Barrett Manor

Julie Barrett is a freelance writer and photographer based in Plano, TX.

The Latrine Story

Fresh (almost) daily from Julie Barrett

I've mentioned this several times on Facebook, and it's buried in a blog post about other stuff, but it deserves its own moment in the ... uh ... sun? At any rate, this story has been on my mind lately, and maybe the metaphor will hit you full in the face like...

Two sacks of shit. 

Yes, this story involves two bags of human waste, a metric crap ton of undeserved guilt, and maybe some metaphorical shit for good measure.

I was the daughter of a Girl Scout Leader. The kid of a Scout Leader is like a preacher's kid: The pressure is on you to be an example. Some parents and kids handle this very well. Others don't. My mom was pretty good about it, and there were some small perks for the pain. One was sitting up at Girl Scout camp to listen to adults swap stories. Oh, they were circumspect, but some of the women had led some very interesting lives when they were younger (a couple were retired) and their stories were funny and inspiring. 

Part of the pain was digging latrines. You wondered when I was going to get around to that, weren't you? The weekend before day camp every year, we would visit the farm and set up the site. Part of this involved helping dig latrines for the younger girls and in the community areas. Older girls would dig their own. Those jobs would be handled mostly by high school girls (Senior Scouts), but a few Cadettes (Jr. High level) would also join in, particularly the daughters of the camp leaders.  Adults would help as well, but someone had to drive loads of supplies around, and there were few older girls who had their licenses who were also at camp to help. These jobs weren't too bad, as far as they went, because everyone was there to work and get out of there as soon as possible. June in Texas. Need I say more?

Day camp was a two-week affair. Seniors got to stay the entire two weeks because they were older. Cadettes to to spend all of week two on site, and the Juniors (4th - 6th grades) got to spend one night. That was our big campout under the stars. It was generally the first Friday. 

All of the units were set up in wooded areas, but the overnight event took place in a big clearing where we raised and lowered the flag (sometimes lowering a pair of underwear before raising the flag), and had other large group gatherings. Because of the sheer number of girls spending the night in one place (and who wanted to go way down a trail in the woods in the dark to find a latrine?) we had to dig some holes.

Of course, the Cadettes got charged with this task. Since I had experience at the ripe old age of 13 or 14, I got placed in charge of the detail. We hung up some burlap sheets for privacy, then set about digging three holes. We were given some post hole diggers and shovels. We had to dig holes in the Texas clay and get them three feet deep if we could. I started the first hole and showed the others where to dig. They just stood there while I dug a hole. I finally finished, then cut the bottom out of a trash bag and lined one of the boxy seat contraptions, placing it over the hole. (It wasn't as bad as it sounds. The box was wooden, and open on the bottom. The removable top had a spot to sit and there was a hinged lid to cover the hole. But you wanted to line those boxes to make cleaning the inside MUCH easier. Trust me on this one.) 

So I finished one latrine and started two more holes. The other girls had barely moved. I tossed my tools and the ground and told them to finish. There were three of them, and they should make short work of two holes, right? I took off to Camp HQ, where I was rewarded with a soft drink for my efforts. In about half an hour, the other three girls trudged up, told us the job was done, and were suitably rewarded.

The big mistake was that we took them at their word.

So the campout began. We cooked food, we had whatever beverages girls were allowed. There were some scary camp fire stories. Fun was being had. Until we heard a bunch of nine  year-olds screaming their heads off. 

They were in the latrine.

I jumped up and joined the adults who were running to the rescue. After all, I'd helped build this thing so I was curious to see what was going on.

Two latrines were full. Of shit. Guess which two? We herded the girls out and got someone to escort those who really needed to go to the nearest latrine where they could relieve themselves. One of the adults gingerly lifted the lid on one of the toilets and pulled out the bag. The bottom hadn't been cut out. Same with the other latrine. We moved the seats and discovered that the holes were just as I'd left them. In other words, a three-inch deep indentation in the clay soil. 

Oh, crap.

Why yes, the latrine I'd labored over was perfectly fine and doing its job as per spec. I may have been blonde, fat, and four-eyed, but I knew how to dig a damn latrine.

The adults dealt with the bags. I volunteered to help, but was told that wasn't my job. I volunteered to make the two latrines right, and I was told THAT wasn't my job, either. They got the girls who were supposed to do the job, and stood over them until they finished.

That should have been the end of it. But the next morning I discovered the other girls had blamed me for not finishing the job. I already had a crapload of guilt for not going and checking up on their work. I'd been put in charge of the crew, so maybe some of the blame should have rightly fallen on me. But not all of it! 

I learned a lesson about trust. I also learned that adults would have your back if you were trustworthy. 

I've tried hard to pass those same lessons along to kids, but as an adult I've worked in one volunteer capacity or another for most of my life, and have found that some adults haven't really grown up. They want the credit, they want the rewards, but aren't keen on doing the hard work necessary to make things happen.

I have to temper that observation by saying that right now I'm working with a couple of really good groups of people who know how to do their jobs. So I lift a virtual glass to you guys. Don't worry. It's not full of shit. ;-)

Filed under: Life            
2/23/2017 12:22:05 PM
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