Grandpa's Bath

One of my most vivid memories of my grandfather working in the coal mines happened when he came home from work. There was no indoor plumbing, no running water and no bathroom in my grandparents home, deep in the hollow, just outside of Shawnee, Ohio. Grandma kept a kettle of water on the stove and from about mid-afternoon on, she made sure the water was always hot. As she began her daily preparation of "supper", she also watched intently out the kitchen window. A little after 5 o'clock, most days, when grandpa didn't stop for a beer, grandma would hear his truck coming up the hollow, then up the steep driveway to the house. Grandma, at the first sound of grandpa's truck approaching, stopped whatever she was doing and stood ready at the door. She had already gathered together the wash-pan, the soap, the washcloths and towels. The hot water was in the wash-pan and everything was prepared when grandpa walked through the door.

Without a word, they began a ritual that was repeated hundreds, possibly thousands of times over the many years they were together. Grandpa sat down on a chair that grandma had pulled out from it's place at the kitchen table and had placed in the middle of the room, near the coal stove. Grandma would unbutton his shirt and grandpa would raise his arms as she pulled his work shirt and his undershirt off, over his head. Grandma began by lathering the warm wet washcloth with soap and gently scrubbing grandpa's face and neck. She rinsed and re-lathered the washcloth before proceeding to lift each of his arms and in turn washed them clean. She then washed his chest and his back, and after rinsing the washcloth again, she ran it across his head, loosening the dust from his hair.

I never heard a word exchanged between the two during this bathing ritual. As grandma washed the coal dust from his body, grandpa sat with his eyes closed, looking worn out from a hard days work. After she dressed him in a clean shirt and combed his hair, she poured him a cup of coffee. Grandpa would pour a little of his hot coffee onto his saucer and blow on it to cool it down, then sip it from the saucer. As he ate his supper, then began their conversation. Not with many words, but in that private, abbreviated chat that people who have been together for most of their lives speak. A look, a nod, and very few words were necessary for communication.

It was fascinating for me, a child of about 6 or 7 to see my grandpa being bathed like a child. I recall asking grandpa why grandma washed him. Grandpa laughed and said "Because grandma takes good care of me!"

by Sandie Cummins

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