A fixture of our past

by Peter Twitchell

The “Outhouse” is a thing of the past but I remember it like it was yesterday. I was a boy growing up 3 miles on the other side of the Kuskokwim River across from Bethel in the 50s.

I remember the old outhouse like it was yesterday, the one Mom and Dad had behind our house was across the Kuskokwim River upstream, about a half mile from the Old Airport.

The outhouse stood tall and strong and measured 4 x 4 by 8 feet high with a slanted roof and no matter how hard it rained in the summer it never leaked a drop. It was a cozy space with carved two seaters side-by-side and always included a thick Sears and Roebuck catalog. A Montgomery Ward catalog was on the other side of the other hole.

The door with the latch on it had a cut out crescent of a quarter moon near the top of the door and there was always fresh air coming and going. For an outhouse it never smelled like one as Mom must have kept plenty of Clorox and Pine-Sol in the 8 foot hole dug in the ground. I’ve never saw one bug but Dad did tell Mom one day that a black beetle bit him on the butt, ha ha ha ha ha!

After using the outhouse bathroom toilet, I tore a single page out of one of the catalogs, wrinkled it up just enough to wipe and be on my way.

In the cold winter months there was a physical transition to an ice cold experience and seeing your breath steam and a cold slate of wood freezing my butt, ha ha ha ha!

I thought using the old outhouse in winter was a new interesting achievement, ha ha ha!

I remember using the old outhouse twice in the middle of winter at night. I remember peering out looking at a full moon through the crescent quarter moon cut out on the door in the cold dark night. It was always a comforting feeling for me to look at the full moon smiling down at me!

The outhouse of the past brings to mind the hearty and strong people of Alaska. We adapted to a harsh environment and survived. Our tribe still lacks adequate sanitation and disposal, especially in the smaller villages and communities within the indigenous population of our State. Although there has been progress in addressing this problem, we struggle with adequate running water for our people.

The outhouse, has its place although, in our distant memory. It was an ingenious achievement and warrants favorable mention.