First there was a crackling sound, then smoke began to rise and then a flame akin to a vertical blowtorch lit up the Iowa afternoon. In what seemed an instant the outhouse was gone.
Every farm and some city homes had an outhouse during my growing up years. The sturdy little buildings were usually hidden in the backyard somewhere or in the woods if trees were around.
It would seem that there was a template for building outhouses, and they only varied usually by the number and size of the holes inside. Some were painted, but most remained in a natural wooden state. Outhouses were a focal point for a certain basic human need.
Over the years on my travels here and there, I've made use of a number of outhouses. The first Minnesota resort that hosted myself and my cousins had an outhouse behind the rough cabins. Coming from homes that were equipped with modern bathrooms, the use of the resort's outhouse seemed to lend a bit of adventure to our fishing trip.
We felt we were "really up north" when we discovered that we would be making trips outdoors in the middle of the night. There were no lights on the those outhouses, and in the dark one had to feel their way in and out. The feeling was exhilarating.
One of the less desirable outhouses I had occasion to visit was in Canada. The lake was located "back in the bush," as the Canadians are apt to say, and this outhouse had no walls. It was merely a wide plank placed between two giant boulders.
Luckily, it was surrounded by some bushes and a few pine trees, which gave you some semblance of privacy. One didn't spend a lot of time contemplating their life in that facility. The black flies hurried you about your business.
I wondered what an errant black bear might think when he or she accidentally stumbled into this place. But then, I think bears have a better sense of smell than that.
Actually, with all the attention now-a-days about recycling and renewable energy, outhouses might make a comeback. Just think of it, when the system is full, just cover it up and move the system. What could be easier than that? And cheaper?
After a few years the spot where the outhouse stood would be growing lush grass or trees or shrubs, giving oxygen back into the atmosphere. Funny scientists haven't gotten that message yet.
Our farm outhouse had been retired by most members of my family except for my granddad, who never gave it up. While we were inside enjoying the warmth of an indoor restroom, he was out freezing his behind in the middle of winter.
But, he didn't seem to mind and continued to use it until he died.
On a recent trip to Springfield, Illinois, to Lincoln's home, we discovered that Lincoln and his family had an outhouse just behind their fancy house in downtown Springfield. It was a more artful creation, and when we gazed inside we found it had three holes. One of them was a full foot higher than the rest.
We had discovered the very place where Lincoln sat thinking deep thoughts. It had to be.
First there was a crackling sound, then smoke began to rise from the holes and then flames leaped into the Iowa afternoon. Some kid with a handful of matches had dropped a lit one down a rat hole on the outside of the outhouse. The dried paper below and the dried wood above made for a great fire.
The young boy's dad and uncle came running out from the house, each with a bucket of water, but it was of no use. The structure was a pile of smoldering ashes by the time they tried to douse it. The young boy took off through the grove of trees fending off whatever punishment might lay in wait.
That outhouse was replaced with another that eventually ended up to be a smokehouse. Gramps passed to the great beyond and no one else in the family wished to rebuild it.
I can still smell the smoke.
See you next time. Okay?