Monday, September 16, 2013

Appalachian Outhouses Part 2 Stories - Build it Downwind of the House, Boys

Photo courtesy of Diane McHone Lloyd
For Part one click here. In Appalachia, one of the first rules I learned as a child was where to build an outhouse. I watched family find a good place down wind of the house.  Or up on the hill away from the house. Though it varied by family of where they would put their outhouse usually it was placed to avoid outhouse "smells". You could keep the aroma down by putting a cup of lime after each use or wood shavings and a vent but the best way to avoid smells leaking into the house was in where you built it. In warm weather you had to contend with flies, bees, snakes etc. I hated going to the bathroom during the day in the summer. I preferred early in the morning or late before dark in the evening. In the winter time there would not be any critters, it was just cold. Here are few of my outhouse stories.

Charlie the Black Snake
Grandpa Burress's outhouse was up on the hill and a long trek in the winter time. It was a two seat outhouse which I always found amusing. Two could use it at the same time. Probably because my grandmother and her sister would go together to the outhouse as children. It was moved a couple of times after so much use, but always on the same hillside above and to the right of the corncrib. My great grandmother would say learning to use an outhouse built character.  One of the most amusing stories about that outhouse were the visits from Charlie the black snake.

Grandpa Burress taught us never ever to kill a black snake or any non-poisonous snake. He said they kept the mice population down and when you killed the non-poisonous snakes the poisonous ones would move in. He would threaten to whip us if we bothered any black or non-poisonous snake on the property.

Charlie lived in the corn crib. He was about 6 feet long and was very familiar to us seeing him on the property. He'd be on the side of a tree or hanging down over the path or on the path just about every day. I always thought he was pretty smart.

But Charlie got too familiar with us for his own good. So much so that when he saw someone going to the outhouse he would actually climb down the wall of the corn crib and race you to the outhouse. Then he would poke his head through a hole at the bottom of the wall and literally scare the crap out of you!!  If there were screams coming from the outhouse, it was usually due to Charlie.

It got to be a game one summer to try to race the snake to the outhouse, do your business before he showed up. Sometimes he would be in there before you got there curled up on the bench and we would have to try to chase him off.

Grandma Burress tried to accommodate Grandpa's wishes until one day according to my Aunt, Little Betty Sue, Grandma had enough. Charlie coiled up to strike her and she went and got a hoe and chopped his head off. Grandma's reasoning was she was tired of fighting off a black snake every time she went to the bathroom. Grandpa didn't much like that she killed the snake, but it was grandma, and if grandma wasn't happy, no body was happy! I was glad Grandma did it because if it had been one of us, it would have been a strap to our backside!!

Terrance's Outhouse

Outhouses were not just in the country but in town too. The towns in Appalachia were built before sewer systems. In 1978 I lived in Bluefield WV in a house built in the 1890s. As a matter of fact the whole block was built before the modern sewer system was put in. Most of the houses were connected to the system in this block except one.

Terrance's house could not be hooked to the system because the old house was built on solid rock. To blast through that rock would have possibly damaged the house. They could get water to him from the block above him but they couldn't pump the sewage up hill to reach the line and there was no way to blast through the rock to get a line to the lower block. So he had an outhouse that they would pump and haul once a month. As a matter of fact Terrance told me the boys that pumped his outhouse, (what we called the "honey wagon") said there were many such houses still in town in the 70's. Because of the makeup of the ground and where these houses were located in town just could not be hooked to a modern system.

But Terrance's outhouse was a popular feature in the wintertime. Every cold spell about January or February everyone's water in those old houses would freeze when the temps dropped below zero for an extended amount of time. It was like clock work every year, sometimes lasting a week or more. The plumbing including the commodes would not work. So Terrance would charge folks 25 cents a day to use his outhouse to cover the pump and haul charge for that month. I can tell you when modern systems don't work, you appreciate the good old fashion systems that do!!

Today, just about every house on that block is gone and I would say they will not build where Terrance's house stood ever again because of the solid rock on that hillside.

The Adventure's of the Atwell Boys

I bet I could write a whole book on the adventures of my partner Eddie Atwell's family. I wrote a blog post for a book his son David Adam Atwell's wrote Appalachian Safari: A Virginia Mountain Man's tales about hunting, etc.  One of my favorite Atwell family stories is one of their outhouse tales.

Outhouse's are cold places in the wintertime. Unless you were like my friend C.C. who ran electricity for a heater and a light to hers.  Eddie and his brother had a habit of actually building a small fire on the floor in theirs in the wintertime out of the catalog pages when they were in the outhouse. They would then stamp the fire out before they left.

One morning, Ed and his brother were awakened by their father asking them,  "Which one of you damn boy's burnt down the outhouse?"  Seems their father went out to do his morning business and as he came around the wood pile, nothing was left of the outhouse but a smoldering hole.  They had their work cut out for them that day building a new one.

C.C's Outhouse
In the early 80's, I had a friend that lived in Floyd County, VA in a 1930's home. It had gravity flow water and an outhouse. The land would not "perk" to put a septic system in and it's remote location meant no town sewer service so that also was out of the question.

I took another friend to visit who had never used an outhouse in her life. But this one was quite made up.

This outhouse had a regular toilet seat, a red fuzzy seat warmer, a red rug, a framed picture on the wall, a magazine rack, a toilet paper holder and it had electricity ran to it for a light and a heater. The one who had never visited an outhouse was quite impressed.  These are pictures of the house and outhouse I'm including in this blog post.  Yes the fuzzy seat warmer is airing out.

The outhouse is to the left of the house in this picture. The car is a 1974 Trans AM 455 automatic. Could not pass a gas station it didn't like but would fly. The one in the foreground is what we called the "Falchero"  It was a Falcon that was made into a pick up truck and painted camo style.  Great to go hunting and bar hopping in.

That's it for my outhouse stories for now.

I welcome any comments and stories you may have of your own outhouse tales.