Wednesday, September 12, 2012

The fabled out house in three parts

By Ed VanDeMark

Most out houses had been replaced by indoor plumbing five to ten years before I was born. My father was a plumber so we were on the cutting edge in this regard.

The only running water in Miller’s old farm house was in the kitchen sink. Regardless of the season, day or night they took trips to the back yard. From time to time a car would stop out front and someone would avail them self of their facility.  One Saturday afternoon my brother saw Tin Lizzy; our local homeless crazy old fire bug lady go in to powder her nose. Ten year old Jack Miller was Mark’s closest friend so the next time they were together Mark couldn’t wait to blurt out the news. “Tin Lizzy used your out house.” From that day forward till they got indoor plumbing Jack came the hundred and fifty yards across our back lawn into our house to used our toilet.

Mark also tells the story of a Boy Scout Camporee.  Sometime in the middle of a moonless night he raced a kid for the privilege of being first to the one holler in the woods. Scripture says “The first will be last and the last will be first.” The other kid outran Mark but that wasn’t a good thing. Someone had lifted the latrine and move it behind the pit. Need I say more?
My third story involves a dozen or so twelve year old boys with too much time on their hands. The community swimming hole was in the Owego Creek just south of the Main St. Bridge.

Two out houses stood side by side, one labeled Women the other Men. At the peak of the summer the volume of traffic was high because they doubled as changing rooms.
My friend Donnie had a reputation for having the best ideas in town. A short huddle and our plan was set. He theorized it would take this guy about twenty seconds to remove his trunks so he timed it from the moment we heard the door latch click. At his signal we hit that shanty with the force of a bull dozer. As planned it came to rest on its door. Our plan also included watching him crawl through the hole and try to maneuver his naked self over the pit without getting anything on him.  Suddenly one of the kids said “He’s an adult.” A dozen boys looked at each other and without another word disappeared into a corn field.

I’ve often thought I should have stayed to see how he’d manage his predicament. Then again I might not have lived to see my thirteenth birthday.

The one holler’s are making a return in the form of chemical facilities to keep them from being quite as ripe as the old ones of my youth. While I do my best to avoid them they’re occasionally an inevitable reality. I always look to be sure there are no twelve year old boys between me and the horizon.

Edward L. VanDeMark:
Edward is a pompous name and Eddie is condescending, I therefore prefer to be called “Ed” which is, in my opinion, neither pompous nor condescending.
I was born in Endicott, New York on July 16, 1941 and have lived most of my life fifteen miles west of Endicott in or near the village of Owego. When I find something good I stick with it.
I’m married to Linda (Masters). We have three fine adult children (Tony, Lisa and Dan) and nine wonderful grandchildren ranging in age from 20 to 2.
After three disappointing starts to a career and two temporary positions I settled into public service employment, administrating various programs for Tioga County for nearly thirty five years. I retired in April of 2009. My early career consisted of teaching Art, the Navy and being a District Scout Executive for the Boy Scouts.
I write about my observations of life and draw cartoons because there is a force embedded deep inside of me that will not release me to ignore these modes of expression. I’m not interested in a second career as a writer or as a cartoonist. I’ve served my time meeting other people’s deadlines and I’m not in love with the tension they cause yet I do send off finished works for publication. Chicken Soup for the Soul has published three of my stories as have other lesser known publications.
Most of my stories are somewhere between 250 and 750 words in length. Brevity is my hallmark except for my annual Christmas letter which is generally about 3,600 words. Before you gag at the thought of a Christmas letter, let alone an eight page Christmas letter let me assure you this one isn’t the standard Christmas Letter. If you’re on my list of recipients you’ll receive your letter sometime between December first and June fifteenth. I don’t permit anyone, unfortunate enough to be mentioned, to achieve superhero status and I stop about an eighth of an inch short of portraying any of us as a bumbler. It’s the story of real people, being richly real, in their rarest and most precious of moments. It is a snap shot of runny noses, gaps in our bridge work and our backsides as we walk and run up the hills of life.
I’ve also written two screen plays that I have no clue how to market. They were a blast to write and the characters in them are as real to me as my next door neighbors.
My writing is two parts serious and three parts humor. Five is a whole number but it’s not ten and I have no desire to make everything end in a zero or be wrapped up in neat little packages. Every time I mow my lawn I try to do it in a way I’ve never done it before and that same challenge haunts me in my writing. I use simple words because I can’t get the spelling of complex words close enough for spell check to finish the job.
If anyone is familiar with the subject of human temperament you’ll recognize my personality type expressed in these four letters INFP. If you’re unfamiliar with them simply plug them into any search engine and you’ll get about four million hits that explain my quiet yet reverently unholy personality. My learning style is referred to as abstract random which simply put means I don’t know where to go to find my muse yet I keep running to her.
People and my God are my main reasons for living. I count among my friends people of all ages and both genders. I’m as comfortable being the only male in the hall with two hundred women as I am on an all men’s Walk to Emmaus. My family is my primary source of energy.  I also delight in my Owego United Methodist Church family and my Facebook interactions. The Montrose Christian Writer’s Conference is my annual pilgrimage home for it is the one place on the planet where I feel normal. It is here I’ve found people as quirky as I am; the Odd Ducks of Montrose soar as eagles and promenade as graceful swans this last full week of July.
The two best pieces of advice I’ve received as a writer are 1. Just tell your story and 2. Make it sing.
God Bless you my friends.
Ed VanDeMark.


Liz Flaherty said...

Great post, although I admit my outhouse memories aren't fond ones. Being the only people around w/o indoor plumbing set us apart in painful way!

H L Wegley said...

Outhouses ... great and horrible memories. Thanks for the reminder. In rural S. Oregon, outhouses were a way of life until the mid '50s. Once my father-in-law ran a big hyster lifter over the outhouse at the sawmill while a co-worker was inside. He lifted the whole thing, and the poor fellow ran out trying to pull up his pants. I don't think the guy ever forgave him. But the men at the mill had a story that's been told for over 60 years.

David said...

For as many summers as I can remember we would spend most of it at my Grandfathers cabins "down lake". The lake was the Mattawamkeg (sp) in Northeast Maine. Water came from a primed pump and the only facilities were the pair of outhouses. One was named "My Nellie" and the other "Your Nellie". During the hot and humid days of early August we would have preferred to join the wildlife in using the woods as the smell was often over powering. We didn't of course, and while we always had a good time, were happy to return to using indoor plumbing at the end of the summer.

Jenny McLeod Carlisle said...

I remember being assigned the duty of cleaning the outhouse at Girl Scout Camp. We used mop buckets full of Clorox and water daily, so they never smelled too awfully bad. The smell of Clorox still makes me feel that everything is clean.

Sharla L. Shults said...

Oh! Do I ever remember the outhouses at my grandmother's! Not only that, the running water was running back and forth filling buckets at the well! But, yet they are still fond memories! Just did a short poem at Awakenings on Grandpa's school days...check it out @

JoAnn S. said...

After reading your post--maybe I will paint a painting that I thought about doing. I took a photo of an outhouse behind an old country schoolhouse. It had a crescent moon on the door. The title for my painting? "The Little House on the Prairie."