I don’t rightly remember exactly how old I was, but it was probably when I was about 4. Mama and I were living in a little two-roomed house up Ford’s Creek on one of the hills behind Orofino, Idaho. I remember we had a hand pump for water at the kitchen sink, a wood cookstove that also heated the house in the winter, and I took my baths in a big old galvanized tub in the middle of the kitchen floor. We also had an outhouse, or honey hut as we used to call them, for our bathroom privileges. And that small little "house" is what fueled this story. Below is a picture of me when I was about 4 — obviously not playing in the mud puddle!
My Uncle had come over with some other men to help mama by moving the outhouse for us. They moved the old outhouse building and dug the new hole, using the dirt from the new hole to fill up the old hole, and placed the building over the new hole. And, as is normal for dirt, as soon as it hit the water it quickly became mud and sank to the bottom of the old hole, so they had to find some extra dirt to finish filling in the hole. Since we lived out in the country, there was no shortage of dirt to add to the old outhouse hole.
My aunt had come along and brought her youngest son so we could play. He and I always had fun playing together, so she and mama did not foresee today being any different. And it wasn’t — to us, anyway. To our mothers, however, you would have thought it was the end of the world by the time that day was over!
To start things off, as we ran around playing we got hot, so we stripped down to our undies. It was still quite warm. And then we saw it: this huge mud puddle in front of the house. And it was glorious in our eyes! Being too young to know anything, it never dawned on us that the rest of the yard was bone dry and throwing dust everywhere whenever anyone walked across it. And, of course, it hadn’t rained. It was probably close to 80 or 90 degrees out there. We just saw this fantastically big mud puddle. You know, like in the cartoons when the star character's eyes pop out of their head, and the item they are looking at is set inside this huge star while music blares loudly, making it appear like heaven on earth. That is exactly what it was to us — heaven on earth! So we decided to go play in that mud puddle. Being so young, we didn’t know it wasn’t supposed to smell funny! We probably didn’t even realize it smelled funny. I mean, it was just a mud puddle after all!
I don’t know how long we were playing when our mothers finally caught us. I know we were laughing and splashing each other and having a great time. Now remember, we had stripped down to our undies. After all, we didn’t want to get in trouble for getting our clothes dirty! I don’t know if that was what actually went through our minds, but it sounds mighty good. I don’t really think anything went through our minds except playing in that glorious mud puddle. But when we heard our mother’s yelling at us, we knew we were toast. The look on their faces could have melted a cast-iron skillet!
They yanked us out of that mud puddle (old outhouse hole) and proceeded to drag us back to the front porch, screaming all the way. My mother was just going to toss us into that old galvanized tub and give us a nice cold bath. She didn’t want to smell us any longer than necessary and figured that would be good punishment. And since we were on well water it would have been extremely cold! My aunt thought better of it, though. She decided it would be better punishment if they just let us stand out on the front porch and dry a bit. Then they would use the dull side of the butter knives to scrape the mud off our arms and legs. My mother didn’t much like that idea, but my aunt finally won the debate and we found ourselves standing out on the porch in the sun while this smelly, slimy stuff turned to mud on us.
Well, needless to say, as warm as it was it didn’t take too long and then we got to face our punishment. My mama and my aunt magically appeared at the front door with knives in hands and proceeded to start scraping the mud off our arms. You could tell, though, mama wasn’t too happy about it. The men had disappeared somewhere doing whatever men do, but when we started screaming they suddenly appeared to see what was going on.
Thank God for a Mama’s heart, because she didn’t let that go on for too long before she went inside and started heating up some water to give us a bath. Before my aunt could do much more scraping on my cousin, mama had us both stripped down the rest of the way and we were sitting in that galvanized tub waiting for the warm water. My aunt was a little upset because she didn’t think we had been sufficiently punished, but mama was adamant that we had and once my mama made her mind up it was almost impossible to change it!
When the water was sufficiently warm, mama proceeded to pour it over us a little at a time, scrubbing until our skin turned red between each pour. I am not sure whether it was the scrubbing that turned our skin red or if it was already red from the short amount of time they scraped the mud off of us. I didn’t really care which caused it either. I think Mama changed our bath water out two or three times to make sure we were good and clean, too. I think my cousin ended up getting the worst part of the deal, though. Not being at home, he didn’t have any clean under clothes so he ended up going home in a pair of girls underwear! And his father made sure he knew how funny it looked for a little boy to be wearing girls underwear.