Tag Archives: bathing

An “Aha!” Moment

23 Mar

Last night I was chatting with a friend and she remarked that when she was a young girl her hair was the same shade as mine. “I washed it on Saturday night and wrapped it in a scarf, so it would be nice for Sunday. We only washed our hair once a week. You couldn’t get soap, you know, because it was rationed during the war.”  My friend is British, a war bride and closer to my mum’s age than mine.

And suddenly it all clicked!

I have several Woman’s Day magazines from the 40s, saved by my ever-thrifty mother and grandmother.  There are frequent articles about making-do, turning men’s unworn suits into clothing for the rest of the family, and such. Some of them referred to substitutes for soap. Fat is used to make soap – and munitions. It just didn’t register with me that there was a reason for the things my mother did.

We washed our hair once a week, and took three baths a week. Saturday night so we’d be clean for church, plus Monday  and Wednesday nights. You don’t sweat in the winter, and in the summer there’s nobody around to know if you stink.  And we always wore our clothes two days, letting them rest a day in between.  The idea of wearing things twice never fazed me, and I made sure our girls did the same. Even my uniforms at school were purchased with the idea you wore the blouses twice. Too much washing wears things out, and although nobody had a dryer in the 50s (and precious few in the 60s) bashing things around weakens the threads.  I much prefer to hang our clothes on the line; it’s such a Zen thing. Bend and reach. Bend and reach. No hurry, no pressure, no grabbing things out of the dryer before the wrinkles set.  I always told the girls, “that stuff in the lint filter is your underwear”.

So there is was. Not some aberrant behaviour on my mum’s part but a hold-over from the frugal days of World War II – the war her husband and her brothers-in-law were waging overseas.


Saturday Night Bath

23 Aug

As I was taking my shower last night, and enjoying the feeling of the hot water on my back, I thought of my mother and her aversion to water.

My grandmother said that even as a child, my mom would have a fit if the bathwater was too deep. She never liked swimming, and seemed to consider showers almost sinful. After she broke her hip, she had to use a bath chair and a hand-held shower head. “I never feel clean. I really need to soak.”

It would never have occurred to my sister or me to use the shower at home, and the house where I lived with the Late & Unlamented didn’t even have one. The first shower I ever had (not counting those horrible mad dashes after gym class in high school) was when I was 30, living on my own after parting ways with the L & U.

Growing up, my sister and I were only allowed three baths a week – one on Saturday night so we’d be clean for church, one on Tuesday and another on Thursday. My mom claimed we didn’t sweat in the winter and in the summer there wasn’t anybody around to smell us. I’m sure that if she could have figured a way to cut it back to twice a week, she would have.

And a once a week shampoo in the stationary tub in the basement.  Who needed greasy kid stuff? By Friday, our hair stuck to our heads as if it had been plastered on.