The Halloween Outhouse Caper
James Osborne | Cait Maloney
The family men in our remote farm community hated Halloween. That was the time of year when local teenagers would sneak out at night and topple neighborhood outhouses. They thought it was funny. But pranks like that meant we had to wait, sometimes under great pressure, you understand, for our fathers to set the outhouses upright again.
It’s not that the outhouses were damaged. Most were built so well they were darned near indestructible. However, they did not function as planned while lying on their backs.
No one in our area at the time had indoor toilets or septic systems. So, huge importance was given to these vital outdoor plumbing facilities, usually found a breezy distance downwind from the houses. And thus, much urgency was attached to the early resurrection of same the morning after Halloween. After all, certain calls of nature demanded prompt attention. And one should not ignore that other hazard of toppled toilets — the highly odiferous pit left unprotected adjacent to the prone outhouse.
So how could this Halloween vandalism… those vexing pranks… be stopped? The community was perplexed. Winter passed, spring and summer came and went, but no agreed-upon solution had emerged. Then, the harvesting once again was done and the fall season for social events got underway. Halloween was approaching.
One day, neighbors gathered for a thorough airing of the issues, so to speak. The meeting followed a year of discussions at community picnics, dances, box socials, weddings, funerals and other pretexts for gatherings, mostly at the local one-room country school. A number of solutions had been advanced. These included guard dogs and shotguns with shells filled with rock salt. Mercifully, none of these more aggressive notions garnered much support beyond wishful thinking among our fathers.
Then came the fall dinner and dance. During the meal, one of the quieter farmers took advantage of a lull in the growing ambient noise to speak up:
“I’ve an idea,” Henry said. “Why not just move our outhouses a little?”
“What!” another farmer came thundering into the conversation before Henry could continue, his mouth propelled by homemade moonshine. “Are you kidding me? What’re ya saying… load our outhouses on flatbeds and tow them away? Y’all gotta be kiddin’ me! Ha, ha, ha! That don’t make no sense at all! What’ll we use in the meantime?”
“We might as well tie them down,” laughed another man. “That’s a dumb idea!”
Henry sat quietly through the criticism and heckling.
Then, during another lull, Henry added calmly: “Just move them off the hole a bit. Move them backward… you know, behind the pit. That’ll fix ‘em.”
Quiet descended. The sense of what Henry had said began to sink in. Maybe this guy wasn’t full of it after all.
“Those kids… when they tip our outhouses over, they always push them from the front. Right? They tip them over backward. We just need to hide the hole with some tree branches.”
Henry’s idea became a hit. The neighborhood buzzed with excitement as Halloween approached. Apprehension and annoyance had been transformed into anticipation. Neighbors teamed up to help move each other’s outhouse surreptitiously after dark on the fateful night.
The men had overlooked one small detail:
The culprits were almost certainly teenaged boys from the neighborhood. They would belong to the very families supposedly conspiring against them. The boys would be tipped off about the traps being set for them.
But the boys had overlooked something, too:
They underestimated Henry. He didn’t tell the others about Part Two of his plan. Henry had guessed who were the most likely suspects, and had assumed correctly they would learn about the traps being planned for them. He began quietly putting into effect Part Two.
To do so, Henry went down the road to see Pete, his neighbor half a mile away. Neither had teenaged boys. Pete agreed to Henry’s secret Part Two… and agreed to keep it just between them.
The plan was to outsmart the Halloween pranksters by moving their outhouses in the opposite direction to the public plan, that is, forward, not backward. This would leave the pits wide open behind the outhouses, the location the teenage pranksters would be thinking was now safe to execute their nefarious deeds.
After dark on Halloween night, Henry and Pete helped each move their outhouses forward. Earlier, they’d cut tree branches and bushes. They used these to camouflage the unprotected pits.
Then, dressed in dark clothes, each sat in the shadows beside their respective back porches waiting to observe as the anticipated events unfolded.
The next morning, Henry and Pete exchanged stories over coffee, unable to suppress their hilarity. Between outbursts of laughter they described for each other, which neighbor’s boy had gone how deep into the obnoxious substances at the bottom of those outhouse pits… along with the surprisingly coarse words the boys had used to express their dismay, and how quickly each culprit had run to nearby ponds or water troughs and jumped in fully clothed.
From that day forward, nary an outhouse for miles around ever tumbled again, except perhaps of its own accord… always from advanced old age, after many years of faithful service, relieving its owners of their burdens. Naturally.