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Where's The Bathroom?

by Ron Kitson

Our house on the farm near Little Britain didn't have a bathroom. We had an outhouse we called the "shanty" and there was certainly no way to take a bath in there. Thinking back, the word "bathroom" may not have been in our budding vocabularies at that young age.

These outhouses were often targets of Halloween pranksters who would tip them over or move them. Not distructive but not nice either.

Perhaps you've heard the story about a young lad who one day took his frustrations out on their family outhouse and tipped it over. When confronted later by his father, the boy replied, "I cannot tell a lie, I did it."

The father then proceded to whip the lad who complained, "When Abe Lincoln confessed to cutting down the apple tree, he was forgiven." "Yes" his father replied, "because Abe's father wasn't sitting in the apple tree at the time."

So, why do we always call it a "bathroom" anyway? Some call it a "restroom" but you don't go there because you're tired. We recently stayed at a very modern hotel in downtown Munich that had just been remodeled and more recently at the Lindsay Inn and neither one of them had a bathtub. Both had a shower as well as other conveniences you'd expect.

I much prefer a shower to a tub. I tend to agree with Andy Rooney inasmuch as after coming out of the soapy bath water, I feel as though I need to take a shower to rinse all that off.

We have a shower in our "men's room" (an old sign on the door tells you it's a LAVATORY) while the "ladies' room" has a tub. They like to soak.

In Germany the new flush toilets have two flush buttons, a small button for a small flush and a larger button for a larger one. Just think of them as buttons one and two.

The flushes are rather violent, last for only two or three seconds and are equal to the task. Fresh water is not plentiful in most areas of Europe making it rather expensive so it is wise to conserve.

The word "toilet" came from the French "toile", a cloth used for shaving & hairdressing. It evolved to include washing and bathing, applying makeup and getting dressed. Toilette water is described as "a perfumed, alcoholic liquid applied to the skin in making one's toilette."

So why do people excuse themselves and whisper "I have to go to the bathroom" when what they really mean is they need to go to the toilet. There's nothing tacky about that, it's a natural calling and nobody is exempt, not Her Royal Highness, not Kings, Presidents nor were the greatest names in history. Every so often we all have to go take a, well, you know what I mean.

Getting back to my childhood, when we lived out on the farm, I didn't know anyone who had indoor plumbing other than a water pump to draw rain water up from the cistern in the cellar. This was used for cleaning, washing clothes and bathing. We had a well from which we drew drinking water but I never saw a "flush" toilet until we moved to Bowmanville in 1945.

However, we did have an indoor toilet located upstairs in Mom & Dad's bedroom that had a large pail in it, a toilet seat, a lid, and was vented out through the wall and into a chimney. Dad would empty it regularly but we were only permitted to use it late at night, if we were ill or if the weather was really bad.

I remember one time Dad was pretty upset because no one had reminded him to empty the pail until it was full. Not almost full, full. Anyway, he carried it very carefully down that long flight of stairs and out through the nearest door. Had he tripped over a broom or stepped on a toy car, we most likely would have had to burn the house.

Among the early flush toilets were the ones with the tank up near the ceiling with a pull-chain. I guess they thought you'd get a better flush that way but they later determined it to be just as good with the tank attached to the top of the unit.

You've likely heard the story about the hillbillies who moved into town and thought the toilet was something to wash their feet in. So, Maw used the lid for a breadboard and they used the seat to frame Grandpa's picture.

Getting rid of human waste has been a problem for thousands of years, ever since humans began forming communities. Probably the earliest mention of this subject is in the Old Testament. "Thou shalt have a place also without (outside) the camp, whither thou shalt go forth abroad......and thou shalt have a paddle and it shall be when thou wilt ease thyself, thou shalt dig therewith and shall turn back and cover that which cometh from thee." Deuteronomy 23:12-13

As the cities grew larger, the lack of sanitary systems created horrible conditions and the inhabitants lived in squalor. Waste was often dumped into the streets or in ditches and even after piping was installed to wash the waste away, it ended up in cesspools, ditches and eventually in major rivers.

London as with other large cities, had been in a real mess since late in the 10th century and cholera ran rampant. By the mid 1800s, thousands were dying each year of cholera and other diseases and eventually they realized there was a connection between squalor and disease.

The earliest flush toilets amounted to a hole with drain pipes and a pail of water to be poured by hand and date back thousands of years. The Egyptians developed sanitary systems for human waste as early as 2500 BC that emptied into earthenware pipes but there was no Internet and it took a few thousand years until the word spread to the rest of the world.

There is some controversy over who invented the flush toilet as we know it and I don't believe everything I read on the Internet especially about this "Thomas" guy so, let's just be grateful that someone did.

Nasty diseases can spread quickly from all animal waste including cow dung and that which cometh from thee and that's why it is very necessary to wash your hands after touching farm animals and before leaving the bathroom or restroom or lavatory or whatever you choose to call it.

It's not really a toilet but that's the name that stuck. You can also call it a commode but a commode was a chest of drawers they would set a wash bowel on in the bedrooms along with a pitcher of water and other toiletries.

How about "latrine" you ask, well, that comes from "Latrina" which is Latin for "bath." Gee, I didn't know that.

Incidentally, the international symbol for a public toilet is WC for Water Closet but you may have to travel to Canada or Europe to see it.




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