Friday, June 16, 2006

When I Was Young in the Mountains


One of these in your yard is never a good sign. It might mean there is so much junk in your house you had to rent a dumpster for spring cleaning. It might mean your house is in such bad shape, parts are being demolished. Maybe your house has burned down and its charred remains are to be scooped up by a digger and deposited in their final, green Waste Managed resting place. Or, if you are terribly, terribly unlucky, it means your parents are redoing the bathroom.

The only bathroom.

For the unlucky ones, such as myself, it means none of this.

And none of this (was once location of sink).

And none, distressingly, of this.

We have a picture book called When I Was Young in the Mountains, by Cynthia Rylant. It is a really marvelous book, full of evocative words and phrases such as "fried okra", "pinto beans", "swimming hole", "sweet milk", "round tin tubs", and "bobwhite". Even though I have not read or even seen this book in years, I remember these things, and the illustrations that go with them, quite vividly. I also remember quite vividly the term "johnny-house" and the page on which the reminiscing narrator says, "Later, in the middle of the night, [my grandmother] walked through the grass with me to the johnny-house and held my hand in the dark." (This is beside the point, but she then adds, "I promised never to eat more than one serving of okra again", which is why I will probably never eat a first serving of okra.)

The johnny-house episode conflates in my mind with the page on which the grandmother kills a long, black snake with a hoe, and the kids have their picture taken with it draped over their necks. The snake image is compounded by the earlier interlude in which the narrator and her brother "sometimes see snakes" in the swimming hole but go in anyway. I don't even like June bugs in my swimming holes, so I always considered this an act of incredible bravery.

Therefore, when I saw a charming and rustic johnny-house (complete with waning moon on door) lurking in the garage like a particularly foul reincarnation of Dirk Gently's refrigerator, I somehow formed the unpleasant notion that should I ever have to pee again, I would have to make it through a dark minefield of swimming holes, every last one containing long, black snakes and/or grandmothers wielding deadly gardening tools, all in order to get to a facility that should never have retained social acceptability after the advent of the Tennessee Valley Authority, and did so only through an act of God or appallingly bad taste. The Romans, natural plumbers, would have looked at this

and said, "Vile. Must have been invented by dull-witted Gauls. Let us either wage war or obscene poetry upon it."

I, an English major said, "Hey, this reminds me of that book I once read" and was comforted. Sort of. Insofar as I was amused for 2.3 seconds. Then I went off to see whether, if I took a hoe to it, it would surrender and go back to 1930s Appalachia, where it belongs.

5 comments:

Ivan said...

i love your family. i love your post. i think you would really like okra. the outhouse is unfortunate. are they really making you use it? move in with your sister. there is also a free room at my house. my mother can relate. she had an outhouse when she was little. she said it was filled with bees. you might be better off digging a hole in the backyard...

.Maeve said...

the romans would wage either of those things on anything that didn't move, and some things that did.

Just.Megan. said...

A toilet tidbit: George and Martha Washington referred to their outhouse as "the necessary."

Matthew said...

I have to say I probably would not have believed you were actually using the outhouse had I not seen you exiting it, the other day. I would try okra. The new tub looks spiffy! :D

SIMON said...

Oh Matthew. Thanks for sharing that. Why don't you also put up more bad pictures of me on the internet?!