In Hot Water

Taps and Feet Photo by Richard Hine

Taps and Feet Photo by          Richard Hines


I’m working on a poem about bathing, of which I already have several.  Bathing means more to me now than ever, as it’s a pleasurable part of my pain management regime.

The new poem will be part of the Skin & Bone Art project I’m working on with Richard Hines.  The pictures he took the first time around were a good start, and I include some here, without the cast. We’re reshooting on Sunday, now with the cast on, working a little on lighting and tension.  Even though a slip and  fall in the tub could kill or maim me, it’s hard to  convey the edge of the tub as a cutting or leading edge, the edge of the abyss, or the fall of man.  It is a place I take my pain.

I inherited my obsession with bathing from my parents, who were raised when there were no such things as showers, and often not hot and cold running water. Fortunately I never had to heat water and fill a tub in front of a wood stove as they did when they were growing up, though that is how I would have had my first baths as a child, with my mum heating the water and filling the portable metal tub.

I have no memory of bathing at all until mum commissioned the new bungalow built in Gretna in 1964, with two bathrooms, with just a shower in the one in the basement, which I never used. I was nine, and bathed once a week as did most everybody else in rural Manitoba even in the 1960’s, and of course it was always on Saturday nights – “to be clean for God and Sunday.”

Digression 1

 I preferred Red Skelton, but after supper after my bath I grabbed a banana and rushed down to the rec room to watch Lawrence Welk on KCND Channel 12, first  just south of the border and with in antennae range; which later became CKND in Canada (I can still sing the jingle station identifier) and then Global and now what?

 It was a really nerdy side of me I did not share, but however odd, it started my interest in jazz, cemented when my sister married a working horn player who could point me in directions past Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass and Al Hirt, who was nearly credible.

That didn’t change much until I got to the Mennonite Collegiate Institute Residence as a grade ten student  in 1970.  School-day mornings marked a rush for the men’s washroom which had half a dozen showers, with metal sides however bent out of shape and with a curtain at the front. Speed was essential, as was the phrase “shit, shower and shave” – which just about all of us did whether we needed to or not

Though having always enjoyed a bath, it didn’t become a regular part of my routine until I moved into a wonderful apartment block called Riverview Mansion. The large white enameled claw-foot tub was big enough for a man of my size to soak in, and have company if the opportunity arose. I found a board to lay across the tub and spent time soaking, reading, typing (with my Dad’s old manual Remington) and then developing a preference for the newspaper after dropping one to many books into the water.

One of my favourite poems in Lucky Man (Hagios 2005) is “Bathing,” about supervising my boys in the bath – by this time just another suburban bungalow
low-sided  tub where I was more likely to have a shower, to get to work on time.

It wasn’t until I arrived at 200 Lenore Street in 1991 that there was another tub to enjoy. Sure it was one of those prefab fibre-glass wrap around beige tubs with a shower. But it was big. And so the daily routine of coffee, newspaper and making sure there was half-an-hour for me to remain in the bath. The fiberglass needed to come into the house in three pieces to get into the bathroom, and the seams as you can imagine were not going to last forever.

When there was an opportunity to upgrade and renovate the bathroom, we did. The first tub the builders  brought, despite all my insistence on “big” was another one of those small jobbies I had to cope with in bungalows.  I cried. They took it away and though we lost a bit of shelf space, they brought a big one, which put a big stupid grin on my face. Nothing fancy, no jets, plumbing in a 100 year-old house is tricky enough. A soaker tub, for soaking for all that ails you.

We only had one bathroom so I’d often pull the shower-curtain while one of the family needed to use the toilet. This became even more complicated and hard to arrange for the six months after my new partner moved in with her two teenagers – with three of my own we had five and the step-kids were not particularly comfortable going to the bathroom with me in tub. We all managed.

The routine has changed slightly over the years, but until recently was a daily moment of relaxation, catching up on the news, and the first large mug of coffee.

I washed too of course, but that only took a few minutes. My family knew how much I enjoyed my bath and bought me Algermarin (the original) for the bath, which turns the water blue and makes some very fine bubbles. That too is now part of the ritual though it is getting harder and harder to find. I occasionally enjoy my wife’s Vitabath, but that’s two or three times as expensive as “my” Algermarin which is expensive enough when I use it in every bath I take. (I may adapt Sting’s lyrics).

