Outhouse odes: Stories and poem about bygone bathrooms

This collection of pictures of the architectural wonders known as outhouses was put together by Jim Puppe, Fargo, who gave it to his friend Steve Strege, also of Fargo. Steve sent a copy of it to Neighbors, with Jim's permission, since it is copy...
This collection of photos of outhouses was assembled by Jim Puppe, Fargo. Special to The Forum
This collection of photos of outhouses was assembled by Jim Puppe, Fargo. Special to The Forum

This collection of pictures of the architectural wonders known as outhouses was put together by Jim Puppe, Fargo, who gave it to his friend Steve Strege, also of Fargo. Steve sent a copy of it to Neighbors, with Jim's permission, since it is copyrighted, in the wake of a column about those all-important structures of years past.

"Indoor plumbing came to the farm I grew up on a couple of years before I was born, but I used outhouses at other places," Steve writes. "It is difficult for those who never used an outhouse to imagine what it's like."

Roger Goettsch, Moorhead, writes that "fortunately, we did have indoor plumbing, but there was an outhouse by the alley, which was much closer to the garden. We also had one for three years while building our cabin."

"I can relate quite vividly to the subject of outhouses," Vern Krile, Fargo, writes, "as I was exposed to this agonizing experience from about ages 3 to 16 during the years of 1939 to about 1952.

But the outhouse stories continue to roll in.

Mike Knudson, Mayville, N.D., writes that his father, B.J. "Ben" Knudson, was a beekeeper who, with his hired men, would repair the honeycombs in the spring with wax sheets which were packaged with a layer of tissue paper between each sheet; those tissues also were put to good use in the outhouse.

As a sideline, Mike tells of the time an old farmer in Grinager's, a general store which used to be in Mayville, was embarrassed because he was buying toilet paper. So he told the clerk who was ringing up his order that 'it's not for me, it's for the wife and kids."

Poetic memories

Getting back to the outhouses, Larry Munson, New Rockford, N.D., writes that he got a chuckle out of the previous column about them, noting that "probably the part of the old days that we would most like to forget is the part that we remember the best! Who could forget those cold nights when nature called and we knew what was awaiting us down the path!"

Some years ago, Larry wrote a poem about those memories. Now he sends it to Neighbors, thinking "perhaps it will make someone chuckle and say, 'Yes, I've been there, and I don't want to go back!'"

Here is Larry's poem:

The Old Outhouse

'Twas a cold winter night, 'bout a quarter to three.

I was snuggled in bed and sleeping carefree,

When I awoke with a call I just couldn't ignore

And knew I would have to take care of a chore.

My feet hit the floor; I think they turned blue,

They'd freeze pretty quick; now where is my shoe?

No time to get dressed, my coat will do fine,

I'm in a hurry, don't have much time.

Out the back door, down the path in the dark,

I stumble along and the dog starts to bark.

The moon's shining bright, but it's ten below zero.

I bet those city folks would call me a hero!

I reach the old outhouse and pull on the door.

It's stuck! It won't open! I let out a roar!

I kick it and break the ice that is frozen,

And wonder why it's this life that I've chosen.

I get the door open, there's no hesitation,

But alas! I'm cursed with bad constipation!

I'm shivering and shaking, my teeth are just chattering;

The thoughts that I'm thinking are not very flattering.

Finally I'm ready to make my way back,

Glad to be gone from that smelly old shack!

Back in the house the heat is sure nice,

The next time this happens, I'll have to think twice!

Grandma's toilet

In conclusion to this column, Neighbors turns to a note from Dave Knecht, Fargo, who writes of a favorite family memory.

"It was when our oldest daughter, Kathy, was about 5 or 6," he writes. "We were visiting the grandparents in Wheatland, N.D. They had just moved to a different house on the 'outskirts' of Wheatland. (As I recall, everything about Wheatland was 'the outskirts,')" he says.

Anyhow, Dave writes, "Kathy needed a toilet trip, so Grandma directed her to a path toward the trees in the back yard.

"In a few minutes, little Kathy came bursting excitedly into the kitchen and yelled, 'Mama, you need to see Grandma's toilet! You don't even have to flush it!!'"

If you have an item of interest for this column, mail it to Neighbors, The Forum, Box 2020, Fargo, ND 58107, fax it to 241-5487 or email blind@forumcomm.com.