Ode to the Little House

Posted by By at 19 October, at 11 : 59 AM Print

I was raised an outdoors kind of guy. Even for that? you ask. Yes, even for that. When I was a lad, the running water was a hand pump about 50 yards in one direction from the kitchen door. It ran faster in winter than summer because if you didn’t hustle in winter it was likely to freeze before you got the pail inside.

The “facilities” were about 100 yards in the other direction, and therein lies the tale.

I told my granddaughter one recent night about using an outhouse when I was her age, and how I sometimes sat reading a Reader’s Digest and how occasionally a moose would happen by and watch me watching her.

“You mean you did your bathroom in public?” Granddaughter asked incredulously.

I lived about three miles from a town in one direction and the same distance from another town in the other direction; there actually was no public to do my bathroom in. The outhouse had a door, but there wasn’t the need to close it that there is for someone who has lived her life in apartments and housing developments, where the neighbor is on the other side of a wall or 20 feet of grass and moose rarely happen by.

On the other hand, Granddaughter’s facilities always are warm. In my kid-hood, the winter morning game among my brother, sister and me was to be at least the second person out of bed. Had someone the previous eve left something warm and steamy in the little house, it would have cooled overnight into a crystalline ring you wanted someone else to melt away come morning.

But in Spring, Summer and Fall it was what many people, even those whose facilities are indoors, call “the reading room.” I read Reader’s Digest cover to cover, traveling from continent to continent, laughing with people as they explained to city folks they couldn’t find their house keys because they never locked the doors.

By the time I was 12 – the year we finally got our first television – I’d read a slew of books by such authors as Leon Uris and Frederick Forsyth from the Reader’s Digest Condensed Books to which Mom subscribed – four or five books poured like condensed soup behind a single label. Of all the books, the one that made the greatest impression was “Peaceable Lane,” about a black family moving into a white upper middle class development. It is a story that should be required reading for junior high kids even today.

A lot has changed over the years, not the least being where we “do our bathroom.” A friend in Maine with whom I often went wandering in the woods, called me one day several years ago about something she’d found. About 45 minutes or so from the vehicle, she pointed. It was the stone foundation of a long-collapsed log home.

A stream flowed past one side, and the stones clearly indicated a room over the stream.

“What’s that about,” she asked.

“Ah!” I said to my mostly suburbanite friend. “That’s indoor facilities with running water.”

“E-e-w-w-w,” she replied. Or something like that.

Of course, the nearest neighbor, when that foundation was built, was a couple miles away. That was sufficient to clean the water. We live much too close together now for that to work.

Unfortunately, too many of us are like my granddaughter, with little experience to believe there is land yet existing for hiking, water for swimming and drinking, and clear skies where the Milky Way and light from stars millions of years dead still rushes blindly toward us.

Some would call those the “good old days.” Childhood is always, or should be always, the good old days.

On the other hand, I no longer have a brother or sister handy to warm the seat on a winter morn, so I’m thankful the facilities now are indoors.

Photo by Travis S.


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This post was written by:
- who has written 169 posts for Rock The Capital
John Messeder is an award winning journalist with more than 35 years experience writing about education, environment and local government issues. He has lived in Maine, Florida, California and Alaska, and, by temporary turns, numerous places in between. John also is an accomplished photographer, and avid hiker, conservationist, oral history buff, and author of several books he has not yet got 'round to writing. He lives in Adams County, Pa., just over a hill from Gettysburg, with his wife and Golden Retriever. He may be contacted at john@JohnMesseder.com - Email jmesseder

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