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The Outdoor Privy

Plum Thickets & Field DaisiesPart II
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OUR LOT WAS QUITE DEEP. The outdoor privy was almost at the back of the lot under a big mulberry tree. It was about six feet wide and seven feet tall and build of wide wooden boards. The inside arrangement consisted of a stool platform which had two heights, one for adults and one for the convenience of the younger fry. This is my earliest remembrance of this necessity, and it was kept as clean as possible by an unusual man called Better Look.
Better Look was a well-built, handsome, black man with a round smiling face. He named himself perhaps, and as he came down the road with a shovel on his shoulder calling, Better Look! Going pretty fast! children would rush inside to summon their mothers.
They in turn would call, Better Look, stop! We have a job for you! Better Look would pause, take his shovel down from his shoulders, go to the back of the lot and get to work in a hurry if a barrel was available to hold the contents of the privy. Sometimes the householder would have gotten a barrel in advance of Better Look’s visit; if not, he would go to the nearest grocery store to purchase a barrel for that particular job. Store men always saved barrels for the people in the neighborhood knowing that they were sure to be called for at privy cleaning time.
Better Look always made his purchase of a barrel quickly if he was sent for one, put it over his strong shoulders and hastened back to start his job. As soon as the cleaning was over and lime sprinkled over the spot, he would come up for his pay of fifteen cents. This pay was usually cheerfully given. On one occasion, a patron got a sudden urge to try to drive a bargain with Better Look. She said the fifteen cents price was far too high and that she thought ten cents was enough for the job. Better Look looked up with a sly grin and said, Lady, that job’s worth anybody’s fifteen cents. The patron quickly agreed with Better Look, gave him his asking price, and never again attempted to drive a bargain with him over getting the privy cleaned. Better Look took his pay and passed on to solicit another job calling, Better Look coming in a mass! Going pretty fast!
Later, the city sent the sanitation wagon around to collect the outdoor privy barrels. There was a regular schedule for collections, and homeowners tried to be ready for the service from the city. Whenever the wagon was sighted, children would rush inside and close the windows and doors to escape the awful smell as the city wagon went by collecting its load. The man who drove the wagon was reported to have had a very successful garden, and sometimes people said that the contents of the wagon were used as fertilizer. We always turned up our noses at the very thought of such a practice, though I have since heard that many people do just this sort of thing.
The enormous mulberry tree shaded our privy. It gave us many joyful moments as we skinned the cat on its limbs, ate the long purple mulberries and got our clothes stained with their juice, or climbed as high as we could. Under this tree was the scene of a thrilling escapade with our goat, Billy.

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Love, Rose Leary. Plum Thickets and Field Daisies: A Memoir. Charlotte, NC: Public Library of Charlotte and Mecklenburg County, 1996