Outhouses and chamber pots
Ah, the good old days. When using the bathroom meant taking a little hike to the outhouse. Or sliding a chamber pot out from under the bed during the night so you could do your business. Ah, the good old days. Har har har!
Working on my latest novel, which is set partly in the nineteenth century, the lack of bathrooms has been on my mind. I don’t know about you, but I’m a very twenty-first century kind of person. Gotta have indoor plumbing, hot and cold running water, and heat and air conditioning. I got a taste of what it was like in earlier times as I was growing up. So I know for a fact that me and the past would not get along. Of course, you do what you gotta do. (Pun intended.)
I have vivid memories of visiting my great-grandparents in rural northeast Georgia when I was a child. They had running water in the kitchen but there was no bathroom. There were three choices when it came time to do your business. You could make the trek down by the barn to the outhouse. At night, you could use a chamber pot. Or, if you didn’t want to go outside or squat over a chamber pot, you could step into a tiny closet off my great-grandparents’ bedroom where a ladderback chair was positioned, a round hole cut into the chair seat, with a chamber pot positioned underneath. Of course, there was no light in that little closet so I didn’t like going in there. Wintertime was particularly unpleasant since my great-grandparents’ house had no central heat. Just a fireplace or a coal stove in each room.
The experience that convinced me I was not cut out for the olden days happened when I was six or seven years old as my younger sister and I visited the outhouse one day. We always went together because, being little city girls, we were rather intimidated by the process. But the outhouse was a two-holer so at least we could keep each other company while we held our noses. Instead of a wooden door, there was only a raggedy curtain. And when we were ready to leave, we pulled back the curtain to find a huge bull staring at us with his great big eyes. We screamed bloody murder, calling for our mommy. She came to the rescue, amazing my sister and me by slapping the bull on his shoulder and telling him to move out of the way. She said he was just an “old bull” and proceeded to prod him until he wandered off. Wonder Woman without the lasso.
When I think about what it was really like not having running water or indoor bathrooms, I can only conclude that folks like my great-grandparents had a lot of stamina. For most of their lives, they hauled water to the house and worked from sunup to sundown, or longer. Definitely not twenty-first century sissies like me.