From the Necessary to the Watergate

In this life, many things are optional.


You would not die on your birthday if you did not have striped candles.

But some things are necessary.


A modern, “Pine Tree State” necessary.

Very necessary.

A Double Necessary

The necessary is known by many names. They include backhouse, cludgie, crescent moon room, biffy, dooley, gaboon, kybo, latrine, long drop, jakes, pit toilet, privy, shitter, shithouse, and thunderbox. In spanish, you can say “retrete fuera de la casa”. There is a Canadien french word, “becosse”. Why? Just becosse?  Some say becosse is a frenchification of the english word “backhouse”. Sounds reasonable.

Interior of the Double Necessary

Martha’s Vineyard has its share of necessaries. Some are returning to the soil, others are still in use. Below are some of the necessaries that can be found within a quarter mile of our place.

The neighbor’s necessary

How many gingerbread backhouses have you ever seen? This one sits in the corner of a neighbor’s lot, in back of their old toolhouse. The workbench of that toolhouse is the first place I ever saw a hand cranked rotary emery stone. That was an “Oh wow!” moment. There a few things than can more quickly mesmerize a small boy than something that’s rotating.

I recently read that hollyhocks were commonly planted next to outhouses. So ladies, too delicate to mention seeing a man about a horse, or shaking dew off a lily, could, in time of need, ask where the hollyhocks might be found. The language of flowers!

On the other side of the neighbor’s lot is an even older necessary. The stone threshhold is a classy touch. Look at the wear in those fine wide old boards. Note that somebody loves that little house well enough to have put nice new white cedar shingles on the roof. The place is “good to go” for at least another thirty years now.

A rule of thumb is that wood erodes at the rate of a quarter of an inch per century.  Actual wear rates vary considerably, depending on exposure to sun and rain. On the south side of a house, wood shingles can need replacement in twenty to thirty years. On the north side, those same shingles can easily last twice as long. I once worked on an old house in Holmes Hole that had eastern red cedar shingles on the north wall. No telling how long they had been there. Armand LaMontainge, the man who made the famous wood carved statue of Ted Williams, once told me that sassafrass makes especially good shingles. The wood is lightweight, rives easily with a froe, and has a high oil content. There’s just not enough big sassafrass around to shingle very many houses.

A neighbor down the road has a fine necessary. A modern one, not even thirty years old.

The moon on the door is a tad lazy.

You’d better not need to use this one quickly, for there are a few things inside.

This outhouse has something I’ve never seen in any other outhouse. A building permit. Really! And only $15.00!

Now it’s time for a tour of another great gaboon. This simple shed roofed throne room, complete with its sliding window, was moved from the summer home of a pulitzer-prize winning authoress, forty years ago. The relocation was accomplished for the price of a case of beer. Plus the loan of a flatbed Ford and the good will and strength of a group of friends. Beer at the time was six or seven bucks a case. Another can of Tuborg Gold anyone?

We start our tour with an outside shot. That’s Anita Ekberg looking out the window. Or was it Marilyn Monroe? I can’t remember who was visiting that day…

Important information is found near the doorlatch. The sharp-eyed will notice that the latch is made from a spoon.

As you enter, more information and some conditions-of-use greet you. On the inside of the door are some some important safety signs.

There is a certain amount of temptation to overstay the time limit, but those books will still be there the next time.

The nuns and the hula girls are thrilled to have you visit.

Outhouse humor may be found on the walls. Cartoonists adore the “externaloo” as a subject. Here are four gems from the “honor roll”.

Once, in a summer thunderstorm, a lightning bolt struck an oak tree not ten feet from this little establishment. I was forty feet way at the time, when poor little Biffy almost became a actual “thunderbox”.

You’ll not see it here, as this old Yankee is too cheap to spring for the bogsite’s video upgrade, but I have a seven-second video of the very moment the bolt struck..

Trust me, it was enlightninging.


5 responses to “From the Necessary to the Watergate

  1. I love this post.. as one who has to know where every “necessary” is on our travels, I can appreciate it.

  2. Always eager to read your posts, I was flush with excitement, and excited at first flush. Bottoms up! (or not.)

  3. As a kid I spent many happy hours in and around a cabin my father and some friends built near Franconia, N.H. No electric, no running water, and an outhouse down the path. There was always a small stack of Reader’s Digests next to the throne. My father maintained that the articles were the exact right length to read while you were doing your business. He was right. Last year I did some editing for an Oregon-based outfit that publishes Uncle John’s Bathroom Readers. Its articles are just the right length, and interesting too. (Just took too volumes to the Dumptique if anyone’s interested!)

  4. Pingback: There is a Little House at a Cabin Somewhere in Maine | thetompostpile·

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