Baths & Showers: A lesson in Sharing

We were so good at sharing we had to learn how to enjoy something on our own.

“Y’all better learn how to share!” Mom would say, as if she was introducing a new concept. Zach and I had been sharing all of our lives. We shared a bedroom, and a bed. between snatching the covers and sticking your freezing cold feet on your brother’s back, we understood that sharing was a momentary truce in the constant struggle for the upper hand. Usually we had be admonished to share if one of us had gotten a new toy or item of interest. We were so used to sharing everything that if we ever got the chance to pick out something new, we would go out of our way to find what the other didn’t like so we didn’t have to share. I think that’s why I play guitar. We were so good at sharing we had to learn how to enjoy something on our own.

We even shared the tub and shower. Mom had one of those old claw footed cast iron tubs in which a grown man could bathe fully submerged if he wanted to wait long enough for the water fill. We shared a bath until we couldn’t fit in the tub without touching one another. Which was a sure way to start a fist fight, the last thing Momma wanted to deal with while she was trying to get us clean for bed. And man did we get filthy playing in the woods and cotton field behind our house. I remember more than once mom making me get back in the tub cause I still had “granny beads”,  or dirt in the cracks in my neck.

Once we outgrew the tub, we had to “learn how to share” a shower. I was half grown before I figured out how to regulate the hot water on our single knobbed shower, so I usually conceded the position closest to the nozzle to Zach, who by some wizardry understood this conundrum. At least I trusted that he did. When Zach was feeling particularly spiteful he would tell me that he had “put Ajax” in the shower. I’m not really certain why I was so mortified of Ajax, but I was. I would scream, holler and cry until Mom would come in and ask what was going on. “He put Ajax in here!” I would explain. Zach would feign ignorance which added to Mom’s confusion.

He didn’t always torment me in the shower though, we often played until the hot water ran out. Our house had a peculiarity in the plumbing where if you flushed the commode or ran water while the shower was running, the hot water cut out and left the miserable bather with a blast of freezing cold water. Sometimes I think Mom did this on purpose to speed us up a little bit.

One particular time I remember Zach and I taking a shower and having a rollicking good time singing. We were stomping our feet in a rhythm while Zach sang, “I’m Tom Sawyer” and I would answer “I’m Huckleberry Finn.” We did this at the top of our lungs. It was great fun. We hadn’t learned that music had critics yet. We must have kept it up until we sensed that the hot water was about to run out when all of the sudden Dad burst into the bathroom like a charging elephant, snatched the shower door open and spanked both of us soundly. We were both a bit dumbfounded because usually Dad gave us a warning shot. We learned later that he had been telling us to pipe down since the opening line of our concert.

Now that I have kids of my own I find myself echoing my parents as I try to teach my kids how to play nicely together and share for goodness sake. Although I’m pretty sure they’re having so much fun that they don’t hear me most of the time.


Nursing Homes

I was probably too young to go, but my parents were committed, so I went to everything.

I don’t remember whose idea it was to take small children to sing at the nursing home, probably some adult who did not take into consideration how terrifying elderly wheelchair bound people can be to a five year old child. I was probably too young to go, but my parents were committed, so I went to everything. The nursing home we chose was a dismal place. The residents looked completely defeated, the staff had a martial air about them and the whole facility gave you the feeling of complete hopelessness, more like a prison than a care facility. Perhaps the one we visited was simply outdated, but I’ve visited others as an adult and I get a similar feeling.

I was too young to read so I was only obligated to sing from memory. My brother Zach, and Corey Barber did not get off of the hook so easily, since they were capable of not only reading, but counting too, which enabled them to use the Sing Unto The Lord hymnal. Sis. Vivian, Corey’s grandmother sat at the piano with her back to us and called out the page numbers to the each hymn as she played. In our church, we hardly called a song by it’s name, but rather used it’s page number. “Please turn to page 315.” Page 315 was Jesus Hold My Hand. Page 94 was Amazing Grace. As Zach and Corey turned the right page, Sister Vivian would play  an intro on the piano, and by then we were ready to sing. I’m sure our mothers enjoyed it. I think the residents might have just enjoyed seeing some small children, even if they had trouble hearing us. I did not enjoy it. I wasn’t miserable, I just wanted to play.

It was during one of these fidgety moments, probably about the third song, that I decided to pinch Zach on the rear end. He whipped around mid chorus of I’ll Fly Away and gave me a mean look and probably would have hit me but everyone was watching. In the midst of all this the music and the singing never stopped. Mom came and grabbed me by the hand led me to the side of the makeshift auditorium. It was really more of a wheelchair parking lot. Barring this incident, the show kept right on going. As Mom focused on singing I wondered around on the fringe of a crowd.

As we were about to leave, Mom went up towards the front to do something, possibly sing and I was left alone in my seat. One of the residents, an elderly lady in a hospital bed, pointed to me with a crooked finger and said in a weak voice, “Come here to me little boy.” Rear end pinching aside, I was an obedient little boy and I went straight over to her and said, “Yes Ma’am.”

She took my hand and put it on the back of her neck and said, “Scratch here.”

I would like to pause here and give some advice. If you are ever in a strange place and an elderly lady in a hospital bed asks you to scratch her neck, don’t do it. It’s a trap.

No amount of preliminary lecture on my behavior could have prepared me for a situation like this. There I was, not even in Elementary School, in a nursing home, doing the very thing that my parents had spanked me for not doing, minding my elders. As I was scratching the lady’s neck, a nurse rushed over and took my hand away. “Don’t touch the patients.” She said firmly. I didn’t get a chance to explain myself as she led me to Mom.

I’m glad to report that during my subsequent visits to nursing homes over the past twenty five years I behaved myself much better, although a lot of time I still get that same dismal feeling. I will also add that unless you’re playing like Merle Travis or Chet Atkins, don’t bring your electric guitar to the nursing home.