Bathing, Winter of 1941
By Becky Brown Martz, January 1941.
(Title by Eric Martz, November 2013.)
A bath is hard enough to take during the winter in the country anyway. The usual
difficulties include heating water in several containers of assorted sizes on the wood
stove in the kitchen, getting the stove red hot so you can't see your breath, and bringing
in the washtub to thaw out and get comfortably hot on one side. Add a boy 21 months
old who fills even the smallest puddle with rocks and other treasures he has collected
for such purposes, one black puppy 6 weeks old with a white vest, four white feet, the
name Puck, other characteristics to be determined. Consider that I am a tall woman with
large bones and very long legs. Close your eyes and the first thing you see is me
arranging my various extremities with some difficulties in the limited space provided by
a wash tub. Observe the first new characteristic of the puppy seems to be a generous
share of spaniel blood. She stands on her hind feet with her nose and front feet in the
water whining eagerly. The boy enters the picture rushing with glee to flail with both
sweater-sleeved arms, in a mighty splash. Do you begin to see what I mean'
There is the secondary problem of being done rare on one side while the gooseflesh
rises in bumps large enough to win any contest on the other. Like the hen that lays the
most eggs. Though you may warm the air in such a country kitchen, I defy anybody to
really warm the floor. The water may have been so hot you had to inch yourself in, but
the stubborn cold seeps through the bottom. The water is definitely cooler before you
have finished the top half of the torso. Puck thinks there is nothing so good for a
puppy's health as quantities of hot soapy water and then gets sick all over the floor
before I can get her out. I trail water and she yells. She is a most persistent puppy
convinced that being swatted half across the room is all part of the fun. She bounces
back with a glad squeal.
Eric beats me on the back saying over and over very proudly 'Ma ma, ma ma, ma ma'.
Then he takes me by surprise and sticks a grubby finger in one eye shouting 'Hye hye
hye'. He is always repetitious like that, trying to drum his knowledge back into us the
way we give it to him. He eats soap awhile. I tell him there is going to be a shortage and
we must use things sparingly in their proper places so he eyes it longingly and mourns,
'No, no, no, no, no, no'. At this moment my husband notices for the first time that the
wood pile needs replenishing. He bangs in and out with great snowy armfuls telling Eric
to shut the door after Daddy. Eric is erratic about that. Oh the lovely privacy of it.
I think of magazine pictures of pretty creatures, perfectly made up, lustrous curls falling
in great unwet sweeps around their shoulders, and just in the nick of time, swirls of
frothy perfumed bubble bath. They relax in their peach and blue bathroom, with
registers right over the tub pouring heat like a benediction. The babies and pups, if any,
must be locked on the other side of the bathroom door.
When at last I step into my bunny house shoes, pink and shining, I look at all that nice
warm water, at least the chill is still off, and think how scarce water is in our county. I
could either sponge out my pajamas in the same water, or put Puck in and wash off the
milk she slept in the night before.
It always amazes me when we get where we're going, (you're always going someplace
to make all this effort), to find that I am indistinguishable from all the well-dressed, nice
smelling people around me. Even when we go to the symphony, 20 miles away. It
shakes my faith, and makes me wonder what they went through at home.
This business of cleaning house isn't all its cracked up to be. At least not if you have a
baby and a puppy. Not that I would want to get along without modern conveniences, but
Puck has developed a psychosis about the vacuum sweeper. It was accidental on my
part that just a few days after she came to live with us, I switched it on when she was
sitting beside it. She leaped into the air, scurried behind the kitchen stove, and lay there
panting and shaking while I ran the thing. Now all I have to do is get it out and Puck has
a seizure. Eric has a healthy respect for it too. He will lie on the studio couch until I've
completed my part, and then he runs over, helps me wind up the cord by holding it
tightly in just the place I'm ready to coil. Just as I get ready to descend the steps into the
bedroom, (we keep it behind a curtain with other things that don't seem to fit anywhere)
he lets go with great satisfaction saying 'There', while I balance wildly trying to adjust
myself to the sudden cessation of his weight added to that of the vacuum which I'm sure
is made of the lightest of metals. But then I am not an Amazonic specimen of
Puck loves the dust mop. She prances all around my feet grabbing at the lovely greasy
strings. She barks challengingly with glee then out of plain mischief. As likely as not, we
both end up in a heap on the floor with Eric making a delighted plunge to the top of the
heap. Now Eric loves the dustpan. He carries it helpfully around behind me, picking up
my collected dirt, piece by piece, carefully carrying the pan to someplace I am through
with and dumping it. Or maybe he decides to try it as a hat. Or maybe he just stands
where I am trying to mop.
After trying to mop the kitchen floor once, I learned to wait until Eric and Puck are both
asleep. Only you can't put all household tasks off until that time, because the president
of something or other is sure to call if you do. Anyway, this day I got my steaming
bucket of sudsy water all ready. I have another convenience which squeezes out the
mop without my having to get my hands wet. I think its fine, but Eric prefers the old
fashioned methods. When I'm mopping somewhere, he seizes his golden opportunity to
stick in his arm and then trail the water over the floor in lovely patterns. Or maybe it
occurs to him to get a tea towel and dip it in and help mama. Or maybe he gets the
baking powder can lid and tries drinking a generous sample. 'Ugh dutty' he will say
after that pronouncing both the 'g' and the 'h'. But Puck likes it dutty, and that
encourages Eric. We got Puck to help entertain Eric since he is our only child, and we
live rather isolated, and haven't any car. Well, as I say, I only tried that once.
As to dusting. Eric has a passion for expressing his own ideas of arrangement. Maybe I
get my three restrained articles on top of the bookcase just so, and then next time I look
there is my green vase on the bottom, the copper ashtray topping that, and perilously
but triumphantly on top of that my Brancusi-like female head. Oh well. You soon get so
you can go over quite calmly and take the whole thing down. In fact you have to,
because if you don't, Eric gets excited and tries to fix it himself, and they all crash to the
floor. Puck likes to chew pieces of broken glass or china.
Eric likes to make beds too. He pulls the covers off from one side while I put them on
from the other. And Puck lands in the middle of the clean sheet with four muddy paws.
Eric likes to clear the table. He carries each and every dish over to Mama at the sink
and he licks all the plates, and carries the forks pointing to his eyes, and drinks
whatever is left in the cups.
There have been people who asked me why I at least didn't put Puck out when I
cleaned. But I never think of it until I'm on the last thing. I know I have friends whose
children and dogs stay in their places while they clean, but somehow I am just not the
forceful sort of person that children and puppies mind. Even when I mean it, they know I