The Ultimate Sacrifice

The house where I grew up was small, but we were happy. Relatively happy, I should say, because we didn’t know any better, and pretty much everybody we knew lived in the same size house. There was, however, a problem that was difficult to ignore: one bathroom for five people. Looking back, I now believe that one drawback to indoor plumbing is that the things you do in a bathroom have to be done in the house.

The real question, though, is how did my mother survive all of those years amongst four men? The house was built in the late 1940s, and was of a simple design. A square foundation, 30 feet on a side, for a 900 square foot home. The main floor was divided into four rooms: kitchen, living room, master bedroom, and an “other” bedroom. Part of the space that would have made the “other” bedroom decent sized was devoted to the bathroom.

It was difficult for that many adults to live in that amount of space in the 1960s. If we were Mexicans then, yeah, sure, no problem, or if we were Eastern European immigrants in the 1900s—but we were neither of those things, so my father converted the attic into a bedroom for his three sons. We each had our own bed and a dresser for clothing. With the problem of sleeping space corrected, that other bedroom was converted to “TV Room”. In it we could fit a sofa, an end table with a lamp, and a television—and that was all that we could fit.

We would pile into that room as a family: some sitting on the sofa, the rest recumbent in front of the television. It seemed comfortable and serene. We were warm, and cozy, and together. But there was a problem.

The problem with togetherness is that we all emit odors. Teenage boys especially. We also expel gas. It can be a very serious problem. Oddly enough, amongst family, you achieve a certain familiarity with these various bodily functions that does not cause embarrassment (although perhaps it still should). At times the stench would be so great that we would tell each other, “Hey, go to the bathroom, because I think you just shit your pants.”

The bathroom, however, was no escape. The shared wall would not mask the various noises one makes on a toilet. Because of its age, that bathroom also had no vent the way modern homes do, so the air could only circulate back into the house. (There was a window, but, during most of the year, it could not be opened.) That bathroom and our TV room shared a heating vent, in fact, so if the furnace was not blowing hot air, then smells were wafting forth and back between the rooms.

And yet we recall those days fondly. We do not linger on the unhappy moments, unlike the smells that lingered in the air during Mary Tyler Moore and Bob Newhart. We didn’t know it at the time but we had invented Smellivision and, unfortunately, it was tuned to a station featuring a forever-length movie about Uranus.