Down the primrose path

Alabama Living Magazine

They passed an ordinance in the town,

They said we’d have to tear it down,

That little old shack out back so dear to me.

Though the Health Department said, 

Its day was over and dead,

It will stand forever in my memory.

That Little Old Shack Out Back

“Ode to Little Brown Shack Out Back” 

by Billy Edd Wheeler

When I was a boy my grandmother lived in an Elmore County farmhouse without indoor plumbing.  But she had a state-of-the-art outhouse, with a concrete floor and a real porcelain potty built in over the hole in the ground.

   The trail out to it was christened “the primrose path.”

It was in that quiet spot,

Daily cares could be forgot,

For it gave the same relief for rich and poor. 

But it did not last long. A few years later she got indoor plumbing. The privy became a storage shed. But the memory lingered.

Now it was not a castle fair

But I could plan my future there,

And build my castles to the yellow jacket’s drone.

I could orbit round the sun

Fight with General Washington,

Or be a king upon his golden throne.

Outhouses have played a varied and significant role in the history of the South, but never was there one as important as the privy visited by Georgia Gov. Gene Talmadge. Talmadge had built a career on rural support (“I get my votes where the streetcar don’t run”) and though his demagoguery was losing its appeal in some quarters, the smart money said he would continue to win.

Then along came a spider.

The story goes that Gene and his driver were heading down to a South Georgia political rally when nature called. So, he told the man to pull over at the first farmhouse so he could use the outback facility. The driver protested, said they’d be in town soon and he could find one there. But Gene was always about being one with the people and figuring you could not be closer to that constituency than when you use the same outhouse, he insisted they stop.

So they did. And Gene went down the path. And returned rubbing his rear.

“A black widow spider bit me,” he reported.

He made it to the rally but was in too much pain to give the crowd what it came to hear. It was downhill from there. Soon his campaign began to fall apart. He lost.  

Historians blamed Talmadge’s defeat on a host of issues but Ol’ Gene knew the real reason. Years later he told the victor, “You never would have beat me if that spider hadn’t bit me.” 

Looking back into Alabama’s political history, I have to say that a few outhouses like that one and a few well-placed spider bites might have made this a better state.

Georgia is just lucky, I guess.


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