Tales of the outhouse

Published 11:00 pm Friday, October 19, 2012

To my way of thinking, the flushing toilet is the greatest invention the world has ever known.

Most folks will probably disagree, though, saying that it’s electricity. But those folks undoubtedly have never heard the story of the candy man.

Miss Gilmore told the story to me. There was still enough child left in me that I envisioned the “candy man” as a starched old gentleman with glasses handing out lollipops with multi-colored swirls like the ones I licked as a child.

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But that picture quickly changed. Back many years ago, a candy man was one who came clomping around on a mule-drawn wagon cleaning outhouses. He would fill the wagon and then unload it in a nearby stream or creek.

I grew up with a silver spoon in my mouth compared to some of my kinfolks. We had a flushing toilet. But Aunt Roena lived over in Barbour County and they had an outhouse – a nice one, though, a two-seater.

To me, going to the outhouse was nothing short of an adventure – being as I didn’t have to do it every day.

Aunt Roena had great stories to tell about the outhouse. A favorite was about the rooster pecking young’uns on their bare bottoms as they took a seat. But the best one was about the time Uncle Ray Mack burned down the outhouse with himself inside.

Late one moonless night, Uncle Ray Mack took the path to the outhouse with a Johnny pick in hand.

A Johnny pick is a candleholder designed for the outhouse. It’s a flat piece of metal with a twist atop to hold the candle. At the other end, the metal narrows to a sharp point that can be wedged into a crack between the boards of the outhouse and held in place to give light inside.

Uncle Ray Mack found himself in such a comfortable position that he fell asleep. While he slept, the Johnny pick wedge didn’t hold and the candle fell to the floor of the outhouse and onto the Sears and Roebuck catalog that was there for a purpose other than ordering.

The catalog caught on fire and the fire quickly spread to the dry grass that had grown its way into the outhouse.

Uncle Ray Mack was in such a deep sleep that the weathered boards were ablaze before he knew it and it was actually the “hot seat” that woke him. He was hollering and praying and cussing all at the same time, Aunt Roena said. She heard him and went running down the path in her nightgown. She thought for sure he was going to burn up and, for all the rest of her life, she would be known as “the outhouse widow.”

But all of a sudden, Aunt Roena said Uncle Ray Mack came busting and cussing through the flames, fell down on his knees and promised the Lord he’d never drink moonshine whiskey or cuss again.

He recanted that even before the flames died down, Aunt Roena said.

Now, I don’t usually have outhouses on my mind. But, when I was looking under the seat of my car today – Maybelle’ seat, I found the Johnny pick I bought last week up in the mountains.

An old blacksmith had a working booth at the Apple Festival. The old crust said if I could tell him what “this thang” was, he would give it to me. I guess he didn’t recognize me as a country gal who knew just about as much about a Johnny pick as he did. Maybe more.

But, then, I didn’t recognize him as liar either. I had to buy the thang.