By Berna (Swain) Michell – Choiceland, Sask.
When I was a youngster in rural Saskatchewan, we all had an outhouse. Ours was quite ordinary but served its intended purpose well. As it turned out, it served a couple extra purposes as well. The first was an unfortunate purpose.
Our cousin, Jim, lived in the city. He liked to come to the farm for a week or 2 in the summer. He liked most things about the farm, but he didn’t like cats.
We always had a mother cat living in the barn to help with mouse control, and she often had kittens. My sister and I viewed the kittens as pets and playmates, fussing with them, giving them names and coaxing them to follow us around.
Unfortunately, the kittens took a special liking to Jim and followed him endlessly, rubbing against his legs at every chance, sometimes tripping him up.
Jim didn’t appreciate their attention and on occasion gave in to the urge to rid himself of the kittens.
My sister and I, both a bit older than him, suggested to him that kicking the kittens or throwing them across the yard wasn’t a good idea – and might even lead to some difficulties for him. What could the poor lad do but come up with another solution?
One day we could hear the pitiful yowling of kittens in distress. We traced the yowling to the outhouse. Jim had dropped 2 of them down the toilet hole. They were in deep, um, trouble. Our mother came to the rescue of the kittens and of Jim. She tied an old pail on a rope, let it down the hole, and encouraged the kittens into it with a long handled broom.
Wisely, she sent the kittens with my sister and me down to the nearby creek. The kittens had a cold bath, and my sister and I had time to realize that retaliation would not be an accepted thing.
I expect our mother explained to Jim that though his solution was creative, it wouldn’t be wise to repeat it.
The second ‘extra’ purpose for the small building was more pleasant. A little brown house wren decided the outhouse would be a safe place to set up her home. When we realized her intention, we fastened a tin can with the end cut out in the highest corner inside the toilet and in a short time the bird had built her nest and laid her tiny eggs.
She seemed comfortable coming and going or sitting on her nest whether she shared the building with humans or not.
After the eggs hatched and the babies showed signs of wanting to leave the nest, we realized the risk of leaving the holes uncovered so cut pieces of heavy cardboard for covers. Each of us knew that forgetting to cover the holes might lead to disaster.
In time the young wrens and their mother moved on. The nesting can was occupied each summer for many years and provided pleasure for our family and many visitors.
We liked to think the rights to that nesting location were passed from generation to generation of that wren family.