Learning to Appreciate a Hot Bath
By DARRYL MANZER.
Published in The Signal, 8-21-2005.
[RETURN TO DARRYL MANZER INDEX]
One fine April morning in 1966 I got out of bed and did my chores. It was the day I had to go into Newhall from the Pico Canyon oil town of Mentryville, to show the California Highway Patrol that I did, indeed, have rear-view mirrors on my motorcycle. I had been caught without them on the bike when I crossed the county-maintained road.
Once my chores were completed, and with just a quick breakfast, I went upstairs in the "Big House" and got ready to go to town.
I even took a bath.
The warm water in the deep, old, claw-footed tub was the perfect way to remove the dirt and grime of morning chores. Little did I know it was the last bath I would take in that tub or any other for many months to come.
Telling my mother where I was headed (for a change), I got on the motorcycle and rode down the canyon toward Highway 99. It was a wonderful ride. There was no helmet required in those days. I rode down the canyon with the wind in my hair and bugs on my face.
It seemed life couldn't get any better.
We take such simple pleasures for granted. A warm bath or shower, clean towels and clean clothes. True, in 1966 it was only recently that we got full-time electricity in Mentryville, but we had just about everything we wanted. We sure did have everything we needed.
Showers weren't always available when I served on submarines. We had only so much water being made, and we didn't take saltwater showers. A running joke was that you knew you needed a shower when you turned around to tell someone else they needed one and there was nobody there.
Those were the times I remembered that April day in 1966.
Through the years there have been other times when modern conveniences were not available like the water-main breaks and electricity outages after a hurricane or ice storm in Virginia. I wasn't in the SCV for the 1994 earthquake, but I'm sure that for those of you who were, you can remember what it was like. No power, water or natural gas.
Many Americans right now don't have the ability to take a shower or bath when they want one. I'm not writing about those in poverty, although I'm not forgetting them. They really don't have a choice in the matter. But the Americans I'm referring to are those who have decided they would protect us, instead. In Iraq, Afghanistan, on ships and all the other places our armed forces serve, they suffer through it and do so gladly.
Imagine, if you can, being in the SCV on a hot summer day and having to live in a flak vest, Kevlar helmet and long-sleeved uniform, carrying a large pack of food, ammunition and water, and wearing heavy boots. Now imagine walking from Lyons Avenue to Castaic Junction wearing all of that, every day for a month. You sleep outside. You eat outside. You make whatever shade you can, using whatever tarp or shelter is handy.
Now add the risk of being shot at or blown up by an "improvised explosive device," and you really question the sanity of those doing the job.
Of course our sailors, soldiers, Marines, Coast Guardsmen and airmen complain about the conditions. Not only is it their right to complain, but I know it is also their duty. If they didn't complain, the officers would think they weren't happy. It's not good to have unhappy troops.
Way back when, the bathrooms in the Big House at Mentryville were state-of-the-art. They even had good, albeit gas, lights. (That kept the house temperature up in the summer.) In the field, our troops don't even have that much.
I recently read that the highest re-enlistment rates are among the troops now deployed. I know the bonus offered to many of them is high, and the money is tax-free in the war zone but that doesn't explain why they do it, either.
They are there because they heard a call of duty for whatever reasons they may have. They are there because we asked them to be there. No, we may not agree with the war or how we got into Iraq, but our troops are there. No matter what, they shouldn't return "till it's over, over there." Love it or hate it, that is the fact we have to live with every day our troops are there.
It isn't easy to keep this freedom we enjoy. We have to work for it. At this time in our history, every action we take we should remember what our troops are doing for us each day. We should never forget, and we must support them every way we can.
In case you're wondering why it took me months to take another bath after that April day in 1966 I didn't make it across Highway 99. I spent most of the rest of the year with my left leg in a cast, sitting in a wheelchair and having sponge baths for almost four months.
But then came the day, that glorious day, when the cast came off and I could once again sit in that huge, deep, tub of hot water. I stayed there until the water was cold and my skin wrinkled and turning blue. It was about the best feeling I'd ever had.
I hope our servicemen and women finish the job soon. I know that a long, hot shower or bath is pretty high on the "must do" list when they come home. It is one of those "been there, done that" experiences. You can't really understand unless you've done it.
And the next time you see someone in uniform, don't forget to thank them for what they are doing. Our thank-yous are nearly as good as a long, hot shower.
Hey, I said "almost."
Darryl Manzer lived in the Santa Clarita Valley oil town of Mentryville in the 1960s as a teenager. He now lives in Virginia.