I’ve been hearing lots of fun stories from my mom and aunts about their childhoods in Grosvenor, Texas (just north of Brownwood) where my grandfather was the superintendent of schools for 10 years or so. When I have a chance this weekend with them, I’m going to ask about what outhouses were like when they were a kid. I have a lot of questions about that. We see them in the old movies and cartoons with the crescent moon on the door and the Sears catalogue, but what were they really like? Knowing my grandmother, theirs was probably scrubbed and cleaned regularly and smelled good. Is it possible for an outhouse to smell okay? And not have flies?
So thinking about their bathroom experiences of childhood made me think of my own. At first thought, my assumption is that bathrooms from all my growing up years are exactly like they are today, nothing has really changed, but then as I examine it, that isn’t the case at all.
Our bathroom in my first home, on King Street in Amarillo, was small and had a bathtub, a sink, and a commode. I don’t remember the tile or the colors, but I do remember the decorative plaster fish on the wall with separate bubbles coming out of his mouth. He was a very friendly, jaunty fish. I don’t think we had a shower in that bathroom. I don’t remember a shower curtain and I know I never took a shower there. There was a window to the outside on the bath wall and sometimes when we were being given a bath I could hear the neighborhood boys still outside hollering and playing. It always made me kind of nervous because I was NAKED and the window was RIGHT THERE!
The sink in that bathroom had no cabinet under it, just a bare drainpipe going into the wall. I remember it so vividly because of a windfall that came from that sink. In those days of loose teeth and a tooth fairy, I was the lucky beneficiary even when Mackie lost a tooth! When she lost a tooth and put it under her pillow, she would get some silver coinage but I would get three shiny pennies. Yes, it was always SHINY pennies, not just three pennies. I looked forward to every loose tooth Mackie had so I could have my three shiny pennies. But at one point, Mackie must have been looking at herself in the bathroom mirror as she wiggled her loose tooth and she lost her tooth down the drain. Horrors! How is the tooth fairy going to know that she even lost a tooth? I’m sure Mom and Dad reassured us somehow that she would know. The next morning, Mackie and I were delighted to get up and find a whole dollar bill hanging over the crook in the drainpipe and up on the sink–three shiny pennies.
Our bathroom in our next house was a completely different story. This house was built in 1902 and we moved it to our farm in the country. Daddy and Uncle Homer did everything to make that house livable, from plumbing and electricity to flooring, painting, new walls, you name it. The bathroom was larger than the bathroom we had had in Amarillo and Daddy installed two sinks in it. I think it probably just came with one, but there was room for two. Dad got lots of the materials to rebuild the house from “the plant,” the place he worked out north of Amarillo. He brought home two sinks and the cabinet that they fit into and installed them. The sinks each had two faucets, one for hot water and one for cold. That was the most inconvenient arrangement when you just wanted to wash your face in warm water, but we made do with that for years. Eventually that bathroom had a better sink and faucets, but that may not have happened until I had moved away. One unique feature bathrooms had back in the 60s and before that they don’t have anymore is a slot in the back of the medicine cabinet. The metal medicine cabinet with the mirror on the front was a standard fixture in all bathrooms and the back had a little slot. That slot, though mostly unused even by my time, was for used razor blades, a safe way to dispose of them. I guess safe until someone needed to open the wall for something and finds years and years worth of rusty blades.
A unique feature that our bathroom had was a window by the bathtub. Not to the outdoors like we had had in Amarillo, but a window that went to another room in the house, the back porch. But this back porch had been enclosed and was an actual room, though it obviously had been the outside of the house at one point because of this window, a window from my bedroom, and another from the kitchen to the porch. I always liked these windows that didn’t go outside. I think more houses should have them. When we were working on the house, all of us kids would go tearing through the house and it was such fun to crawl through that window to make an escape. That bath did have a shower, but I can’t swear when it was installed. Maybe not in those early years.
When we moved to Colorado, we were living on easy street and we had a house with TWO bathrooms. Really uptown now, we not only had two bathrooms, but one of them had a shower stall. Pretty fancy stuff. Three years in Colorado and my only bathroom memory is learning to shave my legs, but I’ll let that story wait.
It seems like bathrooms haven’t really changed in the last 40 years or so, but then I realize that I have a HUGE bathtub in my house like I never could have imagined as a kid and I have a shower stall in the same bathroom. Two sinks with hot and cold running water coming out of the same tap. And a toilet that doesn’t go to a septic system so I never have to worry if it has been raining for too many days (I spared you those stories).Â And more mirrors than we ever had in our whole house, much less just that bathroom. And my closets are all in the bathroom now, too, and I hadn’t even thought about that being a big change, but it certainly is different.