proximity to your very exposed private parts.

For a few seconds at least, at the peak of the voiding, there is a semi-orgasimc sense of relief and satisfaction and nothing else seems to matter. Then you hear the flies again and realize that there are only shiny pages left in the Sears Catalogue beside you. Certainly no one lingered for long in the outhouse. I tried to hold my breath during the whole episode but always had to go for seconds.

I did marvel at the ingenious locking device in various outhouses — little pieces of bent wire hooked over a nail head, large wooden buttons that never stayed in place or a sliding contraption that doesn’t quite line up with a slot…and who’s to keep out? There was never a lineup. Of course, one could always cough or hum to let others know you were inside.

I could never understand by some outhouses had two holes in the seat. They were called two-holers. Never thought about taking a friend in with me. Maybe it was incorporated as a one-upsmanship thing in the neighbourhoodl

Long after the pigpen was gone and a new shop was constructed on the site and we had indoor plumbing in the house, my dad still made his daily trek to the old outhouse. As long as the old dilapidated “biffy” was still usable he could be seen trekking out with a page or two of the Nelson Daily News or the Winnipeg Prairie Farmer tucked under his arm. I guess old habits die hard after a lifetime of outhousing.

Don Elder


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