By Joann M. Ringelstetter
When we were little, we lived on a small dairy farm north of Sun Prairie, Wisconsin. There were numerous outbuildings, one of which was an old outhouse, painted red to match the other farm buildings. The outhouse stood very close to the back of the machine shed, with the door facing the shed. There was basically only enough room to swing the door of the outhouse open. The photo below, taken several years ago in Trempeleau County, Wisconsin, shows an outhouse in a similar setting.
The outhouse on our farm was pretty important because there wasn’t a bathroom in the old farmhouse when we moved there. It was several years later that our dad added a bathroom to the old house. And what a glorious day that was when the bathroom was finally finished! No more long trips to the outhouse. No more being scared of the spiders and bees that were often in the outhouse. And no more being afraid of what might be lurking down in that creepy pit.
Did I say “No more trips to the outhouse?” Well, in spite of all the major advancements in just about everything over the past several decades, many of the backroads we travel in our quest for rural scenes are just that – rural. And, often, the best we can come up with for a restroom is an old outhouse. We find them in parks, behind churches, at old schoolhouses and town halls, or in cemeteries.
Speaking of outhouses in cemeteries, I’m reminded of a funny incident many years ago at the old cemetery in the town of Hyde, Wisconsin. Just inside the gate, down the hill from the chapel, sat a dilapidated outhouse, which is now long gone. We had been out early, as usual, and I was in desperate need of a restroom. Since there are no parks or gas stations anywhere near there, I decided to use the old outhouse. Meanwhile, Ruth was wandering around the cemetery...or so I thought.
Most outhouses are very dark inside because there are no windows or there is only a small moon cutout in the door or side of the outhouse. This outhouse, however, was very bright inside because there was a very large window on the side facing away from the church. This is quite unusual for an outhouse, but what was even more unusual was how low this window actually was, which I didn’t really pay any attention to.
One thing you should know about Ruth is that she has a memory like a steal trap when it comes to movie lines. And she often throws them out during the course of our adventures, after which I usually ask, “Okay, what movie is that from?” Do you remember the scene at the end of the Wizard of Oz movie, where Dorothy is lying in bed after the storm, mumbling, “There’s no place like home” over and over? Just then Professor Marvel leans in the window and says something like, “Anybody home? I just dropped by because I heard the little girl got caught in the big storm.”
Anyway, a few seconds after I sat down on the worn wooden outhouse seat, Ruth suddenly leaned in the window (with our eyes meeting at about the same level) and said, “Anybody home? I just dropped by because I heard the little girl got caught in the big storm.” At this point, all I could do was to start giggling and we both laughed about this for a long time afterwards.
Having to use an old outhouse isn’t all that bad in the spring, summer, or fall. But winter is a different matter – trudging through knee-deep snow to get there, only to find that the door is drifted in or the outhouse has a padlock on the door (after all, no one will be needing it in the dead of winter, right?). And then there’s the cold blast of air from the pit or the need to bring your own toilet paper. But we manage to deal with it. After all, when ya gotta go, ya gotta go!
We hope you enjoy this view of a simpler time.