Dec. 2, 2020

SATURDAY NIGHT SPLASH...BUT DON'T USE TOO- MUCH WATER!

Growing up,  I never questioned why everyone in our family only bathed--on Saturday Nights.  I only remember wanting to be first--- before all the hot water ran out.  Heating water was a long process. It always took our one and only hot water "Tank" several hours to heat enough water for the next bath.  After TV took control of our lives, we started our Saturday night bathing routine earlier—usually Saturday afternoons—so we wouldn’t miss our favorite TV Shows.

As children...we just accepted "the way things were".  I don't remember ever asking WHY we all used the same soap and shampoo, and---on several occasions--the same towels.   Recently--just thinking about it-- I wondered why we all bathed on Saturday Nights....rather than Monday Nights….or Wednesday Nights.

I’ve decided that, long ago, people didn’t bathe as often due to a shortage of MONEY.  A hot-water heater cost money to operate--to heat the water.  Then, of course, there was a monthly water bill based on the amount of water used in a certain time period.   Imagine when no on had a hot-water heater or running water-- when people had to carry water from a stream or a well then heat the water on a wood stove.   Imagine the struggle to keeping carrying more and more  water…to keep heating water on the stove….and to keep filling the washtub or copper tub or whatever people used back-then for taking baths.

When we visited my grandparents in Missouri, bathing took on a new meaning.  It meant a washtub, a kettle of hot water, a back porch, and no privacy.  A one-time experience was enough for me but…I believe everyone should know what “being-poor” meant back-then… as well as what it means to be poor... today. 

I was in the tenth grade when my father built our family a lovely home in Pine Bluff, Arkansas.  That’s when I learned about FRUGALITY from our new next-door neighbor.  Although she limped badly from having Polio as a child and had only one breast because of cancer, the short and slightly-stout woman was anything but a weakling.  She had blackboards nailed to the kitchen walls with family schedules for bathroom use, bathing, eating, and other activities.

Each member of the family checked the schedules to find their bathroom time, bathing time, even their mealtime schedule.  One rule--- written in large chalk letters--  stated: If you aren’t seated at the table at your scheduled mealtime, you won’t be allowed to eat until your next scheduled meal or the next day.

There was also a blackboard for chores and responsibilities. Find your name and you’d find your responsibilities. No one argued or complained.  There was a blackboard detailing specific punishments as well. What I found most fascinating about the neighbor’s military approach to schedules, rewards, and punishments--- it seemed to work.

Like many housewives during the fifties and sixties, the neighbor smoked and…to save money…she bought loose tobacco and papers and rolled her own cigarettes. She had a little wooden contraption with a handle on the side.  As she turned the handle, a set amount of tobacco emptied onto one of the papers, and then a mechanism dropped down to seal the paper from end to end before pushing it onto a waiting tray.   I watched the housewife collect the cigarettes and store them in a metal tin.

When it came to bath time at her house, the Mistress of Frugality was prepared. She’d expertly marked all sides of the bathtub with a strong tape--like duct tape-- and everyone knew not to fill the tub beyond those marks! Also, each member of the family (family of five) had one washcloth and one towel and it was their responsibility to keep both clean and ready for the next bath.

I thought the neighbor was a little “extreme” when I learned she rationed toilet paper and limited toilet flushings.  Family members were punished if they didn’t leave the toilet clean for the next person and, it was just too bad if you forgot to take your toilet paper with you for bathroom time.  A family member was only allowed to use the toilet twice each day for a total of two flushes. The toilet paper was rationed at three squares per visit… meaning….each family member had a total of six toilet paper squares—per day.  

I can’t end this story without telling you about the neighbor’s younger, unmarried sister named Stella Mae, who lived across the street.  Stella Mae spent every day in a wheel chair because she, too, had suffered Polio as a child but….the younger sister had a much-different lifestyle.  Somewhat attractive,  although considerably over-weight, Stella Mae loved to wear bright-colored smocks, gypsy-like jewelry, nail polish, lots of makeup, and listen to big-band music at full volume.  And Miss Stella Mae spent most of her time---entertaining men. 

I remembering thinking how life on our small street was similar to  a neighborhood soap opera…. As we all watched men of every shape, age, size--in every kind of automobile--- visit younger sister’s house.   Apparently, Stella Mae had at least one or two blackboards…just like her sister. How else could she keep up with so many men, so many visitors, and so much daily activity?  

Those were the days when neighbors talked to their neighbors and, from time to time, shared little tidbits of information.  One neighbor said he’d heard the younger sister was a Fortune Teller with a real glass ball and could actually predict the future.  He hadn’t actually seen the Glass Ball because her drapes were always closed on the windows facing his house.  But, his wife, who worked at the town’s largest bank, said the younger sister took a taxi through the bank's drive-through, week after week, and made large cash deposits to both her checking and two savings accounts. Obviously, Fortune-Telling  paid really-well in those days.

During my lifetime I’ve known a variety of talented women. Some were highly-creative, even when they were confined to a chair.

Sally