Everything I learned about outhouses I learned from my mother. She hated them. We’d sit around the dining room table and listen to her stories from when she was a little girl. One of her favorites was about summer vacations at a family friends’ farm. She didn’t tell us about the idyllic settings or animals she enjoyed; she’d only focus on the outhouse. That was the reason she hated going on this trip…the dreaded outhouse. I will spare you the details of what it was like but you catch the drift.
The only other thing she mentioned about the farm was the dog. She hated it, too. She was never a fan of pets and we have to laugh now as we find more pictures of her posing with some dog that we know wasn’t hers. It was a shame we didn’t ask more questions when we were young because she is gone now and we have so many. We would like more details about the dog and this farm she visited, who these family friends were and what she really did there.
Our mother had a stack of pictures we’d pour over again and again throughout the years and she would share their stories. So imagine my surprise when just a few years back I came across a box in the basement marked “Garage Sale”. Inside were all my father’s yearbooks from Western Reserve University and a scrapbook my grandmother made. It contained pictures I’d never seen before and people I did not know. I took them out of their holders and flipped them over. My grandmother had scribbled the places and sometimes a date, but no names.
The picture above was one of those pictures. On the back it says “Ostling Farm 1926”. This was the famous farm my mother always talked about.
I love this picture, especially the old-fashioned car in the background. Grandpa is sitting in a chair, wearing a wide-brimmed hat. Grandma is about to take a sip of her Swedish coffee. My mother sits between her brother and sister. The boy holding the cat and the woman behind him and the one next to my grandmother…I have no idea.
As I wrote my book, I was reminded of this photo and I think it helped me create Katie’s first scenes at the boardinghouse. Her reaction to the outhouse was one of shock. I believe I had her say, “Yuk!” I thought of my mother when I wrote that.
This family portrait is one of my favorites. It is a tranquil scene of a time long ago. It’s hard to believe it’s my family. They all look so peaceful and happy in the photo but I know in my mother’s mind all she was thinking of was that darn outhouse and hoping she didn’t have to make another trip there any time soon.