Ah, I thought as I pushed down the handle of the toilet and walked away. Now that I’d moved out of my childhood home, for the first time in my life I was secure in the knowledge that I no longer had to grab a plunger and hover anxiously as the water rose higher and higher.

I blame a lifetime of digestive anxiety on growing up in a household of seven people and one bathroom. I never once used a tub or toilet when three or four siblings weren’t pacing in the hallway, banging on the bathroom door, and shouting, “Hurry up in there! I’ve gotta go!”

Leaks, stoppages, and overflows were frequent as the overburdened fixtures “went on strike” in protest. As I dressed and readied for my wedding day, on the very last day I spent in my childhood home, one of the houseguests, unfamiliar with our standard toilet-flushing protocol, flushed and walked away. I shrieked, “Somebody get the plunger!” and held my wedding gown above water level as the overflow poured across the hall and down the steps like a waterfall. I half expected to see salmon leaping up the stairs to spawn. Was this an omen on my wedding day? Nope. Just everyday issues at my childhood home.

I also discovered after my wedding that bathing could be a relaxing and solitary experience. When I was a toddler, Mom often bathed all her children at once. It was an exercise in frugality that saved both time and money. At first, I remember it being fun, playing with tub toys with my siblings. But as the family grew larger, it wasn’t practical or enjoyable. Four of us were crammed into the tub, nestled together like Pringles in a can, crying and arguing.

Group bathing ended when my sister, the oldest of us at eight years old, protested. Crossing her arms and stomping her foot, she told Mom, “I’m sick and tired of four people taking a bath in a tub made for two!” It was beyond her comprehension that some lucky people had a tub to themselves.

Soon after baby number five was born, Mom abandoned the group bathing. She bathed the baby in the kitchen sink and allowed the other four children to bathe solo. However, the same bathwater was used for all four of us. The least dirty of us (the eight-year-old who’d complained about the group bathing) got to be first. She was a prissy child who hated getting dirty. I was pleased to be next since her water was still relatively warm and clean. I was a tomboy who’d spent most of the day wading in the creek and climbing trees, so I left the water somewhat dirty. By the time the dirtiest of my two brothers got a turn the water was opaque. He barely could see his toys or his toes through the murkiness. He may have emerged from the tub dirtier than when he went in. Not that he cared. Sometimes he just pretended that he’d bathed. Mom had to feel the soap after he bathed and make sure it was wet and had been used.

It wasn’t surprising that when the tub’s plug was pulled, the drain often rejected the filth trying to escape. My dad was a great guy but lacked home repairs or improvement skills. Because of financial constraints, he’d try, usually to no avail.

I was delighted to discover that my new husband was a skilled handyman. When our toilet began malfunctioning and flushing itself for no reason during the night, (being a woman who’d never witnessed successful plumbing repair as a child) I suggested that possibly we had a ghost with a urinary tract infection or a digestive disorder. He just rolled his eyes in annoyance. When we have an issue with bathroom fixture functionality, he uses terms like, “obstructed vent stack,” “plumbing snake, “backflow,” and “faulty ballcock,” like I’m supposed to believe he didn’t make up those risque-sounding terms.

Here are my recommendations to single ladies: When the relationship starts getting serious, mention to him you have an obstructed vent stack, backflow, and a faulty ballcock, and need a plumber’s snake. If he snickers and heads for the bedroom, throw him back as if he were an underweight fish. There are plenty of other fish in the sea. If he gets a wrench and heads for the bathroom, he’s a keeper.

P.S. the best place to look for a potential lifemate isn’t the bar; it’s the local hardware store. Look for a customer buying PVC pipe and a wrench.


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