The Farm Chronicles: The Outhouse

When you live on a farm that has been in the family since around 1818, there are a lot of upgrades that happen over the years. Starting out as a 1 ½ story, three-room cabin homestead built with 4-inch thick planks pegged together as walls for protection against weather and hostiles, the house was added onto over the many years. By 1949, the farmhouse had a second story, living room, two additional bedrooms and a very crude 2-bare-wire electricity snaking through the house across porcelain insulators. Once in a while, a mouse or some other varmint, would climb across the electric wires and meet its end, leaving behind a very definable stench. One thing that had not been added by 1949 was indoor plumbing.

We had several wells out an about on the property. A couple of them are still good even to this day. But the water would be carried from these wells for use in the kitchen. I remember my mother telling stories of how shocked she was when she and Dad were first married in 1940 and she moved to the farm. There had been no woman there since around 1928 when my father’s mother, my grandmother, was killed in a car accident. The overall welfare of the farm was left to my grandfather and father for maintenance and care-taking. I only can imagine from what I was told that these two men were not much interested in housekeeping. A heap of cans and general trash formed a natural pile within throwing distance of the back porch. Years later, in my teens in the 1970’s, Dad and I built a corral where that old trash pile once was.

We were picking up cans and pieces of glass rising to the top for years. It was great incentive to never get thrown from a horse in that corral. Mom became a clean freak, and I can only guess the job she faced when they were first married. In 1949, with two young boys (I didn’t come along until 1955), it was becoming increasingly difficult to live in a house with no indoor plumbing. But one thing for certain, the Wilson’s probably had one of the nicest outhouses in the township. It was a two-seater with a nice door, a vent, painted white with red trim. Mom and Dad were really proud of that outhouse. We didn’t have many pictures of them posing in front of the house, or the barn, or the garden.

But we do have old picture of them in front of the outhouse–Mom dressed in her Sunday best dress, dress shoes, and fashionable 1940’s wool coat, and Dad in a big 10-gallon cowboy hat, checkered flannel shirt, dress pants and galoshes; both of them smiling from ear to ear with “Carl and Thelma Wilson Circa 1949” hand-written on the back of the photo. Around the time I was born, Dad organized a crew to put in a septic system in the cover of darkness (to avoid paying the county for a permit) and overnight we had indoor plumbing. Zechariah 4:10 says, “For who has despised the day of small things? For these seven rejoice to see the plumb line in the hand of Zerubbabel.” I don’t know about seven rejoicing, but I’m sure my mother was elated to see the plumbers lining up to work on that indoor bathroom and kitchen sink.

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Bill Wilson