Saturday, July 2, 2011

The Two-Holer

Because of some repairs to our plumbing, the water at our house was cut off for a while. Of course, this was precisely the time that we suddenly had a desire to make coffee and brew some iced tea. Maybe even boil some rice and cook some pasta. And we probably needed to put water in the iron and take a shower and water the garden. When you do not have something then you find there is a pressing need for that something that you do not have.

So we took our usual course -- sat down to discuss this malady. We first lamented the fact that we had no bottled water, so we vowed to get some the next time we went to the store -- just in case our water was cut off again sometime in the next five years. Then my resourceful wife suggested we get water out of a toilet tank -- so, we finally had water to make coffee. (Note that I said 'toilet tank' and not 'toilet bowl'.)

Now we could sit down and lament our dire fate with steaming coffee in hand. We criticized ourselves about being so helpless when denied a simple modern convenience. Marilyn said that we would really be suffering if we had to pump our own water out of the ground. I told her that was exactly what my grandparents had to do.

"You're kidding?"

My paternal grandparents lived on a farm about fifteen miles outside of a small town in Oklahoma. They were farmers. Primarily grew corn, I think.

I explained to her that when we would drive up to visit them, the first thing my grandmother would do was stoke up the wood stove, put on a pot of coffee, and start rolling out pie dough. That wood stove was a marvel to me, and temperature control was governed by my grandmother's experience. Somehow she could make marvelous meals including an apple or cherry or raisin pie baked to perfection.

Like many people in rural communities, a lot of technology had passed them by. They had electricity and a refrigerator and this fact confuses me a lot. It may be that my memory is messing with me, but I distinctly remember that my maternal grandparents also had electricity but had an ice box. Ice box: That was an insulated cupboard that was filled with a block of ice delivered every third day. Why does this baffle me? My maternal grandparents lived in town and had an ice box whereas my paternal grandparents lived on a farm and had a refrigerator.

My sister and I always enjoyed visiting my father's parents. They were pretty much no-nonsense folks but went to extraordinarily lengths to make sure we were comfortable. Grandpa would take us out to talk with the sole cow and into the chicken coop to grab some eggs or over to talk with his only horse and sometimes back into the corn fields where he would shove rattle snakes out of the way with his shoe while we ventured through the fields to the river behind. We always had fine meals and red beans was a staple at every meal. At eight o'clock it was bedtime because all would have to rise at 4:00 a.m. My sister and I were bedded down into a bed that sunk deep when you lay on it with thick quilts that kept us toasty.

I told my wife that they didn't have a car and I said that because I remember The Preacher would stop by and pick them up every Sunday for church. But I do have a vague memory of a blue pickup truck somewhere, so I might have told her wrong. After all, how did they get their farm product to market? And get groceries? They couldn't have needed many groceries though. They had the cow for milk and Grandma churned her own butter and they had chicken and eggs and veggies from the garden, but little else.

Sometimes people would stop by to visit and the guest parlor was the front porch with a line of rocking chairs. Sometimes they would bring out a card table, and it was on this card table that I learned how to play dominoes. On those nights when guests came by, there was a bedtime exception. Everyone stayed up until nine or nine-thirty.

I wonder if I am getting any of this wrong? I don't think so and if I did, Sally, my sister, will be sure to correct me. But the one thing I do have a solid memory of is the outhouse. I hated the outhouse. It was located out the backdoor about fifty feet away. When I went to the outhouse I always had a dreaded fear of not only being attacked by snakes and scorpions and spiders on the way to the place, but that those very same critters would bite me on the butt as I would nervously sit there.

But the outhouse was a special ritual for my grandparents. It's funny. Today in 2011 we are pretty open and accept all sorts of behavior. But would we accept daily going to outhouse with your spouse? It was a two-holer and my grandparents had a ritual of going to the restroom together. They would stay for a while and if you listened you could hear them talking as they sat together. As odd as it may sound, this seemed to be a special time together when they talked things out and communicated with each other.

