I bet not one of my grandkids has any idea what an outhouse is. I remember, all too well, the old outhouse at my Grandma’s house in Silver City, Utah. It was a small wooden shed about four feet square, sitting behind grandma’s house in the back yard. Built over a deep pit, the outhouse had a door in the front. Inside was a bench with two holes for sitting on and doing your business. There were old Montgomery Ward catalogs to read while sitting there, and they could be used afterwards for cleanup. It was not a pleasant smelling place, so I made my trips there as short as possible. Usually, my mom or grandma came along with me because as a small child, I was afraid of falling in. Sometimes lime was sprinkled in the pit to cut odors or the inside of the outhouse scrubbed with lye.
Outhouses were notorious as an object of Halloween pranks in my mom’s day. Several mischievous teenage boys would descend in the dark upon an outhouse, turn it over or move it somewhere else––like onto a barn roof. That was supposed to be hilariously funny, but not for the owners who had an urgent need for their outhouses. If the urge came in the night or if it was cold or stormy weather outside, every body had chamber pots under their beds. These, of course, needed to be emptied the next morning in the outhouse by someone ––usually mom. Things like toilets and running water in pipes that we take for granted these days were luxuries unimagined in my grandma’s day.
An absolutely essential part of any household, outhouses disappeared when indoor plumbing became popular and modern flush toilets were introduced to the rural areas. Grandma’s youngest daughter Ethel, after she married, was the one to buy a new toilet for her mom. It was installed inside in a small clothes closet in the corner of Grandma’s bedroom. A septic tank was dug in the backyard to collect the wastewater from the toilet, and the household water was plumbed in pipes to connect the house to the septic tank. Before this time all waste water from the kitchen sink had been hauled outside in buckets and emptied. Grandma was thrilled when she finally had a kitchen drain and an indoor flush toilet that worked. You thought she’d won the lottery!
(Photos: Uncle Norman in front of the outhouse in Silver City, and my Grandma Johnson.)