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An Autobiography: Chapter 16, The Outdoor Privie

My paternal Grandfather, Marcus William Moore, was born in 1866 and died in 1953. He was born and raised in Kentucky, with the exception of two years when the family moved to Abilene, Kansas. Grandpa was about four when they went there, and he told us kids how he and the other boys followed Wild Bill Hickok, the famous sheriff, around, admiring his guns. Marcus married Nora Taylor, and every time I see an old film with Una O’Connor, that wonderful character actress, I am amazed at how she resembled my grandmother. 

Marcus Moore 

Marcus William Moore 

I loved to visit my grandparents when I was a child. I remember Grandpa’s breakfast was “soakums,” as he called it − slices of bread with coffee poured over them. Tracy and Marc called him “chew-tobacco-spit” because he always had an old can on the floor beside his combination straight  and rocker chair, which he used to spit his tobacco juice in. I have always loved pumpkin pie, but I couldn’t eat Grandma’s pies. I think she left the sugar out.

My maternal Grandfather was born around 1848, in Hamburg, Germany, and came to America when he was twelve, traveling on a sailing ship. He landed in New York City, and by train and stage coach the family arrived in Campbell County, Kentucky. He married Ellen Daugherty, whose father was a Christian minister. I was three years old when my Grandmother died, and I remember seeing her laid out in the living room of their farmhouse atop Visalia hill. I didn’t go into the room, but instead stared at the lifeless body from the doorway. I don’t remember what I thought or whether anyone explained the situation to me. I imagine it was a very puzzling sight for a child of three.

It was about that same time that I was out playing in the yard one day while my parents were visiting in the house. I always had a bushy head of hair, and on this day, some bees got into my hair. I ran into the house screaming and rolling around on the floor; I suffered from those bee strings for some time.

My father was born in 1897 and died in 1969. My mother was born in 1898 and died in 1982. The house I was born in was originally a log cabin, over a hundred years old. I don’t remember it as a log house, though, because at one time it was covered with vinyl shingles. It was a small one-story house with five rooms, no electricity or plumbing. Lighting was provided by oil lamps, and a woodstove in the front room kept the house warm in the winter. There was a porch that ran across the front with about five steps above the ground level. The lot sloped to the rear, and the kitchen had a huge woodstove for cooking and a wooden ice box that held a cake of ice in the top. The kitchen opened to a small porch and about 9 steps to the backyard. There, within a few feet, was a hand pump that provided water for the house.

House Birthplace 

Thurston Moore’s birthplace, as photographed in 1985. 

In the backyard, close to the house, was an actual log building used for storage. I remember on visits in the summer as a kid, I slept there sometimes with the door open to keep cool. When I slept in the house, I often slept on the floor right by the open door.

The outdoor privie was a short walk down the hill. The closest neighbor, the Hensleys, were about 300 feet away, with an open field between us, and they had complete view of the Moores when we went to the privie. I felt funny about that, especially when Edith, who was about my age, was out in the yard. It was generally supposed that she and I would marry. Oftentimes I saw her going to the privie, too! But that was just the way it was in those days. The privies in the country were targets for the bad boys on “cabbage night.” They would go around and turn over privies! I lived in nine houses before Georgianna and I were married, and two or three of those did not have indoor plumbing, and we did not have a bathtub until the house we moved to in 1943.

After my third birthday, we moved to Covington and lived one year on 12th Street, then two years on Banklick Street, and in 1931 we lived for six months on Russell Street. Our next move was to Lee Street over a Chinese Laundry. All of our residences were on the Second floor because the rent was cheaper. I wish I could remember more about the laundry, but one incident on Lee Street I have never forgotten was the time my brothers almost killed me.

Three Boys 

Thurston with his older brothers, CC and Edwin. 

I was 5 or 6 years old at the time, and we had a German police dog named Cuno. Well, they thought it would be fun to harness Cuno up to our old wagon and have him take me for a ride. And what a ride it was! Cuno didn’t like the idea, and off he went as fast as he could, up and down alleys, me holding on for dear life. My brothers thought it was hilarious, but Mom and Dad didn’t think so. I’m just glad I lived to write about it.

My first school was 2nd District, and I was in love with my kindergarten teacher, Miss Swango. In one of my early school years, I vaguely remember another pretty teacher who had a convertible, in which she would sometimes take her “favorite” students to the movie. I was always one of them! I got along fairly well in school, but the teachers said I was always dreaming, thinking of “ideas.” One year, in about 5th or 6th grade, our class had a club with weekly dues. I was made the treasurer, and sometimes I spent the money and had to really hustle to make it up.

There was a penmanship class, which I always enjoyed. The teacher, Miss Grumplemeier, came to the school once a week to teach the class. I loved the way she wrote with such a beautiful flourish on the blackboard; she was quite an artist and loved her job. One time she asked each student to go to the blackboard and write his or her signature.

For some time I added a little swirl below my name and continued that for many years. Miss Grumplemeier analyzed the signatures and had something to say about each one. I was very proud when she told the class about my signature and pointed out to them the swirl under my name, saying, “Thurston will go far in whatever he chooses to do in life.” Dear Miss Grumplemeier was the only person who expressed faith in me in my first 15 years.

Don’t Miss the Next Chapter: Growing Up