My Great Grandma’s Out House

At the risk of being crude, I thought perhaps a visitor to my new blog may not get the gyst of what I am about. Simply put, I am a mix of strange opposites. You may not think that such opposite qualities could dwell together in harmony in one person, but, well, here I am.

For starters, I can be as bold as any Don Quixote, tilting at scaly windmills both real and imagined. Yet, at the same time, I am constantly checking to make sure I have not offended any over sized lizards. After all, we DO mind our manners!   And too, I KNOW which fork to use, have owned sterling silver, I know what a “grape scissors” is and used an antique silver crumb catcher,  but I have eaten blue-green algae pancakes, sans syrup in fields with mud up to your backside.  So if I offend, gentle reader, chalk it up to the fact that I still sometimes feel like a fidgety five year old squirming in Sunday School….

It is a little hard to explain. So follow me back to my roots. Lets jump in at the end to go to the beginning…

First, I am in love with Tiny Houses. Secondly, WHY? Perhaps I read too many books about orphans living in cabooses as a child, or perhaps it is the fanatical love for log homes that struck me early on. Sleeping cupboards from Europe, rope beds and treehouses, not to mention house boats have always been my perfect idea of an acceptable home when I grew.  I still think often of the poor, orphaned kids in the Boxcar Children, sifting through trash and returning the reclaimed boxcar they used for home with broken jars, spoons and chairs. Or perhaps the discarded readers with gorgeous hand tinted gauche illustrations of children in Europe sleeping in special and brightly painted wooden “sleeping cupboards,” is why I love tiny houses so much.

Or perhaps it was just my grandma’s out house.

In po-dunk NORCALINA, from which I hail, (lacking as it were the pre-requisite Southern Accent), is a little place called, “Five Points, NC.” At least I THINK that it what is called, it could be something else and it IS close to “RacePath,” home of my Great Grandma’s Baptist church, “RacePath Baptist.” So this could just be a local moniker used in a descriptive way, rather than a literal NAME. To be sure, it is the place where 5 roads intersect and the last time I was there, precious little else occupied that intersection, save a tiny white house, fields of cotton, and my uncle’s store.

Cheerwine. That was what we wanted when we went to Five Points. Cheerwine is the cherry red bubbly elixir bottled in the Tar Heel State. They claim to be the oldest continuous US softdrink company owned by the same family. But alas, this honor belongs to only ONE of the three companies that make that claim to fame, (Vernor’s Ginger Ale,  also bottled in North Carolina,and I forget the other, are the contenders).  Unfortunately no one really knows who truly deserves that title. But outside the boring one level ranch structure of this country store, in a grimy dark corner of the mechanic’s garage, stood the ancient red drink machine that looked like a relic from my Great Grandma’s outhouse, even in the 70’s.

Nestled between stretches of cotton land, now knee high and just beginning to bud, the tiny white house across the road belonged to my Great Grandmother. She lived alone for many years, down a piece from the Uncle and Aunt who owned the store across the street. The tiny white structure held a small living area, one bedroom to the left upon entry and if you walked through the main room, a table and then also to the left was the kitchen. In the kitchen was a Hoosier, (which is one of those huge metal white and black trimmed cabinets that the old timers stored flour and what not), and off still to the left, a tiny pantry with a curtain and inside on the floor was the POT.

No one used the outhouse at night, (I cant remember using it in the DAY either for that matter), but you went cautiously behind the curtain and pee’d in the white enamel pot. It was scary, a little to go behind the curtain, but it would have been a LOT scarier to have gone out to the wooden structure in the back yard.

Back to the bedroom you passed upon entry, the furniture was worth noting. It was crammed with a huge solid wood cannonball bed with waist high, (to an adult), cannonball wood finials, (if you could call them that!). A cannonball bed has round balls at the the tops of the wooden poles that support each corner. The size of the balls and the height of them varied greatly from piece to piece. This one looked like bowling balls had been stuck on the ends of bumpy bats, and we would try to walk on the part of the footboard between the two enormous balls to the other side.  This was such massive furniture, that it was not difficult and we learned the “skill” quickly.

Back out in the front room on the right wall was a pedal sewing machine with the back and forth bobbin. Worn but visible was the gold metal design that adorned these masterpieces. I am told that the craftsmanship of the inner workings was so good that they were made higher in quality than industrial machines today.  Three generations of clothing, quilts and crafts were pedaled out. Metered by my dear Great Grandma who would push on the huge pedal which in turn made the leather strap whirl, and that made the bobbin rock back and forth, racka racka racka rack…. She was working on quilt tops for Christmas presents the last year of her life.

If you walked straight across to the far wall of the great room from the front door, you would face a little window on the wall. Two things about this worthy of note are, one, in 1972 it became the doorway to her first real indoor bathroom, and two, it formerly looked over the outhouse in the back yard.

Outhouses, like the millhouse this tiny structure originally was, were provided by the mill that employed all the poor people of the area. Even up until she was in her mid forties and she became an LPN, my Grandmother had been the bobbin girl for the local place that spun yarns. The company would send crews around every single year to the employees who lived in the homes they built and dig them a new outhouse. At this time, though, a new outhouse had not been dug in some years and this was a topic that concerned my Great.

My Great Grandma used that outhouse, I dont think as a toilet, but a place to which she would disappear and re-appear shortly, bringing ole timey gifts or other interesting objects to entertain the great grand kids.  The first thing she did when I visited her one time, was to retrieve a little game for me to play. It was one of those games with a triangle piece of wood, with a number of holes drilled into it. There were multicolored pegs in the holes, with one missing. You “jumped” the pegs to remove pegs until you could jump no more. The idea was to have two pieces on the board when you are done.

I remember her simple things, her dishes were all Italian type white ware with a single green stripe. That stuff is expensive today, but at the time I think it was given as premiums in boxes of detergent. It lived in the large metal cabinet along side the tilting bread-box that stored the flour.  Red gingham contact paper had been placed on the work surface of the Hoosier where my Great Grandma would make her melt in your mouth biscuits and she would reach back into the cabinet and take that chunky white little plate. Sometimes, if you were lucky, the hot biscuit would be swimming in hot chocolate syrup and doused with butter….

This picture I have painted you is almost complete of my Great’s tiny white house, except the landscape is lacking one thing. Everywhere you looked was stacks of newspapers, five gallon pickle jars, and impatients sprouting from rusty tin cans with holes punched in the bottom for drainage. They say she could stick a rose “brainch” in red mud and it would grow. They say she could walk into the woods and make tea out some wild herb that would cure you. They say she had a chicken ax behind the head of her bed. I dunno, but my Great Grandma’s house was a magical place and it never fail to entertain and delight me.

As we drive back down the country blacktop towards civilization I notice that the cotton blooms have gone from white to deep pink, for such is the way of cotton….

“Never throw something away you might think of a use for”, she would say. And it is from THIS point of view that I come to the TINY table. One of a single mom raising a daughter with little income in a cabin in the mountains. One of necessity. One that many may find a need to join in the future. Recycle, repackage, repourpose was not invented by this generation. It was inherited…

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