Does anyone remember the pit to hell called the outhouse?

When I was a child every weekend my family would make the trek to my grandparents’ house where we would gather like an ancient tribe. The part of those visits I remember most was the trip to the outhouse.

My grandparents did not have an indoor bathroom until their children grew up and built them one and, honestly, I do not think my grandparents ever forgave them. They were from the old school and did not respond well to change. The outhouse remained, however, a reminder of other times.

The outhouse sat at the end of a long path at the back of the house. We would slowly make our way down the path listening to the birds and insects serenading us with nature’s opera but always knowing that at the end of the path was the outhouse where nature’s beauty stopped at the door. The beast slouched there waiting and it mocked us for our fear.

On one side of the path was the house and on the other was a deserted trailer. During the day the path was well lit and surrounded by bushes and the flowers my grandmother had planted that scented the air with their perfume. At night the path was a black maze and the outhouse was a dark, misshapen thing that appeared to be slinking toward us so it could gobble us up.

Often, after darkness fell, we would lose our nerve altogether. We would squat on the side of the path, pants around our ankles, and watch anxiously over our shoulders like scared little rabbits hiding from a wolf. Our wolves were the adults who would have given us a little something to think about if they had caught us.

The exterior of the outhouse consisted of weathered wood and a door with a small window so we could see if some other poor, unfortunate soul had been called there by nature. The interior contained a wooden bench with two holes in which to “do our business” as my grandmother used to say. The holes were like an inky abyss and as a small child I was terrified the hole was a blackened mouth that would swallow me up.

On entering the outhouse, the first thing to strike me was the smell. It was the smell of unholy things and it seemed inconceivable that mere men produced it. It clung inside my nose like a putrid blanket and the taste was like rotten eggs on my tongue. I would hold my breath but somehow the smell got through no matter how hard I tried. There was no escape. In a rack to the right of this toilet from hell were some pages of old newspapers that were intended to be used as toilet paper. Charmin was never on our grandparents shopping list it seemed and Mr. Whipple would never try to squeeze our tissue. Holding my breath and holding my nose I would take care of business as fast as I could then clean myself with the newspaper that felt like sandpaper tearing at my skin.

As soon as I was finished I would jump to my feet, slam open the door and race through as though being chased by the Devil himself. My breath escaped in a giant whoosh as I struggled to replace the foulness in my nose and mouth with sweet, clean air and my grandmother’s roses. It took several minutes to push the hideous smell from my nose and the horrible taste from my mouth and I reveled in being free of the beast at last.

Many years later I returned to my grandparents’ place with my mom. There was a brand new house there and the path had been filled in with grass. The old trailer was gone. Gone too was the outhouse. Its menacing presence was replaced by a tool shed and nothing remained of the beast that had once terrorized us as children. Despite my childhood fear of the thing, I found myself experiencing a tug of nostalgia for a simpler if much smellier time. The new house was so clean and modern, not at all like my grandparents old place that was as plain and comfortable as an old hat. No longer could I see the grumbling beast down the path and somehow that made me sad. The outhouse may be gone but the memories remain.

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