Perhaps you are of the same generational company that I am and have vivid memories of the outdoor toilet facilities – outhouses. It would make for a humorous discussion around the campfire I’m sure! My mind goes back to several that I will relate to you.
My earliest memory was sitting in one and looking at pictures in the Sears mail order catalog and swatting flies and mosquitos in the late 1950s. The catalog served two purposes, entertainment and necessary toilet paper. Thankfully, it was not all color pages back then!
A funny memory comes to me from the year of 1976. We were avid and adventurous outdoor fanatics and slept in tents more than houses in that season of my life. A decision to climb Mt. McKinley (Denali), with four hang gliders and their pilots, became our goal of that year. Our group consisted of two guides, two girls, four hang glider pilots, one alternate pilot and two photographers. We spent 36 days in the high altitude, barren expanse of the slopes of Denali. That is the backdrop for my memory!
Nights on the glacier expanse were not pleasant. The average night that summer was between 20 and 30 degrees below zero on the mountain. The winds were always blustering to spike that temperature down several degrees and the spind drift made camp life interesting…especially at “The Outhouse Hole!”
It was necessary to dig very deep to make sure that the human waste was not exposed later for the other teams ascending the same route. Therefore, imagine a hole dug down about five to six feet with nice foot shelves on either side of the prepared hole. Now further imagine how the steps disintegrate during the camp stay, into a death defying icy chute. To add to the dismay, or is it humor of the situation, picture the slippery polar guard camp booties of the day that one uses around camp. Can you see it?
Well, one night I had to get up and visit “The Outhouse Hole.” I am sure I lay there for hours before I had the courage to face it. So, in the dark, with a flashlight in my teeth, howling winds, at least twenty degrees below zero, I found it and was perched at the top of the chute. Once in motion, it was like a toboggan ride. The dangers were not getting your feet spread out quick enough to land on the foot shelves before landing in a heap in the Hole. I am proud to say, because of a downhill racing background, I succeeded. But it was a bit too exhilarating for comfort! Night visits were avoided if at all possible.
My next memory was our home in Talkeetna, Alaska. New tenants of a one-room house (shack), we had inherited the ORIGINAL outhouse. It was the most detestable contraption I had ever laid eyes on! The structure was made out of unpeeled spruce poles. Twenty years later, the bark was now infested with critters and it was falling off randomly. The poles had a two-inch layer of moss on them that grew across the platform where a chipped enamel seat resided. Under the platform (you better believe I looked!) there was moss between two and six inches thick crawling with spiders and zillions of bugs. Besides all that, the whole outhouse was leaning precariously backwards, literally threatening to fall into its own hole.
Topping it off, I was pregnant with our first child, so my loving husband promised me a new outhouse. As fall neared, he came to me and told me we could not afford the lumber. I broke down and wept, then reminded him, YOU PROMISED!
True love! He borrowed the money from his parents and built me the classiest outhouse in the whole region. It had a fiberglass greenhouse roof that let the light in. The walls were not only clean two by fours and plywood but painted a brilliant white. He put shag carpet on the floor and part way up the walls. The crowning glory of the design was the antique six-panel window that looked straight out into the backyard. You felt like you were out in the wilderness (which we were)! His final touch was a plastic insulated toilet seat that would not freeze to your backside in the winter months. We put on a caribou antler for the door handle and a nifty door latch that you pulled with a string. I was proud of my outdoor facilities and at peace with the world.
My friend, Cindy Jones, liked the improvement so much she actually bought a guest book for my outhouse. It was a good thing she did, because the information in it saved my antique window from certain destruction.
One night we were having a small town potluck and prayer meeting. It was a cold winter night and the snow was piled six feet high. A single guy, Peter Chapman, went out to the outhouse with a flashlight. Unfortunately, when he entered, the nifty latch that I mentioned earlier flipped down on the outside and trapped him inside.
He claims he yelled and yelled, but with no success. He decided to examine the window to see if he could take it out. Recognizing it as an old East Coast model, and, being a carpenter from the East, he did not want to break it. He had been trapped for forty-five minutes in the dark Alaskan cold and was about to break the window anyway, when he sat down to think.
He picked up the guest book and began reading all of the entries. He came upon one that solved his dilemma. It said, “If you are reading this, you may want to know that there is a string up in the corner. Pull on it and it will open the outside latch. Good to know! Cindy Jones, Haines, Alaska. Nov., 1983.”
Memories like the above cause me to be fond of the two-bathroom modular that I now live in! Ultimate luxury!
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