Tag Archives: outhouse

Reader’s Digest Research behind Times

First, a clarifier. RD is always behind the times because that’s the magazine’s goal—to collect information about things that have happened. So I’m not whining about Brandon Specktor waiting for research before publishing “50 Everyday Mistakes and How to Fix Them.” No, this is about exploring tasks that didn’t need research.

Take #39 for example. The American Academy of Dermatology advises that children ages 6-11 don’t need a daily bath. Once or twice a week is plenty. No need to spend time and research grant funds to learn that. My mother already knew that.

Back then our 20-gallon water heater was sufficient to fill a galvanized #3 wash tub at least to the half-ring. Mama centered the tub in the kitchen floor and carried pots of water from the faucet at the sink. In went the first kid with a washcloth and a bar of soap. Out with that child wrapped in a towel and in with the second child while the water was still warm. Different wash cloth. Same bar of soap. In between, Mama kept a teakettle of hot water just in case the first child soaked too long.

Then we modernized with indoor plumbing. I was proud of a flushable commode. No more trips to the outhouse in the dark. And that new claw-foot tub was a gleaming jewel. The main difference in the routine was less work for Mama. No more filling and emptying the bathtub. Hot water flowed from the spout at the beginning. Each bather pulled the chain attached to a round rubber plug to let the water flow down the drain when finished.

My ritual for a weekly bath began when I draped the thin washcloth over the side of the tub, dropped the floating Ivory soap into the water, and stepped into the tub. I sat a few minutes, then I lay back like floating in a swimming pool. I kicked my feet and thrashed my arms in a make-believe backstroke. In that tub, a child afraid of deep water, I became an Olympic swimmer. My glory ended too soon when all that activity chilled the water—and me.

Now here’s something Mr. Specktor might look into. Do children in age group 6-11 who play in the bathtub release more endorphins that reduce stress and delay depression?


Reference: Reader’s Digest, April 2017, page 71, print edition


1 Comment

Filed under Memoir

My Father, the Mathematician

Clothbound notebookMy father kept a miniature clothbound notebook in his work shirt pocket and tucked a stub graphite pencil in the special slot in the pocket flap. He recorded the names of homeowners where he tended their yards and gardens and marked his earnings—usually $4 a half-day for his regular clients. He transferred those notes to a ledger every night.

His evening routine seldom varied. He cleaned his reel-style lawnmower and cloth catch basket in the backyard, wiped the yard rake and hedge clippers, and stored them in the toolshed. He came in the back door and washed up for supper. On warm summer days with plenty of daylight, he returned outside and puttered around checking the garden or tending his roses. At dusk, he settled at the kitchen table with the ledger and an indelible pencil in his hand. He touched the pencil to his tongue often to keep the purple pencil fluid as he transferred his earnings to the ledger. On Saturdays, after returning from grocery shopping, he copied each item and the price into the ledger to track the budget. We grew our own vegetables, so the basics included a pound of thick-cut slab bacon or bucket of lard, sugar, flour, oatmeal or Cream of Wheat, and sometimes Postum, and Velveeta cheese. He mulled over the last grocery list prices. He checked the essentials Mama had told him she needed for cooking and calculated the cost.  After our town required inside sanitation, a new item appeared on the list. Toilet paper.

No more trips to the outhouse! No more harsh pages from the Sears and Roebuck catalog. Scott tissue entered our home for the first time at nineteen cents a roll. Then it escalated to twenty-nine cents, a price my father called outrageous considering the purpose. He restricted the purchase to a single 1,000-sheet roll at one time, only buying more when that roll neared the paper tube.

Clothbound LedgerOne winter evening during a slow period with no yard work, my father removed the thick rubber band from his wallet and peered inside. Then, he labored over the grocery needs using prices from the previous journal entries. He shook his head when the scant necessities totaled more than he had budgeted. He shook his head in dismay. He walked into the living room and asked Mama what she could cut from the list. Her response sounded like there would be no way to bake bread or cook without every staple. He returned to the table and hastily made more calculations. Chair legs scraped the linoleum as he stood and made four long steps back toward Mama.

“The toilet paper we have now,” he said in a hushed tone like it was a dirty word, “will last out the week if the twins only use four squares every day.”

My quiet mother, who usually nodded her agreement to his budget calculations, protested. “They can’t do that. They’re girls!”

I don’t remember what item he omitted. I only know it wasn’t the roll of Scott.

Toilet Tissue



Filed under Memoir