The Snake in the Outhouse
In 1903 my grandfather, Joseph Hampton Gregory, was age 42, and after years of toil, he finally achieved enough success to purchase a bit of land. He bought a 165 acre Kentucky rock farm and built a beautiful, classic country home for his family. He named the farm Sunnyview. My father was six months old when the family moved to that farm, with his two older sisters, Irene, age 11, and Eva Lee, age 8. My father and his sisters grew up there. Their parents had previously given each of the girls a nearby farm of their own when they married, and my father inherited the original farm after their parents' deaths.
In 1926, my father, now age 23, built a small country general store at Sunnyview, from which he sold packaged goods, soft drinks, prepared soups, and gasoline. That farm and the general store remained in the family for another forty years, and numerous family tales and legends grew up around it.
There were two special characteristics of Sunnyview. The old house was said to be haunted, and the farm was thought to be snake heaven. These characteristics have generated many family ghost stories and humorous tales handed down from life at Sunnyview. Countless tales of ghosts in the night, odd noises, and snake encounters are the staple of family stories.
One of the funniest stories concerns a prim and proper lady, a rather large lady who was a distant cousin of my mothers, a country outhouse, and a rather large Cow Snake.
Everyone called her Aunt Elsie, although she was not my Aunt. The story itself probably occurred sometime well before 1950. I was certainly not there, and can only pass along the story as it was told to me.
In those days, a store, any store, but particularly a country general store such as Sunnyview, was as much a social center as a place of business. Men, working and non-working, sometimes with their wives, more often alone, would sit around the wood stove and socialize. Sunnyview served a small selection of packaged foods, canned soups, snacks and soft drinks to take advantage of this atmosphere, extracting additional cash from the visiting customers where possible. Between the snacks and the natural tendency to congregate at the local store, there was a collection of customers, mostly men, most any time of most any day.
Visiting Sunnyview with her husband one day, Aunt Elsie decided she needed to answer natures call. Being a very prim and proper lady, and as there were a number of men hanging around the grocery store, Aunt Elsie decided not to visit the public outhouse near the store. Instead, seeking more privacy, and after all, being family, she hiked up the hill to the farmhouse to visit the family outhouse.
Today we take for granted a level of constant background noise. This was an era before air conditioning, before television, and even radio was uncommon, especially in the daytime. Even the constant noise of passing traffic we take for granted today was not present. A passing car every ten minutes would be heavy traffic then and there. With an absence of mechanical and man-made noise, sound traveled well.
It was a good thing for Aunt Elsie that day that her screams could easily be heard all the way down to the store. But then Elsie really knew how to scream. She was a nervous, high-strung individual anyway, and her innate fear of snakes did not help things a bit. In seeking enhanced privacy from the customers of the store, she had unwittingly shared a privy with a very large and fearsome looking black snake.
Just as she got comfortable, the snake uncoiled itself from the perch it had occupied in the roof of the little shack, and drooped down directly in front of Elsie, blocking the door. If the snake wasn't immediately scared of her when she entered the privy, I doubt the commotion she was making calmed it any. Nonetheless, the snake simply hung in place, nonplused, blocking the only exit, while Elsie became totally unglued.
Instead of the privacy she sought, Aunt Elsie soon had an audience of about six rather concerned men. Fortunately, at least one gentleman did not share Elsie's fear of reptiles, and simply picked up the snake and moved it away from the door. By this time Aunt Elsie had worked herself into such a state that she had to be carried bodily and half-dressed from the toilet, and it was some number of hours before she was quite herself again. She slowly regained her composure and eventually, her modesty.
"Aunt" Elsie, circa 1948