My Childhood Scare

Beverly McCrary is a former English teacher who has lived in Santa Fe for most of her life. Her passion is designing clothing based on Middle Eastern garb and embellishing the dresses with charms, beads, sequins, buttons and mirrors. Her writing is based on childhood experiences growing up in Santa Fe.

In 1949, on a warm spring day at Wood Gormley School in Santa Fe, I was a pre-first grader in Mrs. Grace Yontz’s class. On that particular day I was to go to my dancing class after school. When the afternoon dismissal bell rang, I gathered my lunch pail, my dancing clothes and shoes, and Margo Gerber and I walked the block and a half to the studio on East Manhattan Street where Mrs. Dorothy Parks taught tap and ballet to little girls. It was a big room, empty save for dance bars against the walls, a line of chairs and a record player on a small table.

All the girls changed clothes and put on their tap shoes. Ten little bird-legged girls clacked our way along the wooden floor to a space at the dance bar. I, being the very tiniest child, had to reach way up to wrap my little fingers partially around it. Mrs. Parks showed us the steps and started the music. Tap, tap, tap, tap, slide. Turn left, swing your arms. Repeat. Slowly spin around. Begin again. After dancing this for fifteen minutes or so, we stopped to rest and change our shoes for ballet.

Mrs.Parks left the room and went out back to use the outhouse. Our dance building had no indoor plumbing, so during the break before changing my shoes, I went out too.

I skipped slowly down the alley looking at the rocks and weeds, turned at the rear of the building and walked up to the outhouse. When my teacher came out, I went in and hooked the door. It was a small, dark place. I waited for my eyes to adjust, then stood on my tippy toes and sat on the wooden seat to go to the bathroom. It seemed so black in there that I did not want to stay long. When I was ready to leave I unhooked the door and pushed. Nothing happened! I pushed harder. Again, nothing. I stood there scared, not knowing what to do. My tap shoes clicked against the floorboards. I looked up to the ceiling in case any spiders might becoming down to land on me. The place smelled. I shoved the door harder and harder. Still locked! And then the tears. Rolling down my little face, dripping onto the front of my purple tutu. Small gasps as I began to sob. I could see the dirt outside through the cracks in the wall boards, could see the sky, the weeds, but I was shut in. Stuck! Alone! I didn’t know what to do. Then through a small crack at the edge of the door I saw that the outside hook was latched. On no!! Oh no!! Sob!! My little body was shaking as I cried even harder.

It could not have been too long that I was in there, but it seemed forever. Later when the door did open, there stood Mrs. Parks, who had absentmindedly hooked the outside of the door when she left. When she opened that wooden door, she took my hand and gently pulled me into the sunlight. She hugged me, told me that everything would be all right and took me back to the dance room. I was still quite upset but know I was safe.

I do not recall ever going into that outhouse again. Fortunately, there are very few outhouses still in use in Santa Fe, but even now I rarely use an outhouse and if I must, I always make certain to put a rock in the door to keep it part way open.