My father talked with them quite often about moving to town. He offered to help get them a house. After all, they were getting on in years and would have a harder and harder time maintaining the little farm. As was their way, they would 'think about it'. It wasn't so much that they were stubborn, they just simply discarded any notion that didn't make a lot of sense. There came a time though when they listened. I'm not sure when it happened. Maybe it was when my grandmother broke her arm. Or maybe they began to feel the weight of years.

My father found a house for them in the small town. It had running water and window water coolers and a gas stove and he would get them a TV and it had an indoor bathroom. When my father showed them the house and he was explaining the stove, my Grandmother just stood in front of it staring at it. She wasn't excited. She just had a hard time understanding how the damn thing could possibly work. The fact that they wouldn't have to pump water didn't particularly impress them. Neither did the indoor bathroom.

But one thing it did have was a front porch. They spent a lot of time on the front porch thinking. Then they went back to the farm and proceeded to the outhouse and spent a lot of time there. Talking it out.

My father worried about whether or not he was doing the right thing. But they were in their eighties and stuff wasn't so easy anymore.

They relented and my father moved them.

They never turned on the TV, but it made a fine shelf. My grandmother slowly began to like the gas stove although she complained that it would never get the right temperatures. But they never were comfortable with the bathroom. There was only one toilet -- a one-holer.

Until they died, they spent most of the time on the porch.

Our life was turned upside down because we lost the routine convenience of running water for a couple of hours. There were some people that relished their lack of convenience. And never lost their love of their blessed two-holer.      


  1. Wow! This is the way U.S. history should be taught in school. It's real...
    Great post Jerry! I have a very similar story about my grandmas old place in the country. I hope you have a great weekend and a safe and sane fourth!
    You've inspired me to do a blog post about it (someday).

  2. Great story. I've really missed reading your blogs!

    I'm very thankful for my plumbing, and I don't think I'd much like a two-holer, but I can see how your grandparents were resistant to change. I don't like change either. I'm sorry to hear that they had to give up their farm for modern "conveniences", but I'm glad to hear that they made the best of it. :)

  3. We have a friend who's the plumber for a small town half an hour from us. There are still two houses in the town without indoor plumbing!

    Your story was well told and cracked me up. I've been married 21 years and I don't think I would want to use the outhouse with my hubby.

    Hope you get your water back soon!


  4. Finally, you're back! You have been much missed xx

  5. This is a great story. I can picture their little farm. My mother grew up in ND and their large family had a huge garden. My brother and I would get such a kick out of being sent out to get some veggies. I had to laugh at the bedtime and awake times. My hubby takes meds at the same time each day and we go to bed at 8, read a half hour, and are awake by 4:30 each morning. I like going to sleep when it gets dark and getting up when the sun is up. I can understand your grandparents having together time on the two seater outhouse. Being together must have been so natural for them.

  6. I'm sure my grandparents were pretty much in the same situation - I can clearly recall my mother telling me that the first time she went to visit my dad's folks she was shocked to see they had a dirt floor. By the time I came along, they had up-graded and had a real floor - but going there to visit was like going back in time. Have missed your stories and am glad you are back - hopefully you have water now.

  7. That's sweet. . . I don't think I've ever heard of the marriage potty.

    I detested those things! I worried about snakes, flies, falling in...!

    Glad you're back, waterless or not.

  8. Glad you are back, and as always, love your posts. This made me laugh, I remember being afraid of being bitten on the butt in the outhouse but I think the worst thing was the "pot" My grandmother had shattered her ankle as achild and didn't get around very well so there was always a chamber pot to use in the middle of the night.

  9. What an interesting story! I had some relatives in the Black Forest whose life was like that. They too had an outhouse I hated, but only a one holer!

    The Romans had toilet buildings which were round and had cubicles all around the outside with open fronts. This was the place that most business (!!!) was agreed on and undoubtedly many a plot hatched!

