Monday, November 7, 2016

Of Outhouses and New Fangled Things

On a certain level this is a story of plumbing or rather the lack there of, but it is much more than that. It is a story of origins, of family, of where I came from. It is a story about my father, of his life, and of his humor. To understand, to fully appreciate what I am about to tell, you need the historical context. My parents were born into a world that is much different than the one we live in today. The years of their origination and development that lead them to who they were and the lives they lead in their roles as parents were a mystery to me. They grew up during the Great Depression. The 1940's saw my Dad enlisted in the army and sailing on a liberty ship to an uncertain future in Italy and later Germany in the last days of World War II. Meanwhile my mother went to work at Bell Aircraft as a secretary. I have a general, text book knowledge of those years, but that doesn't really tell you what life was like. One thing I do have are stories. Those things Mom and Dad would tell us over the years. Memories of memories is really all they are. But they are precious to me and I cherish all I can remember.
My parents were born in south Georgia not so very far from each other. Dad in Richland, Mom in Fort Valley. I have never been to Richland. I really should go. I have been to Fort Valley. I have also been to Americus where family on my father's side lived and live to this day. The last time through Fort Valley was with my Mom. Things had not changed so very much. It is little more than a crossing of roads that run straight as a plumb line through endless lines of fields past wooden frame farm houses. Everywhere you look you see red clay. Red clay dirt roads, red clay in the fields, red clay showing through sparse grass surrounding cemeteries beside wood frame churches.

Among the handful of stories of those days is one my Dad told me more than once. I even prompted him to tell it again while we were playing golf. One of the things that was a common feature to both my parents childhoods was the outhouse. Now I have used an outhouse on occasion. One of the things that got me about that was the fact that some are single user affairs while other are two seaters. Not typically the most elegant place to do one's business either. Especially among the dirt poor.
I would imagine, as with other things, some folks had better facilities. According to what I have read having a two seater was a sign of relative affluence.
Obviously having an opulent outdoor crapper isn't something the neighbors would fail to notice. In those days a brick shit house must have been something of a wonder and the source of much gossip down at the local barbershop.
Which leads me to my story. No matter how poor a community is there are always things that separate the haves from the have nots. Having and not having is a relative thing. That has not changed and no matter what, I think it will never change. In rural Georgia of the 1930's one of those things appears to be plumbing. In the Richland Georgia of my Dad's childhood there was one family that people looked upon as being rich. So when it was announced this family was having a bathroom installed, complete with running water and a toilet, in the house it became a point of much conversation and excitement.

While I am sure gossip was practiced where ever two or more would gather, in Richland the local nexus of masculine gossip was the local barbershop. It was there my Dad as a young boy learned about the entire affair as he listened to talk about this wondrous happening. As Dad said most folks spoke of this in terms of amazement, wonder, and perhaps more than just a little envy. But not everyone. As talk began to spiral out of control one of the older men spoke as a man making a pronouncement would. As reported to me this is what this elderly gentleman had to say.

"Well, I don't know about you but that is the nastiest thing I ever heard. I don't care how much money I had, I would never take a shit in the house."

Which just goes to show there is always more than one way of looking at a thing.

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