I like a secure bathroom. There should be a window – but only one window – and it should be small with an opaque shade to pull for privacy. One door is quite enough, and that door needs a proper lock.
My grandparents’ bathroom was nothing like that. It was large, open, and light – not originally meant to be a bathroom. Its spaciousness and lack of security made the simple act of sitting on the toilet fraught with anxiety. Someone might walk in unannounced, and once in a while they did!
Here are some of the things I remember about the bathroom on the farm.
The Door Behind the Desk
The bathroom had three doors. One led from the dining room, one from the back bedroom, and the third from the living room. This third door was not used in my lifetime. It was behind “The Desk” in the living room.
“The Desk” belonged to my great-great-great-grandfather Aaron Hall, Esq. and was reputed to be valuable. Its little drawers and cubbyholes held photos and documents, newspapers, and ancient spectacles. In the early days, when the only bathroom on the farm was an outhouse, this door probably led into a bedroom or sitting room.
The Bathroom Windows
The two windows in the bathroom were large and low and looked out onto the back yard. The gauzy curtains were for decoration only, and the green shades were always up. One of the windows was directly opposite the toilet, and its placement meant that anyone walking past the window could see me sitting there.
The bathtub’s appearance is hard for me to remember. But it sat out from the corner of the room, and I don’t think it had a shower or curtain of any kind. A bather in this tub, like a sitter on the toilet, was exposed to the two windows and the three doors. I don’t think many baths were taken on the farm. My grandmother practiced once-a-month hair washing. In between washings she brushed her long brown hair the required one hundred strokes daily and pinned it up into a bun. One of my jobs when I stayed at the farm was to brush her hair for her. She died when she was eighty-two with barely a grey hair on her head.
The Sewing Machine
The bathroom was a multi-purpose room. My grandmother did her sewing there on an old Singer treadle sewing machine. I think it stood between the door and the window on the wall opposite the toilet, but I also remember it being right smack in the middle of the room when she was using it.
A tube of Ipana (the Bucky Beaver toothpaste) sat on the sink, and was shared by everyone sleeping at the farm. Later on, my Indiana cousins brought Crest into our lives, and a tube of that joined the Ipana. I used something else at my own house – I think it was a pinkish bland-tasting tooth powder that I shook into a little puddle of water in the palm of my hand and worked to a lather with my toothbrush. It was a treat to use toothpaste from a tube – to squeeze the paste onto the brush and feel the startling bite of mint when it touched my tongue.
The Unlocked Door
There was nothing worse than hurrying into the bathroom, sitting down on the toilet, and realizing I hadn’t locked both doors. This was the source of my greatest anxiety about using the Hall bathroom, and I think it’s the reason that I am so very, very fond of small, dark, cozy bathrooms.
On Monday: Pigs in the Kitchen