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06.14.12Martha Golea

In Defense of Outhouses: A Love Story

Behnea farmMy father-in-law, Gheorghe, working on his farm in Romania. Martha and GheorgheGheorghe was astounded by the Chihuly exhibit at the Desert Botanical Garden when he visited Phoenix. He also tried to hug a very large saguaro cactus...

After reading my Mother’s Day post, my dad made me promise not to blog about him for Father’s Day (he’s kind of shy). So Happy Father’s Day, Dad, your secrets are safe this year.

The first time I met my father-in-law was on a farm in a small, rural village in Romania. We weren’t related yet, but he seemed to know we would be soon enough. He watched me all day, probably trying to assess what his son saw in this strange American girl, waiting for his chance to put me to the test. Unfortunately for me, he got his chance when I was unable to locate the farmhouse bathroom on my own.

Gheorghe didn’t speak a word of English and my Romanian vocabulary was regrettably limited, but he chatted enthusiastically as he led me right out the front door and through the yard. There between the garden and the barn stood two small wooden buildings. Nobody was around to translate so I can’t be completely certain, but I’m pretty sure my father-in-law-to-be told me “One of those is an outhouse, the other is a chicken coop. Chickens don’t like visitors, so choose wisely.” I’m sure he would have rescued me if I had been attacked by chickens, but I chose wisely and apparently passed the test.

Here’s the kicker: There was a bathroom in the house, but they only use it when it’s too cold to hike through the yard.

Yes, you read that right. My in-laws have indoor plumbing and they prefer not to use it. Welcome to my family.

Their country gets moderate precipitation year-round and has water-front property on the Black Sea. Romanians are not hurting for water; they have no obvious incentive to save it, and yet they have no inclination to waste it. Their conservation is not even eco-minded - ”go green” is probably an insult in Romanian  - to them it just makes more sense.  How often does an outhouse break? Never? City water costs money, a barrel of rainwater is free. Showering too often dries your skin and removes good bacteria. Washing clothes after every wear is time consuming and wears them out faster.

Instead of seeing plumbing, bathing and irrigation as modern conveniences or luxuries, they see them as things that will eventually cause problems or break, so Romanians opt for the simpler alternative. Even if it means hiking to the outhouse.

In America, the goal of simplicity seems to be at war with the goal of conservation. Modern technology trumps the trusty outhouse every time: dual-flush, low-flow, high efficiency everything. We have endless options for conserving water but the option called “just don’t use any” eludes most of us. It’s a good thing my father-in-law doesn’t live with us now, because I suspect the neighbors may fuss if we were the only house on the block with an outhouse in our yard. Although if anyone could convince them to join the movement, that person would be Gheorghe.

Where do you stand? Do you reminisce about the excitement of trekking out back in the dark, hoping you don’t accidentally step on the cat? Or are you 100% pro-toilet-technology, bidet and all? Let me know in the comments or on Twitter at @MarGoH2O.

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Martha Golea

A seasoned communicator and passionate water conservationist, Martha Golea tracks projects in progress and reports on usage of new and exploratory irrigation technology and water management strategies. Martha also regularly contributes content on water management and conservation to Lawn & Landscape Magazine.

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COMMENTS (4)

  1. Thursday, 6:49 Alan Harris

    My first outhouse experience was as a young lad at a rural church during a hot summer in North Carolina. If indoor plumbing had been an option I would have gladly taken it as opposed to the battle of epic proportions I had with the flies that day. I do however support wearing pants more than once and in college, if it passed the sniff test, shirts too were worn more than once…or twice (ewww).

  2. Friday, 7:28 Steve

    There’s nothing like standing under the starry sky of a warm summer night. Who needs an outhouse?
    Outhouses in a suburban environment? Maybe.
    Outhouses in an urban environment? Maybe not.
    I have read an opinion that urinating in the garden can be beneficial and conserving. Just be careful not to offend the neighbors.

  3. Saturday, 2:37 Mark Hopkins

    Nothing quite like your first outhouse experiance! My grandparents didn’t have an indoor bathroom so every time we would visit, I’d make my way around the chicken coop to the old wooden outhouse. I never could figure out why my grandpa build a “two-holer”. It really didn’t seem like a place where you would like companionship!

  4. Wednesday, 2:22 Martha Golea

    I don’t know how I missed these comments up till now, sorry about that! Thanks for your input, Alan, Steve, and Mark.
    Mark, I completely agree with you. When would a two-holer ever be a good idea?! I say never.

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