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The conception and development of my in-house out-house

A gray compact car eased up to the curb in front of my house. Two women got out and started up my walk. I had seen them drive up, so I met them at the door. They seemed hesitant. A bit red-faced. One of them asked, "May we see your bathroom?"

"Oh, of course." I was relieved that the purpose of their visit was neither religious nor political. "Come in." I'm used to strangers who knock on my door and ask for the bathroom tour. Generally, they follow the request with "so and so told us about it" or "we heard about it."

I didn't set out to design a weird bathroom. I merely wished to solve a problem. What I really wanted was a hot tub. In my former home I had one off my back deck, out my bedroom door. I soaked at least once every day. But I knew when I renovated my house in Harlem adding a hot tub would be out of the question. There wasn't an appropriate place to put one nor could I afford it. Owning a hot tub is like owning a miniature swimming pool. You pay the price.

I shopped for restored claw-foot tubs. Too expensive. I looked at new retro claw-foot tubs. Yikes! I had another problem too. My bathroom was tiny. 1970's tiny. Barely room to turn around.

One day at the mall in Havre, I parked way out on the eastern edge of the parking lot and skirted around the fencing and farm stuff on my way to the Big R. I walked past stacks of stock tanks, several sizes and shapes. I stopped in my tracks. I whipped out my tape measure. I had found the solution to my deep tub problem. Now all I needed to do was to make it work.

"Billie," I said to the man helping me with some of the odd jobs of house renovation, "Look at this stock tank I just bought? Do you think we can plumb it into the bathroom for my tub?"

He raised his eyebrows at me and said, "Who is this 'we'?"

"You," I gulped.

He nodded. "Yep, I can do it." Billie is talented, patient and kind.

"While we are at it, I mean while you are at it, what about turning this rustic oak dresser of mine into a sink vanity. I'd like to use the old sink and then I'd be the only woman in the world with an apple green sink. And can you fix it so I can still use the drawers?"

As in all remodeling projects, one idea led to another. "Billie, let's surround, I mean, could you surround the tub with cedar?" I asked. Then Billie thought we might lower the ceiling a few inches above the tub. "Yes, great idea. And let's lower the ceiling over the dresser too," I added. "We can put cedar wainscoting around the whole room. I'll attach burlap above the wainscoting. And we can prop up this old ladder for a towel rack. And what do you think of this tile for the floor?"

As the bathroom project began coming together everything looked good except for one thing. The modern white ceramic toilet looked like an onion in the petunia patch. "Hmmm," I said and watched Billy flinch. Could we — I mean, you — surround the toilet and the tank with cedar? I'll go get a wooden seat." And out the door I sailed.

The only things missing from my indoor outhouse were the moon on the door, the Sears catalog on the floor, and a wasp nest up in the corner. Jay Anderson from Turner made me a metal quarter moon. I dispensed with the other accouterments.

My new facility looks mighty authentic. Of course, the old two-holer down the path out back never had an aqua mosaic sea horse hanging above the tub, nor a gallery of western art around the other walls, nor the fresh smells of cedar and lavender, nor the pull chain flush mechanism. And when I step in the doorway I don't have to check for rattlesnakes.

I'm proud to show off my creation. A friend suggested, "Why not make your house available for tour groups? You could charge admission and make a fortune."

"To see the bathroom?" I asked.

"Not just it. Your whole house is weird," he said. "Think about it. If you made enough money you could live like normal people."

Why would I want to, I thought, while I threaded curtains I had made from vintage-fabric onto plumbing pipe and popped tennis ball finials over the pipe-ends. Normal?

(Sondra Ashton graduated from Harlem High School in 1963 and left for good. She finds, upon her return, that things are a little different. Keep in touch with her at


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