The Old Hand

Back in the day when things we now accept as run-of-the-mill were considered a a bath..

I had undergone a long period with a medicinal wrapping on my leg. A bath was impossible, and a partial shower was laborious, and unsatisfying. When the wrapping was removed for good, I took the longest and most luxurious bath in years. And I thought back when every common-place bath was a once a week chore and, when Saturday was Bath Night.

Growing up, we didn’t have a hot water heater. Six nights a week, cleanliness was obtained with a tea-kettle of hot water in the sink, or, weather permitting, a soaking down outside with the garden hose. But Saturday night was bath night, with a soup pot of water heated on the stove and carried very carefully to the tub. Cold water, from either tap, tempered the bath water, which was shared by all four of us kids.

My younger sister was first. She was always warned not to dawdle, (which she always did), and let the water turn too cold, or next time, she would be last in the tub, (which never happened). When she finally finished, a tea-kettle of hot water was added and it was my turn. Then next up were the two young brothers, together. They got a tea-kettle of hot water added, but temperature didn’t mean anything to them. They would have preferred a wash-up with the garden hose, weather permitting. But they still managed to make the tub a playground and a big mess for mom.

By the time I got to high school, we had a water heater, albeit with a small capacity. Now we could take baths when we wanted to. Of course, if hot water had been used before for a bath, or washing clothes, or even washing dishes, you had to wait a while for the heater to produce hot water again. The younger brothers still preferred the garden hose, weather permitting.

I didn’t get my first leave from the Army for four months. I surprised the family in the afternoon of Christmas Eve. Naturally, as soon as I walked in the door, Mom wanted to make me something to eat. I begged off, saying what I wanted first was a good soak in a hot bath, since I had not had a bath all the while I was in the Army.

She lost it. “Haven’t taken bath since you went in the Army! I didn’t raise my kids to be pigs! I can’t believe that is the kind of thing the Army…”

I finally calmed her down and explained that there were no bath tubs in army barracks, just showers. And I took one, often two showers, every day.

“Showers,” she said, giving me the mom’s look. “Humph! Like washing off with the garden hose, weather permitting.” She shook her head. “Well, that be the case, you better take a good long soak. Church will be crowded at Midnight Mass, and I want my children to be seen, not smelt. “

Sometimes, a bath/shower is a lot more than just good hygiene.

 Pub 4/14/11, St. Paul Pioneer Press – Bulletin Board


23 thoughts on “SATURDAY’S BATH

  1. Baths are my most cherished “cheap thrill”! I can totally relate to you wanting a hot soak and your mother’s horror that you had not taken one for an extended period of time. When traveling long-term sometimes it’s difficult finding accommodation with tubs – showers just aren’t the same… A long hot soak is a meditative experience serving multiple purposes!

  2. I can see Bob & Ray in the tub as little tikes. Not simpler times, but simpler pleasures. Be well and safe Don

  3. I still always have a bath. When I was young (until I was 8), we also had bath night, in a small metal bath brought in from outside. I had to go last, after my Mum and Dad, in the same water. When we moved into a new apartment in 1960, the indoor bathroom and separate toilet was a real luxury. But I was still only allowed one bath a week, until I was in my teens.
    Now we have a shower too, I never use it. Something about siting in the hot water appeals to me.
    Best wishes, Pete.

  4. It’s hard for me to imagine, I confess. I guess we always had hot water heaters, even when we lived in tiny, older homes. I never developed the fondness you describe for baths, preferring showers – there’s something enlivening about water beating down on you. But whatever! You always tell a good story, and you always get me thinking. Happy weekend, Don, take care. 🙂

  5. I love a good bath. When I was in London a couple of years ago I took one in my hotel room. Showers I guess are more convenient, we don’t have a bath where we currently live and with the cost of water these days I guess most people couldn’t afford it anyway but I do like a bath. I took them all the time in the middle of the night when I was a uni student living by myself.

  6. I have a friend from the hills of Virginia. Her father was from Kentucky. When he went into the Army before WWII, he sent money home so they could finally have indoor plumbing. His father complained that it spoiled the boy’s mother. I’m a firm believer of in door plumbing and an adequate water heater (weather permitting or not.)

  7. On the farm … Showers? Unheard of. That was for fancy folks and rich people. Yep, hot water could be a problem though. 5 boys … playing sports and everything else. Sis probably got the first bath cuz sharing bath water – and often the bath – was a common event. Not always a pleasure.
    But somehow we got through the day …

  8. Catching up with blog posts – one here, one there – no particular order. But this sent my memories flying around as much as that. Even though I am a tad younger than you, and even though I grew up in a suburb of Sydney – the capital of NSW – we did not have much in the way of bathing facilities in my house. It was in a shed in the yard which also housed the garage, laundry and toilet. Originally we boiled the water in the copper and carted it to the bathtub. At my aunt’s house in a more rural area, it was boiled in kettles on the fuel stove. Same deal, everyone used the same water, cleanest to the dirtiest, so I was also last in, since I was the youngest and most active in a getting-dirty kind of way.
    After a while my aunt installed an instantaneous electric water heater at my home. It heated water as you drew it through the water pipe, it didn’t store it. But my mum would not let me shower until my eleventh birthday. Have no idea why. Have no idea why my mum settled on a lot of ideas. But, for an Australian, a shower is preferable to a bath. It’s hot and humid here, and we feel as if we are soaking in our own dirt. The ring around my bathtub only confirms that. But once or twice a year, I get out the candles, a book, and a glass of wine . . . and . . . soak.

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