The late great New Era editor and publisher Joe Dorris once wrote a column about outhouses. The column went wild, and he ended up being known as the “Outhouse Editor.” A parade was held downtown for him, and a manhole cover was made in his honor and installed at Ninth and Main streets. But that was long ago when he wrote that column, and there’s probably very few people now who remember outhouses or have ever used one.
In a new book, “Iron Wash Kettles and Peddling Wagons: A Living History of Southwest Kentucky,” the author lists outhouses and chamber pots, among other things, that we could remember. I am an expert on outhouses and chamber pots because we didn’t have a bathroom until I was in college.
Now most of you know what an outhouse is, but most of you don’t know what a chamber pot is. That’s what we used at night in the house when it was too cold or too rainy to go out. It was just a chamber pot with a top on it. It sat under the bed, and if you needed to go during the night, you used the chamber pot.
In the morning, it had to be emptied into the outhouse, and washed and cleaned. That was a daily job. And by the way, baths were taken in a No. 3 washing tub, and the water was poured outside when you were through.
“Iron Wash Kettles and Peddling Wagons,” a coffeetable book, 8 by 11 inches, is 256 pages and has 109 photographs.
Some other things discussed in the book included old radio programs. We listened to programs like “Fibber McGee and Molly” every week.
Other topics in the book included spankings at school and again when you got home, wringer washers that were on the back porch, the first color TV, one-room school houses and Sadie Hawkins, inspired by a sexy character in a comic strip called “Li’l Abner.” There’s also Roy Acuff and Little Richard, who got his start in Hopkinsville.
The book mentions first loves and first kisses. For me, it wasn’t a first love, but it was a first kiss and it was behind an outhouse at a home in Trenton. The boy said, “I must get this over with, and then I’ll never kiss you again.” He has always been a dear friend, and he’s never kissed me again.
I also remember when ice was brought from Ellis Ice Co. and unloaded on a dock and Glasscock’s Grocery in Trenton, where farmers and Trenton residents came and broke their ice off with a pick.
Still, it was the outhouse and chamber pots that caught my imagination the most. My mother had been a town girl and had always had a bathroom. It must have been a terrible experience for her to change those chamber pots every morning and wash them.
If it was nice outside, boys just went out and watered the grass before they went to bed. Or you went to the outhouse for a last stop in good weather.
The painting that accompanies this column depicts the one-hole outhouse we had. A simple path led from the house to the outhouse. Inside it had a shelf with reading material, and there was a sack with lime to put in the hole and keep away odor. In the summer, my mother tried to hide it with flowers, and they grew well with all that fertilizer — especially holly hocks.
The book can be ordered from Hometown Memories, 2359 Highway 70 Southeast, Suite 112, Hickory, NC 28606. The phone number is 877-491-8802. The book is $39.95, plus $9 for shipping.
Outhouses and chamber pots are a thing of the past, but a few of us remember them — but not fondly. A chamber pot may be available at some antique stores.
I am sorry that my column has not been in the paper recently. I have been in Nashville, at the Sarah Cannon (Minnie Pearl) Cancer Research Center, for robotic cyber-knife radiation for brain cancer, which was caught when I lost a lot of use of my right side. Jennie Stuart Medical Center did an X-ray to see if I had suffered a stroke, and they found the cancer. It was small, but deep, and probably had been bothering me a long time. I was glad to learn that I finally had a brain, and I hope it will work now better than it ever has.
I thank everyone who has prayed, sent cards, sent food and asked about me. I am sorry I cannot write thank-you notes yet. I still cannot use my hand to its full capacity — and Opinion Editor Jennifer P. Brown has offered to write these column that I dictate to her until I am ready to write again myself.
Reach Mary D. Ferguson by leaving a message at email@example.com or 270-887-3236.