Friday, September 12, 2008

La cabane au fond du jardin

That may sound very romantic and may even mean “the hut at the bottom of the garden” (which is what the photographer, my French blogger friend Papy Biou, calls this structure -- in French, of course -- on his blog, Le monde comme je l’aime), but to me it looks like something quite different.

I grew up in Texas years and years ago without benefit of indoor plumbing in our house. We had four rooms and a path, and to me Papy’s hut at the bottom of the garden looks exactly like our outhouse at the edge of the pasture. It was a building with which the members of our immediate family were intimately, and I do mean intimately, acquainted. An outhouse, for you younger readers, was the place to go when you had to go, in rain or shine, in snow or sleet or dark of night.

For those who care about such things, there are some small but distinct differences to be noted between a hut at the bottom of a garden and an outhouse at the edge of a pasture. For starters, one is a potting shed and the other is more of a potty shed. Or, to put it in mathematical terms, a potting shed is to the bottom of the garden as a potty shed is to the bottom of the gardener. And this definitely looks like a potty shed to me. Form follows function, as the architects say. It may even have been lifted from its old Texas home and transported to Papy’s garden, for all I know.

Ours, though unpainted, was the Cadillac of outhouses; it was furnished with not one, not two, but three seats (if you can call a hole ten or twelve inches in diameter a seat). We never availed ourselves of any multi-evacuating opportunities, however, because we were a prim, proper, and thoroughly Puritanical family.

Another difference is that a hut at the bottom of a garden is built on solid ground and probably houses garden tools and that sort of thing, but an outhouse at the edge of a pasture is built over a very large hole or trench that acts as a repository for what in town would be carried away by the municipal sewer system. Occasionally we would pour lime into it. Our particular hole or trench was about eight or ten feet deep to start with and took several years to fill up. Then my dad simply dug a new trench a few feet away and moved the outhouse, using the dirt from the new trench to fill up the old trench.

The buildings are similar in one way, though. Whether you enter a hut at the bottom of a garden hut or an outhouse at the edge of a pasture, you need to keep a sharp lookout for snakes and spiders.

Papy, your photograph definitely brought back pungent memories. And I do mean pungent.


  1. Oh my. Your post is bringing back memories of a roadside waystation in Saskatchewan from two years ago. Most pungent potty shed I ever visited. It's become legend in our house, as in "That smells like a Saskatchewan outhouse."

  2. This had me giggling as I read. You are quite clever in your wording. I too experienced the potty sheds when very young. Our family had indoor plumbing but there were still many in our small backwards town that did not. My maternal grandparents had one until they could add a bathroom to the house they moved in to. I used to be so scared I would fall waaaaaaay down there in that there hole. So glad for modern conveniences.

  3. Good post! Amazing to realize that modern indoor plumbing has existed for a relatively short time. Think of down through the ages, in all the historical times we read about......everyone, even the most famous of people, had to find a place for this duty.

    On the farm I grew up on there was no privy still standing....I'm told my grandma accidently burned it down one day while tending a trash fire. When I was first married, we rented a farmhouse that still had a cute little privy building out by the garden......a two-holer......I stored garden tools in there (not in the holes). I'm told Sears & Roebuck catalog pages or corn husks were put to use in privies. Ow. Tipping privies over was a popular prank back in those days, too, I've heard.

    I'm happy to live in these modern times.

  4. I am dilighted to read your comments about my photografs ! I like your humor and in french, we say "nous sommes sur la même longueur d'onde".
    May I ask you to remember your first name to converse with you throw my blog ? Thank you and see you soon. (Sorry, my langage is very bad, but I think nevertheless , that you understand my words, since you understand my "pictures"!)

  5. Do you know Charles Trenet ?
    I propose to you, and your friends a few songs on my blog... You can sing with him... Clic on the photographs...

  6. Thanks again, y'all (meaning Ruth, Vonda, Jeannelle, and Papy)!

    Ruth, the absolute worst smell I ever smelled in my whole life occurred when I drove past a turkey farm. Thousands of turkeys, and all probably from Saskatchewan. Unfortunately, I had to pass it every weekend on my way home from college.

    Vonda, glad I made you giggle. A giggle a day keeps the blues away.

    Jeannelle, I remember hearing my stepmother tell some of her adult grandchildren about taking corn husks to the privy in the old days. You took twice as many red ones as white ones, she said. When they asked why, she replied that you used two red ones and then you used a white one to see whether you needed to use another red one!

    Papy, I will be happy to remember to you my first name so that we can converse throw your blog. My first name is Bob and my last name is Brague, just like the river in France, which just happens to rhyme with plague if you say it in English.

    I am happy to learn that we are on the same wave length. I sometimes wonder if my sense of humor is a bit warped, and it's nice to know that someone else, even thousands of miles away, has a similar way of looking at things. Especially when it's the person who took the photographs!

    I'm not familiar with Charles Trenet. And I was not able to hear him sing when I clicked on the photographs. Perhaps I did something wrong?

  7. Hello Bob ! If you can't hear Charles Trenet after a clic on the photographs, try again, or you can find him on Google or Dailymotion. Have a nice week-end.
    (My name is Michel Soultane, but I like PapyBiou, its the nickname my grandson gives to me.

  8. When we moved to Arkansas, our house had no indoor plumbing at all. The privy was appx 100 feet from the back door, inside the "chicken yard." Had to open a gate, avoid stepping on chickens (or being attacked by roosters) to get to the one-holer.

    Thanks for your comment and inquiry on my blog, Bob. I did get a chuckle from your translation of Papy's correspondence with you. I'm OK; just have had a lot of other things on my plate. "Life is what happens to you while you're busy making other plans." - John Lennon