Family Home in Chinook

Outdoor and Indoor Toilets

Now to get down to the nitty gritty of outdoor and indoor toilets. Our everyday normal toilet was a one holer outdoor model that sat on the edge of our property across from the garden-cum-skating rink. It was about the same as everybody else had, not fancy, but built strong enough to stand being pushed over every Halloween. On the right wall above the seat was a small box which held toilet paper.

Now toilet paper consisted of whatever was available. This varied with the seasons. In the fall we had a good supply of soft tissues used to wrap the fruits which Mother canned in great quantities. We soon found out that the peach wrappers were taboo when all started itching from the peach fuzz. Our real standby was the Sears catalogue, since a new one came with every season.

Our indoor toilet was catalogue-bought and held a standard five gallon pail. It had a vent pipe like a small black stove pipe which went up into the attic to get rid of the fumes, as well as a real bought seat with a lid, which had to be kept closed at all times "or else".

This indoor set up was installed in what was originally a linen closet. Dad eliminated all the linen shelves and there was just room to shut the door if you didn't put your feet out in front of you.

I never did remember just when the shift from outdoor to indoor took place. I know it wasn't until after the geese had gone south, and there was frost on the ground every morning. Of course the inside one was always available in an emergency.

One other very handy toilet item, an enameled pot, was kept under the bed for use by us boys in the middle of the night. This to prevent us from stumbling around in the hall and missing the inside toilet if we did find it in time. The only disadvantage with the pot was its need of service every morning (mothers were hard pressed in those days) and the fact that on bitter winter nights it occasionally froze up.

You may think toilet talk a little crude, but it played a real part in early life and I find I must explain some of our winter problems to you as they relate to the lack of indoor plumbing.

As our indoor five gallon pail filled, it of course must be emptied. This was accomplished by carrying said pail down the stairs and dumping it in a five foot pit covered with a wood frame and trap door.

The trip from the top of the stairs through the front door, screen door, front porch door and steps was a daunting one, and after making that maze you still had to get from the front yard to the back fence by crossing what was now not the garden, but a skating rink. I have intimate knowledge of this procedure, since when I was big enough to carry a five gallon pail it became my job.

The "Honey Pail" and the Bridge Club

There are many tales of what we called the honey pail, but I will bore you with only two. Our next door neighbors (the Aitkens) were a very nice family. Jim ran the bulk agency for Imperial Oil and did not like house chores very much, so did not spend too much time at home.

Jim's wife Marge was a very good housekeeper and kept a spotless house (compared to Eva that is). The ladies of the town (those with class and position) formed a bridge club which existed for years and was a weekly event used not only to play bridge but also to discuss the events and gossip of the area.

There were three tables, which meant that it was your turn to entertain once every three months, except that bridge being a fall and winter game your turn to entertain came twice a season at most. Mother belonged and we three boys when little used to lie on the floor of the bedrooms with our ears glued to the heat registers, trying to pick up some scandal.

At any rate it was obvious bridge club night was a big event and great care was taken by the hostess to see that her house was in order. The night that Marge entertained that winter was a cold one. Marge was upset because bridge club started sharp at seven, it was near six and Jim wasn't home yet. Marge had asked Jim to empty the toilet pail (which was the same as ours and kept upstairs) but he had been putting it off.

Now Jim may have stopped off at the bar for a quick pint or two, and may have forgotten all about bridge club, but when he hit the door he was sent straight up the stairs to the "honey pail". He wrenched it from its housing and carefully balanced the foul loathsome thing down to the first landing, where he tripped.

The pail went first, emptying its contents to splash their way, step by step down to the hall below. Jim followed the pail a few steps before saving himself by grabbing a banister.

A desperate and hurried clean up ensued, but nothing could eliminate the awful odor. Bridge club was played that night with both doors open, while Jim stayed in the basement, out of sight and shovelling coal into the furnace.

The Boiling Shit-Pail Caper

Our town, although small, boasted a telephone office and switchboard operator, named Betty Brugell. Betty lived with Arnt Osterude in a converted grocery store right on Main Street. The main part of the store had been made into a living room, dining area, kitchen and bedroom.

This left plenty of unheated storeroom space in the back half of the converted store, so Arnt built a small room in which he installed what was called a dry chemical toilet. Yes it was the five gallon pail variety, and it worked well until freeze up.

Now the problem with the five gallon pail and frost was that by the time it was full it was a solid block of material. Betty had been after Arnt for days to eliminate this problem, and since the rim had been reached she stated emphatically "this is the day" as she left for her shift in the telephone office.

Arnt wrestled with the problem for some time and finally arrived at the solution. He stoked the kitchen stove full of coal and placed the pail on top. After waiting to see that the fire was well started, his thirst took hold of him and he, knowing it would take a while for the frozen pail to thaw, headed for the hotel bar.

I'm sure by now you have guessed it. Arnt got talking with his good buddies, bought a couple of rounds, and forgot about the pail. Betty shut down the telephone office (as she always did) and slipped home for lunch. The full details were never published, but it is known that the pail thawed completely and reached the boil, creating a terrible mess and unbearable smell. Betty went straight to the bar and took Arnt by the ear. A verbal battle began and lasted most of the afternoon, interrupting phone service for the whole town.

The boiling shit pail caper as it came to be known had far-reaching consequences. Betty packed her bags that night and caught the one-thirty train west to Calgary, leaving Chinook without a switchboard operator. Arnt moved out of the store and into a one room shack, quit drinking cold turkey, and turned Jehovah Witness. Winters are hard on the Alberta prairie.


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