January 20, 2011
The Best Way to Run Away without leaving Home
When I was twelve, my dad took by elder brother Stephen and I to Whiterock, a small seaside town south of Vancouver, to visit my dad's parents whom we called Nana and Grandad. One afternoon during the visit my Nana and I were discussing baths and showers, most likely brought on by the scolding I had received from her for taking a forty-five minute shower earlier that day (-we didn't have a shower at home). I remember telling her that my mom frequently enjoyed long, hot baths in the evening, and Nana's reaction was such that I began to worry about my mom's safety. Nana insisted that long hot baths were very bad for the heart and if my mother insisted on taking baths they should be lukewarm at best. She instructed me to pass on this vital information as soon as I got home, for she was sure my mom must be ignorant about the daily risk she was taking against her health. When I was finally able to tell my mom about what Nana had said, I expected her to be first, utterly shocked, and second, exceedingly grateful to me for passing on the life-saving information. It was my turn to be shocked, however, when for the first time ever, my mom let me in on a little secret: she and Nana did not agree on everything, and Nana should mind her own business. Reading in the bath was my mother's reward after a full day of doing everything she did for her family and community, and no one was going to take that away from her. In fact, she frequently encouraged all of us to do the same.
My mom's benevolence regarding baths extended beyond the family to include overnight guests. If someone we were hosting appeared tired, dirty, and unstrung from travel, she would offer them the bathtub. The summer I was eighteen I met a traveling German boy, just a little older than myself. He frequently came into the somewhat fancy outdoor adventure supply shop (which my dad liked to call 'The Yuppie Surplus') where I worked and finally asked me out to a movie. We became good friends and I invited him home on occasion. He had been staying with a family at their camp quite far out of town, helping them to build a log home, and frequently went without a bath or shower for several days in a row. My mom liked him and would often invite him to eat or have tea with us, but she would always ask a few times during his visit as his 'natural' body odour filled the room, " Patrick, wouldn't you like a nice, hot bath?" I would watch her pained face as he would smilingly refuse, completely unaware of the malodorous discomfort he was creating. When she pressed again, he would finally agree, and my relief would almost equal hers.
I have often heard women complain about mothers who think a hot bath and a cup of tea are the answer to all life's problems. I do not think for a moment my mom in naive enough to believe that, but she firmly holds (and I agree with her) that both tea and hot baths are great restoratives to the world-weary soul. Ours was a family of six children, who grew up in a smallish century-old house with one bathroom. Reading far into the night was the way my mom made time and space for herself. Many times I would arrive home late at night after a dance or a night out at a club, and there would be mom reading in the old claw-foot tub, her chest covered with facecloths, her toes skillfully manipulating the taps to add more hot water. Without looking up from War and Peace or Brideshead Revisited she would say, "Oh hello sweetie, did you have a good time? What time is it? Really? That late! I'll get out and you can get in and have a nice, hot bath..."
And I would.