THE COMMODE • by Joan M Hendricks

I remember the summer of 1952 as momentous. Momentous because that summer plumbing was installed in our family home that sat on a dirt patch forty miles south of the Canadian border. I was seven with four siblings below me. 

For my Mama, a house with no running water, not to mention hot running water, made any kind of washing task an immense job. I remember there was always a galvanized milk bucket of water heating on the old coal stove, ready for the men to use to wash up when they came in from the fields, bathing babies in the kitchen sink and our once-a-week sponge bath before church on Sundays. Mama filled the bucket with the hand pump at the kitchen sink and on Mondays she had the stove going full-blast to keep three buckets steaming for laundry, which included that day’s diapers.

At age seven, I’d never been to town and had never seen (or even heard of) a flushing toilet. The two-holer outhouse that was situated a distance from the house back-door, was not only a place to do one’s business, but a place to sit and contemplate… the mysteries of life and… the melodious workings of the body. The two-holer sometimes brought a welcome companion such as sister; but with her, I had to be watchful that I didn’t lose her down the hole because she was only four with a small behind. When Aunt Maude shared the outhouse, her massive thighs had a wide spread and with both of us sitting side by side it got pretty companionable.

My job each morning upon rising was to carry the honey pots that were filled during the evening and nighttime hours by myself and my siblings to the outhouse. Mind you, the babies, Toddy and Carrie, were in diapers, but that left Peaty, who was three, Susie, and me all fully trained to rise and use the pot during the night when nature called.

All summer long Daddy had worked to add an addition to the house just off the front porch and had installed a shower, sink, water-heater, and a new wringer washing machine that was fed by hoses hooked to the sink. Mama and Daddy had talked about an indoor toilet, but as the new porch bathroom took shape, the only place I could see to do your business was a scary hole in the floor. 

Daddy said the new toilet would be shiny white porcelain, it would have a ring for sitting on and boys would lift the ring to squirt into water in the toilet’s bowl. He said I should help brother learn to shoot straight, because it was important to my Mama. It must have been because she’d been lecturing Shorty and Mutt, the fellows that worked with Daddy, that there’d be no spittin’ snoose in the commode. And before the new toilet arrived, Mama embroidered a flowery sign for the new bathroom that said, “We Aim to Please, You Aim Too, Please.”

I’d worked with brother all summer in anticipation of the new porcelain toilet and in the mornings when I emptied the honey pots, there were hardly ever any new puddles. All summer long, the new toilet was the center of our talk. We were each prepared and ready to try it out. 

The toilet arrived from Monkey Wards; Daddy installed it on the scary hole. It was beautiful… the whitest and shiniest thing I think I’d ever seen. Daddy stood back and said, “Who wants to give this thing a try?”

At that moment Peatie had his pants off and rushed to the toilet. Mama bellowed, “Make sure brother hits the commode.”


As a native Montanan, Joan M Hendricks enjoys numerous activities in retirement, including writing.


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