This story was previously published on Quick Brown Fox. Copyright is held by the author.
“WHICH COLOUR do you prefer?” the bride asked. Let’s face it, it was a loaded question, surely the bride had a preference. We were out on a mission to find bridesmaid’s dresses. The five of us had agreed on a style that miraculously flattered our diverse figures relatively well but the fabric itself was still in question. The bride insisted she didn’t care — she had no colour theme for her wedding, but the market limited our choices. Pastels were in. In the late 80’s everything from kitchen wear to underwear was Wedgwood blue or dusty rose. Even at the bridal shop these colours dominated the swatch palette.
“Anything but dusty rose,” I blurted out a little too emphatically. I couldn’t stand that colour. In an instant, it took me back twenty years.
The house I’d grown up in was a depression era build. The windows had leaked out the heat and let in the cold. The radiators had clanged and hissed, the fixtures were cheap, and the hardwood floors were splintery. The ceilings seemed posh at 12-feet high, but the plaster was cracking, which diminished the charm. There wasn’t one thing about it that was fancy.
There was one three-piece bathroom in the house and in it there was no shower. All we had for bathing was an old claw foot tub; white enamel on cast iron, not some acrylic remake from Home Depot, ours was the real deal. The taps were white porcelain — smooth oblong levers with the words “HOT” and “COLD” in grey lettering.
The tub was big enough that my two sisters and I could get in it together. And we often did allowing my Mom to get the job of bathing us done in one shift.
There were no tiles in the bathroom. The tub sat on a cheaply finished floor. The dark red linoleum with strange black swirls was brittle and cracking in places where the underlying floorboards were warped. The bathroom walls were painted blue. The bathmat was gold shag. My Mom was no Martha Stewart, but what she lacked in interior decorating skills, she made up for with her loving heart.
Even when the furnace was working, in the dead of winter the prospect of a bath was unthinkable without pre-warming the room with the electric heater. My Mom plugged it in by the sink. It stood on the floor a kilter on flimsy grey metal legs. The elements glowed red, the fan hummed, throwing a comforting heat across the bath mat at the tub.
Mom held a towel up in front of the heater to warm that for us too. She’d hold it stretched out between her open arms and instruct each of us when it was our turn to step out. A warm towel and a loving hug from Mom were worth getting out for – even better than the warm bath itself. I have no fonder memory. The love and care in that gesture filled my innocent heart.
But then we all got Chicken Pox — all three of us — all at once. The bath became a nursing station and although the warm water with Epsom Salts was soothing and the hot towel enveloped me in that wonderful warm embrace, there was a most disturbing final step added to our bath night routine.
After drying off, my Mom unwrapped me, the comfort of that cozy towel stripped away. My little body, pink from the hot water was covered in angry red pox. In an effort to keep the itching and inevitable scratching at bay Mom applied Calamine Lotion.
With a white fuzzy cotton ball against the open bottle she soaked the swab. She sat on the lid of the toilet and as I slowly turned on that gold shag mat, she applied the lotion to every sore she found. It was cold and it smelled funny and the dabbing was torture on those raised red sores. I had hated it. Everything about it had been awful — even the colour.
I recoiled in disgust from the dusty rose fabric. It was too close to the colour of Calamine Lotion, too close to a trauma I didn’t want to relive.
In the end, my revulsion didn’t cause any trouble. It was a beautiful wedding day. The bride was radiant and we bridesmaids were pretty in our Periwinkle gowns.