Monday, February 4, 2013


We take the most important room in our homes, the bathroom, for granted.  Every family member, without a second thought, uses it on a daily basis.  Yet, only 100 years ago most houses were not equipped with flushing toilets, hot and cold running water, a shower, bath or tub.  So, people did what comes naturally in the outhouse, the woods or some secluded spot.

Civilizations developed ways to deal with human excrement.  I read that even in 3000 B.C. there were some indoor toilets with rainwater pipes to underground drains and cesspools.  Ancient Romans had elaborate water systems, including sewage drainage systems,  They had public toilets with rows of seats cut into marble ledges where water below carried away their refuse.  These public baths and public toilets were social and business meeting places where people paid to use the facility.  Yes, they did.  Humans, it seems, were not sufficiently impressed with sanitation to find human waste a problem. 

Improvement began in the 16th century.  People did not shower or bathe with any regularity but did learn to use chamber pots; some being emptied out a window or on the street.  As more people lived in towns and communities, rules and laws for health and sanitation were established.  In England, for instance, people relied on outdoor pits, dug at a distance of an arrow's shot from a residence.  It took many years for some areas of Europe and America to modernize.

My parents' newly built four room farmhouse was at the top of a knoll in Arkansas.  It had no accommodation for a bathroom, no electricity or running water.  It was the summer of 1949 and we began to 'modernize' the farm with electrical wiring, well pump with lines to bathroom, kitchen and a septic system.  As workers, we found relief only in ritual visits to the outhouse.  You see, my mother had never lived without electricity, running water or a fully-functioning bathroom and she wasn't about to start here.  Neighbors stopped by to see what we were doing.  They said, "You'll never get water pumping to the top of that knoll."  But the delivery truck arrived with toilet, sink and bathtub - in pink porcelain.  In about 1960 my sister and I visited our mother at the farm - and took pleasure in dismantling the old oak outhouse.

I take the two bathrooms in my house and the innumerable public rest rooms elsewhere for granted.  I expect cleanliness, flushing toilets, running water and quality toilet paper, too.  I haven't seen a 'real' Arkansas outhouse in thirty years and I don't own a chamber pot - never did.  So much for potty training. 

Do you remember outhouses and chamber pots?  Tell me.  I'd like to know.

Nancy yTe \

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