Southern Scribe
    our culture of storytelling


 Porch Tale    



Terror in the Outhouse! 

By Janie Spence


Farm life was simple for three year-old Molly.  After all, Papa didn’t make you work in the field until you were six…but it sure was lonesome until the big yellow bus stopped at the end of the road and the Beckett clan was home from school.  They couldn’t play until their chores were done, but Molly could wait.  Papa gave her chores too.  She helped Mama wash the milk bucket and she helped churn the butter…but one chore was really a dread.  It was Molly’s job to carry the empty milk bucket and follow behind Mama to the pasture.  Bessie, the best milk cow in the county, was Molly’s favorite of all the farm animals. She stood so still while Mama milked her too.  Of course, Molly loved Mama’s hot cornbread crumbled in Bessie’s milk.  The cow crooned softly as Mama milked her.  Molly tried milking once.  She squeezed old Bessie until her tit turned blue, but nothing came out.  Mama said you had to be at least eight to milk a cow.  Molly loved the chickens, too…and even the smelly pigs.  It was only Billy the Bull that put the fear in her. When she carried the milk pail to the pasture, she was careful to hold on to Mama’s skirttail. She was sure Mama would step in front of her if Billy ever so much as looked her way. 

The Beckett’s little farmhouse sat off the main road a quarter of a mile or so.  Molly, the youngest of ten children, and Ernie, who was five, were the only children left at home.  Papa spent the winter months chopping wood for the stove and sometimes, just sitting on the front porch, making smoke curls with his pipe and watching the neighbors go by.  Mamma always seemed to be cooking.  When the last dish was put away, Mama just started cooking again! 

It was mid-afternoon on a blistering cold day and Molly had “the urge”.  Papa was choppin’ and Mama was cookin’…oh well, after all, she’d be four in a week.  She could go to the outhouse by herself.  

You had to “live it” to really understand…there was nothing like the “up draft” in an outhouse!  It could freeze your behind in the winter.  You certainly didn’t want to use your “catalog tissue” to plan your next mail order while doing your “business”…It was GET IN…GET OUT! 

The outhouse was only a few feet from the pasture gate.  You couldn’t see it from the back porch.  The smokehouse blocked the view.  But it would be ok…It was cold, but she could run as fast as she could and her “business” would only take a minute.  Mama would be so proud of her.  She wrapped herself in her raggedy coat and quietly sneaked out the back door.  She heard Papa say it was 34 outside.  She didn’t know all of her numbers yet, but it must mean REALLY COLD!  She hadn’t seen Ernie in a while or she’d ask him to follow beside her to knock the cold wind off.  He must be shootin’ marbles in the bedroom.  He never let her play.  He was always afraid she’d lose his favorite taw.  Well, after all, she didn’t need an escort to the outhouse. 

She ran as fast as she could past the smokehouse.  The wind seemed to cut to her bones.  She finally reached the door.  The latch was over her head, but she knew she could tiptoe and reach it.  She pulled and pulled and the door finally opened with a screech.  She jumped inside and quickly pulled the door shut behind her.  Three – four was a COLD number! She didn’t really “have to go” as bad as she thought!  But since she made it this far, she might as well make it a productive trip.  Molly ripped several pages from the catalog and crushed them in her fist again and again until they were soft…well almost.  She climbed up on the cold seat…then, she heard a most fearful sound.  Billy, the Bull was just outside!  How could this be?  Mama locked the gate hours ago.  Trembling, she peered through the peephole.  She found herself eyeball to eyeball with her brother, Ernie!  She screamed….he screamed…and Billy…well he roared like a lion!  Ernie dropped to the ground with laughter.  What a good trick he had played!  He had seen Molly put on her coat and had sneaked ahead to fetch Billy.  It sure had been cold waiting behind the smokehouse, but it was worth it!  It was the best joke he’d every played on anyone!  He hadn’t planned on Billy misbehavin’, however.  As he sat on the cold ground, holding his sides with laughter, Billy slipped through his rope.  He must have been a little angry at being pulled away from his salt block.   Billy lowered his head and gave another loud roar.  It was this terrifying sound and a nip in the rear that sent Ernie scurrying  to the house.  Why, his feet hardly touched the ground. He was inside and standing with his backside to the stove to warm himself when he remembered he’d left his little sister, trapped in the outhouse! 

Minutes passed and his joke had gone unnoticed.  He slipped into the bedroom and stood peeking through the crack, waiting for Mama or Papa to turn the corner, wielding the razor strap.  Fearing for her life, Molly knew she shouldn’t scream again.  She might upset Billy even more.  In fact, she was afraid to even move.  She seemed to be frozen to the seat!  Was it fear or the “three four number”?  She wasn’t sure, but she knew if she ever got out of the outhouse alive, she would show Ernie just what she was made of! 

The minutes passed.  Maybe if she kept her eyes closed, Billy would disappear.  Molly couldn’t tell time yet, but she knew the bus would run soon.  She mustered enough courage to peek through the hole again.  Maybe she’d see the bus as it came down the hill.  Suddenly, she yelped another blood-curdling scream…Billy’s big eyeball was peering in at her! 

Surely Mama would look for her soon.,  Surely Papa would come this way carrying wood to the stove.  Almost an hour had passed when she heard voices.  Letha was home!  Nola, Wesley, and Thomas…She heard the screen door slam and voices!  They were laughing and coming her way. Just as Letha reached for the outhouse door, Billy the Bull, with horns as sharp as knives, charged around the corner, his head held low. Children ran left and right, trying to jump the cow patties as they made their way to safety…and Molly, well she ran almost as fast as anyone, straight to the back porch where she lunged through the backdoor, landing belly first.  The smell of beans and sweet cornbread filled the room.  Unfortunately, Letha’s shoes lay there, by her nose...and the smell of  Letha’s “getaway jump gone wrong” brought her to her senses. She lay quietly … still as a mouse…her heart pounding.  I’m still alive, she thought.  

Molly never told Mama and Papa the REAL story about that bitter-cold day in the outhouse and you can bet your bottom dollar that Ernie never told! Their parents grew old, thinking that Mama had failed to fasten the pasture gate.  Molly always suspected that Mama knew.  As the ten Beckett children grew up, they all discovered that Mama frequently took the “fall” for one of her children to save them from Papa’s razor strap. 

And the Becketts…well they all left home…Molly too…but there remains a vivid memory of that bone-chilling day…Mama’s sweet milk and corn bread, sweet old Bessie, the cow, and Papa’s smoke curls, drifting upward and disappearing into nowhere.  But no matter how hard she tries, every glimpse of a cow brings a mental image of Billy the Bull, Ernie and his pranks, and the way cow patties smell when they stick to your shoes.

Our porch photo is of Wallow Lodge on Sapelo Island, Georgia. 

Janie Spence resides in Marion, Arkansas with her husband, Jim.  Her fulltime work is with adults with disabilities. She also pursues video production work as time permits.  Her stories, eventually to be compiled into book form, are based on true  (and perhaps slightly embellished) stories told to her by the older generation that grew up in the South during the depression. Her three published works are “technical materials” used in training adults with disabilities.

© 2005 Janie Spence, All Rights Reserved