Outhouses, Snakes, Wolves and a Four-year Old’s Imagination

Luxurious compared to the one I remember!   (Photo by Amy Reed on Upsplash)

There I was – a blond-haired four year old living in the deep south community of Dixie, Alabama in the early 1950’s. My family, consisting of me and my parents, had just moved from a modern upstairs apartment in south central Pennsylvania with running water and a bathroom, to our “new” southern house, without running water and no bathroom.

Nestled in the trees on the edge of the Conecuh National Forest, our wooden frame house was built up off the ground, resting on brick pillars as was the custom in the south then. There was, however, the required outhouse with weathered wood that had probably never seen the flat side of paintbrush, tucked at the far end of the yard, at the edge of the woods, down a path past the open well where we drew all our water with a bucket, past an old half-falling-over shed.

My four-year old self was convinced there were snakes in the smelly pit of the outhouse, just waiting to snatch me down the hole, and wolves slinking around behind, waiting to drag me into the woods. I would wait as long as my four-year old bladder could stand, then run as fast as my four-year old legs could carry me down that path, pigtails flying, heart beating wildly, with fear in the pit of my stomach.

I’d reach the door, open it, scamper onto the seat, almost hovering. Back out the the door I would go, running up that same path, past the old half-falling-over shed, past the open well and up the steps to the safety of the big back porch, high off the ground.

No snakes made their appearance. I never saw wolves. They were only real in my four-year old mind, but oh, how real I believed them to be.

Fears can be like that. Sometimes they are not real and yet, they feel real. I have wondered if I told my Mother and Daddy how scared I was. Perhaps I didn’t.

Since then, I have learned not to keep fears locked up inside myself. I shared them with my parents and now, even as a Grandma I share my fears with my friends. No one needs to be afraid, alone.

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More outhouse memories: A couple years later we lived in another house with no running water or bathroom.. This outhouse was no better than the first. Happily, after we moved there, my Grandparents, Sam and Annie Longenecker paid us a visit.  Grandpa built a brand spanking new outhouse – a two holer. Years later I asked my mom why there were two holes. Simple – the bigger one was for an adult and the smaller for a child.

It wasn’t as far from the house and it wasn’t at the edge of the woods. I didn’t mind this outhouse.  Maybe by that time, I  was used to them and didn’t mind so much. In fact, we were quite proud of our fine-looking outhouse, probably the newest one around.

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I have a renewed commitment to writing stories (not just thinking about it) for my Grandchildren about my life and things I have learned as I participate in a Zoom class with Leslie Leyland Fields, teaching from her Book,Your Story Matters: Finding, Writing, and Living the Truth of Your Life,   

These last couple of weeks, the prompts have taken me back to some of my childhood experiences.  As I write them, I think of my grands and great grands reading and finding out more about their Grandma. This week, the prompt was “Encountering Nature” and included animal life.  I remembered this story I had written years ago. I found it, “dusted” it off and followed the style of our assignment.  My almost 18 year old grandson got a chuckle out of it.

Stick around, and you’ll hear some more stories as I write them, interspersed with my reflections on the life I’m now living.


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