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THE CITY REBORN FROM THE ASHES OF AMERICA'S MOST DISASTROUS FOREST FIRE
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Tales from the old-timer

Issue Date: April 9, 2014

Bath Night

By Jane Thibodeau Martin,

daughter of the Old-Timer



**********

I grew up in an old farmhouse. There was one bathroom for our family of six. It had a claw-footed bathtub, and every Saturday night, whether we needed it or not, my sister and I got a bath.

We sisters were put in the tub together for many years, and Mom washed our hair with Prell shampoo. We liked the bath but hated the shampoo. Then we got our flannel pajamas on and sat in front of the wood furnace registers (if it was winter) to wait for our hair to dry before going to bed. No hair dryer until I was in middle school, when my Mom got a suitcase-sized hair dryer with a long tube feeding warm air into a plastic bonnet you placed over your head. It was terribly loud, but we found it quite glamorous.

These days it would be unusual for a house to be built without at least two bathrooms, and certainly no house gets built without a shower today. The standard now is everyone showers daily - either before or after work, depending on the type of work.

The roots of the custom of a Saturday night bath were probably another result of our agricultural heritage. You worked hard all week, milking, hauling manure, and working in the fields or forests. It didn’t pay to bathe, because you’d just get dirty and stinky again immediately the next day. You probably didn’t change your clothes daily either, for the same reason, and because the woman of the house only did laundry once a week or so….not to mention you only had a few outfits of clothing. No big walk-in closets packed with choices in those days. Kids had a pair of shoes, maybe two counting a pair for fancy events like church.

So a Saturday night bath made sense - Sunday being church day, and a day of rest from most of the labors (of course cows still needed to be fed and milked). Saturday night you cleaned up, and Sunday was the fresh start to a new week.

I had a good friend in grade school whose family did not have an indoor bathroom, relying on the traditional outhouse and doing wash-ups in the kitchen sink as needed. And my husband’s farming family didn’t acquire an indoor toilet until he was midway through school, either. So a single indoor bathroom like my family had, humble as it might be, was still probably an appreciated convenience for the generation prior to mine. My maternal grandmother had a shower, and I thought that was pretty exotic.

Now we all shower daily, change clothes daily (at least once, sometimes more) and have a large variety of toiletries that seem to be necessities - but our history tells us little of this is actually necessary. We all wonder why we are constantly busy….we might be amazed how much spare time we’d have if we adopted the toiletry and clothing habits our parents and grandparents had. Few of us do the kind of work that causes us to actually get dirty, and probably few if any would notice if we cut back a little and used that time to read books or indulge in other relaxing leisure pursuits.

Now, we even haul our dogs in for bathing, which they probably enjoy about as much as I liked my Saturday night shampooing. I can guarantee you none of the hard-working farm dogs our forbearers depended on ever got a bath, and they probably could have used one a lot more than your poodle does.


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