Wednesday, 15 May 2013


At the Memoir Writing Group we have a system in place for obtaining subjects on which to write.

We have a bundle of small cards and a coffee can. If anybody thinks of a subject which could be fun to write about, she or he writes the title on one of those cards and tosses it into the can. When it is time to select a topic, one of us will put her or his hand into the can and draw out one of the cards. Sometimes it is tempting to throw the chosen card back in and draw another one but that is not allowed. Naturally some of the titles are similar to ones about which we had written previously. However, our agreed upon rule is  that the chosen topic is the topic.

Towards the end of our session this past Monday the card chosen had one word printed upon it - 'Outhouses' - only I completely misunderstood what was read and wrote on a subject that was completely irrelevant. I am writing this blog as an attempt at atoning for my error.

Most of the houses in which my family lived until I was about 15 years old had no indoor plumbing (except for the kitchen sink) so outhouses were a necessity.

If you have been reading my blogs as I go along you will know that our first two homes were pretty primitive and there were no bathrooms.  I have no recollection whatsoever of the outhouses at my grandparents' homestead nor at the cabin in the forest but I do remember the facility at the third house.

Our next door neighbors - and good friends - were Mr and Mrs Bartlett and they had some dairy cows as well as an ample garden. Therefore the area around the house where we lived and up the hillside in back was denuded of trees and left as grazing land - except for one giant Douglas fir which stood near the top of the hill. The outhouse was a number of yards out behind the house. It was a 'two-hole' affair (why some had two holes while the majority seemed to have only one I have no idea!).

This incident happened when Alda was about three or four years old. She went out to use the facility and came running back into the house sobbing her heart out. She never went anywhere without a beloved pillow and that had fallen down the hole beside the one upon which she had been sitting. Mom had no choice but to go out there, fish out the truant pillow, and then wash and dry it before handing it back to Alda.  That is the only memory that I have of that pillow - it seems to have disappeared not very long after that incident.

In conversations within our family we always refer to the houses in which we have lived by the names of the landlords. The incident recorded above happened while we were living at the Williams house. From there we moved to the Black house which was situated across the road from the school that I attended during  Grade 1. There must have been an outhouse but I have no recollection of it.

A photo of the 'Black House'. The black Cocker Spaniel is 'Nigger' (I mentioned him in the 'Dawes Hill - Part 1' blog).

Next was the move to Dawes Hill in Coquitlam. I have no idea as to who was the landlord so we have always referred to that place as 'the House on the Hill'. That house had an indoor toilet  but baths had to be taken in a galvanized tub with water carried from the kitchen stove.  Each of us had a bath on the same evening and in the water used by the sibling or parent who had preceded. Fun and games!

The next move was to the Picton house down beside the highway. Out the back door and over beside the creek (a road ditch overflow from a byway up above us) was the woodshed and, next to it, was the privy. I do remember ribald comments being made by the person who was chopping and piling wood to or about the person using the privy! Also, the water for the house came from a well which was in a field up above the house. The well was not all that deep so it contained mostly surface water. There was one summer that had very hot and dry conditions. Dad had vacation time and the family went to Bowen Island. When we returned home and Dad went up to the well he saw the carcass of a dead rat floating in it. No - we did not drink from the well until the corpse had been removed and the water purified.

From the Picton house we moved back up the hill to the Finnegan house which Dad and Mom eventually bought. When we moved in, there were a bathroom and a toilet - only they were entirely different rooms. The bathtub was in a small room on the second floor and at the top of the stairs. The toilet and hand basin, on the other hand, were in what had originally been the pantry so immediately off of the kitchen. The kitchen was huge and, while there were a dining and a living room as well, that is where people tended to gather in order to visit. Therefore the odor emanating from what had been a pantry led to many a ribald comment!

The kitchen sink was against the east wall of the kitchen while the stove was against the south wall and there was a doorway in between which led to a spare bedroom. Not long after we moved in there Dad made the move which he had been contemplating for years - converting  the stove from a wood burning affair to oil. We  were situated at the end of Kaptey Avenue and that road made a loop beside the back (kitchen) door. The storage tank for the oil was beside the kitchen window and - unfortunately - to the far side of the septic tank. The driver of the oil tank truck was informed where the septic tank was located so he would not drive over it. However, there was one occasion when he erred and broke the top of the tank. On the following Saturday afternoon Dad bailed out the broken tank while I had the wheelbarrow and wheeled the odoriferous sludge down a trail into the forest to a spot where I could safely tip the wheelbarrow. Now that pathway is a street lined by lovely houses. I wonder if one of those homeowners ever wonders why their flower gardens do better than those of the neighbors?

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