Tag Archives: shampoo

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.

Bath Towels and Shower Stalls

18 Jan

There was a segment on one of the morning TV shows recently about how often you should shower and wash your towels. The answers probably scandalized most folks who grew up in the 1950s. They suggested a towel and a shower every day, and one woman said she took two showers a day. She had one in the morning to wake her up, and then she “just couldn’t sleep” if she went to bed without showering again. Now, that makes no sense at all. How can the same process have two completely opposite effects?

My mother must have been spinning in her grave.

Summer and winter, we took three baths a week. Saturday night, so we’d be clean for church, Tuesday and Thursday. You didn’t sweat in the winter and you weren’t in school in the summer for people to complain if you smelled funky.  Both the house where we lived until I was 10 and the place where my folks lived until my dad was called to Cleveland had showers, but I don’t think they were ever used. Certainly my sister and I never had a shower, and I don’t think my mom did, either. Always a bath. Even when I was away at school, I always opted for a bath, although showers were available. My mother insisted “a woman has to soak”.

I became a “young lady” in the middle of the summer I turned 14, and asked my mom if I could have a different washcloth for my face  during “that week”. “You’re you, all over” was the answer. The blasted washcloths were in the linen closet; I could have just taken one, but it wouldn’t have surprised me if she didn’t count the stupid things when she did the laundry.

And it would no more have crossed my mind to take a fresh towel every time I took a bath than to try to fly by flapping my arms. Our middle daughter did take a notion to try the “towel a day” business when she was about fourteen, and I had to lock the towels in our bedroom. I didn’t really object to the idea, but once she started, the other two decided it sounded good, too.  We just didn’t own enough towels to use that many every day. I suggested that each select their own color, and use their clothing allowance to buy themselves five or six towels. Obviously, nothing ever came of that.

We washed our hair once a week – Saturday night in the stationary tubs in the basement. By Friday afternoon, your hair was so oily it stuck together, but heaven forbid you should wash it in the middle of the week. Actually, as harsh as the shampoos were back then, you’d have had a headful of straw if you used the stuff more than twice a week.

And The Squire grew up in a house that did not even have an indoor bathroom until he was fourteen! We won’t even get into that.