Back to the comfort zone

Published 3:00 am Wednesday, October 11, 2017

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

Most folks will probably say it’s electricity. But those folks undoubtedly have never heard the story of the candy man.

Aunt Floreen told me the story of the candy man when 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’s not the picture Aunt Floreen painted.

Back many years ago, a candy man was one who came clomping around on a mule-drawn wagon cleaning out outhouses. When the candy wagon was filled, the candy man unloaded it in a nearby stream or creek.

We had a flushing toilet so I grew up with a silver spoon in my mouth compared to some of my kinfolks.  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 Rayford burned down the outhouse with himself inside.

Late one moonless night, Uncle Rayford 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 Rayford 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 Rayford was in such a deep sleep that the weathered boards were ablaze before he knew it but 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 flannel nightgown. She thought for sure Uncle Rayford 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 Rayford 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 what brought such a thing to mind was coming across an artifact that was pushed back in storage. Just where I bought the outhouse two-seater I don’t remember, but I’m sure for the memory of it.

A friend put sides and a back on the seat and it made quite a conversation piece before it was put into storage. But just for old times sake, I took a seat. You know, Mr. Kohler might want to consider the rather vintage design – if only for comfort’s sake.