Tag Archives: farms

Outhouse Terrors

I talked about squat toilets and scary, dark toilets last week. They’re their own form of horror but none of them were that rustic, wooden box called the outhouse.

Many years ago when I was but a wee tyke, we visited some relatives out in Lac la Biche, Alberta. (I think it means deer lake in English.) They had a farm replete with chickens, cows, cats, hat and raspberry canes. And of course, like many farmsteads, there was running water in the house but it was built in an era before plumbing, and the toilets were outside.

I suppose as biffies go, these were probably higher class. There was a wooden boardwalk from the house to the outhouse. And it was a two-seater with toilet seats. My relatives were obviously comfortable sitting side by side and doing their business.

And so were my sister and me. During the visit we had to go out to the outhouse, at night. We took the flashlight and while sitting in the outhouse we were shining the lights about and making shadow puppets. I’m not sure how old we were. I’m thinking I was six and my sister twelve.

Anyways, after we were done peeing and playing, we went to leave…and couldn’t. The door was latched tight. On the outside was a simple wood toggle to keep the door shut when no one was in it. It had fallen down while we were inside and we started pounding and yelling. My sister, ever one to freak out easily, was screaming and crying, and of course I followed along. Here we were stuck in the dark, in a dreaded outhouse (luckily the fumes weren’t so bad) and with visions of perishing there.

Obviously that wouldn’t have happened. Someone would have missed us sooner or later and we weren’t going to die in there. But we were in the moment and hysterical. Of course the adults were inside yukking it up, talking and laughing and heard nothing until there was a lull in the conversation. They eventually came out (I’d say it was twenty minutes but it was more likely ten) and let us fly free, tear-streaked an terrified.

They laughed long and hard, and it’s laughable in retrospect but I wouldn’t go in an outhouse until I was about twenty-two. Scarred from that early memory, I refused any time we went to Banff or any outing, to use an outhouse and insisted on restaurants and gas stations. I was resolute. But as an adult, I met friends who had a cabin in Clinton, BC and of course, it was rustic. It took some effort but I finally got over my fear of outhouses, although they don’t rate highly on bathroom experiences as they are almost always smelly to downright gagarific, and often dangerous to tender skin.

In a pinch I can use whatever is available, including the great outdoors. I should also note that although I had been in Wazuubee of late I hadn’t gone to the bathroom there. I was there again the other night and they have in fact put brighter track lighting into their bathroom (although the whole place really needs an overhaul–it’s pretty shabby) so yay, less horrors there.

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Kansas: Vignettes

It’s late and the workshop begins in the morning so this will be things I noted along the way, perhaps in order.

I found out that your bra can set off the airport security system. Seriously. I took off all my jewelry (except my rings which never set off the alarms) and I still buzzed the thing twice. They said, something up high is setting it off and when they ran the little wand over me it was the wires and clips on my bra. I bought it on sale but it’s well made.

I sat beside a horse rancher who had fingers the size of breakfast sausages and then some. Several fingers were bent to the side and I didn’t know if that was just from arthritis or from breaking horses all his life. He was a nice guy and we chatted about geography, him showing me the copper mine by the great salt lake (which I certainly wouldn’t have noticed) and talking about how the land had changed and cities come up. We talked about floods in Iowa and about the land flying over. He told me if I talked about sports in Lawrence I couldn’t go wrong as they called it the “sport city.” I guess the college basketball team has won championships.

I’ve flown often enough and never fail to love looking down on the land and seeing its great scape and what tales it tells of time passing. The was the first time I saw a truly awesome alluvial plain. I could see where there had once been a great river, wide and high and lake like in its middle, how it pushed might torrents of water along and through the land, carving out veins that branched and branched, growing ever smaller. The dark lines of those veins and the rivulets, even now long dried out, were still there to tell the tale. It was amazing. Then as the land flattened past the Rockies, there was evidence of a great lake, where the banks were still built up and the water had overflowed, pouring down one side, then eventually shrinking in on itself, smaller and smaller over thousands of years until only a few streams and possibly rivers remain.

We then hit the flat farm fields of Kansas, beautiful in the chequered pattern of greens, golds and browns, quartered and sectioned. Even through the farmlands the evidence of rivers still reveal themselves. Those branches and veins still flow with life-giving water, and trees delineate and embroider the shapes of the rivers. This was one of the best histories of geography that I’ve flown over and I’ve flown into the British Isles, India, the Himalayan foothills, Mexico and Cuba.

Oro, one of the short fiction workshop folk who lives in Kansas City picked me up at the airport and gave me a ride. We got lost at first, going north instead of west. Oro apologized and for the fact his car didn’t have air conditioning but I just said, hey, it’s an adventure. I’ve amazingly looked at all the travel delays with pretty good humor, which is a good thing. In some cases I would get downright bitchy so maybe all that work I’ve been doing on my brain is paying off. I just took everything as part of the whole grand adventure.

The dorms in Lawrence are…well, dorms, but way more spacious than I thought. Rhea and I are sharing a room, which actually turns out to be a room with a wide kitchen space and bathroom in the middle and another room at the other end. If we were college students we would have another buddy in each room but we have the rooms to ourselves and doors to each bedroom. I nearly froze the first day because I hadn’t figured out the esoteric air conditioning.

I’ve met all the workshop people: Lane, Barbara, Jerry, Larry, Stewart, Eric, GS (and Rhea) for the novel portion, and Mannie, Mallory, Eric, Chuck, Kent, Oro, Ben, Robert, Jean, (Carolyn who I met the next day) for the short fiction portion (though I think I’m missing a name). Barbara, Larry and Jerry are doing both. And of course there is Chris, Kij who is teaching the novel portion,and Jim Gunn, saying what they wanted to get out of the workshop. I of course want fame and riches. But seriously, it’s great to brainstorm and get other perspectives and see if there’s something I’m missing in plot.

I drank some homemade limoncello by the novel workshop Eric. Very nice and strong stuff, actually better than the store bought, which doesn’t have enough tang for my tastes. Last night we ate at a Greek restaurant (the only one in Lawrence), which also serves falafel and pasta. It’s the first time I’ve ever had a Greek salad with lettuce in it. They asked me if I wanted the olives and I said yes. I was given a whole two. We then took a walk around a wee park and a wee-er Japanese sort of garden, then meandered along a street of cool shops. Last night was very pleasant and it was great to meet fellow writers tonight where we ended up talking new technologies, conservation, pollution, etc. My brain is happy.

I’ll soon be doing some poetry editing for Chizine so Sandra felt obliged to actually get to my poems before I come on board. She accepted “Trials of Lemons,” a poem about bitter fruit and dragonflies. I’m not yet sure when it will be up.

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