Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Marjorie's Outhouse

"The outhouse . . . stood on a direct line with the dining room windows. One fortunate diner might sit with his back to it. The others could not lift their eyes from their plates without meeting the wooden stare of the unhappy and misplaced edifice. They were fortunate if they did not meet as well the eye of a belated occupant, assuring himself stonily that he could not be seen." (from "The Evolution of Comfort," in Cross Creek, by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings [Charles Scribner's Sons, 1942])

The Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings State Park preserves or recreates Rawlings' house down to the minute details, including the gray paint on the screen door of the outhouse, intended to shield the user from view, but rather giving that unfortunate the appearance of a gray, mossy monster. There's even a red cloth flag, a system worked out by one of Rawling's guests to indicate when the outhouse was occupied. In Cross Creek, Rawlings recounts how she vowed to use any windfalls of money to pay for indoor plumbing, being disatisfied with the outhouse as well as icy outdoor showers in the wintertime. With the $700 she earned for Jacob's Ladder, she was able to install a bathroom: "The formal opening of the bathroom was a gala social event, with a tray of glasses across the lavatory, ice and soda in the bathtub, and a bouquet of roses . . . ."

Although Rawlings did acknowledge that she was better off at her house than were many of her neighbors when it came to water, her desire for convenience and comfort are echoed by Ma Baxter's wish for a well in The Yearling. And as Rawlings had to postpone her bathroom to pay for mortgages, car repairs, and poor citrus crops, so did Ma Baxter have to wait for her well:

"Ever' spring, I'd figger to git your Ma a well dug. Then I'd need a ox, or the cow'd bog down and perish, or one o' the young uns'd put in and die and I'd have no heart for well-diggin', and medicine to pay for. Bricks so turrible high--When I begun diggin' oncet, and got no water at thirty feet, I knowed I was in for it. But twenty years is too long to ask ary woman to do her washin' on a seepage hillside." (Penny Baxter to his son Jody, in The Yearling, by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings)


Further reading about outhouses:

"Honor has outhouse restorer over the moon: Historic latrine in Cocoa to be rebuilt near church" Florida Today, September 6, 2008

"Bushnell man finds opportunity in outhouses " St. Petersburg Times, September 21, 2008

Florida Outhouses, by Kevin McCarthy, 2002

Nature Calls: The History, Lore, and Charm of Outhouses, by Dottie Booth, 1998

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