This is one of those memories from the homestead that we were able to laugh about afterward. Many wondered how we handled life’s necessities in our primitive living conditions, living in a tipi for 8 months, and then a small log cabin with no running water. Here is how we took a bath…
Bath day began with multiple trips down the 45-degree incline to the spring to haul up fresh water. The fire was stoked and metal tubs were suspended over and set around the fire to heat the water. We could usually manage to heat 8-10 gallons at a time if we filled all our metal containers at once. An hour later, the pots over the fire would be simmering, the pails on the stones next the the pit would be warm enough, and we would begin mixing our bath water. An antique enamel saucepan was taken from its hook on an overhanging tree branch to be used as a dipper, and a few scoops of hot water were poured in, then a few scoops of cold from a fresh spring bucket. This was repeated until the water was the perfect temperature for a bath.From the fire pit we headed with said bucket of bath water and dipper to the tipi which had been converted to a bath house.
Bathing 7 people in a tent in the middle of the woods was a challenge my creative mother met with aplomb. The largest container we had that could hold water was drafted – it happened to be a cooler – and set on a towel in the middle of the small space we were able to clear on the floor. No boys allowed during the girl’s baths, and vice-versa. If it was a cool day, the stove inside the tipi was started up to keep the space cozy, and the flap was kept closed to minimize drafts.
Now, let me explain about our tub – this was not your generous, pack-enough-food-for-an-army cooler – this was a small cooler with not much more capacity than two 5-gallon buckets set side-by-side. Actually, an ideal size for a baby bath. Not so great for an adult. I don’t know how my parents did it. I was half way in between child and adult – at 13 I was over 5 ft. but skinny as a willow switch. And I had this fridge-bathing technique down to a science. I would carefully fold my legs and tuck my knees into my armpits and wedge myself into the cooler to get as much of my body into the warm water and out of the drafty air, submerging myself somehow nearly to my neck. Not a relaxing soak by any means, but it did the job.
The line up started with the cleanest child, and moved to the dirtiest (guess who?), with new water added to keep the temperature up. After skin was cleaned, one wrapped in a towel and bent over the cooler to have Mom rinse your hair. A ladle full of water, soap up with shampoo, and another dipper-full or two until the suds were gone. I don’t think we bother with conditioner. Finally, you found a pair of shoes and ran out to the campfire to warm up and let the heat dry your hair.
We used that cooler for most of the summer, then graduated to the largest storage tote that Wal-Mart sold. Wow, was that ever fun. We could teach the little ones to swim in that thing. That lasted for over a year, until Mom was so pregnant with #7 that she couldn’t fit in the ‘tub’ anymore, and we made room in the cabin for an old, cast iron, claw foot tub – something my mother had always wanted anyway. But guess what – we were still hauling and heating the water ourselves. As for showers, that is a tale for another time….
You can find more memories and stories from our life on the homestead here.