THE OUTHOUSE ON THE FARM

      A Memory by Mildred Filbrun Heck   

I have just read yet another article about young adults who actually find old "Outhouses"  or  "Privies " of great interest.  So great is the interest that outhouses once used on every  farm are being bought as collectible  items at prices far above the original cost.  

When I was a younger adult I too collected all sorts of old curious country pieces.  But even I now see collectors who wish to own one of those smelly, little old privies as not only very odd but also downright weird. Those outhouse articles have brought back memories of the early 1900s which doubtless helped me form this opinion.  

I am now 81 and I grew up on a farm as well as in seven other rural houses.  All had that very necessary outhouse setting in a convenient spot in the back yard.  One particular experience has remained vividly in my memory. The farm of my youth was located on the northeast corner of Old Troy Pike and Shull Road in Wayne Township (now Huber Heights) in  Ohio.

My family (parents, Ed & Sue Filbrun, my older brother, Bob, & I) moved to that farm about 1915.  It was said our father rebuilt and painted the existing old wooden outhouse.  It sat in an open space near the vegetable garden, about 100 feet from the rear door of the summer kitchen.  (The summer kitchen was an unheated room at the back of the house and used for cooking only in the summer to keep the main house cooler.)

Our outhouse, like most, had a half- moon opening cut in the door.  Additional small ventilation openings were cut on both side walls.  However, these were totally useless for those little privies were airless and hot as hell all summer and freezing cold all winter.  In summer we fought the flies, wasps and hornets.  In winter we often surprised a mouse or an occasional raccoon when we opened the door.

Inside our outhouse were two large open seats for adult use, and a smaller child’s seat about a foot off the floor. An old Sears Catalog was the only toilet paper ever used in our privy. For many years I believed that toilet paper everywhere was last years Sears Catalog. Our Dad told us it had to last until the new catalog arrived.  

During the winter months we kids raced to the privy first thing each morning in our bare feet and nightclothes.  Those cold early morning trips in rain or snow were made in record time.  Dad told us the snow was good for our feet. To this day I go outside to pick up  the morning paper in bare feet no matter how deep the snow.   (Believe me, that helps you not take for granted your fully carpeted, centrally-heated home!)

Every fall after our father harvested the crops from the fields and just before the arrival of really cold weather, Mother persistently - and often impatiently - reminded our Dad that the pit under the outhouse must be cleaned out before a hard freeze.  I remember so well how  Dad would growl and complain and put it off time and again.  

Dad loved farming even with all the many dirty, smelly jobs it entailed.  A farm with its many animals of all kinds was really just one big manure factory. 

We kids often wondered how Dad could always sing as he rode off to the fields with a big smelly load of barn manure in his spreader.  Why then did he make such a fuss about cleaning out that little outhouse pit, we would ask?  Dad would only reply, "You will understand when you are a little older.”  

Dad firmly reminded us that we must never forget that the farm fields provided all the food for the farm animals as well as the food we ate every day.  He said more than once, "If you take from the soil you must give something back, for that is the law of nature. The animals are giving manure back to the land that will enrich the soil that grows all our food."

Mom would then quickly remind Dad it was time to clean the outhouse  pit, "...so we too could give it back to the land".  However Dad was a firm believer that his kids not only should understand the purpose of  every kind of farm chore, but also should experience each task and do it well.  So one cold October morning in about 1922,  when Bob was ten years old and I was 8,  Dad said he had a chore for us. He said it was a chore every person who used an outhouse should experience at least once in their lifetime.

Dad hitched up his team of horses to the manure spreader and pulled it to the rear of our outhouse.  He opened the wide, hinged flap-door on the backside of the privy.  Bob and I were given long handled shovels and put to work cleaning the pit. The pit was rather deep under the privy and we had to bend far over to get to the job at hand.

In just  just a few minutes we knew exactly why our Dad hated that job so much.  The odor from the pit was more powerful and sickening than anything we had ever smelled in any of the barns or animal pens.  We were always expected to finish a job once we started, so it never occurred to us to complain or beg for some relief.  But this job seemed to take forever.

We had to step back often and gasp for a breath of fresh air from the cold north wind.  Dad seemed rather amused as he inspected our work a few times.  Finally he told us we had done a good job.  To this day, I can see Dad's amused smile as he climbed on the manure spreader and drove off singing to the fields.

Our Mother, however, was not amusedWe smelled so bad she would not let us into the house.  She made us strip off our clothes in the cold summer kitchen. She gave us a bucket of hot water,  soap and her oldest towels  to scrub our hands, face and feet.  It was nearly suppertime and we were so hungry.  But when the time came, I could barely swallow my food for that powerful odor remained in my hair and nose and - worst of all - in my brain.

 Dad may have been right that cleaning the outhouse pit was an unpleasant job everyone should experience at least once in a lifetime.  For me, it was a truly humbling chore and one I shall never forget.  It's too bad that all those young outhouse collectors will never know what they have missed!

- This story has been edited by Mrs. Heck’s brother, William S. Filbrun -


"The Outhouse on the Farm" - Mildred Filbrun Heck - all rights reserved.  Permission to reproduce it or any part thereof must be obtained from the filbrun.com webmaster.

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