*This is a work of nonfiction based on actual events as told to me by a family member, who experienced them firsthand; used with permission.
My maternal grandparents and their four children lived in a house owned by my uncle. As the oldest of my grandparents' children, he had already saved enough money to buy a house before his three younger sisters were out of school. It didn't hurt that the purchase price was just $2,800 back then.
It was a two-family home with an attic and a basement. The second floor was still under construction. So the family of six lived together in the first-floor apartment with two bedrooms and a single bathroom.
That meant six people had to share a single toilet and a single bathtub. The solution to sharing a bathtub among that many people was simple. Five out of six family members were prohibited from using it.
The bathtub didn't come with the house. My uncle had it installed personally. He was the owner of the house, and he had special privileges that included the sole brand-new bathtub he'd bought for himself.
Everyone else had to wash in the sink or a basin. According to my mother, it felt horrible knowing there was a perfectly good bathtub sitting barely used in the bathroom, but not being allowed to bathe in it.
My grandmother always stuck up for my uncle and his bathtub rules. "He paid for the house and he pays the water bill," she told my mother. "It would be a waste of water and money for everyone to take baths. Besides, I don't take a bath in the bathtub, so why does anyone else, except your brother, of course?"
My uncle always liked to take long baths. He would spend hours in the tub, reading the newspaper or just relaxing. My mother would often knock on the door and tell him he was using up all the hot water. My uncle would tell her to mind her own business.
The rest of the family would have to make do with cold water in the sink. My uncle always said that a hot bath was essential for his health. As a result, he was always well-rested and in good spirits. It was no wonder that my uncle was the only one who never got sick.
Life in those days was tough, especially for immigrants like my grandparents, who were trying to make a new life in America. They probably had little spare time to take baths, anyway. Washing up at the sink would have been quicker and easier. My grandfather worked long hours at a factory and my grandmother spent her days taking care of her children and keeping house. I can only imagine how cramped it must have been for all six of them to live under one roof.
Still, my mother really wishes she had been allowed to use that bathtub.
What do you think? Could you skip the showers and the baths for a simple splash in the bathroom sink instead? Comments are welcome.
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