The Six-Holer Toilet

One of childhood’s most ghastly horrors was the toilet at our church convention in Alabama.  It wasn’t worthy of the word “restroom”.  It was a place to get in and out of literally in one breath – a deep breath taken before dashing in, not exhaled until you ran several yards back outside a minute later.  That was done in order to quickly use the tin trough, perhaps originally meant as a roofing rain gutter, attached at a slight slant along one wall.  It was long enough for 5 or 6 men to stand in front of, and there were often that many there, especially right after a two-hour meeting had just let out.  A wooden step had been kindly placed at the far end for the use of little kids like me.  It was somewhat fascinating to see all the yellow water swirling past, mingling with your own, but your main focus was on getting out of there before your oxygen ran out.

But not breathing was not even an option if you had to use the dreaded six-holer. 

The six-holer was a 4’ x 8’ sheet of plywood, with six crude oval holes cut into it.  Attempts had been made to sand the sharp edges so you wouldn’t come up with splinters, and it was painted a dismal grey.  It was laid flat on top of a frame of 2-by-4’s, with four low plywood sidewalls attached, which surrounded a large hole in the ground.  How deep, I don’t know; but not deep enough to prevent backsplashes. 

Many of us kids desperately tried to hold it all in for the full four days, but if that failed, a middle-of-the-night run could be made by sneaking out of the barn, where we slept miserably on straw ticks.  A tick was just a large cotton-cloth bag filled with hay, which was dreadfully prickly no matter how many blankets you laid on top of it, and never got comfortable until about the final night when you had finally smashed it down enough; of course the hay fever they caused affected nearly everybody, so the nightly snoring concert was really quite something to hear.

In case of emergency though, the six-holer would have to be used during the day.  A kid who happened to be sitting near the edge of the tent could get away with making a dash out during meeting, timed to occur when everybody was standing to sing after testimony time but before the last hour-long speaker got started.  (Sometimes we didn’t come back, if everybody had already sat back down, because they would know where you just went.)  But at other times of the day, you just had to face the horror and go right on in and suffer the indignity of doing your business in full view of everybody else. 

It was sturdy enough for six arses at once, so at least there was no danger of collapse.  You took whatever hole was available, hoping in vain some old geezer sitting inches away would not feel the need to start up a cheery conversation rather than just sitting there in silence while you were trying to be invisible. 

Then came the inevitable “sploosh” in the vile pool below as you laid a brown one, cringing in case of a splash-back.  Sometimes you tried to cut them in two, to lessen the force of the fall.  But worse than that were the many other droppings going on from your neighbors, any of which could cause a larger, wetter sploosh than your own.

The toilet paper (yes, they had some, though you were in danger of getting splinters from it too), was just out of reach on the wall in front of you, causing the need to slightly stand up and lean forward to get it; for a kid whose feet didn’t touch the floor, that was a messy prospect, so you learned to grab a wad before you ever sat down, or reluctantly ask the geezer to get some for you. 

Outside, on the end of the ugly tin-walled building were a couple of rusty sinks with some faucets.  That’s all there was in place of baths or showers.  I remember Daddy giving me a sponge bath out there one night in view of random passers-by (not as bad as it could have been – the ladies’ barn was over the hill and far out of sight); but I made sure that never happened again.


We had our own convention in Mississippi, a rather new one, compared to most of the other ones in the South.  In fact, it was on our own property, out in the country on a dirt road that was called Chicken Farm Road until it got paved and was given the more glamorous name Pinehaven Drive, after a new cemetery on the far end that promptly went out of business so they dug up all the bodies. 

I don’t remember what similar kind of toilet horror they had the first couple of years of our convention; I always had the privilege of just going in the house, and letting my cousins do the same.  But by about the third year, a new toilet was built, back behind the men’s barn.  It was an eight-holer!  Wow, how modern.  I was quite overjoyed to see that each hole had a high plywood divider on three sides, with individual long white curtains in front!  I was ever so proud, exulting in our respectability, even superiority, compared to our rival and much larger convention in Alabama. 

I think Daddy did most of the work; I suspect he rather hated the Alabama six-holer too and was determined that such an abomination would not exist on our own property.  The only time I knew him to get mad at a preacher was when Young Coleman (who was always old) decided such luxury was unseemly, or that primitive discomfort was more spiritual or whatever, and got in there and proceeded to modify his handiwork.  Daddy fumed in silence, then rebuilt it all right back how he wanted it, and it stayed that way.

A few years later, wonder of wonders!  Our uncle donated a bunch of genuine toilet seats with lids, which got attached into place around each hole.  He was a truckdriver for a company that manufactured them, so he got us some factory seconds, in a rainbow of pastel colors!  The women’s room got them a year before the men, but I figured that was fair enough.  (They actually had a 12-holer!)

Times have changed.  Modernity, or modern building codes at least, have arrived.  Amazingly, I daresay all conventions in the country have genuine flush commodes and even showers now.  No more wall troughs or six-holers are to be found!  And we don’t miss them at all. 

By Galen Berry
December 26, 2023