The Colonel’s Plan – The Blue Bathroom, Part 6

September 26, 2017

Dear Daddy—

Now that I had found all the tile I needed, it was time to lay it out. I didn’t want to screw up, so I wanted to sketch it all out. I started by marking and measuring the pieces that were going to go up the wall on the edge of the shower.

What were you planning for the corner at the base, since the baseboard tiles don’t have corner pieces and don’t corner together well? In the one bathroom you finished, corners are formed with special corner pieces, but I don’t have any in blue. And no, I don’t think there are any stragglers left hiding. Big as this house is, I think I have the inventory under control now.

And how do you cut those corner tiles, anyway? I know you never had a wet saw.  Maybe I’ll just use the same tile I’m using above. Fortunately, height-wise, they fit perfectly. 21 whole tiles, bottom to top.

Bigger than the corner question was what to do about that 2×4 lintel up top. In the roughed in cubicle, it was just a single 2×4 against the ceiling. I knew that, in the nigh-identical shower you finished downstairs, the doorway opening dipped down. So I went downstairs and looked again at the shower I’d used since I was old enough to bathe standing up.

Okay, you used two 4×4 rounded corner tiles and—wait—what? Why is the shower ceiling eight inches lower in the old bathroom than the ceiling itself? I checked the wall in which the showerhead was mounted. It had leaked about ten years ago. Twenty? Maybe. You had ripped out the drywall and replaced it with a stapled cardboard panel.

Just this week, Mother had said to me, “Your father kept saying he needed to finish that. I don’t know why he never did.” I wrote it off to your compulsive need for perfection and fear of mistakes.

Pulling back the cardboard, I found nothing but plywood. So there’s a 3’x3’x8” box above the shower, completely enclosed. Why did you build that? For looks? Why does that look better? Did I need to build that upstairs? Does the shower need it to breathe, or something? Or is there the skeleton of an animal in there?

No, that’s silly. We didn’t allow animals in the house in those days. Just because there are missiles in the basement, doesn’t mean we go hog-wild. This family has standards.

Is there ductwork?

I looked at the shower and the laundry room closet behind it. Yes, it looked like there was a sizable gap, 8 to 12 inches, between the back wall of the shower and the right wall of the closet, which is closest to the shower. Had to be a duct. I checked the blueprints. Some ducts were marked, as were, I think, all outlets and lights. But apparently not all ducts were marked.  Well, I had already established that you didn’t conform to the blueprints exactly.

Then I remembered.

There are ducts in those walls. I knew, because I had once fallen through the hole that was cut for one of them. I was either two or three years old, still sleeping in a crib. Mother says two. You were working in the bathroom. Everything was studs, no walls. Was there a toilet yet, or were we still using an open-air outhouse? Not sure. I just know that we moved into the house before you finished the bathroom, and that it was the first room you completely dry-walled, painted and finished. And I know that we did, in fact, use buckets outside for a period of time, and that the oldest members of the family took baths in a giant metal washtub.

Always the most cultured of you, I took my baths in the kitchen sink, like a gentleman. It was a brown enameled sink, with a chip missing from its finish on one corner. Apparently it had been in a house you had lived in in New York. After moving out of that house, you had found it at a local dump, recognized it (by the chip in the finish?) and claimed it. You installed it in our laundry room, our de-facto kitchen during those early days, and it stayed there until the countertop had to be replaced in the 90s.

Anyway, on the day of my fall, the drywall for the laundry room was definitely not up, and I had no problem walking in the 14 or so inches between studs. I went running over to see what you were up to. Next thing I knew, I was hanging literally by my chin, my legs and body dangling in the basement. I had plopped both feet into the open hole for an air duct. They’re about exactly as big as the rectangle you would draw around a toddler in a life-sized, top-down photo.

You called Dr. Gair, our family physician. He told you, “I’ll meet you at the San.”

The “San” was the Washington Adventist Hospital with which Dr. Gair was affiliated. He called it “The San,” short for “Washington Sanitarium,” which I guess was once its name.

At the San, I was placed on my back on an operating table, a cloth over my face and a very bright light shining in my eyes, while Dr. Gair stitched up my chin. I had torn it open when it broke my fall. I had also bitten the inside of my mouth, which also required stitches. Dr. Gair explained to me that he was using dissolving stitches which would do their job and then go away without being removed.

Well now, wasn’t that the damndest thing. I had never heard of dissolving stitches!

I had never heard of stiches at all, mind you. When he explained to me that there were stitches that had to be removed, I envisioned my chin, laced up with flat, coated black cord like Charles used to lace up his football when its own laces wore out. Or was that your work?

I’ve never forgotten—or forgiven—the nurse who assisted. I was on by back, being stitched up without anesthetic, as far as I know, having suffered a trauma which was one chin-depth away from being a fatal one—and I was screaming my little tiny head off. The nurse lifted up the cloth and said, “Shut up! Or I’ll make your mother leave the room.” I don’t know if I knew my mother was in the room. There was a cloth over my head, after all, and a needle going into and out of my recently meat-grindered chin.

I should point out that I can only assume Dr. Gair was doing the stitching. I don’t know, and he’s dead, you’re dead, and Mother doesn’t remember. “I was too angry to see straight,” she told me when I asked her about it, “because that dumb nurse slapped you.”

Slapped me? I just remembered “Shut up!” Slapped me?

I asked Mother if she did anything about it. She didn’t remember that either. Did she ever tell you about it? She must have. But, had you been there, I wonder what would have been left of that nurse.

I healed. It wasn’t a pretty process. You took this picture (thank you so much, by the way!) to document it.

But in 2017, healed and satisfied that the nurse who violated me was long gone to her eternal reward, I asked Mother, “Are there ducts in this wall?” And she said, “Yes, you fell through that hole right behind the shower.”

So my question was answered. The big ducts visible in the side attic are resting on top of the shower stall. I did not need to lower the ceiling of my new shower.

But I still hated that nurse.

Love, Steven.


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