This is Lea Wait, and no, I haven’t yet taken shelter in a bathtub – although I’ve heard they’re good places to be (empty) during a tornado. Handy information if, like one of my daughters, you live in Kansas. But here in Maine bathtubs perform simpler, more classic, functions.
I don’t ever remember anyone asking for one. Our house was full as I was growing up: my parents, my grandparents, and my three sisters and I all managed (with the help of a set-in-concrete morning schedule) to stay clean with 1 1/2 bathrooms. Baths were taken at night, to speed up the morning ablutions, and my grandparents waited until all three girls and my father had left the house before venturing out of their bedrooms and claiming their bathroom time. It worked.
I first encountered serious showers in college, when I was faced with shared bathrooms with a dozen shower stalls and one bathtub per floor in my dorm. I showered, like everyone else. But I didn’t like showering. It was expedient, but nothing more. I longed for the reassurance and relaxation of a bath. I learned the hours that lone bathtub was apt to be available … and not filled with Jello or other strange substances. (It WAS a college dorm.) I managed to take a bath perhaps once every couple of weeks. I survived.
After college I lived in a series of apartments in New York City’s Greenwich Village. Two of them were equipped with both bathtubs and showers. I happily used the tubs. The third apartment, however, and the one I lived in the longest, not only didn’t have a bathtub, it didn’t have a bathroom. Oh, yes: it did have a toilet, in what had at one time been a closet, and it had a “step-up” metal shower in the kitchen, next to the set-tubs that were the only sinks. No air conditioning, of course, so I remember showering in July and stepping out into my kitchen and immediately dripping from more than the shower. And stepping out into an unheated apartment in winter when there were problems with the building’s boiler. About every six months I added more concrete to the base of the shower to keep it from leaking.
Showering was definitely not a luxurious or lengthy experience.
Somehow I didn’t mind. Yes, the shower was quirky. But I was living in Greenwich Village, on my own, and I loved my apartment. In addition to the shower in my kitchen I also had a nineteenth century pump organ I’d bought from a church in Maine that had upgraded to an electric organ. One table doubled as a place to eat and a place to write. My Olympic portable had a permanent place on it.
After my New York years I lived in houses, most equipped with one full bathroom containing both a tub and a shower. My daughters argued over shower times, but I used the tub. My nightly bath was one of the few times I could close a door and block out the world. Time alone was precious.
The house I live in now was built in 1774, but some time in the early twentieth century a bathroom was added, complete with tub. That tub is still there. It’s the same one my parents and grandparents used; the one I used as I child. I step into those warm waters and the world disappears. I get ideas for my books. I think through my day. I come to terms with the world.
When my husband first moved here, a man addicted to showers, he had to come to terms with the tub. At first sometimes he even drove twenty minutes to Boothbay Harbor to shower at the YMCA there. After several years we had a plumber install what he referred to as “an after thought” — a pipe from the tub’s faucet leading to a shower head above, so showers were possible. But the water pressure from our well wasn’t strong. And by then my husband had gotten used to taking baths. He rarely showers now. He’s been converted. (I firmly believe baths are addictive.)
He sometimes makes fun of me because if I have a headache or a stiff muscle or a stuffy nose, my first stop is the bathtub. I’ve explained that all my ills are better when I’m in warm water. That not only am I washing dirt and germs away, but problems, as well.
Maybe the world would be a quieter, more relaxed, place if everyone gave up showers for tubs.
Or maybe not. But, in my life, a bath tub is an essential.