Posted by: Brad Nixon | March 1, 2010

Deep Baths!

Apologies to you subscribers who inadvertently got an advance copy of this post when I mistakenly hit the “publish” button.

We got more rain in southern California last week. The El Nino year is fulfilling its promise. With our persistent¬†drought, the standard wisdom is, “We need the rain.” We don’t really need the rain. Rain mostly runs off the hundreds of square miles we’ve paved all across metro LA and runs into the ocean. What we truly need is snow up in the Sierras. Rain has a few local advantages: fills up the pool and saves us from having to water the herbs for a few days.

Rain was pounding down at a terrific rate at times on Saturday, but mostly only in little squalls or cells, coming in from the ocean, which passed quickly. As I move into the years of my anecdotage, rain like that makes me recall the first fourteen years of my life when we lived in the country and were utterly dependent on nature for our water, either drinking water from the well, or water for washing and plumbing from the cistern (I wrote about it HERE).

A very few times back then, when we had gotten so much rain that the cistern was filled to the top, came the magic moment. With rain falling, Mom or Dad would determine that the cistern could hold no more water, and the excess was running out the overflow, across the driveway, and down into the ditch by the road. That water was a precious resource, and not to be wasted if it could be avoided. That’s when Mom would proclaim those mighty words: “Deep baths!” With that, she would open the bathtub faucets full-on, and start filling the tub for the first bath. FILLING the tub, maybe a FOOT DEEP! In a household of seven people, dependent on making the water in the little 8’x8’x6′ cistern last as long as possible, this was astounding. A normal bath depth was maybe four inches.

The hope was that the rain would keep coming, and we’d be taking baths, one after another, filling and refilling the tub again and again with water that otherwise would’ve run out the cistern overflow. Deep baths! Water deep enough to slide down in and completely submerge yourself into. What a luxury.

The Deep Baths only happened a handful of times that I can recall in all those years. Dad or some of my siblings might be able to correct me if that’s not true, but they did require a special convergence of specific conditions: an already-full cistern, rain falling when we were home to take advantage of it, PLUS no lightning (one doesn’t jump in the bathtub when there’s lightning, of course).

There’s one notable corollary story to this, although only Dad and my brother Mark are here to remember it. In 1956, Mom and Dad drove little me and littler Mark to Washington, D.C. to see the Nation’s Capitol. We stayed downtown at the¬†Mayflower Hotel. The Mayflower has had a thorough refurbishment since that day, and is now quite a grand place. Built in 1925 in the style of a bygone era (but hardly more than 30 years before we were there!), it seemed pretty grand to us then, too. I remember being stunned when Mom told me that we could fill the gigantic white bathtub as full as we wanted. That thing was the size of a Volkswagen, and must’ve been 3 feet deep. The ultimate Deep Bath!

While I’m on the subject of the cistern, this seems like a good time to relate one other memory. From time to time, Dad would clean the cistern. A system of gutters and downspouts collected water from the roofs of the house, garage and pump house and directed it into the cistern. That meant that not just water but leaves and other debris washed into it. Over time, that stuff turned into a thin layer of sludge at the bottom of the cistern. As Dad says, we’re probably lucky we lived out in a rural, relatively clean environment!

Dad would pick a time when normal use and lack of rain combined to lower the water level in the cistern. He then brought the big gasoline-powered pump from his dad’s construction business and pumped out the rest of the water. He’d then climb down into the little concrete cell and scrub down the walls and floor with Clorox. Not a very pleasant job. Of course, he’d saved as many buckets of water out of the cistern as he could to use in rinsing out and washing, and supplemented that with more water from the hand pump at the well.

I, of course, was dying to go down there to see what the place was like. I was allowed to do that once Dad was finished with the worst of the Clorox fumes. It wasn’t as interesting as I’d thought it would be, frankly.

Boy, those grownups exercised a lot of imagination and initiative to help all of us thrive out there in that little house in the country.

Point your Google Earth or other mapper to 39 26 20.30N 84 06 41.88W to see a view of the place today. Only a passing resemblance to the way I remember it more than forty years ago.



  1. Glad you pointed out how the deep bath water was drained and then refilled between baths. It wasn’t quite “Little House on the Prairie” with the whole clan using the same water to bathe, although maybe some of life then was close in different ways.

    It is shocking to read that LA does not catch the rain water running off into the ocean. Maybe it’s not enough volume to be concerned with and it is easier to bring in from far away, a system that is already in place? But still.


    • Actually, LA DOES catch a LOT of water coming down off the mountains. Big reservoirs all around us. Once it’s down in the basin, there’s no place to put big reservoirs.
      And it’s a BIG city, so a lot runs off.


  2. Yes, deep baths, a favorite child memory. That’s the thing about your blogs, Brad. They are historical and educational.


    • wow, I feel sorry for whoever the unfortunate youngest child in your family was!


      • You’re reffering to “Li’l Muddy,” I believe.


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