BY DAVE WOOD
Saturday night suds
These days I'm so clean I squeak. I've been sort of clean for several years but never enough to make me squeak. For years I've taken a daily bath and so I guess that up until recently one could call me just average clean. I began to squeak a few years ago when I took up swimming when daily walks around town became so slippery or snowy that my aging limbs refused to propel me. Now I swim as often as possible at a nearby motel, where, because I’m sorely in need of physical rehab, I pay a modest fee to partake of the therapeutic waters.
One must shower before jumping into its very nice pool, which I do at 8 a.m. after which I swim for 45 minutes, then take another shower to restore the rosy hue to my white whale frame. Over the years my skin has turned from a very pale tan to a bluish white, the sort of bluish white you see on the belly of a channel catfish pulled out of the Mississippi in springtime. A hot water shower disguises the degeneration.
I was not always squeaky clean.
When I was a kid, growing up in Rat Coulee, county of Trempealeau, state of Wisconsin, I was covered with scales six days of the week. I suspect that a few Pierce County Journal readers out there know what I mean, folks who grew up on farms without benefit of indoor plumbing. I once asked an elderly neighbor why she installed watering cups in her barn and had no running water in her house. She answered, “It's lots easier to water your kids than to water your cows.”
City folks had bathtubs, but tenant farmers didn't. What we had was a sink in the kitchen, with a slop pail underneath. I washed my face and my hands with a big bar of stinky Lifebuoy on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Sunday, But under my clothes were scales. Not fish scales, but DIRT scales. I don't think I ever smelled, but how am I to tell because none of the other farm kids who sat next to the potbellied stove in the one-room schoolhouse lived in a house with benefit of indoor facilities. Come to think of it, my mother took sponge baths every day and she smelled a lot better than most of the family. So perhaps I did smell.
Then came Saturday. My mother set up the big washtub in the summer kitchen where she cleaned and candled our eggs. I was ordered to strip. As I stood there in the altogether, shivering next to the frosty window overlooking the front porch, she poured steaming water from the wood cookstove's reservoir into the galvanized tub. When it was one-third full, I stuck a scaly toe in: “Whoof! Hot!”
“Now don't lollygag around until the water gets cold,” she admonished, plopping a hunk of pink Lifebuoy into the steamy caldron. So as my body took on the hue of a frightened lobster I lathered up without much enthusiasm while mother went back into the kitchen to tune into “Your Hit Parade.” As Frank Sinatra's young voice drifted in from the Coronado radio, I washed a little here, a little there, until the water began to resemble the back waters of the Trempealeau River during dog days.
Then mother would check behind my ears, toss me a towel which I used to wipe off the sludge before it froze to my frame.
And then it was my father's turn, and he'd howl a bit as he lowered himself into a fresh batch of steamy H20 from the reservoir. I've always wondered what he looked like naked, all 6 feet 1 inch of him sitting in that galvanized tub. His knees, jutting up and probably almost touching his earlobes. I tried to peek just once, but drew back in a hurry when he yelled “SHUT THAT DOOR!”
Once he finished, my mother tossed the water out onto the porch and front lawn, dad got dressed, and we stood on the linoleum floor anxious to go into town for Saturday night shopping and a picture show.
On Sunday mornings, the front porch edge was festooned with gray icicles, but we were white as the snow on our way to Sunday services.
Dave would like to hear from you. Phone him at 715-426-9554.