The Ozark Mountain Culture is Part of My Family History

Debbie Walker

We had an outhouse, granddaddy long-legs, and a dog named Boots.

Photo by Bertrand Bouchez on Unsplash

I cherish the memories of visiting my paternal grandparents in the foothills of the Ozark mountains during the summers of the 1960s.

While visiting, I learned new and fascinating methods of hygiene, eating, and child play.

But, the one terrible situation that always presented itself before me was — the lack of indoor bathroom facilities.

They had an outhouse.

The Outhouse

I hated everything about that outhouse, the long walk from the main house, the Sears & Roebuck catalog, the holes, and especially the granddaddy long-legs.

The path leading to the outhouse was lined on both sides with white rocks. I imagine this was so we could see the way as dusk approached. At night or in the winter, my grandma kept a chamber pot on the porch or under the bed to use.

The Sears & Roebuck catalog was what we used as toilet paper.

Every year when the new catalog arrived in the mail, the old one was placed in the outhouse. The three-inch-deep book was utilized by people in the woods who bought items they needed from shoes to farm implements to guns.

It served two purposes: to read and to wipe.

I ripped the pages out of the catalog, crumpled and rubbed them in my hands to soften the paper, and I used them accordingly. It seemed primitive to me, but it worked.

Then, there were holes. The holes in the bench upon which I sat.

I was afraid of what was lurking down the deep, dark holes — snakes, spiders, rats. I had a waking terror of the holes. My grandpa told me the hole was too deep for a snake to reach up and bite my butt cheek, somehow though, I was not reassured.

Finally, the granddaddy long-legs stalked me as soon as I set foot-or should I say, set butt in the outhouse.

They seemed to stare down at me from the corners high above my head. I could see the long legs protruding from the black circle of the body inching closer and closer ready to pounce at any moment.

I was informed they are not spiders, (technically, they are) but that fact did not matter. They still had long, spindly, creepy legs and they ran like lightning.

Outdoor Washtub

Indoor running water did not exist, either. A metal hand pump was situated about twenty feet from the front porch of the house.

I had to pump the pump about ten times to get a bucket of clear cold water to bring into the home for drinking, making coffee, cooking, washing dishes, or washing the body.

Taking a bath was a complex task of filling the wash tub about one-third full of cold water and then heating more water on the stove to fill about halfway to make the water temperature tolerable.

In the summertime, however, my grandma would fill a washtub and let the sun heat the water, and I would take a bath outside. We were miles from the nearest neighbor, so it did not matter if we took a bath outside or not.

The driveway was gravel and set back from the road about a quarter-mile; therefore, a body could grab clothes if anyone was heard coming.

Ozark Eatin'

Eating, at my grandparents, was about as healthy and fresh as possible, literally. My grandma would show me boysenberry bushes in the spring covered in white berry blossoms growing in the wild.

She explained that we come back in July to harvest the berries for canning and making cobblers. She layered the cobbler dough in the bottom of a Dutch oven which was a heavy cast iron oval-shaped kettle with a tight-fitting lid.

The prepared berries were spooned on over the crust, and the last layer of dough was carefully laid on top. She could cook the pies without burning them. She knew how much wood to put in the stove and where to place the cobbler within the belly of the stove.

The smell filled the house, and my mouth watered with anticipation of tart and sweet, crunchy goodness.

Shootin' Supper

Often, the meat was provided from the surrounding woods. Once my grandfather took me hunting with him. He loaded his pump shotgun and then handed me the loaded the 22-rifle, grabbed the corresponding boxes of bullets, and informed me that we were fixin’ to shoot dinner.

He had already given me lessons on how to shoot a .22. We had target practice on an old tin icebox he kept in the back yard. My grandpa would tape a paper target on the metal box, and we sat on the porch taking turns shooting.

I became a well-versed aficionado of shooting paper prey for a nine-year-old city girl.

Early that morning after breakfast of oatmeal and coffee and despite the heat, we put on long-sleeved shirts and stuck our pants legs inside our socks.

When I asked why we were doing this, my grandfather said, “It’s because of the ticks, the Rocky Mountain spotted kind. Tick fever will make you go crazy.” We left traversing through the dense brush with the family hound dog, Boots, trotting at my heels.

My grandpa kept telling me to be quiet, but that was hard because I think I broke and crunched every stick and twig in the forest.

Despite my clumsiness, I was able to pinpoint a squirrel or two, took aim, and fired. The rabbits were a bit easier. Boots would scare up a bunch of rabbits hiding under vegetation, and my grandpa would fire hitting several at a time.

I ran over and grabbed the deceased bunnies, ecstatic I was instrumental in providing the family supper. Skipping happily through the woods, I felt I was a part of the family.

My grandma fried and smothered (cooking in gravy) those critters in a deep black skillet and it was the best eating I ever ate, I surmised.

Boots, The Hound Dog

Remember Boots?

Well, I loved that dog. He was brown with big long floppy ears and a big wet nose always sniffing; here, there, and everywhere. He was so happy, running and jumping, wanting to play at every opportunity.

My three cousins, who lived on the property in a small trailer set back a piece from the house, always came down to play with Boots and myself.

I recall one particular time when my cousin, Sammy Joe and I were playing a game called, “keep the ball away from Boots.” We threw the ball to each other while Boots jumped up and tried to catch it. Well, Boots caught the ball and Sammy grabbed the ball from the dog's mouth and threw it to me.

I don’t know if it hurt the dog or not, but I do know Boots jumped on me and began to bite all over my face. My cousin started crying and yelling for help. My mother came out on the porch and began screaming.

Daddy grabbed a stick and pummeled Boots until he retreated. They scooped me up and sat me at the kitchen table trying to determine the extent of my injuries,

“I can’t see!” I screamed. I thought Boots ate my eyeballs.

“It’s only blood.” My dad told me. “We have to get her to the hospital. She needs stitches,” he told my mother.

My grandpa was stomping through the house, exclaiming, “No dog of mine bites my granddaughter and lives!” He got his gun and ran out of the house.

I started screaming again, “No, don’t shoot Boots, it was an accident. No, please.” My cries fell on deaf ears.

When I returned from the hospital, Boots was dead.

Sometimes, these memories flood my mind, and I am overcome with emotion. I am afraid they will be lost to my descendants.

It only takes one generation for people to lose their history. Therefore, I am proclaiming myself to be the scribe and protector of our legacy for those who come after.

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