The home is many things. At its barest, it is shelter. If we are lucky, it is more, fulfilling an array of our human needs beneath one roof. The kitchen table is a place of meeting and connection to others. It’s where we find nourishment, both emotionally and for the body. The bed is a place of rest and revitalization. It is a space of safety, of trust, vulnerability even. The wood stove or fireplace is our source of heat. It means life and survival. It is central, attractive, drawing us in. It is the warm, beating heart of our home.
Then, there is the bathtub. Here is a space of oneness, thought, quiet reflection. A space of selfishness — the healthy kind. The bathtub is the soul of the home.
We live so much of our lives outwardly. Distraction. Production. Interaction. The tub brings us in. It is a place of self-ness, with deeply respected boundaries. No one disturbs someone in the bathtub, in the same way that no one disturbs someone in prayer.
Viewed from the perspective of utility alone, the bathtub is perhaps the most useless thing we have in our homes. It does not serve a direct outcome. Showers are for cleansing. Stoves are for cooking. Washing machines wash our clothes. The tub is there to be in. To sit and do almost nothing at all. And this is precisely how it becomes an object of such great importance.
Barbara Kingsolver wrote in Animal, Vegetable, Miracle that whenever she moved to a new place, the first thing she would do was plant asparagus. Doing that was symbolic of making a new house a home, of putting down roots. For me, that matter of first importance has always been a tub.
Years ago, I rented a house that had no tub. I set out to find one and ended up acquiring a giant clawfoot model made of cast iron that came from the old Lorenzo Dow Baker house in Wellfleet. Supposedly, Judy Garland once soaked in that very tub while visiting town. I set it up in my yard and watched the birds while a great body of warm water surrounded me.
Eventually, I had to move, and, at my new place, there was no room for the tub. I had to give it away, and, for a while, I kept an eye on it. It sat beneath a tarp for a few years. Eventually, I forgot about it. But then I moved again. And this time, as I settled in, I realized I needed to plant some asparagus. I made a phone call, and the tub and I were reunited.
I set about restoring it. Once it was stripped and sanded, primed and painted, I built a space for it outdoors. New hardware was bought, and hot water was plumbed. A little sanctuary grew around it. It now sits in a space dedicated solely to the tub, an alcove of stone pavers and plants beneath the sky.
When I am cold or tired, or just need to get back to myself, I run the water on full heat. I sit in my tub, locust branches above, silhouettes against a night sky, the stars blinking between waving leaves. I sit in this space that is for the self. I think. Or just feel. Or do nothing at all.