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Across the Fence: Outhouse Adventures

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I said a few weeks ago, that the outhouse deserved its own story. Unless you’re Amish, only those of you with a few years under your belt can appreciate the importance of the outhouse. Or more importantly, we can appreciate the invention of indoor plumbing.

I can’t imagine anyone not being familiar with the term "outhouse" or "two-holer," but just in case, I’ll offer a brief description for the uninformed. An outhouse was a small, wooden structure, containing a wooden seat with two holes cut in it, and positioned over a pit dug in the ground. The building served as a toilet and was set away from the main house. This toilet had no soft toilet paper, did not flush, and was not attached to a sewer. It was hot and infested with flies and spiders in the summer, and was beastly cold in the winter.

Who can forget a trip to the two-holer in the dead of winter when it was ten below zero and the wind was howling. On the positive side, at least we didn’t know about wind chill temperatures back then, or we’d really have thought it was cold. The door on our outhouse didn’t fit very tight and a stiff wind would blow snow through the cracks and deposit it on the seats. You get the picture. You’ve probably been there and experienced that type of adventure. I can tell you one thing; we didn’t take a paper or magazine along to read while we were doing our business in the winter!

Speaking of reading, my old army buddy, Big Lee, who now lives in California, calls my books the outhouse books. He said he takes one with to the bathroom. They’re just the right length to read one story while doing his duties. I told him I should call my next book "The Outhouse Book," and dedicate it to him.

That also reminds me, when we arrived in Vietnam, we went ashore at Qui Nhon and were taken to a nearby airfield. While waiting on the airstrip to be flown into the Central Highlands, we needed to take a bathroom break. The "latrine" was a long, wooden building. The inside was just like a two holer, except this one had to be at least a twenty-holer. Several of us went in and sat down on a hole. We were tending to business when a Vietnamese woman entered and sat down on an open hole next to me. We all glanced at her and at each other. Were we in the wrong outhouse? The young woman completed her duties, got up, smiled at us, and left. We all busted out laughing. What kind of country and culture had we arrived in? The army had neglected to inform us about such things. That’s one outhouse that even a strong guy like Big Lee couldn’t have tipped over.

Outhouses and the tipping of them, go hand in hand with Halloween. I suspect many of you could regale me with stories of your exploits. I recently heard about one man who was tired of having his outhouse tipped over every Halloween. One year he decided to sit inside and wait for the pranksters to come along. When he heard them outside, he threw open the door and fired his shotgun into the air. The outhouse tippers scattered in every direction and disappeared into the night. I don’t imagine they tried tipping any more outhouses that year.

Another man who wanted to remain anonymous, for obvious reasons, told about being along on a tipping party in his youth. It was a rainy Halloween night and when they tipped the outhouse, he slipped in the mud, lost his balance, and ended up in the pit! That was his last outhouse-tipping adventure.

One thing I had never thought about was the proximity of lilac bushes to an outhouse. A man brought this to my attention during my book signing at Black River Falls. When I started asking other people about this, several of them remembered lilacs bushes or even hedges of them nearby. We also had a very large lilac bush behind our house. It was close to where the outhouse stood before we moved it, after the "pit" filled up. I suspect it had been even closer to the bush at one time. For you non-outhouse people, we couldn’t just flush an outhouse like you do with a modern day toilet. When the hole filled up, you dug a new pit and moved the outhouse. But back to those lilac bushes. They must have provided a little concealment and they smell good when they’re in blossom, even if it’s only for a couple weeks. Goodness knows every outhouse could use a little air freshener near it.

I don’t want to raise a stink about the use of outhouses, but how come we can’t stick one in the back yard any more? The Amish can still use them. Not that I want to sit out there when it’s twenty below zero and the wind is howling across Coon Prairie. But, it sure is a lot cheaper to dig a hole and put an outhouse over it than it is to install an expensive, government-inspected septic system here in the country.

On the positive side, at least we don’t have to worry about someone tipping over our septic system on Halloween.

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