Today’s story for my on-line memoir is one that amuses me. It shows just how trusting and naïve I was at age seven. Adults and children also were always pulling practical jokes on me because I could be duped so easily. This particular story is about an outhouse joke.
When Grandpa Ready died in March 1943, he had completed much of the work on the retirement home he planned for himself and Grandma Ready. She offered the house, which still needed plastering, painting, window framing, flooring, electrical work, to my family for $25 a month rental.
For the next two months, while I finished first grade at Courtney School, Dad worked in the evenings on the house. He plastered and painted the walls and completed the flooring in every room but the kitchen.
Dad lived there until his death in 1975. I lived there until 1954, when I went away to college at Mount Saint Scholastica in Atchison, Kansas. I came home only for the summers, and then left for good in 1958 when I entered the Benedictine convent in Atchison.
Dad never completed the house. No painting of the shingled one-story house, no window framing on the inside, no finished flooring in the kitchen. And no indoor plumbing until after I was in the convent and the city brought water out into the countryside. Every few months, a truck arrived at our home, carrying a supply of water to fill our well.
Without running water, of course, we had no indoor bathroom and so used a slop bucket, which my brother emptied each morning through the hole in the outhouse seat. It’s that outhouse that Grandma Ready picked as a subject for teasing.
“Dolores,” she said. “Be careful when you use the outhouse.”
“Snakes live in the muck. They wait until they see a person’s bottom on that seat. Then they jump up and bite you!”
I shivered at the thought.
“You mean they can kill me?”
She walked to the outhouse with me, opened the door, and pointed to the hole. “They’re hiding down there. Waiting to leap up and bite your butt. They’ll kill you lickety-split and you’ll fall into the muck.”
From that day forward, I never sat on the hole. I’d put my hands on each side of me to support myself as I held my bottom up above the hole. I figured that if I were three inches above the hole, the snakes couldn’t reach me. They were able, I thought, to jump just to the edge of the hole. That far; no farther.
Three inches assured no poison. But I was doomed if I sat on the hole.
Until I was nearly eleven, I continued to do this. The story always rang true to me. Then one day Mom opened the outhouse door, not knowing I was inside. She apologized and then, noticing my position, said, “Dolores, what are you doing? Why are you holding yourself like that? Why aren’t you sitting on the seat?”
I explained about what Grandma had told me. “Mom, it’s not safe to sit,” I said. “I hope you don’t sit. You’ve got to be three inches higher. The snakes can’t jump that far.”
“On, Dolores,” Mom moaned. “Your grandma was just joshing with you.”
“She meant it, Mom.”
“Believe me. If there ever were any snakes inside there, they’re long since dead.”
From then on, I sat on the outhouse seat. Much more comfortable, believe me. And Grandma? She said, “Really fooled you, didn’t I?”