    Bimbi x

  10. I collect the very rarely available stories of the intimacies that long-married, socially isolated couples share. My husband and I are working on our own idiosyncratic duets. When we spot one that's developed itself while we weren't looking, we marvel at it together..."How the heck did we come to do THAT as an habitual thing?!"

    They are working on our water here, too. I wasn't aware of it. Last night, when I went to brush my teeth after supper, the water that came from the bathroom faucet was yellow and smelled strongly enough of ammonia to take my breath. I yelled for my husband and our guest to come check this out: The City is trying to poison Liberals!! Of course, when they arrived, the faucet refused to perform its trick.

    Ammonia? Really?

  11. Aw, I love this post. So sweet and nostalgic. Thanks for stopping by my blog so now I know about you. And now I'm a new fan! :)

  12. You never fail to make me smile Jerry, whether it be reading your wonderful posts or your encouraging, funny and insightful notes on my page. I often wonder what our world would be like if it were more like these days you've so carefully recalled. My grandma always said that when it comes to communication with your spouse, however or whenever it can be done/accomplished is when you should do it. For her and my grandpa it was late at night, laying in bed. :) For me and my hubby, it's whenever he feels like talking - we haven't quite gotten our "thing" yet lol! But remembering the past or even seeing other countries who are "less fortunate" than us, makes me so thankful for what we have and less justified in my complaints. This was a wonderful read. :)

  13. My husband's grandfather had no indoor plumbing until the late 1960's. His memories of the two-holer are much less pleasant than those of your grandparents, I assure you!

  14. What a delightful post. Such insight and memory. It's good to be reminded about how things were when we bemoan the temporary lack of modernity.

  15. Hi Jerry, you won the Travis Erwin eBook. I need you to email me and tell me whether you want the Kindle or Nook version of the ebook. Let me know at

  16. I've never lived without indoor plumbing, but the notion of two people talking while facing the same direction is sound. It's easier to talk when you don't have to look at each other. If any untoward sounds or smells are emitted at the same time, that's just par for the course around here.

  17. Good lord but you can tell a story! I was totally engrossed in this piece about your remarkable grandparents (am in awe of your grandma and her baking abilities). I love the way you used your modern inconvenience as a means of introduction to the story. Really wonderful.

  18. this was a good "trip" back to the future. I feel fortunate to remember similar times and events. It kinda shakes me off dead center to start a new "wood heater" series tale of how it should have been, if it wasn't,,,

  19. Picturing your grandparents out there in the two-holer talking. Must be where the phrase "working things out together" came to be.

  20. We have two sinks in our bathroom. Sometimes we brush our teeth together, which isn't very conducive to good conversation, but companionable nonetheless. Your grandparents sound like fine people. I hope you got your water back before you were forced to start digging holes...

  21. Thanks for this timely post, Jerry. Right now in Gillespie Co. we're on Stage 4 water restriction, meaning no outdoor watering except for once a week and only between 12 midnight and 10 am and then 6 pm to midnight on the alotted day because of the ongoing drought. Hopefully we won't reach Stage 5.

    We live out in the country and have always had a supply of bottled water (and canned goods) on hand because you never know what's going to happen. Our well pump froze this winter for almost a week and that was an interesting experience.

    There are plenty of folks around here who talk about when LBJ brought electricity to this area. It was a hard life for many "old timers" but they recall those times with great fondness and wouldn't have had it any other way. Great post!

  22. Well I remember the two seaters. They had them at Guide camp. Privacy was not deemed necessary. The pot belly type stove was the only means of cooking in the ruins of post war where I lived. I remember well how my grandpa would start it up early in the morning to boil water for coffee and milk. And we had a pump at the well. Our experiences make stories like this fun to read. Thanks for this one.

  23. I saw a two-holer once when I was very young, and didn't understand the need for it at all. Actually, I was quite appalled. What a sweet story, though.