A bath every Saturday night ­ whether needed or not

A bath every Saturday night � whether needed or not By Bob Karolevitz Thank goodness for the old galvanized tub or Phyllis and I would have been dirty kids when we were young.

I was a town urchin and she lived in the country, but both of us experienced the old fashioned Saturday night bath. It was a ritual which most everybody of our vintage can remember.

Our mothers would take down the tub � which also did double duty on wash day � and fill it part way full with water heated on the kitchen range. I'm not sure, but I think I might have shared the same water with my two sisters as we took turns in the round basin which we eventually outgrew.

Neither can Phyllis recall whether the water was changed for her older sister and two younger brothers. I guess water was harder to come by in those days.

In time we both graduated to showers. My uncle rigged up a vat on the roof of a little bath house near our back door. The water came gushing down on us when we pulled a chain.

The tank had to be filled with a hose, and a cork-topped float told when it was full. The next guy always had to wait for the sun to do its job, or he'd get a cold bath.

I don't know what we did in the winter when the tank froze up. No doubt we went back to the tub in the house.

Phyllis's dad hooked up a bucket in their summer kitchen to give them a "modern convenience." A hose attached to the pail delivered the water until the bucket ran dry. Then it had to be filled up again.

She doesn't remember either what they did when it was too cold to run out to the summer kitchen. They were all glad when they got indoor plumbing.

Who says they were the good old days?

I can recall Mother washing the dust out of my ears in the early "Dirty Thirties" before F.D.R. I don't know about Phyllis (she's much younger than I am, you know), but I'll bet her farm brothers got a good scrubbing on Saturday night.

Taking a bath these days is sheer pleasure compared to the old galvanized tub jobs or those Rube Goldberg showers. It's nice just to turn on the faucet to get water of a desired temperature � in either winter or summer.

Being a curious sort, I did a little research on the subject of bathing and learned that civilizations centuries before Christ had elaborate facilities to get clean. Obviously they were way ahead of us South Dakotans in the 1920s and '30s when all we had was that old washtub.

I learned, too, that the Jewish people of ancient times bathed for purification purposes (Leviticus 16 and Numbers 19). Dozens of ritualistic washings are spelled out in the Old Testament. While they were cleansing themselves for religious reasons, the Romans were living it up in their opulent bathing accommodations. So were the Greeks who frolicked in tubs of polished stone or marble.

The Moors constructed elegant private baths in their homes, and the Turkish bath had its origin in the Ottoman Empire. However when the barbarians overran Europe, they apparently didn't care much about cleanliness. Neither did the early Christians who looked upon dirt as self-mortification or penance for sin.

The Protestants of the Renaissance Period supposedly weren't much better. They frowned upon nudity and thought public bathing was promiscuous. It has been said that Queen Elizabeth herself took a bath once a month � whether she needed it or not. The rich and the royalty used perfume and cosmetics to cover up the B.O. It would have been bad, I guess, but everyone smelled that way.

Little by little things changed, of course, and we finally made it to the galvanized tub. We were a long way from the Greeks and Romans, but at least we cleaned up on Saturday night.

© 2001 Robert F. Karolevitz

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