INK IN THE BLOOD
In my childhood and early teens, my maternal grandmother lived “in the country,” that is, she was a rural resident and lived on her family farm until she could “draw the old age pension.”
As kids, we took every opportunity to visit “Mama” on her farm. It provided vast opportunities to learn more about life even though we had to sort of earn our keep when we went to visit Mama. The chores we had weren’t difficult, but we thought we were being big time “farmers” and “ranchers” by helping with routine tasks.
Those might include gathering eggs from chicken coops in and around the barn and barnyard. Chores also might involve feeding the chickens by strewing grain on the ground near the barn. Hogs were fed twice a day. Once they got “store-bought” feed, but the second round was leftovers from meals in the house and those servings, called slop, seemed to be favored by the porkers.
By today’s standards, life on Mama’s farm was pretty primitive. Heat for warmth and for cooking came via wood fire, either in a fireplace or a stove.
A hand-operated water well provided water for drinking, cooking and bathing. The well involved a rope-pulley device with a long, slim bucket which you lowered into the well, listened to and felt the bucket fill, then hauled it up by hand and emptied the well-bucket into a pail-bucket that you could hand-carry into the house or to vessels around the house and barn where water was provided for slaking humans’ and farm animals’ thirst.
Bathing was done in a “No. 2 washtub,” a galvanized container that would hold eight-to-10 gallons of water. In non-freezing temperatures, you crawled into the tub on the exterior back porch (protected from view from the road that passed by the house). During colder weather, the tub was set up in a bedroom in the house and filled from hand-carried buckets, topped off by a kettle of hot water from atop the wood stove, making entry into the bathtub less stark.
An outhouse (privy, outdoor toilet, et al) met other needs in the daytime. At night, it wasn’t considered safe or sensible to tread across open ground the 30-35 yards from the house to the outhouse. So, each bed had a sanitary repository, known in polite company as a granite chamber. Country folk of that day called them “slop jars,” “thunder mugs,” or “pots,” among other rather descriptive designations. Understand that indoor plumbing didn’t “come to the country” for the most part, until the early 1950s.
Outhouses were generally as primitive as the name indicates. They consisted of a simple frame structure, a door and a “throne.” In addition, “outhouse” and “tissue” don’t seem to jibe, so the early facilities to which I was introduced had — you guessed it — mail order catalogs. Since there appeared to be more rural population per square mile than today, Sears, Roebuck & Co. (as they were then called) produced quarterly catalogs, providing a regular, reliable supply and, additionally, had a competitor — Montgomery Ward — thus ensuring dual supplies for America’s privies.
At my grandmother’s house, her milk cows had free roam of the area where the outhouse was located. Her home, according to her plan and to general practice, sat in its own small, individually fenced area. Thus, we have the question of cows and privy doors: What do you do when a cow blocks the outhouse door?
The answer, of course, is you sit still and look at the pictures on the slick pages of that publication in the outhouse and wait for Bossy to graze on by.
Oh, and be sure to wear shoes.