CAWTHON'S CATHARSIS - The New Deal Dealt Us a Royal Flush

(07/24/2001)

By Jack Cawthon

President Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal tackled many of the problems stemming from the Great Depression through it efforts for the elimination of hunger, the elimination of huge unemployment rolls and the elimination of abject poverty in general. However, by the time the Dealers got around to cutting us a hand, an oppressed minority living at the head of a holler in Gilmer County, it was down to pretty much basic elimination. Our share of the pot was a brand new outhouse.

We were poor, but proud, Republicans. I've always had difficulty explaining to liberal Democrats why poor people choose membership in the Republican Party, as everyone knows it is the party of the rich. However, we served a noble and vital purpose in Gilmer County as there weren't enough Blacks, Jews, Italians or other ethnic groups suitable for sustained discrimination, and what few Catholics there were had the good sense to travel outside the county for worship. We provided the only group worthy of concentrated discrimination, thereby providing an outlet for this vital element of human expression.

I have always assumed that Roosevelt gave us an outhouse because we were always referring to his programs in outhouse language and he thoughtfully provided a seat for our expressions. Whatever the reason, it was certainly well built, although not a brick one.

It wasn't that we really needed a new one. Pretty much like everyone else our old shed house was built over the run and incorporated a continual flush system provided by naturally running water. Even in dry weather when the run dried up to a trickle and problems began to pile up we could always count on the McCall Drilling Company to clean out the gas well above the house and dump the well residues into the run, thereby rinsing our holler clean out to Grass Run. I suppose with everyone along the route contributing a share that by the time the Little Kanawha River reached Parkersburg it was pretty much discolored and scented, but no one gave it second wind as the American Viscose plant spewed a fragrance all its own into the air that made our efforts seem much like fresh dew on the morning grass.

When we waded our run going in and out we always gave thanks that as the last house up the holler, and although not affluent, we didn't take effluent from anybody.

The WPA workers came to build one day. I had some Republican cousins, perhaps through inbreeding, down the holler and we all gathered to watch. We would giggle and punch each other whenever the men took frequent breaks, but not so they could see us as we were good shy country kids who only made fun of people behind their backs.

They dug a pit, ran a cement liner and floor and built the nicest little house over it that anyone could imagine. We immediately dubbed it a wee-wee house. When they had finished I think even my dad was proud of it, and I'm sure that every time he visited it from then on that he relieved in private his innermost feelings about Franklin D. Roosevelt. I know that the well water cleared up, but sad to say, the coffee was never the same.

Then came the day we moved to Glenville. While the New Deal had dealt us a royal flush in the country, over in the city we had built-in convenience and we felt that finally we had achieved parity with the Democrats.

Over the years the old deserted farmhouse began to deteriorate and the barn sagged, but always there stood the little house out back as a symbol of Democratic stability. We had allowed a group of hunters from Charleston to camp out during hunting season each year. They were well known for their preference for bottled beverages, perhaps afraid to drink the water. One day when I inspected the little house I was dismayed to find the pit filled with empty bottles. The men, being from the city, obviously didn't understand that used bottles were to be deposited on the outside and used contents emptied on the inside.

Then one day it was gone! Completely vanished! All that was left was the cemented burial vault with its entombment of empty bottles. I knew that the guardians of the law would put little priority on a missing outhouse, so I decided to investigate on my own. I finally found it reconstructed on a neighboring farm where a band of hippies had established a homestead.

Back in the 60s and early 70s young people found they could abandon the stifling restrictions of conventional life and live quite nicely off the land, provided that they received a check from home at frequent intervals.

I didn't get my bowels in an uproar over my purloined outhouse, as in the country one felt bound to help his neighbors in their time of need, but when I opened the door I was horrified. There situated over a shallow pit was an aluminum frame of an outdoor lawn chair with all the seat webbing removed.

I felt a flush of sorrow for the government architect who had designed the original structure. It may have been his crowning achievement, a capper crapper, a toiletry of toil, an altogether moving experience after an otherwise lifetime of waste. He may now look down from a heavenly throne and shake his head over his discommoded head.

With considerable effort I resisted the urge to try it out.


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