The stream of consciousness is a capricious thing. One never knows where its currents may lead. A friend’s comment about my recent reference to the Ma & Pa Kettle films prompted me to wonder what about those movies appealed to me at a young age. Why did I like them? Thinking about that led me, of course, to think about outhouses.
I think the Ma & Pa movies amused me (at age 10) because they reminded me so much of my grandparents’ friends & family. My maternal grandmother had an uncle. He was younger than she; not that unusual in Kentucky. Even though he was a successful farmer he never bothered to put indoor plumbing in their house aside from one cold-water pipe that came up through the kitchen floor. It had a faucet at the top. They were proud of having running water in the house but saw no need to go crazy with water heaters, sinks or toilets. People might think they were putting on airs.
I hated staying overnight at their house. I was a city kid. It was not just that the privy was 50 yards away and behind the chicken coop (and roosters can be mean when disturbed), but they did not waste money on foolishness like toilet paper. Opening the door to find the Sears Roebuck or Montgomery Ward’s catalog there was a mixed blessing. If it was new, the index was still in the center. The index pages were like onion-skin paper; like a phone book. If the index was already gone, however…. As my Aunt Margaret once observed; “Lord, don’t you hate those shiny pages?!”.
Another reason I disliked visiting the farm was he and his wife both chewed tobacco. They had beautiful antique furniture but behind every chair was a Folger’s coffee can acting as a spittoon. There was newspaper on the floor under the cans; just in case. I’m probably making it sound more attractive than it actually was.
My paternal grandparents had an outhouse as well. Interestingly, they had running water in their kitchen. They had a real kitchen sink with both hot and cold water and a sprayer and everything, thank-you-very-much; just no toilet in the house. If forced to choose, I might have gone the other way on that decision but I was a little kid and no one asked for my vote.
Their privy situation was made more interesting because they did not live on a farm out in the country. They lived close to town on a paved street and had neighbors on both sides. And their outhouse was a ‘two-holer’. I guess that was a status thing. They did live “in the Heights”, which I guess meant something. I don’t know what being “in the Heights” meant exactly but living near town had at least one advantage. They got home delivery of the local daily newspaper; if you catch my meaning. See catalog reference above.
Anyway, I think that’s why I liked the Ma & Pa Kettle movies. They were like a family reunion broadcast in living black & white on Saturday mornings on WGN. I felt like I could see the ‘home folks’ but still be within a few feet of something that flushed.