The Passing of the Old Backhouse
James Whitcomb Riley, 1849 - 1916
When memory keeps me company and moves to smile or tears,
A weather-beaten object looms through the mist of years,
Behind the house and barn it stood, a half a mile or more—
And hurrying feet a path had made, straight to its swinging door.
Its architecture was a type of simple classic art.
But in the tragedy of life it played a leading part.
And oft the passing traveler drove slow and heaved a sigh,
To see the modest hired girl slip out with glances shy.
We had our posey-garden that the women loved so well.
I loved it too, but better still I loved the stronger smell
That filled the evening breezes so full of homely cheer,
And told the night-o'ertaken tramp that human life was near.
On lazy August afternoons it made a little bower
Delightful, where my grandsire sat and whiled away an hour.
For there the summer mornings, its very cares entwined,
And berry bushes reddened in the streaming soil behind.
All day fat spiders spun their webs to catch the buzzing flies
That flitted to and from the house, where Ma was baking pies.
And once a swarm of hornets bold had built a palace there
And stung my unsuspecting aunt—I must not tell you where.
My father took a flaming pole—that was a happy day—
He nearly burned the building
When summer bloom began to fade and winter to carouse
We banked the little building with a heap of hemlock boughs.
But when the crust is on the snow and sullen skies were gray,
Inside the building was no place where one could wish to stay.
We did our duties promptly, there one purpose swayed the mind.
We tarried not, nor lingered long, on what we left behind.
The torture of the icy seat would make a Spartan sob,
For needs must scrape the flesh with a lacerating cob
That from a frost-encrusted nail suspended from a string—
My father was a frugal man and wasted not a thing.
When grandpa had to 'go out back' and make his morning call,
We'd bundle up the dear old man with a muffler and a shawl.
I knew the hole on which he sat—'twas padded all around,
And once I tried to sit there—'twas all too wide I found.
My loins were all too little, and I jack-knifed there to stay,
They had to come and get me out, or I'd have passed away.
My father said ambition was a thing that boys should shun,
And I just used the children's hole 'til childhood days were done.
And still I marvel at the craft that cut those holes so true:
The baby's hole, and the slender hole that fitted Sister Sue.
That dear old country landmark: I tramped around a bit,
But ere I die I'll eat the fruits of trees I robbed of yore,
Then seek the shanty where my name is carved upon the door.
I ween that old familiar smell will soothe my jaded soul,
I'm now a man, but none the less I'll try the children's hole.
Location. 38° 45.951′ N, 93° 45.063′ W. Marker is in Warrensburg, Missouri, in Johnson County. Marker is on Water Street north of Market Street, on the right when traveling north. Touch for map. Marker is on one of the outhouses behind Elm School, part of the Johnson County Historical Society Museum Complex at the Old Courthouse. Marker is at or near this postal address: 308 North Main Street, Warrensburg MO 64093, United States of America.
Other nearby markers. At least 8 other markers are within walking distance of this marker. Francis Marion Cockrell (within shouting distance of this marker); Senator George Graham Vest (within shouting distance of this marker); Old Drum (within shouting distance of this marker); Tribute to the Dog (within shouting distance of this marker); Johnson County's Old Courthouse (within shouting distance of this marker); Old Public Square (within shouting distance of this marker); John William Boone (approx. ¼ mile away); Welcome to Blind Boone Park (approx. ¼ mile away). Touch for a list and map of all markers in Warrensburg.
Related markers. Click here for a list of markers that are related to this marker.
Also see . . .
1. The Passing of the Backhouse article in Old Settlers Gazette. (Submitted on July 12, 2015, by William Fischer, Jr. of Scranton, Pennsylvania.)
2. James Whitcomb Riley at American Poems. (Submitted on July 12, 2015, by William Fischer, Jr. of Scranton, Pennsylvania.)
3. Johnson County (MO) Historical Society Museum Complex. (Submitted on July 12, 2015, by William Fischer, Jr. of Scranton, Pennsylvania.)
Categories. • Arts, Letters, Music • Man-Made Features •
Credits. This page was last revised on June 16, 2016. This page originally submitted on July 12, 2015, by William Fischer, Jr. of Scranton, Pennsylvania. This page has been viewed 169 times since then and 16 times this year. Photos: 1, 2, 3. submitted on July 12, 2015, by William Fischer, Jr. of Scranton, Pennsylvania.