In the eighties, we lived down in Nelson County, Virginia in an old dilapidated log house built by slaves before the Civil War. It was in such poor shape that the rent was free. We would be building a house on our land next door. When we moved in, there was no well or septic field, but there was electricity.
Eventually we borrowed enough money to install a well, and we buried plastic water line six hundred feet over to the cabin. So at least we didn’t have to haul water from the pond for washing anymore. With three little kids, two of them still in diapers, there was always washing to be done. We didn’t have a bathroom. We had a composting toilet behind a curtain in the kitchen that the kids’ dad thought was the cats meow.
We had regular arguments about this.
“I can’t take having that disgusting, smelly, composting toilet in the kitchen! It’s gross. I’d rather have to get my boots on and go outside in the pouring down rain, in the middle of the night, than have to put up with having it in the kitchen one more day.”
“Really. I like having it inside.”
“It is hard enough to cook in this tiny hallway of a kitchen without having to put up with disgusting sounds and smells coming from that thing. I want a regular outhouse and a little privacy.”
“Oh, yeah? Well than you had better get to digging yourself one cause I’m not. I have a perfectly good one right here where it’s warm and dry.”
“What? You think I can’t dig an outhouse hole? Watch me.”
“Well, it has to be done right. Tell you what. When you dig a proper hole, at least six feet deep with nice squared off sides, then I’ll build you a outhouse. Till then, drop it. Will you?”
She went stomping off to the tool shed, first thing after breakfast the next morning. Set the kids up in the sandbox nearby with their shovels and trucks. First thing was to measure out the space where the hole would go and take off the sod. It was going to be a double holer so the kids could come out and use it at the same time she did. With a window and a door. She would dig the hole three by six feet wide and six feet deep. First she had to sharpen the shovel and the mattock with the file. She took shallow slices off and laid the sod in the wheelbarrow to fill the holes in the uneven yard. The red clay ground had baked brick hard, and sweat was pouring off her, as she chopped and shoveled. Loosened up a layer, shoveled it off into a pile. Loosened up another couple inches, shoveled it off. The ground was hard as rock. It would be a lot easier if a good rain was to come by and soften it some. After awhile, the kids got tired and needed lunch and a nap, so she had to quit. It was coming along though. Down about eighteen inches so far.
She had other chores to do the rest of the day so she put the tools back in the shed and started rinsing out diapers and heating water on the stove to wash them in. The kids woke up and wanted to draw so she set them up with crayons and paper and colored with them for a bit. Her oldest daughter came walking up the lane from the school bus and wanted a snack before she started homework. Then it was time to go out in the garden and pick some squash and beans to make for supper.
When their Dad came home, he made fun of how little she had gotten done on the hole.
“I reckon I don’t need to worry about having to build you an outhouse anytime soon at that rate.”
“I didn’t say I could do it in one day, you know. I have a lot of chores around here. What did you do today?”
“Oh, I went and checked out that new house going up out in Faber. Wanted to see if they needed any stone work.”
“The jack ass running the construction crew told me they had somebody lined up already.”
“Well, have you talked to that guy you met down at the bar yet? Maybe you could show him some of your work so he can keep you in mind.”
“Hell. He won’t get me any work. He thinks he’s better than me. Say’s he can lay his own stone.”
“Well, what about that other guy? The one’s that building our near Schuyler?”
“Would you back off and quit nagging me? Nobody wants to pay me what I’m worth around here. I’m going to have to go back down to Carolina to make any money.”
“You could find work around here if you wanted. You just seem to think you should get paid more than anybody else. Maybe you should come down in price a little, just so you could work closer to home.”
“I am not lowering my price. They can take it or leave it. It’s their loss. They don’t know quality when they see it. Now drop it. When’s dinner around here, anyway?”
The next day, he disappeared off somewhere and she, once again, started digging the new outhouse hole. She got another three feet done and it was getting hard to find places to put the dirt.
Then it started to rain. It rained for two whole days and the hole filled up with water and the pile turned into a sticky red clay mess. Now it was going to have to dry out before she could dig it again,
It took almost a week to dry out enough to work it again. Of course, all the weeds in the garden went gang busters from the rain, so she had to take care of them first. Then she had to pick and can all the green beans. There was always something. Meanwhile he still wasn’t working. He tried to look busy down in the bottom land. Said he was working on fence. What a joke.
Finally, a couple weeks later, she got a break and was able to dig again. It was getting deep now and harder to throw the dirt up. She kept plugging away at it though. She had trouble climbing out of the hole, it was so deep. He didn’t care. He wasn’t helping. It was her problem.
The neighbors up the hill came by and she told them what the hole was for. They allowed as how it was a pretty nice hole and it would be an improvement to have a good double holer out back. They thought it was a little weird to have a toilet in the kitchen, too.
He came back from his hard day of fishing, with three tiny bluegills, and told her the hole still wasn’t deep enough.
“It is too. It measures right at six feet. Help me get out.”
“It’s not big enough until you can lay down in it and be buried over. Get yourself out. I’m not building you nothing.”
She finally got one of the kids to bring her a five gallon bucket so she could stand up on it and climb out. Then she packed the kids up in the car and stuck her head in the house and yelled,
“Get your own dinner! I’m leaving.”
She drove out the cove road fuming, wondering where she could go. She had to get away from him. He was driving her crazy. She decided to go visit her friend up on the mountain. She was always ready for a visit and they could chill out together. She would spend the night and to hell with him.
When she returned home later the next day he had left a note saying he had gone to Carolina and would stay at his friend Jackie’s house.
So at least she would have some peace while he was gone. Maybe he would come back with a better attitude.
Two weeks later, he came home all apologetic, with money in his pockets, from a small job his friend had found for him. He actually went down to the sawmill and bought some boards to build the outhouse with and spent a couple of days putting it together. It had a small window, scarfed up from the barn, and a hinged door with latches. The composting toilet finally got moved out of the kitchen, and stored down the hill in the tobacco barn, which made room to bring in the old iron bathtub and put it under the kitchen stairs. Grandmom sent some birthday money to buy an electric hot water heater, which fit under there too. Now there was both hot running water and a bathtub! Things were looking up.