The View from Puncheon Creek: Outhouses, Washtubs and Wasps

Printer-friendly versionPDF version

Outhouse, privy, the necessary, or toilet, whichever you called it, it was part of poor folk Appalachian culture.

Ours set out back and we kept boards laid on the ground from the back porch steps to the toilet to walk on. This kept you from walking through mud. Winter was the worst. You had to dress warmly to go outside to use it and it was cold inside the outhouse with snow blowing through the cracks between the boards. Our family outhouse did have the good fortune of real toilet paper in place of Sears’s catalogs.

Washday began early, usually on Monday, when my mother Edith put water in a number-two wash tub over an outside fire to heat the wash water. This hot water was carried by bucket and poured into the tub of the Maytag wringer washer. Then a cake of mother’s homemade lye soap was tossed in and the agitator started. White clothes were washed first. Two more number-two tubs were filled with clean cold rinse water. After the clothes were all finished and hung on the clothesline to dry the real work began.

First both the front and back porches were scrubbed with a broom using the wash water and rinsed off with the rinse water. Buckets of soapy water were then carried to the outhouse and it was also scrubbed from top to bottom with an old broom. Buckets of fresh water were then dashed all over it. This kept down germs, odor and hopefully vermin. The door was left open letting it sun dry.

As a young adult one summer day I went to “use it”. Suddenly I felt a sting on my back, then another. I ran out screaming and my clothes flying as I continued to feel stings. I think I created “the streak” that day as I ran toward the house and in the back door. By the time I got in the house and de-robed I had 7-8 painful wasp stings. How that many got under my clothes I’ll never know. I was a college student at this time.

For myself and many others the giant step from an outhouse to a college degree was quite an accomplishment. A neighbor took a photo of me in my college cap and gown. Although the photo capturing an outhouse in the background was accidental it is a true picture of my life in Appalachia.


By Brenda Kay Howard