Remembering Appalachia’s Outhouses

    Photo Courtesy: Tomasz Kuran
    Photo Courtesy: Tomasz Kuran

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    Each morning, I wake up and immediately grab my cell phone, checking out the world events that occurred while I was sleeping as I shake my sleepy head.

    Next, I go to the bathroom and then prepare for another day in paradise…  It’s not the most glamorous part of my day, but it’s just the reality of life for everyone I know in the 21st century — which is why I found it so intriguing to hear of a family less than ten miles from where I live who actually continue to use an outhouse and have no running water.

    According to the individuals I spoke with, several in the community have offered to provide the funds to change this, but the family refuses – opting to live “the simple life,” though I’m not so sure who running outside at 3 a.m. for a late-night potty can be construed as the “simple life”!

    I’m not 100% sure as to the legalities of their situation, so I’ll say no more about this particular family!

    Filled with intrigue, I issued an unusual call to my readers, requesting that they share their memories of growing up with outhouses.

    Donna Sue Tackett Johnson, a retired educator from Pike County, Kentucky, quickly came to my rescue.

    She said that when she was a girl, nearly all of her relatives had an outhouse.

    “We had one for several years before dad remodeled our house and built our ‘indoor bathroom’,” she commented.  

    Johnson said that her family drew water from the well out back of the house and heated water to bathe in a huge wash tub. They burned wood and coal in the fireplace and kept warm with a pot bellied stove. “Those were wonderful years filled with many memories. Lots of stories!” she writes.

    Another reader, Seth Easterling,  also shared his memory.

    When Easterling was five-years-old, his family moved into the house of one of his relatives and the plumbing needed redone.

    While the family waited for the plumbing to be fixed, they were forced to use an outhouse which dated back to the 1930s, located behind the home.

    One night it was raining and nasty out (and I was afraid of the dark anyway), but I had to go… I was sitting there and the wind was blowing real hard and I shined my flashlight and noticed it looked like [the outhouse] was tilting a bit more and more — then  heard a creak and over the hill it went!”

    Easterling said, “It hit the tree behind it and I came out of it and ran all the way back inside — britches to my ankles. I’ll never forget that as long as live!”

    I have to admit, after reading Easterling and Donna Sue Tackett Johnson’s memories of outhouses, this millennial was kinda feeling like she had missed out on a lifetime of great experiences by only knowing running water and life in suburbia — fortunately, Ryan Hardesty, came forward with his story, providing the reality check I needed… just as I was about to call the town and ask them to cut off my water!

    “My grandparents had an outhouse until I was 7 or 8 years old. I hated that thing,” he writes.  “Always hot in the summer, cold in the winter, wasps all over it. Not fun. I still remember the day my dad went up there to install their brand new inside toilet! 1974!”

    Okay, being trapped in a hot and stuffy box with raw sewage just below you isn’t the most glorious memory, but one thing has become very clear from talking to folks about outhouses — regardless of our circumstances, the people of these mountains sure know how to do two things — Make the best out of anything and tell a really good story… even one about outhouses!

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    1. When we moved into our house in 1966 it not only still had a remaining outhouse, it was two-seater. I suppose the former owner had kept it as a backup plan. Fortunately the house had been remodeled with indoor toilets, but we sure had lots of laughs wondering about the conversations had in that fancy two seater outhouse.

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