The Passing of the Backhouse

By James Whitcomb Riley

Some sources say that James Whitcomb Riley did not write "The Passing of the Backhouse" or "The Ode to the Outhouse" which is a similar poem, but shorter. Charles T. Rankin's daughter, Kathleen Rankin, has a copyright and claims that her father is the true author. A copy of the copyright is in the Fulton County Museum, Rochester, IN. In 1910 the poem was published on postcards and inaccurately attributed to James Whitcomb Riley. Riley is recorded as saying it was far too risqué for him.
When memory keeps me company, and moves to smiles or tears
A weather-beaten object looms through the mist of years.
Behind the house and barn it stood, a half a mile or more,
And hurrying feet a path had made, straight to its swinging door.

Its architecture was a type of simple classic art,
But in the tragedy of life it played a leading part.
And oft the passing traveler drove slow and heaved a sigh,
To see the modest hired girl slip out with glances sly.

We had our poesy garden that the women loved so well
I loved it too, but better still, I loved the stronger smell
That filled the evening breezes so full of homely cheer,
And told the night-o're-taken tramp that human life was near.

On lazy August afternoons it made a little bower
Delightful, where my grandpa sat and whiled away an hour.
For there the summer morning, its very cares entwined,
And berry bushes reddened in the steaming soil behind

But when the crust was on the snow and sullen skies were gray,
In sooth the building was no place where one could wish to stay.
We did our duties promptly; there one purpose swayed the mind.
We tarried not, nor lingered on what we left behind.

When grandpa had to go "out back" and make a morning call
We’d bundle up the dear old man with a muffler and a shawl.
I knew the hole on which he sat ‘twas padded all around,
And once a dared to sit there, ‘twas all too wide I found.

My loins were all too little and I jack-knifed there to stay
They had to come and get me out or I'd have passed away.
Then father said that ambition was a thing that boys should shun,
And I must use the children’s hole ‘till childhood days are done.

But still I marvel at the craft that cut those holes so true,
The baby hole and the slender hole that fitted sister Sue.
That dear old country landmark, I've tramped around a bit
And in the lap of luxury my lot has been to sit.

But e're I die, I'll eat the fruit of trees I robbed of yore.
Then seek the shanty where my name is carved upon the door.
I know the old familiar smell will soothe my faded soul,
I'm now a man, but nonetheless I'll use the children's hole.

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