Mestern.net

Home .. Email .. Articles .. Simply .. Links

TRAVEL
CANADA
Welcome to Canada

Alberta
Photo Essay

British Columbia
BC - Mainland Photo Essay
Vancouver Island Photo Essay

New Brunswick
Acadian Village
King's Landing

Nova Scotia
Amherst Shore to Pictou
Brier Island Whale Watching
Digby to Annapolis Royal
Granville to Windsor
Photo Essay
Parrsboro to Amherst
Truro to Parrsboro
Windsor to Truro
Yarmouth to Digby

Ontario - North
Autumn Splendor
Driving the TransCanada - The Sault to Wawa
Driving the TransCanada - Wawa to Thunder Bay
North of Superior - Armstrong
North of Superior - Nipigon to Armstrong
North of Superior - Sault Ste. Marie to Terrace Bay
  Sudbury Rocks!
A Woman's Work is Never Done

Ontario - South
A 'Grand' Canyon
A Wee Bit o’ Perth
Christmas in the Valley
Kate Aitken
Lucy Maud
Mennonite Country
Teepee Camping
Tractormania
Fergus - Rural Ontario's Scottish Town

Quebec
Corridor #132 Grosse Ile through Bay St Laurent to Gaspe
Highway #132, L’Islet to Matane
Highway #132, Matane to Gaspe
Highway #132, Perce to Matapedia
Photo Essay
Photo Essay 2
Montmorency Falls, Ile d'Orleans and the Cote de Beaupre
Quebec City's Historical Treasures
Quebec's Old City & Petit Champlain
The Eastern Townships
The Eastern Townships Photo Essay

Festivals
Apple Butter & Cheese
Bee-Town
Blyth
Brighton's AppleFest
Celtic Festival
Elvis Festival
Festival of the Maples
Headwaters Country
Herb Festival
Maple Madness
Northern Lights
Pow Wow
Pumpkin Festival
Scarecrow Festival
Split Rail Festival
Thanksgiving


USA
Connecticut
Introduction
Litchfield
Mystic
Quiet Corner
River Valley

Kentucky
Country Music Highway
Golden Triangle - Photo Essay
Golden Triangle
Kentucky
Kentucky East
Kentucky North
Kentucky South
Kentucky South-Central
River Corridor

Maine
Bar Harbor
Bounding Maine
Classic Maine

Massachusetts
Old Sturbridge Village
Pittsfield
Shelburne

New Hampshire
Mount Washington

New York State
Adirondack's Autumn Surprises
Autumn in the Adirondacks
Grandma Moses
More Than Baseball
Lake Placid

North Carolina
Cape Lookout to Cape Fear
Cruising the Coast
From Sea to Mountain
My Heart's in the Highlands
The Gardens of Eden
Western Reaches - Hidden Treasures Photo Essay
Western Reaches of North Carolina

Ohio
The Quiet Land

Pennsylvania
Beautiful York
Bridges; Markets
Architecture
Festivals, Frolics
The History Trail
The Johnstown Flood

Rhode Island
Newport

South Carolina
Beaufort, Bluffton
& Hilton Head
Charleston and Area
Myrtle Beach
Olde English District
Photo Essay
Thoroughbred Country
Upcountry

Tennessee
Cumberland Highlands
Eastern Tennessee
Knoxville, Norris, Oak Ridge & The Gap
North & East of Nashville
North & West of Nashville
Pickett County - Photo Essay
Photo Essay
South & East of Nashville
South & West of Nashville
The World of Dale Hollow

Vermont
Christmas Village
Bennington
Middlebury Inn

Virginia
Williamsburg

- - - - - - - - - - - -
Britain
Jewels of the North
Breezy Blackpool
Witches and Hot Pot
A Lightning Tour

- - - - - - - - - - - -

Egypt
Egypt

- - - - - - - - - - - -

Greece
The Island of Crete

- - - - - - - - - - - -

Italy
Ancient Rome
Renaissance Rome
Pompeii

- - - - - - - - - - - -

Some tips on
Living Simply
 
 

Backhouses
 

Print this page
By Pat Mestern
February 21, 2004

Recently someone by the name of “John” paid me a compliment. He said that I certainly couldn’t be old enough to remember outhouses, let alone use one. I had the pleasure of saying not only do I remember the venerable outhouse, but I actually had, on occasion, used one during the 1940's and early 1950's when visiting country cousins. Raised with modern indoor flush facilities, I found the old fashioned “hole” variety an experience, especially tramping the long path to the “little building” in the middle of the night. I do remember when staying with these relatives that before retiring, the girls would go to the outhouse as a troop. Safety in numbers? Truth of the matter was that there was only one flashlight and no one wanted to make the trip in the dark.

