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

This is a picture of an outhouse – the explanation to follow will be for the younger grands who might listen to this story. an outhouse for those of you too young to know what it is.

Recently I recorded this story and had my youngest granddaughter listen. It soon became apparent added explanation was needed:

Miss M:  I don’t get it.
Me: Do you know what an outhouse is?
Miss M: No, this makes no sense to me.
Me:  Do you know what a well is?
Miss M: Nope!

And with that, she was on to something else that caught her attention. She’s eight. Give her a break.

So give me a minute while I explain what an outhouse and a well is.

* * * * *

An outhouse is a structure that looks like the photo above and was where we went to the bathroom when you have no bathroom in the house. You are probably wondering why we didn’t have one. It’s because there was no water in our house, not even in the kitchen sink. Which meant we also had a well, which was a because we had had none. There was no water in our house anywhere, not even in the kitchen sink. cause there was no running water in our house. Ours didn’t look quite this nice.   It is where you “go to the bathroom” when there is no bathroom in your house. Yes, you have to go outside to this little “house” out at the edge of the yard (and on the edge of the woods in our case.)

This story was prompted by a phone call from my son who was having cream with two of his boys who didn’t believe him that grandma had an outhouse when she was a child and no electricity. he picked up the phone and called me. I assured him we had an outhouse and yes, we did have electricity. How do they think I am, anyway.

There I was – a blond-haired four-year-old living in the deep south community of Dixie, Alabama in the early 1950s. 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, with no 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 at that time. You can still see some of these homes as you drive through the south today. Below you can see the brick pillars that held up our front porch as we found them in 2018.

Remains of our Dixie house as we found them in the spring of 2018

There was, however, the required outhouse with weathered wood that had probably never seen the flat side of a 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, and finally past the 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, and scamper onto the seat, almost hovering. Back out 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.

Reflections of Carol all-grown-up:
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 my 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.

* * * * * *
More outhouse memories: A couple of 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 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 one 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.

* * * * * * * * *

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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