A READER asks why everybody took his bath on Saturday night. As the only man in Knox County who flunked the Dove Soap Seven Day Test, I am both qualified and happy to compose a reply. The reasons for the Saturday night bath are many, but the excuse was Sunday School. Every good little boy and girl was reminded that cleanliness is next to godliness, and Saturday night is next to Sunday. If any loving mother, nowadays, attempted to foist upon her brood the horrors and indignities of the old-time family ablutions on Saturday night, she'd be carted to the pokey for child abuse.
The only relief came in the summer when the hot sun played upon the tidal flats of Conant's Creek, and the flowing Maine tide rose warm and inviting and we came home to supper with wet hair to prove we'd cleansed. Even Mother, dedicated to soap, had to admit there was something irrational in washing a body that had been in water all afternoon. The way she got around this was to explain that we needed to rinse off all the salt.
But in the summertime the Saturday bath wasn't too rugged - it was the chill of the other seasons that gives me the goosebumps now. The bathroom was just too far from the kitchen stove. Oh, we had a bathroom; the days of dunking in a wooden tub before the open oven door were over. My mother and father, both farm born, kept telling us we were lucky to be living in an age of comfort and refinements. We didn't endure the hardships they had known.
I'm not so sure about that.
There is a folksy value to a wooden tub, the grain of its oaken staves having absorbed the osmosification of generations of human contact. A porcelain coated iron bathtub, no matter how warm the water in it, was always cold when I sat down, and since it was four rooms and upstairs away from the kitchen range, I never had an oven door to turn to.
The bath water first went through a device in the firebox of the kitchen range, and then was stored in a copper tank by the wall. At bath time, the victim up in the far bathroom of a 10-room house would turn on the faucet and wait for the copper tank to respond. This it would do by discharging all the very cold water in the intervening pipes, pushing along warm water that cooled on the way.
As soon as the warm water heated the pipes, somewhat, a softer gurgle in the delivery would signal that things were about to commence, and the attentive young man, who was I, could thrust the plug in the drain (dreen!) and begin to undress. I didn't hurry with disrobing because the longer I took the more likely was the aquatic temperature - but the porcelain tub on its little lions' feet was always cold.
The air temperature in the bathroom, in winter, also because of distance, was little better than the water's. Down cellar was a furnace that fed into tin ducts, and each duct led to a room. This was the best technology of the time. Nobody had thought of forced hot air, and there was no electricity used in any way in connection with bath night.
The hot air generated by this furnace came to the rooms upstairs by what was called ``gravity feed,'' and this meant that the bedroom on the last lap got barely enough to keep the pipes from freezing when the wind hauled northwest and the Montreal Express howled at the window.
Ha, ha, and ha! Today I bask in wondrous heat and luxuriate in nigh-scalding water, and I wonder what the poor people are doing. I can even warm my towel if I wish, but for my fetching up I consider that excessive culture and I restrain myself. Too much of a good thing.
So bath was not something you just went and took. It was an ordeal. Mother superintended, later through a closed door, and reminded that we must do behind the ears and that other people were waiting.
Sunday morning we all got our clean clothes. It was no easier to wash clothes than to wash people. Those were the days of the detachable collar, and a clean shirt and three collars would do for three days. Girls wore pinnies to keep their dresses neat, and for that matter - they also wore dresses!
Yes, and Saturday was shave day at the barber's. The town gentry came in to neaten up for Sunday, and Babe was too busy all day to spend time on a haircut. One time my mother noticed I was ragged, so she gave me a quarter and told me to go to Babe's and get shorn on a shave day. Babe cut me all right, and I was still small enough so he lifted me to get my lollipop out of the glass bowl on the shelf, but he told me never to do that again. I never did.