As a child, I remember a lop-sided outhouse with its porcupine-gnawed seat - grandmother called it “the thunder shack” - behind the barn on Tower Street. The barn still stands on the property at 505 Tower Street S. The outhouse is long gone. Both homes, grandmother’s and ours had indoor plumbing so the building, during my early childhood, didn’t serve its original purpose. What it did serve as was the hiding place for all the empty wine and liquor bottles left after neighbourhood parties. You see, most of the our neighbours worked for Beatty Bros. Ltd, and a good few were members of Fergus Curling Club - Rusty White, Lloyd and Cliff Anderson, Mose Yantzi, John MacDonald. Because “Beatty Spies” as they were called, tended to check garbage cans periodically to see who had been drinking, bottles had to be creatively disposed of. The two-seater behind the dad’s barn became the local collection depot. Everyone knew that “the spies” wouldn’t go onto private property. The Lord alone knows how many bottles that hole absorbed.

When we purchased “Stonehome” in 1965, we undertook an expansion of the vegetable garden and found a treasure trove of items in one particular area of the yard - old bottles, some with the names of local physicians, broken pottery and china, the occasional arrow head. A neighbour, who during the 1930's had rented the Young property, said that the area was the site of a one-seater outhouse that graced the back yard until the early 1950's. He said that the Miss Youngs and subsequent tenants, including himself, threw “odds & ends” down the hole, even after it was no longer used for its intended purpose. Not daunted by the fact we were basically digging in a cesspool “of-sorts”, we occasionally spent time “mining the hole” for antiquities. We never came up empty handed. Today a garden-house marks the spot.

And for those who remember very well the pluses and minuses of “attending an outhouse”, I present, for your reading pleasure, material submitted to Volume One: “Looking Back Through the Years”, published in 1983. To quote Vera Phillips true account of the old privy on the home farm, when she was a child:

“We called it the “backhouse”. When thinking back on childhood and youthful days, on the farm at home, the contrasts of the privy then and now are sharp. Our bathrooms are a thing of beauty and joy forever. The delicate tinted tiles, and shining chrome, the fluffy bath mats and really beautiful eye-catching matching towels are a far cry from our old backhouse, and yet, laugh if you will, it was the most satisfying place for many different reasons.

It was a safe retreat from washing dishes, or bringing up the cows, or getting the wood box filled. After all, if nature called, one had to obey. No one could say you mustn’t go until you had the work done, and no one could tell for sure if nature took a long time, or if you were really killing time. Actually it was a wonderful place to kill time, especially if the Eaton catalogue was fairly intact.

There was quite a difference in backhouses. Aunt Marion’s was very sanitary for she sprinkled lime down the seat practically every time she went to it. No flies in Aunt Marion’s backhouse. The backhouse at Grandma Warmington’s was built over an old well. I guess they reasoned they would not have to clean it out, for everything went down. My cousin and I had many a good visit in that little building, and a great deal of serious speculation as to what would happen if we fell in. In fact, I still wonder.

We also liked to ponder the old tale that one of the hired men had been murdered and thrown down the well, many years before. In fact the story went that they built the house over the well to help disguise the crime. We were quite sure that if anyone was interested enough to investigate, they could find the gruesome remains.

To sit and dream on a lazy summer afternoon with the door open to the orchard, and the summer breezes, was a real treat. It wasn’t quite so comfortable in the winter time. One usually had to plow through a drift of snow to get there, and if the fellow before you was careless and left the door open, the snow-piled seat was not too pleasant. I had a younger brother, who had a complaint - shall we call it chronic complaint - who never went to the backhouse in the daytime, at least if he could help it. Usually his rendezvous with nature was around 9:30 in the evening and it seems looking back that the night would invariably be cold and stormy, or probably in the late fall, a driving rain.
I, being the oldest of the family, was always without fail, the chosen escort, because he wouldn’t go alone, and also because he had an avid interest in stories I spun for him while he sat and waited for nature. I can remember getting the old coal oil lantern lit and leading the way, and then waiting and waiting. When I’d get impatient and order him to hurry up, his answer would be “Tell me another story”.

I had an uncle who once in a while had a night out with the boys which caused my aunt a great deal of annoyance. She never could be sure what took place. The backhouse was a great deal of help to her though, for when he made his morning trip out, she followed close suit. I heard her tell my mother she knew the night he had been drinking for the odour was different.

Dire events took place in backhouses. More than one poor guy who had been over indulging lost his false teeth down the hole, and more than one recovered them and wore them again. More than one mother gave birth to her baby in the same place. Usually both mother and child survived. Some good housekeepers kept their backhouses in immaculate condition and used real good wallpaper left over from the parlour to paper the walls. Some hung pretty last years calendars on the walls. Some had lids for the holes and some didn’t. Some just had one hole; some had two big ones and a small one carved out for the youngsters. They were the “super-deluxe models”. Some were built in the woodshed which was considered real handy. But others preferred them farther away from the premises of the kitchen and dining room.

Sometimes the catalogues would run down except for the coloured pages and it was a good policy to grab a few nice big burdock leaves in passing. They served the purpose quite well.

Vera’s reminiscence continues - Outdoor privies are a thing of the past now. Even the summer cottages have indoor plumbing. But often I feel I wouldn’t mind a bit if I were somewhere where they still had an outdoor privy, and I could sit and dream awhile and look over the meadow, and listen to the birds in the orchard, and the frogs in the creek back of the swamp, or watch a spider spinning a web in the corner, always sure of his food supply of fresh flies.”

 

 

Copyright © 2005 Mestern.Net All rights reserved.