We learned it was only cheap steel—and not cast iron, after all—the day we tore out the old tub in the summer of 2016. I gazed at its marred surface, wounded by love and use. The previous homeowners had applied adhesive anti-slip treads in the shape of flowers to its bottom and then ripped them off, damaging the tub’s finish. I could never scrub away those blemishes in the enamel, and the sight of them had often irritated me over the years. But now the tub was going away and taking its scars with it.
“Are you ready?” Husband said, handing me a pair of work gloves.
“Yep.” I pulled them on. “Let’s do this.”
Then he and I muscled out the old tub, much lighter than it had appeared when it was larger than life, occupying so much space in our bathroom. He led the way as we inched the beast through the door and out of the house for good. This tub—never a thing of beauty but one of function—was not only a cleaning vessel but also a time capsule.
As we hefted the tub down the back yard sidewalk, I heard three-year-old Flicka’s wails again, her skin screaming from the stinging nettles, and then my next door neighbor Glenda who had witnessed it too, advising from over the fence, “Rinse her off in the tub!” The bathtub washed the nettle hairs from my girl’s skin that day before the baking soda paste did its work.
I recalled the weeks I had washed dishes in the bathtub during our kitchen renovation of 2004. I had been pregnant out to there with Dicka at the time, and my low back had never been so happy to see a working kitchen sink again.
I saw the girls’ communal bath times, the water tinted by food coloring. Sometimes miniature Dachshund Dexter joined the party of three for a swim; the flapping kids didn’t scare him one bit. But once, when he was only a spectator, the water became too warm for preschooler Flicka, and she leaned over the edge and threw up on him.
The bathing hours were often teachable times too.
“Jry me off, Mama,” four-year-old Flicka said one day.
“Actually, the word starts with a ‘d’,” I said. “It’s ‘Dry me off’.”
“Mama,” said two-year-old Ricka. “I go potty in the tub.”
I grimaced. “Oh no. Don’t do that, honey.”
“No, it’s okay. I do it.” Her tone was lilting, accommodating.
“Everyone out!” I said a little too late. Thanks to Ricka’s generous donation to bath time, I was forced to do the vilest fishing of all and afterward, to spritz the tub with a good dose of bleach.
Deep into their elementary school years, Flicka, Ricka, and Dicka entered their hair dyeing stage, and the bathtub took on a new job title: Salon Assistant. Of all the possible colors, the girls chose only reds: Vampire Red, Pillarbox Red, Rock ’N’ Roll Red, and Infra Red. Maybe the brand name of the semi-permanent hair dye—Manic Panic—got its inspiration from how mothers felt when they saw their kids’ heads dangling over the edges of their bathtubs, the dye—like blood—dripping off them in viscous strands and circling their drains.
The tub had also hosted the dozens of small houseguests we had entertained over the years. They were burgeoning archaeologists, those little ones, their skin collecting dirt samples from Folwell Park, Webber Park, and other parks in the city. And when they had finished their bathtime routines, they clung to their memories but left a coating of grit behind.
Dad had sat, contented, in our bathtub too, like one of my babies, his head drooping. The bone marrow transplant had given him something, but taken away more, including his sense of modesty.
“Dad, I hope this doesn’t embarrass you, me bathing you.” I squeezed a sponge full of warm water onto his back, taking care not to scrub his skin too hard.
“Nah.” He closed his eyes. “If I were a thirty-year-old man, sure. But not now. Not anymore.”
Husband and I lugged the tub to the end of the back yard and lowered it to the ground by the chain-link fence. We had an errand to run, but later we’d haul it to the alley for removal. We climbed into the car.
“Let’s take some pictures of the tub when we get back,” I said as we drove down Dowling Avenue North. “No, in the tub. Wouldn’t that be hilarious? With the caption: ‘Our yearly bath’. Or something.”
Husband grinned. “It can be our Christmas card this year.”
We returned to the house forty minutes later, but the area by the chain-link fence was bare. The bathtub was gone.
“Seriously?” Husband shook his head.
I wrinkled my nose. “Who would steal an old bathtub?”
But it didn’t matter. We didn’t need a sentimental send-off or funny snapshots to memorialize our once faithful roommate. We could just be thankful we had had the tub at all and let the memories wash over us.
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*Names in this blog have been changed to protect my family, neighbors, and friends in the neighborhood, and in a nod of appreciation to the beloved Swedish author Maj Lindman, I’ve renamed my three blondies Flicka, Ricka, and Dicka.