Family reunion fuels outhouse fears
Thank God my daughter, Isabell, is still in diapers. Up until the Fourth of July weekend, I never would have thought those words could escape my fatherly lips.
After all, just change one diaper so toxic the odor actually clings to your tongue, tainting food and drink for the rest of the day, and you’ll know what I’m talking about.
But there I sat, crammed into the back of our rental van Friday night, bathed in a humidity so thick it was like breathing through a sponge, and I was practically humming and whistling while I removed my daughter’s poopy pants.
The reason I was content in the middle of a chore I normally loathe is that I, like the rest of my relatives, knew that just a few short yards away there was something infinitely worse than a stinky diaper.
There was an outhouse, and it was known as the infamous outhouse at my Uncle Jim’s lake.
My wife and I had taken our daughter to Akron, Ohio, for the Fourth of July to meet a small contingent of my family. By “small” I mean more than 150 loud, boisterous, hard-drinking, hard-playing Gmereks.
It was the first mega family reunion we’d had in years, and Bev and I wanted to introduce Isabell to her relatives.
Besides, I hadn’t seen most of these relatives in more than nine years, and I wanted to catch up, even if I knew Isabell would upstage Bev and me from the moment we drove out to my Uncle Jim’s farm.
I was right, of course. It didn’t take long for my relatives to blow past Bev and me and swarm over my daughter.
And Isabell, being like her Mom and Dad, bathed in the love.
Since my family is basically a good Catholic family – by this I mean they like to procreate – there were also plenty of kids around to keep her occupied for the entire weekend.
She did, however, begin to lose interest in the tight family circle at the end of our stay. I actually think she grew tired of traveling as a pack of five or six girls instead of as an individual.
I was also basking in the bosom of the family. Except for those people we’ve lost over the years, everyone was pretty much the same.
They looked like they should, acted like I remembered and drank me under several tables. And even the farm was the same.
Though I hadn’t been there in more than 20 years, it didn’t seem smaller than I remembered, and even with a few minor changes, the place was basically the same. That, however, included the outhouse.
My memories of that outhouse are flashes of monster spiders, bugs the size of cars and things that must have been extinct everywhere else on earth except for that one spot, that outhouse in Ohio. Even as a small child with no real fear of death, I hated the place. It was sinister, it was dangerous, and it was filled with dark things lurking in holes so that the minute you sat down they’d swallow you up with your pants still around your ankles.
I’m still convinced I lost several relatives over the years in the outhouse.
And I wasn’t the only one afraid of the place. As my cousins sat around reminiscing about past family outings at Jim’s lake, the moment someone mentioned the outhouse everyone began to speak in hushed voices.
We’d tell stories of how we used to hold our bathroom needs as long as we could until finally, usually late at night, we’d have no choice but to head down the path to the outhouse.
We told of how flashlight beams seemed to get swallowed up in the shadows and of devils that lived under the seats.
We let the young ones of our Gmerek tribe know just how lucky they are that someone, every now and then, cleans and paints the place, making it much less frightening.
As for me, I was more than happy to change my daughter’s diaper in the van, then hop in the driver’s seat and head to the nearest McDonald’s to find comfort with a flush toilet.
Just because I’m the adult doesn’t mean my imagination has grown up.
I guess some things never change, even at a family reunion.
Columist Andrew Gmerek writes a regular Friday column.
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