|Drawing by Shirley Bortoli|
In a wrecking yard in San Jose I find treasure: a claw-foot tub almost six feet long. Love at first sight. From what old house did it come? What old man soaked his weary bones here?
I'm building my new home. I have a bad back. I'm a bath junkie. I listen to music, read books, even write novels while I heat my spine in warm water. I must have that tub.
The junkyard helps load it into the back of my twuck. At home there's nobody to help me unload, so for several days I drive around the Peninsula in a bath-twuck bringing smiles to passers-by. If I had a little bell like the ice cream man, I could rent time-slots in my portable spa. Eventually, a friend helps me bring it into the house.
It becomes - second to the kitchen - a focal point of home life. There is something insanely appealing about a claw-foot tub. This one can hold a half dozen kids. Visiting children - and the occasional adult - often end up in the bubbles with a flotilla of toys. My favorite is a wind-up submarine. Also a tooting tugboat.
For six years the tub sits on the unfinished subfloor next to the old brick chimney that cuts through the bathroom. On three sides of the tub are unadorned drywall. It's a miracle the gypsum survives all that splashing. We're too busy raising kids and finishing other parts of the house.
Monday, May 11, 1987:
Finally, the time comes to finish the bathroom. We remove the old tub in order to do the work. Once out, we see the space with fresh eyes. Our kids are older, no longer into the group-bath scene. A claw-foot makes for a lousy shower. Three of the feet are broken, replaced by 4x4 blocks. The porcelain is stained, chipped - always was, but somehow it never bothered us while the rest of the room was so rough.
My third and youngest child is about to graduate from Nursery Blue, the same preschool my other children attended. The staff says they'd love to have an old claw-foot on their grounds.
On May 11, 1987, once again the old tub rides in the back of my pickup (now a Ford). At Nursery Blue twenty children climb over it for water games, sand games, puppet shows, whatever the kids can imagine.
My grandson enters the warm and exciting world of Nursery Blue. To my delight the tub is still there, now filled with dirt and planted with petunias. I'd penciled a poem on the side. Sometime along the years, somebody painted over what I wrote:
I give this old claw-footed bathtub
to the citizens of Nursery Blue
and hope that someday when I
am unfashionable, rusty, chipped,
I too can be recycled
for the joy of young children.
Indeed, 24 years after the writing, I pick up my grandson from school, two days a week. I am recycled.
The tub is gone. Different times, different teachers, different needs. And different health inspectors. The county never liked the idea of a bathtub in a nursery school.
I don't know who got it. Once again - after 32 years - the old claw-foot may be back in that junkyard down in San Jose, awaiting new children and a bath-junkie father.