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