This time of year, I am thankful for running water. I once lived in an old camper on a friend’s farm in northern Wisconsin that did not have running water. Instead of a shower, I boiled water in an electric frying pan for a sponge bath.
Instead of a flush toilet, I had a sturdy outhouse that was, unfortunately, infested with mice in the winter. The colder it got, the more mice it seemed to have. As soon as I sat down in the outhouse and shut out the last bit of light with the door, I could hear the mice scuttling up out of the pit into the safety of the outhouse’s small attic. It was an uncomfortable experience that I never got used to.
I discovered a solution one Christmas season during an ice storm. Because of my beard, I had been invited to be Santa Claus at a daycare center. Just before I was due to report in as Santa Claus, I walked down the little hill to pay a visit to the facilities. I suddenly started skidding toward it on the ice and, using some seafaring lingo I learned in the Navy, smacked into the outhouse at about 10 miles per hour.
As I picked myself up off the ground, I could hear the mice scurrying out of the pit toward the attic. Thereafter, I would pause in front of the outhouse and give it two or three good kicks as a signal to the mice that it was time to head for safety.
I should probably confess here that that particular outhouse was an illegal “grandfathered” structure. It was brought onto the property one moonlit night near Halloween on a flatbed truck, the driver coasting in with lights out and the transmission disengaged.
Rhubarb was quickly transplanted from the garden to the parameter of the new, old outhouse to make it appear that it had always been there. For those eager to turn me into the DNR, I should add that there was an old outhouse on the property, but the walls had rotted away, leaving the tin roof an inch above the seats. It was easier to find a different outhouse.
Unknown to me, my neighbor’s 4-year old son, Bobby, saw both the installation of the outhouse and what appeared to him to be a visit by Santa Claus himself. He saw me kicking the outhouse one day some months after Christmas, and told me I should be careful. I asked why.
“Santa Claus uses that outhouse.”
I do not like taking responsibility for debunking the Santa Claus myth to children, but I said, “That was probably me.”
“No, that was Santa Claus.”
“Bobby, it was me.”
“On Halloween, I saw that outhouse floating on air.”
It took me a second to realize what he was talking about, but then I remembered the truck driver’s delivery instructions-no lights, no engine.
“Actually, Bobby, it was on a truck that day.”
“My brother Jimmy and his friends tried to tip your outhouse over last week, but I told them about Santa Claus.”
“Isn’t Jimmy 13? Does he believe in Santa Claus?”
“I told him about Halloween, too.”
“Oh,” I said, realizing that I had a friend, “that’s good you told him because it is probably haunted.”
“And Santa uses it,” he added.
“Thanks for telling me. I will stop kicking it.”
“And don’t lock the door in case he can’t get in.”
I agreed not to.
“And on Christmas, leave cookies and milk.”
“Okay,” I said. But then I thought of the mice.
From then on, whenever I wanted to use the outhouse, I sang “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town” through the door. They seemed to know what I was singing about.
Rhinelander District Library Director Ed Hughes is available at (715) 365-1070.