July 20, 2011 Edition

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Remember old times

Vivian Heyl
Staff Writer

As I was taking a hot shower this morning I thought about growing up in rural Arkansas. Back then a shower was outside and it involved rain.

Bathing involved a galvanized bathtub that had to be drug inside and placed in the kitchen next to the heated cookstove, which in the winter was full of welcoming warmth, but not so much in the summer. The tub was filled with buckets of heated water and then you took a bath, but not every day as that was too much work.

Most days you scrubbed down with a wash pan of cold water in the summer or a slightly warmer version in the winter. In summer having a bath often meant filling the tub up outside under the clothesline, which was hung with old sheets for privacy and taking sun-warmed baths in the open air.

Now I'm not saying that bathing in that old galvanized tub was the worst thing in life, but standing there in the shower with heated water running over me, I was very happy to have indoor plumbing. For those of you too young to remember sliding to the outhouse on a cold frosty morning, that means all the facilities are inside the house and nobody has to go outside to take care of business.

Personal hygiene wasn't the only problem with outside plumbing. Washing dishes, clothes and floors all required multiple trips to the well. I spent many a Saturday pumping water for the old wringer washer that set out under a lean-to. We'd fill the washer and then start washing clothes. Meanwhile I continued to pump water for the rinse tubs. After the clothes were washed and rinsed and rung through the double-roller wringer on the washer, we then hung them up on the clothesline to dry. They smelled lovely but unless there was a good breeze, they were so stiff you could pose them on the sidewalk.

We were lucky to have a long-handled pump on our well, and once it was primed and flowing strong, pumping a gallon of water was pretty fast. The water was gloriously cold and refreshing in the summer and I remember leaning down to let it run across my face on a hot afternoon or grabbing a quick drink with the dipper, which always hung on the pump. I didn't pump every gallon of water but I know at the time it felt like I had.

The year we finally got indoor plumbing was a landmark year in our household. No more toting gallons of water from the well every morning and every night. Taking a bath meant turning on a tap and, low and behold, there was water. Washing dishes was much easier than it used to be and filling the wringer washer was with a hose instead of a bucket. Later on we got one of those new fangled things called an automatic washer, which really changed my Saturday. What wonderful magic is modern technology.

Each generation tells the next about how much better things are for them than it was when they were growing up. My mother often informed me that in her childhood there was no electricity and when it got dark you went to bed. By the time she had a child there was electricity readily available to most homes.

I also thought about how people often preface a memory from their youth with, "Remember back in the good old days." There are things about our world that I wish could be more like the good old days, but not modern conveniences. I had a great childhood, but as an aging adult I can say one thing with utter sincerity, I don't want to trade my hot shower for that galvanized tub.

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