Dancing in the Outhouse

Girls practice the Charleston in the outhouse away from the eyes of adults.

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The old outbuilding was a fact of life sixty years ago in southern Missouri, where I grew up.

At the country school I attended we had a big five holer built to straddle a draw. The holes ranged from great big to a tiny first grader one. Made of unpainted oak, the faded grey color of the outhouse blended pleasantly with the green of the trees sheltering it.

About the time I was in the fifth grade the Charleston filtered down to our backwoods community. The dance was frowned upon by the adults as sinful.

After several of the girls had picked up a step or two, we'd race to the outbuilding at recess time to practice. One at a time we stood in front of the rest of the girls, seated solemnly between the holes, and strut our stuff. All of us agreed that the little blond first grader who only knew one step was by far the best. The rest of us lacked rhythm. We had no music, and we never thought of clapping to create a rhythm.

The one-by-twelve oak boards stretched across the ravine resounded mightily to our stomping and twisting. One day the teacher heard it. She came down the hill to see what in the world the girls were doing all this time. Caught in the act, we all performed as best we could in spite of our embarrassment. Sinning was serious business in our neighborhood.

After our promise never to do the Charleston again, she walked back to the schoolhouse grinning from ear to ear. We were true to our promise to the teacher.

Mary Hamilton Neary 
Wichita, Kansas


Back in 1955 a call went out from the editors of the then Capper’s Weekly asking for readers to send in articles on true pioneers. Hundreds of letters came pouring in from early settlers and their children, many now in their 80s and 90s, and from grandchildren of settlers, all with tales to tell. So many articles were received that a decision was made to create a book, and in 1956, the first My Folks title – My Folks Came in a Covered Wagon – hit the shelves. Nine other books have since been published in the My Folks series, all filled to the brim with true tales from Capper’s readers, and we are proud to make those stories available to our growing online community.