1950 Memories of Suburban Adventures

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Walking The Plank

In our new home it was possible to walk the plank and end up in the toilet. What could possibly be more fun?

Three events occurred on December 20th, 1960. I performed in our school’s Christmas concert, we celebrated David’s ninth birthday, and we spent the first night together in our new house.

Our second Christmas. L-R  Mom, Great-Aunt Mary, me, Grandma, Grandpa

Our second Christmas.
L-R Mom, Great-Aunt Mary, me, Grandma, Grandpa

My fifth grade portion of the concert centered on a play with lots of singing. My first musical production and I wasn’t a princess, a cute elf, or even human. I was a Christmas package, along with four other packages. I wobbled around in my bulky box costume singing, “Do not open until Christmas or so sorry you’ll surely be …”

After the concert we returned home, used a stack of sheetrock as a table, and ate David’s birthday cake, fresh from Freihofer’s. Candles and flashlights provided ambiance; no lights yet. The outlets were all set for ignition and Dad connected the wires the following day.

Dad, Uncle Edward, and Wolfy outside our basement home.

Dad, Uncle Edward, and Wolfy outside our basement home.

Our new house was a basement built into a hillside; the actual home didn’t get started until a few years later. Dad and David spent several overnights during construction, but Mom demanded a bathroom before she, Susan, and I stayed.

Mom insisted on a working toilet (as opposed to squatting behind a barren bush or a snow bank) and Dad gave her one, set up high on cement blocks. The concrete floor in the bathroom wasn’t poured, so we walked on an elevated gang plank over the dirt floor to reach our high-rise toilet. Mom was short, so, like us kids, while sitting on the toilet her feet dangled above the floor.

This is exactly what our plank looked like. www.framework.latimes.com

This is exactly what our plank looked like, complete with sag.

The gangplank boards were supported by cement blocks under each end and sagged from our weight. David and I created a bouncy walk by hopping to and from the toilet. We wanted to keep our gangplank; no one else had one. And it was more fun to use than the antique chamber pot under our bed at Great-Aunt Mary’s.

We created contests to see who could walk the plank best without falling off; eyes shut, backwards, hopping on one foot, and a combination of all three.

It was a tie vote for keeping our unique toilet access, two to two. Dad and Mom pulled a power play; the bathroom floor was poured a week later.

Dad could have been a trend setter with his 1960 version of an open concept that wouldn’t become popular until the 1980s. Mom had a problem with Dad’s innovative floor plan. Dad’s fatal flaw was making our bathroom the focal point of his open concept. Our bathroom walls consisted of open studs and an open view.

Nitpicky Mom preferred a bit of privacy. Ever obliging, Dad nailed up one surrounding layer of sheetrock, four feet high. We didn’t have to ask if anyone was using the facilities. Our semi-open concept let the back of their head peek up over the sheetrock. Extremely convenient, until Dad completed the sheetrocking and turned it into a normal hum-drum bathroom.

No gangplank, no open concept.

Lesson Learned: ‘Making lemonade out of lemons’ is great advice. If you laugh at a sheetrock table, gangplank floor, and open concept bathroom, then tomorrow it can be added to your list of funny memories.

However, I still wish I’d been a Christmas fairy instead of a clunky box.

Now it’s your turn: What was unusual about your home?

© Mary Norton-Miller and 1950s Suburban Adventures, 2012 forward. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Mary Norton-Miller and 1950s Suburban Adventures with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.


  1. Our Adventure in Croatia says:

    gosh what a story!

  2. Elle Knowles says:

    We homesteaded in Alaska when I was four. Even though we had to prove up on our land with a house,(we brought ours along with us as a nifty travel trailer and added on) and a well and other provisions I was too young to understand, our bathroom was never in working order. So…we had an outhouse and I do not have any pleasant memories of that experience. The rest of the adventure was great!

    • skinnyuz2b says:

      As a kid, outhouses were fun when we weren’t supposed to use them. But Elle, I wouldn’t want to use one all the time, and especially not at night. Too scary.
      Your parents should have built a plank for you to walk. It was lots of fun.

  3. spunkybong says:

    Oh my God, Skinny, I thought these kinds of toilets existed only in our part of the world back then. You’re making me feel so much better. In my case, we had to sing along, to let folk know there’s someone inside (since there was no latch to the door). 😀

    • skinnyuz2b says:

      Ha, ha, Spunky. Is that like ‘whistling while you work’?
      When we finally did get an upstairs, many years later, our stereo system controls were located inside the guest bathroom, along with a pantry for Mom’s canned goods. “Knock, knock. Could you hurry it up please? I want to flip the record over and grab a jar of pickles.”

  4. Sunni Morris says:

    Oh my! I love your stories! I can so relate. This brings back many memories. I was probably eight or ten when we finally got an inside bathroom. We used an outhouse for many years. Nothing was ever finished in our house either. I’m just glad we didn’t live in snow country. It was very drafty and got cold enough in winter.

    Our table was a sheet of eight by ten plywood supported by saw horses. We only had three rooms, which were sharecropper’s shacks to start with and finally got added onto and enclosed. That’s when we got the inside bathroom, which was never entirely finished either. The toilet consisted of the seat over a tin barrel on a cement floor.

    Our pantry was a space between the wall in the kitchen and also we stacked cans and stuff on another piece of plywood in the living room where my sisters and I played with our paper dolls.

    The only lights in the house were bare light bulbs hanging from the ceiling on black electrical cords. One bulb per room, so lighting was very poor at night.

    We walked planks many times to stay out of the water mainly when puddles stood everywhere. Of course, we kids thought that was grand and we loved to wade in the ditches, much to mother’s disgust.

    It’s nice to know others were raised a bit like this.


    • skinnyuz2b says:

      Sunni, there’s something about walking on a plank that draws kids like magic. It doesn’t matter if the plank is ten feet or ten inches off the ground, it’s still fun!

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