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April 21, 2021

The outhouse and the apple tree

By John Witalison

Special to the Salisbury Post

Whoever built the outhouse at the home place took pride in their work. The one-seater had hand-hewn shingles on the sides and roof. It featured a wooden floor with a sturdy door that opened inwards insuring a certain level of comfort and privacy.

A small window, a little larger than a person’s face, was cut out of one wall, high enough so you could not see in or out while seated but just the right height to look out if standing. I imagine this feature was added to let the heat (and smell) out during the heat of the summer. Unfortunately, it also let in the cold and snow in winter. That probably didn’t bother my Swedish ancestors as much as the generations to follow.

By the time I got to know the outhouse, I was the fourth generation to use it and it had seen better days. It was fine to use during the day but at night you had to go out the back door of the house, down a small alley between the house and the building that served as both the pump house and milk house. Once clear of the buildings you had to walk about 20 yards under a set of apple trees to the edge of the lawn where the outhouse stood.

Many nights it was a tough choice: head to the outhouse alone, in the dark, or use the little covered bucket in the unused downstairs bedroom. Our family is known for strong bladders and sphincter muscles because most often we just chose to wait until there was morning light.

Usually nobody was concerned about using the outhouse during the day but for about a two-week period in late summer that all changed.

The apple tree had nice green apples. The family also had three mischievous boys and a couple cousins that fell into step for any mischief. We waited. Grown-ups were usually safe, but if my younger sister made it to the outhouse we pounced.

Many apples dropped from the tree on their own but many more were in reach. Ready ammunition to aim for that face-sized hole in the side of the wall. Once the door was closed, we boys took our turns flinging as many apples as we could through that hole. If the shot was good, you could hear the apple ricochet inside and my sister yell at the top of her lungs. We were relentless and I have to say, our aim was usually good.

If she tried to escape, because the door opened inward, it was just a larger target. When either we tired of the game or her tears and screams became too loud, we would finally let her out and then run for our lives as she tried to catch us.

Other times we would dare one of us to volunteer to enter the outhouse. That person would try to keep their face in the hole as long as possible without being hit. Inevitably, when someone got hit hard enough to cry or threaten “to tell,” the game was over.

Eventually this grand old house was replaced by a newer two-holer (I wonder why it had two holes because no two people ever went in together). It was solid but had no windows and the door opened outward. It was also placed just a little farther from the apple trees.

On a side note: My mother wrote a little poem that was placed inside the newer outhouse. It went like this: “This little house we call our own. We’d like to keep it neat. So please be kind to our behind and don’t poop on the seat.”

John Witalison is an artist and designer who lives in rural Gold Hill.

 

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