I was about 5 years old when my family and I visited my aunt and uncle who lived on a farm with their 11 children. Their home was an old two-story house with big, drafty rooms and squeaky wooden floors. The farm’s most intriguing feature, and one that would leave a lasting impression on my life, was the outhouse.
Winters in Kansas can be brutally cold at times, and on a day I won’t soon forget, this was no exception. My cheeks were swollen, and my lips were burning and split from being out in the harsh winter weather. Like most 5-year-olds, I had not yet mastered the restraint needed to keep from licking my lips in the cold air. Mom tried to keep lip balm on them, but it usually came off when I wiped my runny nose with the sleeve of my coat.
It was my first visit to the old farmhouse, and I was wandering around looking for the bathroom when I ran into my uncle. “Where is the bathroom, Uncle Hank?” I asked.
“Bathroom?” he replied. He looked at me with watery blue eyes and pointed in the direction of the kitchen. “We have an outhouse straight out the back door,” he said. I saw his slow grin and heard his soft laughter as I squeezed past him in the narrow hallway. All the while I was wondering what an outhouse was.
When I stepped outside, gusts of loose snow pelted my face and eyes. I squinted through the flakes covering my lashes until I could make out a small, weathered shed. As I got closer, I could smell a terrible odor coming from that direction. Yep, this was it. Trying not to inhale too many fumes, I opened the door and almost peed in my pants. Here I was at the end of the line, my footsteps recorded in the snow behind me.
With my nose firmly buried in the collar of my coat to filter out that awful smell, I stepped inside. What loomed before me was a wooden platform with a cracked toilet seat bolted across a gaping hole. Wide-eyed and fearful, I jumped when the door banged shut behind me. I took a deep breath and positioned myself as carefully as I could for the business at hand.
I looked around and spotted one modern luxury in the midst of the entire back-woodsy-ness: a small gas space heater. Through the little holes on the sides the flames danced blue and yellow while warm air filtered into the icy outhouse. After my short walk through the cold wind and snow, the heat felt good. I was caught between staying in the warmth of the small heater and going back out into the cold.
Reluctantly I stood up. I bunched my coat snuggly under my chin to hold it out of the way, and reached down to my ankles to pull up my flannel-lined jeans. That’s when it happened: In the confined spaces of the outhouse, my bare bottom touched the hot metal of that little white heater. My shrieking and hopping around like a wild animal brought my mother running through the snow; she thought I had slipped through the weathered seat and into the gaping hole beneath it. She flung open the door and, realizing what had happened, she scooped me up in her arms and carried me through the snow into the kitchen.
To this day, my mom denies that she was giggling as she held me face-down over her lap while my aunt smothered my burns with butter to help take the fire out of them. Unfortunately, there was no taking the sting out of the total humiliation of having my burns tended to with an audience of 15 people laughing hysterically.
Since then, the story has been retold at pretty much every family gathering. And that faint scar on my right rear-end cheek is a lasting reminder of the day I was branded in the outhouse.
Ready for more tales of rural living? Read Girl Nearly Falls in Outhouse Hole.
Several years ago, Melody Clingan made a list of random things she remembered from her childhood: The outhouse experience was at the top of the list. As time permits, she plans to write more short stories about her early memories.