I’ve been living out of home now for 20 years. I moved out of the family nest at 18 into a house I shared with a girlfriend. Since then most of the bath towels in our home are ones I moved out with. Folding them this morning, I realise I’ve turned into my Grandmother. Long threads hanging from the guts of some towels, seams ripped up the sides and hanging in loops along the edge on others. Worn towels, stained and faded towels with a handful of new ones. Fuck, am I really that tight? Just buy some new ones Nom, for fucks sake!
I’m reminded of the towels in the bathroom linen at my Grandparents when I was a child. So thin and threadbare from years of drying countless bodies. Times were tough for a long time for my Gran and Pop. New towels were a luxury. Being thrift was a necessity and in the end became habit for them. My parents would gift new ones for them for Christmas, birthdays and the likes and they would swiftly be hidden away in the ‘good linen’ cupboard, saved for a rainy day. Way up high where no one could reach.
The old bathroom wall was painted purple, with the biggest fucking smurf painted on it you’re ever going to see. Why you ask? No bloody clue, it just was. I think one of my uncles painted it. I wish I had a picture of it to prove it because nobody in their right mind would believe me. A dark purple wall with a giant arse, smurf on it! For years there was no bath in there, just a shower and toilet. Up high fixed to the wall next to the smurf was an old bar heater that heated anything under it. Too bad if you weren’t under it! Having said that, the heater didn’t matter much to us kids because it wasnt often we were allowed to have a shower. The kids used the outside laundry.
The old, cold, concrete trough in the outside laundry was the bath. That double trough saw as many kids bums as it did loads of washing. Including mine and my boys! It seriously makes me giggle. When all the family was home, it was a production line of kids and baths. Kid after kid, dunked in the trough full of warm water and bubbles. A jug with fresh warm water rinsed soapy hair. Face washers held over eyes so the soap didn’t sting your eyes. One, two, three, WHOOSH went the clean water over your head. Blowing raspberries through the warm water, pushing our hair back of our faces, we would laugh and giggle… some cried!
If you were lucky, you could have a bath on your own and not share with a sibling or cousin. Our mums would hoist us up and over the edge into the trough. Splashing bubbles over the window behind us and down the front of Mum. A big glassy brown cake of Pears soap slipped around the bottom between our crossed knees and ankles. The rough, sandy bottom of the trough prickled your bum. It was fun and warm in the bubbly water, until YOU GOT OUT!
Being an outside laundry, the room would be one of two things, stinkin’ friggin’ hot or freezing fucking cold. It was a quick, quick, quick, wrap you up in a towel and run inside to get dry. Standing in front of Mum between her knees, she would rub us all over to dry us quick, then lay the towel over our head. Underneath the big threadbare towel, like a big top, mum would slip her head under too. Nose to nose, looking directly in my eyes she would go through the daily questions in her slow, inquisitive drawl while she dried my long hair. What’s yoooour name little girl? Naomi, I would giggle. Where do yoooou live little girl? Wattle Avenue Wendouree, I would snicker. When’s yoooour birthday little girl? And I would answer with my birth date, all the time giggling under the towel, nose to nose, coffee and cigarette breath with my mum. I realise now, that all those questions were for my safety, so I knew who I was, and where I was from. The questions would change every night. Quite smart really, coffee and ciggie or not…
I’m happy to say now that they use their new towels. The rainy days finally arrived. I probably should invest in new ones, to replace the worn ones, but somewhere in among my worn old towels is a comfort. At Gran and Pops I used to search for that one towel, a worn, bone coloured, almost transparent towel with hardly any cotton left in it, just the frame-work or skeleton of a towel. It sounds odd I guess. Not that I have any to that degree of worn as I inspect them as I fold, it still occurs to me that those days of bathing in the laundry, in the old concrete trough, in the middle of winter and the freezing cold were some if the warmest memories I have.
Of course, no family ritual is worthwhile if your children don’t get to experience it too. On past visits to my Grandparents I have ensured that our two boys didn’t mis out on the experience of a life time. The old, gritty bottomed concrete trough held my boys bottoms too. They laughed as I poured fresh water over their heads, as they splashed in the makeshift bath that no doubt their grandfather had bathed in too. They loved every minute of it. How could they not? It’s my history, and now theirs.
Make sure you turn the teapot twice clockwise and once anticlockwise!