“City people make most of the fuss about the charms of country life.” — Mason Cooley, American writer and educator 1927-2002
Country life may indeed appear more charming when viewed from inside the city limits. However, viewed from the perspective of those who grew up living and working on a farm, the definition of charm may vary a little.
Response to last week’s offering on outhouses in this space was brisk. Feelings fell between humor and appreciation—humorous stories about outhouses, appreciation for their having faded into history, or some of both. The difference is again likely a matter of perspective.
I grew up from the city perspective to whatever degree living in small Texas towns could be defined as city living. Maybe dad’s wearing a white shirt and tie to work at Perry Brothers five-and-dime store qualified us.
This city dweller’s introduction to a country perspective was provided by the Hales, a family of farming folks near Crockett, Texas, in the mid-50s, and their son, Wayne, who was my friend.
A dirt driveway connected the Hale’s simple four-room house to a dirt county road and circled a huge tree. From that circular path, one gate on the left led to the house and one on the right revealed a pasture that was home to some milk cows.
Circumventing the tree and driving straight ahead led to a shed under which was parked an old gray Ford tractor and farm trailer. It was also where they parked their green, late-1940s GMC one-ton flat-bed truck although only the cab would fit under the shed. It was the only form of transportation the Hale’s owned.
Their house sat way up off the ground with nothing to stop a cold North wind blowing under it but a couple of resident hound dogs that delighted in barking at anything that moved and some things that didn’t.
At the end of that legendary path out the back door of the house, and sort of in line with the tractor shed, sat the outhouse: aka the privy.
It was a time when air conditioning was new and still scarce enough that the few businesses enjoying it enticed customers with “refrigerated air” signs in the window. It was even scarcer in homes. An oscillating fan provided the only breeze not only in the Hale’s house but also at our house in town.
Heat at the Hale’s was a wood-burning stove in the kitchen and also where the only water in the house was available. There was no television, but as with air conditioning, there was also no TV at our house in town.
My initial taste of country life at the Hale’s was where I first rode a horse, rode on a tractor, rode sitting on the back of a one-ton truck, and the only time I took a bath in a number-three washtub in the kitchen. And, yes, it was my first time to sit and ponder dirt dabbers buzzing in an outhouse.
It was also where I enjoyed home cooked meals in the most literal sense of the word. Vegetables from their garden, milk from their cows, eggs from their chickens and cured meat from their smokehouse went into any meal they put on the table.
Maybe it is true that country life viewed from this side of city dwelling is charming because of horses, tractors, home-cooked meals or riding in the back of trucks. Granted, I was never around to plow fields, harvest crops, build fences, chop wood, or milk cows.
But, it sure seemed like a lot of fun to me. Except for outhouses … those are probably best left to both humorous memories and being thankful they are no longer a way of life.
Aldridge columns are also published in the Center, Texas, Light and Champion and the Mount Pleasant, Texas, Tribune newspapers.