Modern plumbing is something we take for granted these days. But in earlier times the Saturday night bath, using a tin wash tub in the kitchen, was a family tradition. And believe it or not, there are still people around who can remember it. When I was growing up, my mother’s parents had indoor plumbing and a real bathtub. But my father’s parents had no bathroom in the little house where they’d raised five children. Baths were taken in the wash tub next to the kitchen stove, which was the warmest spot in the house.
The water for the bath was heated on the stove. Some stoves had built in reservoirs for heated water (my grandma’s stove had one of these). Otherwise the water had to be heated in kettles on the stove top. The whole family used the same bathwater. The person who carried the tub inside and added water got to bathe first. The rest followed, adding more water as it was heated. In some households, the traditional order was father, mother, then the children in descending order of age. In a large family, the water could be pretty grimy by the time the little ones had their turn. This is where the old saying, “Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater,” originated.
And have you ever sat in a washtub? The only way for an adult to fit would be knees to chin, with no room to move around. So getting clean was a matter of washing the body in sections. Remember the old song about the Hoky Poky? “You put your left leg in, you take your left leg out, you put your left leg in, and you shake it all about…etc.?” That’s pretty much how it was done. The usual procedure was to start kneeling on the floor to wash your head. Then you washed each limb and finally stepped into the tub so water wouldn’t splash on the floor while you washed your torso. You might sit down while someone else washed your back.
Before the advent of the indoor bathroom with running water, the ultimate luxury was a bathtub, usually of tin or copper, with enough room to stretch out (you often see these in old Western movies). They were made narrow, often with wheels, so they could be moved through doorways for easy emptying.
These days we’re spoiled. We can go for a quick shower or a long, luxurious soak in a hot tub any time we want to. I’m a shower person myself and could happily go the rest of my life without climbing into a tub. How about you? Does anyone else remember the tin tub days? Do you enjoy bubble bath, candles and music? A hot tub with company? A session at the spa? Writers, have you ever used a bathtub scene in a book (I have one in the Christmas novella I just finished, which is what gave me the idea for this blog)?
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