Ray loves to tell stories about his childhood of long ago America – his eyes twinkle with excitement. He was a teen in rural West Virginia of 1950, carefree and happy. His parents’ farmhouse lacked indoor plumbing, not that it bothered the boys that much. They bathed every Saturday evening before church in the family washtub in the kitchen after the adults in the household.
Water was heated on the stovetop and everyone took their turns in the same soapy water, gradually turning into muddy brown. The metal tub was large enough to accommodate one person sitting in a crouched position. By the time the boys got to bathe, the water was dirty and lukewarm. The adage, “don’t’ throw the baby out with the bathwater” was certainly true.
It was a royal treat in summertime to wash in the creek that crossed the farm nearby. The boys learned to swim there, frolicked in their underwear, drank the water, and took baths upstream or downstream, wherever was most convenient at the moment. The creek was their refrigerator as well. In the shallows, they kept bottles of fresh, unpasteurized cow’s milk. In August, the creek kept watermelons cold.
It did not bother Ray that the outhouse was hanging over the creek upstream on stilts, dumping its contents in the water. When a summer deluge came, the tiny creek would swell to raging rapids, overflowing its banks, and floating the outhouse away. The local bridge, a tenth of a mile downstream, would stop the outhouse from its treacherous descent.
Ray’s dad and the boys would bring it back to its resting place, closer to the farmhouse, dragging it through sand and mud with sleds pulled by horses.
The interior was always a sandy, muddy mess and the cleanup with shovels and buckets took hours. Once the outhouse was resting again on its stilts, all cleaned up, nobody was too upset over the hard work they had just completed, but everyone bemoaned the loss of the Sears and Roebuck catalog, their free toilet paper.
Happy as coons in a corn field, the boys took turns swinging naked from the trees around the banks, dropping into a deeper hole, splashing in the swollen creek. Most became good swimmers by necessity, yet it was a miracle that nobody drowned.
The creek was truly the nature’s bounty in a time when people had to be creative to survive. Nobody knew much about modern conveniences nor cared. Ray’s family’s outhouse was the only “flush toilet” for miles around.