There are shower scenes that are so blood curdlingly terrifying that they can never be erased from the mind. They are usually experienced by mature adults in darkened movie theatres, not by the delicate psyches of innocent and impressionable young girls who, up to that moment, would have had nothing more in their minds than the fun they had experienced baking cookies together to impress their daddies with after their suppers.
It was a scorching hot day in July in the early Sixties, in Caradoc Township, on our family’s 100 acre tobacco farm. I remember being at that uncomfortable age of being acutely body conscious. Even so, showering together with my sister Marsha, if it was necessary, was something I was able to cope with. That was because, as kids, Marsha and I had already established our own set of rules to ensure personal privacy whenever we had to share a bath. Having to limit the use of household water by our family’s ten members, due to an over-taxed septic system was always an issue with our Dad. When he tacked together a shower for our summer use, in the recently emptied green house, out of four sheets of silver painted plywood— three for the walls, and one for the floor, Marsha’s and my privacy ensuring rules were adapted to the situation. In the bath tub it was simply a matter of always facing away from one another, back to back, and then one of us closing our eyes when the other asked us to. That way either of us could enter or exit the tub with a sense of modesty.
Similar rules were quickly worked out for the greenhouse shower, which relied upon the sun heating the water in the elevated tank outside. Inside the greenhouse, the length of pipe near the peak held extremely hot water which actually had to be run out until it became bearable to stand under. In summer this was always followed by wonderful warm water, until the tank water became chilled again by the inflow of freezing cold well water. Still, it was fine for a few people to shower in a row if they hurried, and the water could quickly drain away into the sandy ground, instead of the septic tank. After the tobacco plants were all pulled out and planted in the fields, the green house was usually deserted and private.
Janet Leigh, in that terrifying scene in Alfred Hitchcock’s movie Psycho, had a much better shower as a backdrop when she met her tragic end—all nice white tiles and a shower curtain to block the movie goer’s view of her womanly bits. My father wasn’t a mean man, or stingy, but it was his busy cultivating season when he constructed the shower. He had painted it at least, with the same silver paint that he had used on the plywood tobacco boats, sled-runnered boxes that the leaves of the rapidly growing plants would be hauled in at harvest time.
The shower’s silver paint may have been applied to prevent splinters, or even warping, but it simply served to highlight the three-sided box— like a window show-place, the likes of which hookers in Amsterdam are notorious for standing in to show off their wares, on certain famous streets that curious tourists are known to flock to. The protection from slivers that the paint provided was fairly successful, but as far as the silver backdrop ensuring protection from warping — that, only God and one particular family member can say.
Too busy to get to town to buy a shower curtain, or even to hammer up a four foot length of any kind of board for us to throw a sheet over, my Dad had dismissed our protests a few days before when he said “You older ones need to use that shower I put up in the green house now! No more baths!!” and then “Nobody is going to see you! For crying out loud, it’s a big open field on that side! I’ll get the rod and the curtain when I go to town on Saturday.”
We would have to put icing sugar and eggs and chocolate chips and other things on the list for Saturday too, after Marsha and I and our friend Christine, from the farm next door, finished baking cookies all afternoon in the sweltering kitchen. It was an interlude in our farm work, and hers too— not planting, or hoeing or harvest season on our farm, and not apple picking or haying season on hers, so we were free just to be girly girls that day—sweaty, chocolate-covered girly girls, who thought it would be a good idea to cool off in the shower when we were done baking.
If Marsha and I had always managed to navigate the privacy boundary lines without hitting any booby traps thus far, then none of the three of us should have an issue if Christine, after two or three sentences of instruction in “The Rules” was to join us. The advantage was that the warm water would then last long enough for all of us to have a much longer shower instead of each of us having a very short one. So it was off to the silver box for cooling off and removal of sweat and chocolate. We grabbed a clean outfit for ourselves and loaned a few items to Christine, who could give them back the following day, plus three towels, soap, and shampoo. Then we headed out of the house.
None of us was thinking about the math, obviously, when the rules were explained or we would have realized that it is easy to have two girls back to back, but not three. The only way to do this is to form a rather loose circle with all butts facing inward like a reverse dance move in the Russian Troika and to look skyward at all times when our eyes were open, as if the dance was exhausting us to the point of petitioning for divine assistance. As the water poured down on our heads with high pressure from the sprinkler head attached to the hose which was suspended from the pipe above, we were dancing about blindly, but enjoying ourselves immensely. Nobody had a pool anywhere nearby for us to head to and we were now too big to run under the sprinkler in the yard with the little kids to cool off.
Just as the water running down over us was starting to chill us to the bone we heard the loud “put- put” of a tractor, far too close to be on the driveway on the other side of the greenhouse! We all disobeyed the rules simultaneously! Out in the open field, the one that our father had assured Marsha and I that no one would ever see us from, only a few brief feet away from the wall of glass between them and us, my father was driving his John Deere! He was looking straight ahead, thankfully, but he was pulling behind him my brother Keith who was sitting on the seat of the cultivator! Despite my father’s strict rules about cultivating, “Always keep your eyes down! Those plants are valuable you know! Pay attention or you’ll get off track! If you cut one out then you’ll have the dickens of a time getting back before you cut out a whole bunch. Each of them is money in the bank!.”
Grinning from ear to ear, my brother got a glimpse at full frontal female nudity for the very first time and (What a windfall! ) one of them was not his sister! We were instantaneously shrieking, panicking and jamming ourselves into the corner, like rats raised in total darkness when the lights finally go on. Pitiful, terror-stricken rats, cowering together backside to backside with nowhere to escape! Finally, when it seemed safe to grab for our towels, from their makeshift shelf on an upended wooden tobacco plant box just outside the shower, we wrapped ourselves up in our bedraggled soap-covered humiliation and headed to the house to protest to Mom.
Just as we exited we saw the tractor make a turn where the field ended very nearby and head back in our direction. At that moment Dad cranked his head back for a split second to have a look at Keith following on the cultivator behind him. Our father was totally disregarding his own advice about cultivating just then, and he was risking the possible decapitation of several plants in doing so! Whether it was a smirk on Dad’s face or not was hard to tell at that point but as soon as Keith passed by again, with an even wider smile on his face, it was fairly certain. That afternoon, Dad, as busy as he was, made an unplanned-for run into town. He returned with a shower curtain and rod. He was, after all a very understanding person, despite the fact that he was nevertheless a man!
None of us was scarred for life, if anyone got any slivers they didn’t say so, and in the end all three of us felt totally invigorated! With our eyes wide open we had each seen each other’s nakedness for the first time. I have to admit that the most surprising thing ever for all of us, when we emerged from the green house, still chilled by the freezing water, was that it was still possible to blush— even with blue lips!