Archived Story

Something is stinking up the outhouse

Published 10:04am Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Column: Tales from Exit 22

It had been a day with sprinkles on it.

If you don’t like sprinkles, it had been a day without sprinkles on it.

Then a plumbing problem arose. It stretched the definition of “plumbing,” but it was serious stuff.

Clogged sink?

That’s nothing.

Overflowing toilet?

A mere triviality, even if the toilet is overflowing after you used it in the home of your boss who is not all that fond of you.

I grew up on a farm that had solved the problem of overflowing toilets by eschewing indoor toilets for a single, centrally located outhouse. You could tell if the owner of an outhouse was rich. Rich folks owned three-holers. There were two holes of regulation sized seating and a third hole in a size meant for children. Such a holey arrangement fostered family togetherness.

Outhouses were pleasant places to sit and contemplate the state of the world during pleasant weather. On a frigid January day in Minnesota, there wasn’t much contemplation done in an outhouse. You wanted to get in and get out before anyone got hurt or frostbit in tender areas.

Back to my statements that clogged sinks and overflowing toilets are nothing more than minor speed bumps in life. An outhouse presented real challenges.

One day, my mother charged into the house and said, “There is something in the outhouse and I want it out! Now!”

My father looked at me. He wasn’t always good at delegating authority, but he excelled at it that day. My father had done a bit of everything in his day — and it had been a long day. He told me to deal with the problem.

I wanted to beg off due to LBD — lazy butt disease.

“Security!” I yelled, but none appeared, so I undertook the project alone. My parents were big believers in the aphorism, “One boy, one brain. Two boys, half a brain. Three boys, no brain at all.”

I approached the outhouse situated at the edge of the woods with an ever-increasing dread. I had no clue what was to be found in the little wooden house with a half-moon carved in it, but I suspected it wasn’t pocket lint. It could have been a lion, a tiger, or a bear! Oh, my! It turned out to be a critter of that rank. It was a skunk.

I knew that people responded to enthusiasm, but I wasn’t sure that skunks did. That was OK, as I had some difficulty mustering much enthusiasm for evicting a skunk from an outhouse. The skunk wasn’t just in the outhouse, it was really in the outhouse. It had entered through the door left open slightly and found its way down into one of the holes.

It would have been good to have been a boy blessed with superpowers. Unfortunately, my only superpower was a great vulnerability to gravity.

A shudder ran up and down my spine as I considered various methods of freeing the skunk. I was as nervous as William Tell with the hiccups.

I decided to place a board into the hole at an angle that would allow the skunk to climb on it. The idea was just crazy enough that it might work. Time passed like a kidney stone, but the skunk finally walked up the board.

The skunk was ingratiatingly polite — almost smarmy — as it ambled away from the outhouse. At least, I thought it was polite until my nose detected a foul odor that the skunk had left as a tip. I suspected that the skunk had led a life of quiet accomplishments and wanted to leave a legacy.

Several years later, my mother charged into the house (she did that regularly) and said, “There is something in the outhouse and I want it out! Now!”

It was déjà vu all over again.

I objected vehemently, but I was re-elected to the job because, let’s face it, I had the experience. Despite a fetid flashback, I was unable to decline the job. I was the go-to guy.

I trudged to the outhouse, mumbling to myself that life was unfair. I wondered where the skunk-saving board was and if it still smelled like a skunk.

I opened the door slowly in case it was a trap.

I heard a soft sound.

A bluebird flew out. The bluebird of happiness carried my backhouse blues away.

I had never been so happy to see a bird in my life.

I love birds because they make me happy and they are not skunks.


Hartland resident Al Batt’s columns appear every Wednesday and Sunday.