Emptying the Outhouse

by Gladys Sandland from Newcastle, ON
Sep 21, 13

The outhouse at our cottage was probably like most outdoor toilets at cottages all across Canada. To give the impression of being clean and sanitary, it was painted bright white. But instead of a hole in the ground beneath the seat, our outhouse had an empty 45-gallon drum. The drum was to be removed and emptied when full – eliminating the hassle of relocating the building and digging a new hole when the old one became full.  

This idea was my father’s brainchild.

After mental calculations - which I am sure involved Einstein’s theory of relativity, chaos theory and quantum physics - Dad figured that the drum would take at least two years to fill. 

One weekend we headed up north to the cottage and discovered that Dad had erred in his calculations. It had been just two months since he had installed the tank but it was already overflowing. We had horrifying visions of bailing out the contents of the barrel, but much to our surprise Dad said this would not be necessary. He said everything was “under control”.

Now, when Dad was discharged from the army at the end of the Second World War, he was permitted to retain his rifle. For what purpose I am not sure, unless his commanders foresaw the dilemma that was to befall him in the summer of 1960.  

I had never known Dad to use a rifle. So when I saw him working the bolt action and inserting a shell into the chamber I was intrigued. (I was an 11 year-old boy; anything that involved guns was interesting.) My mother and my three brothers and I gathered on the porch and watched as Dad made his way, weapon in hand, to the small white building in the bush. 

Dad’s plan was to puncture the barrel in several strategic places permitting the liquid portion of the contents to drain away. According to his new calculations, this remedy would permit us to use the system until next summer.  

We gathered to watch his act of genius. Dad entered the building, lifted the seat and brought the weapon to his shoulder. Just as he was about to squeeze the trigger a gust of wind swung the outhouse door closed, engulfing him in darkness.

The report of the rifle was strong enough to shake the dust out of the cracks in the single holler. The door rattled on its hinges, but it did not open until Dad pushed it from the inside.

He staggered out of the tiny building with his hands covering his ears, moaning about a ringing sound and a stinging in his eyes. 

None of us had the courage to go near Dad, in fact we all backed away as he lurched around in the bush – stunned and stinking.  
Mom, who had to yell to be heard above the ringing in Dad’s ears, directed him to the lake where he removed his clothing and washed. 

The outhouse, which had been plastered with artwork and pink newspaper clippings, was ruined.  

We ended up moving it the next weekend and Dad never tried shooting in enclosed spaces again. As a matter of fact, I don’t think Dad fired a rifle for the rest of his life.