Last year I had foot-bone fusion surgery on my left foot, which meant wearing a cast for  three months. It wasn’t until near the end of that time we figured out we had a small metal end table that fit in the tub and was exactly the right height to keep my cast out of the water. I had been making do with sponge baths for about two months out of the tiny basin in our new tiny main-floor 2nd bathroom (of course the kids are now all out of the house).

It wasn’t until I was walking again that I discovered I had severe joint pain and was diagnosed with osteoarthritis. Bathing has taken on a whole new meaning as heat soothes the savage joint. My heating pads (Fiona 1 and Fiona 2) are fine and good, but the hot bath can make me feel good all over.  I was bathing up to three times a day until my surgery as I was soon working at home three days a week thanks to my considerate employer, and in a wheelchair for the days in the office.

Now after my foot-bone fusion, I m back in a cast. This time I only waited for two days before insisting on getting back into the tub, with the metal table holding up my right foot. This is a bit of an operation and something I don’t do alone.

Digression  2

 My father continued to bathe once or twice a week after my mother died, and it wasn’t until his late 80s as a resident of Lindenwoods Manor, an independent  living centre, where he had his own apartment that he started having problems getting out. He didn’t like showers, or sitting in the tub on a chair having a shower. My stubborn streak is honestly earned from both my parents, though most would not have suspected my father of being stubborn. Her exuded a zen-like quality of going with the flow – with one exception – looking after his body. You can check out an earlier post to read about his hair. 

 Dad learned to drink a bottle of Boost before going into the bath, which seemed to help and he took his portable phone in with him and left the door open. Proud and stubborn, he would try for up to two hours to get out on his own before calling for help. He would usually bathe Wednesday and Saturday after supper, which was served as early as 5:00 o’clock. As it was an independent living centre, staff worked a regular day shift and went home. Only once did I need to go to his rescue, as he would always call one of the other elderly men to help get him out of the tub. I was his last resort. 

Now it’s me that needs help out of the tub, though I’m only fifty-seven. I’m told once I have my new hips, my life will return to some semblance of its former self, but right now I’m waiting for two good feet to stand on, and looking forward to more frequent soaks as soon as the cast comes off. Now I have to get onto the web and see where I can source more Algermarin.

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    Posted March 28, 2013 at 12:40 am | Permalink

    This post took me back. I, too, have very vague recollections of bathing in a square, galvanized tub on Saturday nights, with those frequent infusions of freshly boiled water. Dad bathed last, and I can still recall the colour and the murkiness the water had taken on by then.
    When we moved into our new house in the early 50s my parents splurged on a swanky pink-and-magenta bathroom. But we still had only a cistern to supply our water, so my sister and I bathed together in the pink tub (right after Lawrence Welk, I believe – we were partial to the Lennon Sisters, even had Lennon Sisters paper dolls). And after we were done, we’d put on our cotton underwear and wrap ourselves in the big bath towels that had swans on them and we’d “fly” around the living room, leaping off the furniture using our towels as wings/capes while we waited for Dad to finish watching the hockey game. We were allowed to stay up as late as we wanted on Saturday, and there were a whole bunch of good shows on: “I Love Lucy”, “How to Marry a Millionaire”, “The Loretta Young Show”. Wasn’t Juliette on somewhere in there? And Red Skelton, you say? My dad was extremely fond of Juliette. But those programs couldn’t have all been on the same night. In my mind they were always on Saturday night after the bath, but they couldn’t have been.
    Then for several decades I couldn’t tolerate the sight or sound of a Lawrence Welk rerun coming on air. But now, I usually watch the PBS cooking shows Saturday afternoon and if I neglect to turn off the TV or change the channel, there it comes late in the afternoon, while I’m making supper. And you know what? I don’t switch it off. I kinda like it a little bit now.
    Joe and I arrived home mid-afternoon today. Great cover and title on the latest Rhubarb, Victor. Hope the launch went well. Please send me a recap of the evening.

    • Victor
      Posted March 30, 2013 at 7:51 pm | Permalink

      I met Juliette one summer in Vancouver. I was visiting my sister and brother-in-law in their third floor walk-up, which was also a penthouse depending on how you looked at it. They had half the roof for a deck, that I sometimes camped on, with a fantastic view of English Bay, from their Kitsalano apartment. Juliette purchased the building for her mother as an investment property as well as a place to live. Juliette came by one day to see her mother and we happened to be in the lobby at the same time. Another near brush with greatness.

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