My Water Closet


If it is true that our experiences, especially those at an early age, help shape us, then my early experiences without adequate plumbing may have “warped me in the cradle”. However, that is understandable because my early years were spent using an outhouse that sat at the end of our deep, sloping back yard. At night we used a “slop jar”, a porcelain receptable best left to the imagination. A weekly bath was taken sitting in a Number 2 Washtub, which required even a young child to sit with heels tucked next to buttocks. However, that changed when I was about ten years old because (somehow)  my mother moved us to a mill house near the plant where she worked. It had three bedrooms, a kitchen where an oil heater held court, a living room, and one indoor bathroom. All of this space shared by our mother, her four daughters, and two sons. From that point on, I never returned to an outhouse, unless camping on the Appalachian Trail.

About 1870 wealthier home owners began installing indoor toilets. Prior to that, the term bathroom was quite literal—it was a room where a bathtub was located for the sole purpose of bathing. However, soon rooms were added to homes to house the new indoor plumbing, the toilet. Some houses can still be seen that have the appendage-like structures added to accommodate the new and more sanitary system for waste disposal. The new,  indoor convenience was called many things-a water closet, a bathroom, a toilet, a lavatory, or one of many other term or terms.  But no matter what it is called, the new, indoor convenience is a much better way of taking care of a certain necessities we all share. A user of outhouses and make-do bathtubs on a kitchen floor, I have a great appreciation for indoor plumbing, but I cringe at the lack of privacy the modern home lavatory offers.

All the houses I have lived in, prior to the present one, were older houses that had dated bathrooms remolded over the years by various owners. The Victorian farmhouse my wife and I moved from three years ago had no original indoor plumbing, so creativity ruled as indoor plumbing was added by various owners. We even built a new bathroom in the corner of a large, upstairs bedroom. However, the house on Lake Norman where we presently live is the most recently built. Its master bathroom is as large as the bedroom my brother and I shared in the mill house.

Like all modern master baths, ours has a walk-in closet, a vanity with two sinks, a shower, a bathtub, and an alcove just  large enough for a toilet. It is designed for two people to prepare for their work day, to get up and not have to wait until space is available. There is space for two people to do whatever is necessary while sharing the room: Brushing teeth is possible because of two sinks; one can shave while the other applies lip gloss or whatever; one can bathe while the other showers or the shower is large enough for both at once; the walk-in closet is large enough for both to choose the day’s clothes; and that alcove offers false privacy for bodily functions. The modern, master bath facilitates individual convenience for the up-to-date working couples. However, privacy is debatable.

I love my wife, Mary Ann. I like her. Yet something about the mystique in our relationship is lost when she and I use our  individual sinks at the same time. Brushing of teeth is noisy, messy, and deeply personal. A person’s tooth hygiene should be shared with only his or her dentist, not spouse or lover or best friend. I do not want her watching me shave or see her remove make-up. Some functions are best when left to be done in private, especially that which takes place in that uninviting alcove.

I have heard bathrooms called “reading rooms” and that is for some folks an accurate phrase. Such a bathroom likely will have a rack of some type next to the toilet which holds magazines, newspapers, and other reading materials. Such a toilet space is equipped for a personal, leisurely experience. However, the spiteful toilet alcoves in the modern master bath prohibit any such relaxation because they offer no room for a receptable of reading material. The user is forced to remember to carry something to read to the reading room. But the entire design of the modern master bath is to discourage relaxation and encouraging a rush from one activity to another.

I do not pine for “the old days” when a long walk was required to attend to certain functions. Nor do I miss the Number 2 Washtub. However, I  do wish designers of new homes would encourage a domestic pace unlike that required by the world at large. Such a designed home will offer a place for respite, not more angst.

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