Thursday, April 27, 2006

Outhouse Stories

Before my grandmother got indoor plumbing, we had to use an outhouse out beyond the chicken yard. Do people even have chicken yards anymore? We had one then. During the day this was precarious enough, given the obstacles. What obstacles you ask? Well, mean roosters for one. My grandma had an old Rhode Island Red rooster that wasn't afraid of dogs or kids. That damn thing attacked me enough times that I started carrying a stick.

This picture must have been taken sometime in the 40s. Sitting are Bud and Minnie Droddy, with their boys behind them: left to right: Addis, I.T., and Pert. Behind them is the house my grandpa built with the help of the boys and other members of the family.

The second obstacle of terror was chicken shit. Like so many kids growing up in rural East Texas and Western Louisiana, shoes were something worn (1) to church, (2) to school, or (3) on cold days in the Winter. As a child, there were two things I feared more than death. First, stepping in chicken shit, and second, kicking over my grandmother's snuff can. Oh, lord save me from either of those.

During daylight hours, the best defense against chicken shit was alertness. Tell that to a six-year-old. My vigilence didn't usually begin until after I'd stepped in a pile of it, and then didn't last but a week or so. That was during daylight hours.

Nighttime brought a whole new bag of terror. While the rooster was shut away in the hen house, there was still the obstacle course of chicken shit to negotiate in the dark! If you woke up in the middle of the night and had to go, there was a slop jar, sometimes called a honeybucket by more refined folk, but it had to be late at night or the weather had to be bad to use the slop jar. Let me tell you what, I learned control very early on.

Once in the outhouse, a whole new set of terrors emerged: spiders and snakes. Reckon there's such a thing as "outhouse phobia"? I'll tell you one result: to this day, I am the world's fastest when it comes to taking care of business, if you catch my drift. I am in an out in about three minutes, maximum.

Toilets came in several sizes. There were one-seaters, two-seaters, and even occasional three-seaters. I guess we were a lot more social in our business back in those days. Toilet paper existed, of course, but when you're as poor as we were, improvisation was often necessary That's where the Sears and Roebuck catalogue came in. Not the best toilet paper in the world, in fact, it ain't even the second or third best. Some people talk about dried corn cobs, but I guess we were richer than they were.

Indoor plumbing came to mama's house in 1957. Her old 4-room house built by my grandfather in the late 30s or early 40s, was deemed dangerous by my uncle I.T., so mama got a Downey Brothers house built for $5400. We were finally rich. My prayers finally had been answered. No more outhouses.

I'm Back

I haven't written much this past year or so due to other priorities. This blog gets a lot of traffic as a result of internet searches, and occasionally I get emails from distant cousins looking to connect their family lines to our core families. Those are the more gratifying. Sometimes I get emails telling me to go to hell, or calling me an asshole, some even telling me to go f--k myself. I know I must be doing something right when I get those kind.

When I started writing this blog, my hope was to remember as many stories from my grandmother that I could, and was hoping that my memory of stories would trigger the memories of others. If you remember one detail as a result of any of the stories here, then I have done well. My mother's people were illiterate for the first 150 years of their history. As a result, we don't have as many details about their lives as we might like to have. We have to resort more to oral history which gets changed with each telling. Add to that television and movies, internet legends and such, and our oral history is now so badly distorted that very little truth remains.

I don't think it matters ultimately. We Southerners are gifted storytellers. Even if much of what we remember and tell is more myth than truth, it is still shaped by our memories of our grandparents and the values we inherited from them. Many of our new stories may not be as accurate as they should be, but we tell the stories we have, not the ones we wish we had.

I have a few more tales and memories to go.