Thursday, September 21

Family Photos, Outdoor Toilets, and Hollow Children

When I was visiting my dad, I went through a lot of old family photos and picked a few to borrow so I could scan them. Oldest son has been scanning them, fixing up some of them in the process.

This one is of my aunt Katie and her two daughters. This photo would have been taken in the early 1960s; Aunt Katie would have been around 90 years old, if I remember right. Aunt Katie wasn't really my aunt, but, as far as I can figure, was my grandmother's cousin. I'll let you figure out what that makes her in relation to me.

I hadn't thought about Aunt Katie in years, until I had little conversation with Julana of Life in the Slow Lane about outdoor toilets. When I was a small girl (six-or-sevenish), my family visited Aunt Katie a couple of times. I don't remember a whole lot about those visits. I know that Aunt Katie lived on the grounds of the Mount Carmel Home, which was a Brethren in Christ orphanage in Illinois. I think she had worked there when she was younger--or perhaps it was her daughters who worked there. See? I don't remember many of the really important details, but I do remember what seemed most important to me as a young girl: Aunt Katie had an indoor outdoor toilet. Yep, attached directly to her little home--you see a corner of the home in the photo--was a little shed roofed outhouse. A two-seater, it was, and you entered from inside the house, right off the dining area.

Our visits to Aunt Katie were also my first exposures to children who didn't live in families. I remember the orphanage as bleak and spare, without softness or brightness or warmth. The children's beds were lined up dormitory style--rows of metal beds, each with a thin mattress covered with white sheets and a thin wool blanket. Even though I was only six or seven, I understood that there was something different about the children I'd met there. I remember thinking in the car on the way home that they had been "hollow children", as if nothing would ever be able to fill them up. I also remember being really thankful that I had a family.

Waiting for the big point to this post? There isn't one. Writing this, however, I was reminded that the oddest things can make lasting impressions on children, and that life-long lessons come from ordinary experiences, like a visit to an elderly aunt. And one more thing: quiet children in the back seat may be thinking deep thoughts, even if they never articulate them.