By Dorothy Knight Burchett
Occasionally, when I’m between showers and I want to freshen up, I’ll run a bathroom sink full of very warm water, soap up the wash cloth and wash my face and arms. Every time I do, I’m reminded of how my mother used to wash my face and arms every morning before I got dressed and started my day. When I was a child, we had no bathroom. Neither did we have a hot water heater or running water. Mom carried the water in a bucket from the outside pump, heated it in a pan on the kitchen stove and put it in a basin, where she could use a wash cloth to wash me. I would stand as still as a small child could stand and complain about the water being too hot, or that I had soap in my eyes. Mom would say, sternly, “It’s not too hot!” Or “You’re all right!” And keep on washing. She would lather up with Palmolive soap and smooth the wash cloth firmly over my face and arms, then rinse them off. Palmolive soap was always used for face and arms. Lifeboy soap was used for baths—which I took in a wash tub in the middle of the living room. There were some who thought the odor of Lifeboy was offensive, but I liked it. In fact, people in the TV commercials complained about the odor, but extolled the virtue of its cleaning power. (Yes, we did have television.) it wasn’t long before the company (was it Lever Brothers?) took the odor out of the soap. It wasn’t long before I didn’t see it on supermarket shelves anymore. I don’t know why. Mom probably washed my face and arms for me when I was getting old enough to do it for myself, but I was her youngest child and, I think, she wanted to perform that act as a form of love as long as she could. In fact, she called me Babe (short for Baby) until the day she died. I was 30 years old at the time. Not all of my thoughts of my mother are pleasant. We both had our eccentricities and faults and failings. If I did something to displease her, she let me know in no uncertain terms, but, if I performed a simple task for her, she said, “That’s a good girl.” I don’t think I have a lot of Mom’s characteristics, but her influence has made an impact on me. I am who I am because of, or in spite of her. Everybody could probably say that. Now, as I smooth the warm, soapy wash cloth over me, I feel as though Mom is there and I feel the love she must have felt as she was doing it for me, years ago.