One of the same tubs used to put out a clothes washing doubled as a bath tub which we placed behind the big wood and coal burning warm morning heater that that stood catty-cornered in our big back room.
Bath water was heated both on the wood and coal cook stove in our kitchen as well as on top of the big heater. We did usually change water between individual baths and heating said water was the responsibility of each individual bather.
Being the eldest of four boys, I had the honor of going first. But if Keeter, who was next in line, decided that I hadn’t dirtied up my water too badly, he would simply add a kettle of hot water to it and follow suit. Andy, who was third in line, would not, even at a very early age, consider bathing in used water, nor would baby brother, Steve.
Mom and Dad had other bathing arrangements. Dad had to have a bath every night because he was a coal miner and worked mostly in mines that did not have bath houses. He literally had to be scrubbed down and rinsed off a couple of times each night to keep from turning the bed clothing black. Suffice to say that nobody ever thought about reusing Dad’s bath water but Mom usually bathed in his first tub, and her water provided his pre-wash.
We boys stayed much cleaner in warm weather. We dammed up a “swimming hole” with sand, gravel and big rocks in Blair Branch in front of the house. It was slate lined, sides and bottom, about fifteen feet long, eight or so feet wide and about three feet deep in the middle. It wasn’t deep enough to do any swimming but it was the ultimate bath tub. I know people who would shell out big bucks to have a carbon copy of it their homes today.
We kept bars of soap in a coffee can at the base of a tree trunk beside the water hole and kept towels and wash cloths hung to dry on its lower limbs. From late April until mid October, that’s where we took our baths. The only downside was that a big crawdad might latch onto our toes.
The bathing alternative to the swimming hole happened any time it rained. Our big house was L shaped so the roof drained from the eaves in deep, 45-degree channels. If the “swimming hole” was the ultimate bath tub, the roof drains made the ultimate showers. Even a light drizzle would send a steady stream tumbling 25 feet from the house top. If the rain was heavy, the downpour would literally knock us over.
In addition to bathing, we frequently caught enough water in the big wash tubs to put out an entire washing, thereby saving the hour or so of labor required to draw it from the well one bucket at a time.
For whatever reason, clothing washed in pure rainwater felt much better and looked brighter than it did when the washing was done with well water. And bathing in rain water simply made me feel much better all over.
To this day, if you are driving along Charlie Brown Road and see me standing in the lawn out in the rain with a bar of soap and a wash cloth in my hands, don’t be surprised. I’m simply taking a bath. However, unlike my days of youth on Blair Branch, Loretta now insists that I wear swim trunks to lessen her embarrassment.