Sunday, August 21, 2011

The Outhouse

Anyone who does family history research has a favorite story.  Mine revolves around little Levi Pecht of Mifflin County, Pennsylvania.  This is the newspaper article that caught my interest:

  "Levi Pecht, fifteen month old son of Alonzo Pecht, fell into a privy at the rear of his father's jewelry business on Market Street.  The privy was a new one, being twenty-one feet deep with about a foot of accumulation at the bottom which saved the child.  A young son of Samuel A. Walters was left [sic] down and brought the boy up with only a little scratch.  8/24/93".   Dan McClenahen, "People In The News In Mifflin County, Vol.II (1886-1899)"
You can't read this without seeing the humor, but imagine the terror of that little boy to be doused in a foot of "accumulation"? 

I have a long history with outhouses.  I did not live in a house with indoor plumbing until leaving home at the age of eighteen.  We had running water in the basement which included a sink and shower stall, but that was it.  All water for kitchen duties was carried upstairs in a bucket. 

I grew up walking the long path out the back door, past the pump with the tin drinking cup, around the old garage, past the strawberry patch to the little wooden building in the back.  Actually, my dad built the Cadillac of outhouses.  It was a three-holer!  Two large holes and a smaller one for my sister and I.  Mom always bought real toilet paper though so we never had to use the Sears Roebuck or Montgomery Ward catalogs.  Although they made good reading material.

The terror of the dark kept me holding my breath on that dash down the path during my younger years.  I would beg my older sister to walk with me, but you can imagine how high that was on the list of things she wanted to do.  If Mom insisted that Sis take me to the toilet, then she would tease me the entire way ... stories of the boogyman, animals in the bushes, making scratching noises as I sat inside, etc.  She relished her job as Big Sister, I can tell you.  In the summer there were always spider webs and assorted insects to worry about.  My favorite was to make the trek in the dark, and sit down on a spider web.... still makes me catch my breath.  The bumble bees and wasps liked to visit while you were sitting there.  A job is finished quickly to the tune of a wasp circling the premises. Then, of course, in the wintertime you had to wipe the frost from around the seat before you delicately sat down in -20 degree weather. 

A time-honored tradition in my hometown was the game of tipping toilets which usually occurred the week of Halloween.  If you owned an outhouse, you expected the worst as it was considered fair game. Our outhouse was never a victim as Dad was a champion "tipper" in his day so when he built our super duper model, it was made to withstand outside forces. 

Do you know how many kids can pile in an old 1949 Packard? 

Oh, about 8-9.  We would drive quietly up and down the side streets searching for outhouses that were tucked away in backyards or near an alley.  By the late 50's they were becoming few and far between.  One dark night we found a likely target sitting on a small hill.  We all piled out of the car in a tangle of legs and arms, trying not to giggle and make too much noise.  We decided to roll that bugger down the hill.  How much fun is that!!  We all started to push and heave to no avail.  Then one of the more intelligent members of the group noticed that the clothesline was up against the side of the outhouse and prevented us from fulfilling our dirty deed.  So, we proceeded to lift the wire up and out of the way, gave a huge push, and down the hill it rolled.  Oh my Lord, you have never heard such a racket.  We realized later the owner of the outhouse no longer used it for it's original purpose and had chose to store his storm windows inside.  Holy Crap!! (no pun intended).  Do you know how fast 8 kids can pile into a car and skedaddle?  I think we set a record. That was the end of our "tipping" days.  We never did it again. 

So, I'm having a conversation with my 10-year-old grandson one day and I'm explaining to him that in my day we didn't have cell phones, ipods, and all that fancy stuff.  Heck, we didn't even have an indoor toilet.  His eyes got really big and he says, "You mean you had one of  those blue things in your back yard?"   Well, no, it wasn't a port-a-potty.  Those things are just tin cans.  A wooden outhouse has character ... and sometimes a foot or two of accumulation.

At this time in my research, I am unable to link little Levi Pecht to my husband's line.  But I firmly believe that anyone who can survive a drop of twenty-one feet into a foot of "accumulation" belongs in my family tree.

I'm just sayin' ..........