During the Great Depression and long afterwards, many poor people didn’t have indoor plumbing. My family was in that category, so naturally, we heard many humorous horror stories about outdoor toilets. My husband remembered very clearly that during the winter time in Kansas when he was just a little kid, he fell through the large hole and managed to crawl out an opening in the back. Lucky for him that everything below was frozen solid.
In my book, The Home for the Friendless on page 110, is another outrageous story of an outhouse adventure. My grandmother was babysitting all of my cousins on the farm after their mom was resting up from the birth of her 7th child. While I was there, the family dog, Spike, fell through the outhouse hole onto the foul waste below. It was summertime and nothing was frozen. What to do? Grandmother lowered my nine-year cousin, Hubert (what a little hero he was), headfirst into the hole while all the rest of the cousins held onto her skirt and to each other. Hubert grabbed Spike and both he and the dog were pulled back out into fresh air. But Spike staggered to his feet and shook his coat furiously, sending icky stuff flying every where. A few of the kids helped Grandmother to grab Spike and hold onto him real tight while the rest of the kids hosed him clean. It meant that every kid who got splattered had to strip naked and get hosed off, too, and their clothes tossed into the rain barrel. It was an awesome sight: kids running around naked squirting each other with the hose and Grandmother standing there with shoulders sagging, waiting her turn.
I have no doubt that reading this has brought an outhouse story of your own to mind. So, let’s hear it.
During the winter of 1937, with no warning, my mother dropped off my brother, sister, and me at the Home for the Friendless in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. She said, “This is a nice place. You’ll like it here, and I’ll visit you every week.” We were met by Mrs. Kurl, who looked grim, but turned out to be a nice lady. She gave us a tour, and the place was so big our voices echoed in the halls.
At that time, during The Great Depression, childrens’ homes were full of kids whose parents could not afford to take care of them properly. Although I knew that, I still felt abandoned. Since I didn’t want my younger brother and sister to be scared, I wore my happy face, but when I found out we would be separated into three different dorms, I couldn’t hide my sadness.
The foster parent program today may avoid some of the issues that arise from housing children in institutions, but foster kids still have a rough entry into life at 18 when they roll out of the program.
What is your experience with children who feel abandoned? Are you a foster parent or a counselor? Did you grow up with both parents and still feel alone sometimes?