… Cause I’m not planning on going solo”. Yep. That’s what those pesky dead people were talking about. Not the WHAM UK song, but the ‘urge’, ‘relief’, ‘potty’, you know the ‘go go’. I guess someone had to talk about it, might as well be my dead people, huh?
While giving the baby a bath last night, my daughter asked me how people took baths “back in the day”? I asked her what she meant and she looked at me like I was stupid, with this complete look of incredulousness, as she replied, “you know the family people that aren’t living anymore.” Oh my. My genealogy antennae (which are always close by, anyway) immediately popped up. My child was asking a genealogy question!!! Okay, so it was really a history question, but that’s just a little detail… Anyway, I got all excited and I hurriedly finished bathing the baby (I might have even left some soap under the chin, who knows..) and my daughter and I did some research. I love research, well research into the past and how it could possibly affect my dead people, at least. She looked at the family tree for five (agonizing) minutes, deciding which person we would research along with our foray into bathing. Finally, she settled upon Lewis D Massie (1794-1866) and Mary (1790-?). Lewis was a white man and Mary is presumed to be his slave girl/woman with whom he fathered my grandmother’s maternal line.
I told my daughter that people bathed in tubs, usually made of copper and that people, generally slaves or other types of help, would fill the tub with water that had been heated over the stove. I also told her that in poorer families, the whole family would bathe in the same tub of water- starting with the father, then the mother and then the children from oldest to youngest. Being a former Early Childhood Education Specialist, I ran outside, grabbed a handful of grass and dirt and threw it into the toilet. “This,” I told her, “is what the water would have looked like by the time the baby would have his bath and the water would have been super cold.”
But, as we delved more into bathing, we learned that in the mid to late 1800’s more and more people of wealth, people like Lewis, would have had primitive indoor plumbing. (go here to view a primitive shower and toilet during the 1850’s… https://www.google.com/search?q=bathrooms+in+1850&biw=1047&bih=487&tbm=isch&im) Imagine that. There were showers and toilets and believe it or not, they were inside! And, the toilets flushed. So, I was surprised. After discovering that Lewis, could have had indoor plumbing and possibly even hot water to go with it, it was time to move on to Mary…
Since it is presumed that Mary was a slave of Lewis, we assumed that Mary would not have had a tub, copper or otherwise. Our first question was what would Mary have used to bathe or would she have even bathed at all? The best that we could determine was that slaves bathed in the river, when the chance to ‘slip away’ happened and if a river was relatively close by or they used the same pot they cooked in to bathe in. Both were not done on a regular basis and were considered a genuine luxury. The hard part was explaining how using the bathroom went… How do you tell a 10 year old that her ancestors, or people in general, were made to drop trow and go- all the while continuing to work or holding the go go until the work was done- whenever that was. She was understandably, appalled. She couldn’t imagine having to go to the bathroom in front of people or having to do it while she was working. And she especially could not fathom life without TP… The awful truth is neither can I. I have huge issues with the ‘go’ anywhere outside of the privacy of my own comfy home. Time and time again, I am surprised at the strength my ancestors must have possessed to deal with the things they did…
Moving past the sentimental stuff- after all, I was rapidly loosing the awe and interest coming from my offspring- I quickly recounted a story from my own childhood… When I was around 7, I remember visiting with my great Uncle, one of my grandmother’s brothers and I had to use the bathroom. I was presented with two options… I could use the outhouse (which required someone accompanying me) or I could use the ‘piss pot’. I cried. (Read the aforementioned, issues with the go) I mean, huge, giant crocodile tears. No way was I going to the outhouse. AND the thought of sitting on a pot in the middle of my Uncle’s bedroom repulsed me. (Well, at least I imagine I was repulsed.) I remember eventually making my way to the dreaded ‘pot’ and trying to perch/sit or whatever it is you do on the ‘piss pot’ and then I couldn’t go. The go just disappeared. I remember being happy that I wouldn’t have to use the ‘piss pot’ or dump its contents in the out (whatever that was). The visit dragged on and on and on. I ended up falling asleep on my Aunt and Uncle’s bed and (you guessed it) I peed ALL OVER THE BED. By this time, my daughter’s interest had lapsed and she left my room awash in giggles. Much like I am sure you are right now.
If you can find the time in between your bouts of laughter, I would love to hear your input on the history of the ‘go’. Have you ever had to use an outhouse? What was that like? What kinds of things have you discovered about your own ancestors and the ‘go’? Did they have indoor bathrooms or privies or outhouses? I can’t wait to hear your stories! And don’t forget to like and share! Thanks!