I grew up using an outhouse. That’s not unusual. Many people today can say the same thing. Our outhouse, though, was a two-holer inside the back of a storage shed. I was the second oldest of three sisters and two brothers. My brother Eldon was oldest. None of us liked the outhouse, and the girls and boys found different ways to avoid using it.
We lived in Vandalia, Missouri, at the edge of town, in a two-bedroom house my maternal grandparents bought for us. My siblings and I slept in one of the bedrooms. Daddy was a
blacksmith and Mother was a seamstress for Ely-Walker dressmaker. They met at the blacksmith shop when Daddy fixed a bicycle tire for Mother.
Our property included the house and two adjacent lots. An L-shaped storage shed with the two-holer was at the far end of one of the lots. A concrete sidewalk led from house to shed. Inside the shed was a coal bin. It was my brothers’ job to bring coal to the house for the potbelly stove we used for cooking, heating, and washing. Across from the coal bin, separated by a narrow open space, were a worktable and storage for garden tools and a rotary push lawnmower. It was Eldon’s job to mow the lawn and I pretended to help until I was big enough to mow by myself.
The two-holer was at the back of the open space, with a door we could latch for privacy. Bees were constant pests around the holes and we were stung occasionally. The shed had windows and no electricity. We didn’t mind so much using the two-holer in the daytime. We learned to navigate to it at night, although we hated that. It was quicker for my brothers to urinate by moonlight on the ground behind the shed. I squatted behind another shed closer to the house and hoped occupants in a car driving by wouldn’t see me. I was afraid to go alone and sometimes took my younger sister Jane Ann. Our friends down the street also went outside rather than use their outhouses. About all that happened was our parents scolded us and told us not to do it. During the winter, we used a porta-potty in the house.
We had running water in the house at only one location, a hand pump over the kitchen sink. The wellhead of our water supply was on the back porch. I helped Mother do laundry on the porch. We heated buckets of water on the potbelly stove and carried them to the washing machine and a separate tub for rinsing. After rinsing, we rung out the clothes with a hand-operated ringer. We also used the rinse tub for once-a-week baths on Saturday night. The youngest child bathed first, followed by the others according to age.
In 1950, when I was eight years old, the city extended water lines to our property. We enclosed the back porch, built a bathroom over the wellhead, and converted the rest of the porch to a bedroom for my brothers. Three major events in one year: running water, an inside toilet, and separate bedrooms–we were in heaven!
I never talked about the two-holer with my brothers, and only talked about it with my sisters after each of us was married, as they were too young to remember; when I was eight, my sister Jane Ann was four and Ardis was a baby. We had many good laughs as we looked back on that time. I'm very happy we have those memories to share.
Rhonda Dollens is a retired insurance office worker. She is active in her church and a seniors bowling league.
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Photo courtesy Rhonda Dollens.