Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Humorous honesty from the granddaughter January 24, 2023

When my grandchildren say the darndest things, I think of Art Linkletter’s “House Party” and his “Kids Say the Darndest Things” segment. Their answers to his questions proved honest, humorous and entertaining.

KIDS SAY THE DARNDEST THINGS. I can vouch for that. I raised three kids, cared for many others and am now the grandmother of two, one going on seven, the other just turned four.

Recently the grandkids, Isabelle and her little brother, Isaac, stayed overnight. During that short stay, Izzy elicited laughter with her honest observations and her leadership skills.

An outhouse repurposed as a garden shed at my brother and sister-in-law’s rural southwestern Minnesota acreage. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo)

First the honesty. I don’t recall how we got on the topic, but at some point I shared that I grew up in a house without a bathroom. Taking a bath meant my dad hauling a tin tub from the porch into the kitchen every Saturday evening and then Mom filling it with water. Our bathroom, I explained to Izzy, was a little building outside with two holes cut in a bench. And in the winter, we used a covered pot set inside the unheated porch.

I don’t know that Izzy understood all of this. But, as she sat there listening to Grandma spin tales of the olden days, she assessed. “It sounds like a different world to me!” I laughed at her observation. She was right. Growing up in rural Minnesota in the 1950s and 1960s was, most assuredly, a different world from hers. My granddaughter lives in a sprawling suburban house with four bathrooms. In 1967, my family of birth moved into a new farmhouse with a single bathroom. And a bathtub. Today I feel thankful to live in a house with one bathroom. I wouldn’t want to clean four.

I took this award-winning photo of BINGO callers at the North Morristown July Fourth celebration in 2013. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo 2013)

Then there’s BINGO, which we play nearly every time we’re together with Isabelle and Isaac. They were introduced to the game at the Helbling Family Reunion and have loved it since. The kids take turns not only playing, but also calling numbers.

Isabelle has advanced greatly in her BINGO-calling skills. This time, in addressing us, she called us “folks.” I don’t know where Izzy heard that term, but it’s certainly more rural than suburban lingo. I suggested she might be ready to call BINGO next summer at North Morristown’s annual Fourth of July celebration. Unincorporated North Morristown is a Lutheran church and school and a few farm places clustered in the middle of nowhere west of Faribault. Izzy seems well-prepared to call BINGO numbers to the folks there.

I should have shared with my granddaughter that, when I was growing up, we covered our BINGO cards with corn kernels during Vesta’s (my hometown) annual BINGO Night. I expect she would have responded as a child 60 years younger than me: “It sounds like a different world to me!” And I would have agreed.

© Copyright 2023 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Strange but true: Abolish the privy-pit & use the dry earth closet March 13, 2013

DURING THE FIRST 11 years of my life, I lived in a cramped three-bedroom farmhouse in southwestern Minnesota with my parents and four siblings, my third brother not yet born.

The house, albeit aged and plain, provided necessary shelter for our family. But, unlike most rural homes in the area, ours did not have a bathroom. Instead, we used a two-hole outhouse during the warm months and a pot on the porch during the winter.

It was not the outhouse, but rather the red-rimmed white enamel porch pot which I remember with particular disdain. Cold nipped at my butt in the frosty uninsulated and unheated porch. And the pot, naturally, reeked of feces and urine. I couldn’t remove the lid and slap it back on fast enough.

Stone Valley General Store, 110 Pine Street, located in the old Engesser Brewery on the south side of St. Peter.

Stone Valley General Store, 110 Pine Street, located in the old Engesser Brewery on the south side of St. Peter.

With that memory, you will understand why I was especially fascinated by the Heap’s Patent Dry Earth Closet I found recently at the Stone Valley General Store, an antiques/collectibles/consignment shop in St. Peter.

And we’re not talking clothes closet here.

We’re talking water closet, minus the water.

Not just a fine piece of furniture, but a toilet. The door opens to reveal a urine receptacle on the inside of a door and a pail tucked underneath.

Not just a fine piece of furniture, but a toilet. The door opens to reveal a urine receptacle on the inside of the door and a pail tucked underneath.

William Heap & Sons of Muskegon, Michigan, so my research reveals, patented this stylish bedroom commode in 1886 and promoted it as “perfectly inodorous.” The idea was to sprinkle odor absorbing ash or earth into the galvanized bucket which came with the unit before doing your duty. A separate porcelain receptacle on the closet door collected urine.

The urine collector which hangs on the door.

The urine collector which hangs on the door.

In theory it all sounds so wonderful:

No water! No drain! They are simply invaluable… ABOLISH THE PRIVY-PIT!…Secure health, comfort and cleanliness…

You can almost hear the infomercial, can’t you, with these units priced from $8 – $13 and “25,000 already in use.” That’s the pitch in an ad placed in the “Household Necessaries” section of The Cosmopolitan.

Jackie posted these instructions with the dry earth closet.

Jackie posted these instructions with the dry earth closet.

According to Jackie Hoehn, owner of the Stone Valley General Store, the Heap’s Dry Earth Closet she is selling for $1,500 was used at the Mayo Clinic and the State Hospital in St. Peter.

No trying out the dry earth closet in Jackie's shop.

No trying out the dry earth closet in Jackie’s shop.

Now, I didn’t ask Jackie how she acquired this toilet or when. But I expect she may be sitting on it for awhile. Not literally, of course.

© Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling