Whitesburg KY

A toilet in the house?

I was watching a good ol’ Western movie awhile back. The sheriff had his prisoner in handcuffs. He said, “I’ve got to go to the toilet.” The sheriff said, “ It’s in that room right there, behind that door. Go on in.”

A surprised look came on the prisoner’s face and he exclaimed, “In the house?”

While growing up, we lived in houses in Marlowe, Belcraft, Whitco, Whitesburg and Blackey. None had running water or a bathroom.

Daddy put running water in our house at Blackey after I left home in 1955.

So, we had an outside toilet. If you lived outside the city, you had one too. We never thought it was degrading to have one, even though the city kids teased us about it.

If other kids visited with us, no matter where they lived, if they had to go — they went.

Most toilets had two holes, one large and one small one for the kids. One large family of Tyrees I knew on Dry Fork had a threeholer.

The size of the hole in the ground depended on the size of the toilet building. Most were five or six feet deep and four feet wide.

The building was made of rough lumber with a slightly slanted roof so the rain could run off. For ventilation there were cracks between the boards. They were hot in the summer and cold in the winter, and smelled to high heaven

The door had two wooden latches, one on the inside to keep other people out and a latch on the outside to keep wild critters out.

A wooden frame was built inside the hole, with two-foot by four-foot boards in each corner, extending above the hole. The toilet was attached to these.

No one could afford toilet paper for their large families. Every year, people sent in postcards and received in the mail catalogs from Sears, Montgomery Ward and Alden’s. Sheets torn from these served as our toilet paper, and they lasted a long time.

We also used newspapers, magazines, torn-up comic books, etc. It’s a wonder we didn’t get lead poisoning from all that newsprint.

Once a week, I would stop at The Mountain Eagle office and get a sack full of crap papers. It did the job just fine.

After a while the toilet would get full. It was too expensive to build another one, so the toilet was moved.

About six feet away, we dug another hole. Two long boards were nailed to the old toilet, the nails were knocked out, and then four to six strong men and boys picked up the toilet and carried it to the new hole, and nailed it down

The dirt you dug out was used to fill in the old toilet hole. Then, you were in business again — so to speak.

Inside every house, under every bed, was what we called a ‘pee-pot.’ This was for nighttime use, or in the daytime too, if you were too cold or too lazy to go outside. They had to be emptied and cleaned out every day. In our family the rule was, “If you use it, you clean it.”

I helped Daddy build houses. His Uncle Hiram Whitaker came to our worksite and said, “Curt, when you get time, I need a new toilet built.”

Daddy said, “ Jimmie, you can do that. Go build him a toilet.”

So at the age of 15, I dug the hole and built my first toilet — all by myself. Uncle Hiram handed me a $10 bill. I decided that wasn’t enough money, and the next one I dug and built, I went up on my price to $15.

I made enough money digging and building toilets and coalhouses to buy my school clothes.

So if you lived in the city and you had an inside toilet, you bragged about it. When those city kids teased us about our outside toilets I would say, “You mean you take a bath in the same room where you use the toilet?”

Contributing writer Jim Cornett lives in Burnside.

Leave a Reply