Moonshine, Outhouses, and the Art of Conversation




If you’re like me, you end up in conversations with complete strangers every time you tear yourself from the computer and venture out.

Last week I had a doctor’s appointment. As I was waiting for the nurse, I got into a conversation with someone about how the crazy weather in Mobile, hot one day — freezing the next, has made it almost impossible to get rid of winter colds and bugs.

I told this person that when I was a kid, my grandmother kept a bottle of moonshine with a bit of peppermint in it on the top shelf in the kitchen. At the first sniffle, we got a dose of the concoction with honey and were sent to bed drowned in Vick’s Vapor Rub and covered with homemade quilts so heavy, we couldn’t escape if we wanted to.

Then began a lively discussion of growing up in the country and all the things we remembered from the days before TV had more than three channels. Back when we took aluminum foil and applied it to the rabbit ears sitting atop the TV so we could get a clearer picture.

I remember when we got a bathroom inside the house. How my grandfather took out the fireplace between two bedrooms to have it installed. It wasn’t much bigger than a port-a-potty, but believe me, it was so much better than having to go outside to the outhouse at night. Or having to use the chamber pot (if you’re high brow) the slop-jar (if you’re middle class) or the piss pot (if you’re redneck.) Full disclosure, I used the piss pot.

Side note: I have the old slop jar from my grandfather’s house. I’m writing this at my desk looking out of my office window, so I guess someone was wrong when I was told I’d never have a pot to piss in or a window to throw it out. (You know who you are.)

People talk about how great the old days were — and they were. It was character building to walk down the dark trail to the outhouse when there was no moon and try to do your business listening to bobcats and screech owls. But I’m happy, thank you very much, with the modern conveniences of today.

I don’t miss only having three channels. I don’t miss the car breaking down and having to wait for someone to come along. I don’t miss getting lost and having to find a phone booth to call for directions. I don’t miss trying to follow a map or handwritten directions, for that matter. I don’t miss having to go to the store every time you had to purchase something. I don’t miss washing dishes by hand or bathing in the big tub on the kitchen floor.

Yet, with all the advantages of living in an age where information is readily available with the touch of a button, there are some things I do miss. Things like sitting on the front porch and listening to my grandfather tell stories, talking to people without being interrupted by the beep of a text message, having a conversation with my grandchildren without them being glued to whatever game they are playing. (Seriously, when they are entranced by a video game, they don’t even hear me talking!)

So I try to carve out a little time every now and then to unplug. Turn off the phone, the computer, and the iPad and spend time just talking to my grandchildren or listening to the silence. It’s not an easy task. They cry, they complain, they pout, but if I can get past the first five minutes, they will talk. They will listen. I’ll tell stories, some of them I remember from my grandfather, some of my own.

It’s well worth the effort. I hope they will remember these times and have that experience with their own children and grandchildren. (Maybe they will talk about the good old days before everyone had smart chips placed in their brains. It’s coming! It’s out there!)

I wouldn’t give up what we’ve gained in technology, but I think it’s a good thing to remember and recreate what we’ve lost. To sit and talk while looking in each others eyes. The art of conversation can’t be learned from a computer or video game. It can only be learned by interacting with each other on a personal level.

So the next time you find yourself sitting next to someone and you have a little time, turn off your phone and strike up a conversation. You’ll be amazed at the things you can learn. Spend an hour talking with your family – no phones allowed.

What about you? Do you plan a time to unplug? I’d love to hear your thoughts. And if you have any suggestions on how to pry those phones and tablets out of the hands of your children or grandchildren, please pass them along.






2 Thoughts to “Moonshine, Outhouses, and the Art of Conversation”

  1. Memories swirled in my head as I read the delightful piece. I’m finishing a book of short stories that have so many of the same ideas in it. For the record, we used the slop jar at my grandmother’s. Superb article.

    1. So you were in the upper middle class! Lol! Thanks for the comment, Mahala!

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