As I go about my day, cooking and cleaning I marvel at my grandmother. At the risk of repeating myself, I have to say how much I admire Eva Lorraine Frieze. She was a scrupulously clean housekeeper and I don’t know how she did it without running hot water. Whenever I grumble at having to do down to the basement to do laundry I remind myself that when she was a young mother she had to tote the water, heat it on a woodstove inside or a fire outside, and scrub the clothes and linens on a scrub board, then hang the clothes up and hope they got dry before a thunder or snow storm. I have hot water on-demand to a nice electric washing machine and a dryer, all inside, albeit in the basement. Moreover, I don’t have to go outside to a smelly outhouse night or day (although I have on my uncle’s farm), worrying about spiders in the holes!
Another major difference in life in the Ozarks in those days (and, at one time, everywhere) and the way it is now, was that we lived with almost a complete lack of plumbing. Almost no one had running water in the house. There was always a counter in the kitchen that held a water bucket and wash pan. A towel would be on a nail for rack nearby. The only water for washing, cooking, doing the dishes, and drinking was what we carried in the water bucket from the well. I recall that our water bucket was made of oak. Dad always said that water tasted better out of oak and he had an oak water keg to take out into the fields with him.
When one wanted a drink of water, everyone simply used a long handled dipper that was kept in the bucket. Of course that was the reason that when someone got sick most likely everyone else in the family were liable to catch it also. To wash our faces and hands before supper, we just ladled some water into the wash pan and the last one to use it threw it out. Hot water came from a teakettle always kept on top of the black iron wood-burning cook stove in which a fire was kept up all day usually.
A few houses—like the old home place and that of my Uncle Claud Frieze—had water tanks in the attic that were supplied by a hydraulic ram down in a branch below a spring. They had pipes coming down to a faucet in the kitchen so that at least there was running cold water and they did not have to tote a bucket from the well. We, however, just had the bucket. That was kind of a nuisance for Saturday night baths when it was cold and we had to bathe in a washtub by the kitchen stove. It also meant that we had to carry and heat a lot of buckets of water on Monday when my mother did the laundry in the washtub with a scrub board.
We managed to stay reasonably clean—at least by the standards of the time. Mother always made us wash not only the front part of our faces, but also our neck and ears in the evening. In the summer when we went barefoot all the time, we had to pour a pan of water and wash our feet before we got into bed.
Baths were not always necessary in the summer because, after a day in the dusty fields, we could always pull off our clothes and jump into the horse tank down by the barn. Otherwise, if we had been swimming in the creek that was as good as having a bath—almost. It was before the day of deodorants, of course, and I am sure we all usually had some degree of body odor about us. It was not noticeable, though, unless someone had skunk odor on him or had gotten too dirty around the barn.
Not having plumbing meant that there was no such thing as a bathroom in the house. Every house had an outhouse somewhere out back. The outhouse was a small wooden building about five feet square built over a pit away from the well or the house. Most were two-holers; a large hole for adults and a little one for kids.
Public buildings, such as the church and Bona School, had two outhouses—one for boys and one for girls—that were larger. At Bona School the boys’ outhouse had four holes because sometime there was more than one of us at a time in there at recess. I sup[pose the girls’ had four holes also, although I never went in there to see.
A country outhouse was a fine place to sit and think while you did your business when the weather was mild in the spring and fall. Toilet paper was usually last year’s Sears or Montgomery Ward catalog so, if you had nothing better to think about, you could sit and look at the pictures in the “wish book.”
During the hot summer, however, the outhouse stunk to high heaven even though everyone usually kept a sack of lime in there to throw some in after you did a job. You were certainly not inclined to linger. In fact, in good weather it was a lot more comfortable to drop your overalls and squat out behind the barn or the chicken house or else out in the woods.
It was in the winter that the outhouse was a real anathema, especially when it had snowed and was windy. Never came across an outhouse that was not drafty. The worst problem was when you had to go at night. Seems like invariably I would get out there and find that someone had left the door open so that there was a layer of snow on the seat.
Outhouses were fair game when Halloween came around. In those days we did not know anything about “trick or treat.” It was simply a time when evil spirits were supposed to be out and about. All we thought of were tricks to pull on people. Tipping over outhouses was a favorite, if not hallowed, Halloween trick. Our ambition was to tip over an outhouse onto the door with someone inside so they could not get out. We never managed it. I think everyone knew that outhouses were fair game on Halloween so no one would go inside one after dark that evening.
Look tomorrow for more amusements.