“Life on earth is such a good story you cannot afford to miss the beginning… Beneath our superficial differences we are all of us walking communities of bacteria. The world shimmers, a pointillist landscape made of tiny living beings.” – Lynn Margulis (5 Mar 1938 – 22 Nov 2011)
So what is this wooden plank that measures approximately 14 feet long by 20 inches wide with seven evenly-spaced ovals
cut into the wood? Why it’s a 7-hole latrine, made for a communal outhouse; although its present location as shown in the photograph is considerably altered from its original placement. This particular piece was crafted for a special occasion: the 16th Annual Farmers’ Field Day sponsored by the York County [Maine] Pomona Grange and the York County Farm Bureau, on Thursday, August 17, 1933. The event took place at Cole Farm Dairy in Dayton, Maine, the farm belonging to my grandparents which was like a second home to me while growing up in the ’50s. At left is a copy of the flyer printed for the occasion, listing a program of activities planned for the day, including special awards to
be given to “the tallest man, the oldest man, largest family, the man with the longest whiskers, and the family coming the farthest.” The sepia-toned snapshot at left from family archives, taken the day of the event, shows the large assemblage
of people crowding the dooryard that summer day eighty-three years ago. The color photo at left taken by myself in 1974, shows how little the basic layout of the farm changed in the intervening years.
So how did this 7-hole latrine which was installed somewhere in the big red barn, in a location that no-one-now-alive remembers, wind up hanging where it is today, in my brother’s barn just down the road? Well, presumably sometime after the August event, when life on the farm had returned to its normal pace, the need for a 7-holer most likely seemed superfluous. The latrine was disassembled; but instead of being taken out the dirt road behind the farm and deposited on the verge between field and forest – that common graveyard of all things no longer useful on the farm – the plank was transported down the road to the farm where I grew up, that now belongs to my brother Clark. There it was left under the barn, exposed to the vicissitudes of weather for eighty years. Until three years ago, when my brother discovered its presence while cleaning out a miscellany of old wood that had accumulated under the barn. He decided to save the piece by putting it up on blocks, getting it out of the dirt, thus better preserving it. Apprised of its existence while in Maine two years ago, I could only conjure the vaguest recollections of its presence from my childhood memories. So I crawled under the barn to take a good look, which convinced me it was time to insure this never-to-be-repeated bit of antique craftsmanship was even better preserved. Transporting it by myself from its location under the barn to one of safety within the barn was a challenge; but I persisted with dogged determination. When my brother arrived home from the county fair that day, he amusedly approved of my efforts. Last year, with his help, we hung the oddity up high at the back of the barn; out of the way, but in plain sight. There it hangs, a reminder of olden times when things were simpler; before contemporary ideas of bathroom privacy made what was once seen as a normal part of life an oddity and object of quaint humor. Personally, I’d like to see seven portraits filling those ovals. Now that would be quite the interesting instance of recycling/repurposing old materials.