Up to My Neck in Hot Water
It was a night much like tonight. The wind whipped sheets of snow around the corner of the house, ice rimed every surface. Snow piled in drifts which the wind, like a restless housewife, never satisfied, picked up, dragged elsewhere, then shoved back again. Temperatures had plummeted and settled with no notion of moving upward. Aspen , Karla and I sat on the floor in my living room playing rummy. The boys kneeled in the opposite corner, constructing fantastical buildings with Legos.
We were single women in Missoula , raising children, and adrift in the same boat of poverty. Karla did odd jobs about town. Aspen worked at St. Pat’s and raised two children she had not birthed but loved just the same. I put an ad in the paper and called myself the “Scissors Wizard”. I hemmed blue jeans, replaced zippers in ski jackets, and altered chiffon formals. If it could be done with a needle and thread, I did it.
Our pleasures were few, simple and mostly of our own contrivance. I had moved to town late in the fall and these women were new-found friends. Karla said, “Let’s bundle up the boys and drive out to Sleeping Child.”
Aspen walked to the window and looked outside. “In this mess? My jeep won’t even start.”
“What is ‘Sleeping Child’?” I asked. “ Hot springs ,” they answered in unison.
We emptied our purses and pockets into a pool on the floor and counted the loot. Entry was only a dollar or two and we could stay as many hours as we wanted. We had enough money leftover to put gasoline in Karla’s clunker. Mine was sitting out front with a flat tire. It would sit there a couple more weeks. I had a block of commodity cheese and a loaf of bread so I made sandwiches. Aspen lived a couple blocks across the park. She ran home and came back with orange juice. Karla had brought over brownies for later. We were set.
We packed the boys and our winter picnic lunch into the backseat of Karla’s beast of a car and headed south out of town to Sleeping Child. We undressed in the change house and, nearly naked in our bathing suits, skittered and slipped through the snow, across the ice. The boys dived into the large pool and frolicked about. We eased into the smaller hot pool. As our limbs relaxed, we basked in the heat, watched the steam roll off our shoulders. We floated and gazed, mesmerized, at the star-studded sky. Some time later fat snowflakes drifted lazily into the hot waters. On the way home we all sang songs until our worn-out boys fell asleep. Then we women, sated by the warm waters, quietly shared our fears and hopes to the tune of the tires shooshing along the snowy road.
Thereafter, nearly every week, seduced by hot water, we loaded food and boys into whosever car was running and drove out of town. We went to Lolo Hot Springs, at that time housed in a primitive barn. Sometimes we drove to Paradise and Quinn’s Hot Springs . If the roads allowed, we crossed into Idaho to Jeremiah Johnson Hot Springs , a series of bubbling pools in the briskly flowing Lochsa River .
When I moved to Washington I traded hot springs for a hot tub on my back deck, which my family and I used daily. It wasn’t the same and I missed my friends. Oh, the kids and I occasionally trekked to Olympic Hot Springs, where numerous thermal pools snuggled into the hillsides, a short drive and a long hike into the mountains near Port Angeles .
What had begun as a subtle seduction had turned into an addiction. So twenty five years later I returned to Harlem , hooked on hot water. And I had a dilemma. Sleeping Buffalo , the nearest hot spring, was a bit of a drive, though I did avail myself of its pleasures now and then. I wanted to sink to my ears in hot water every day. Most bathtubs are useless for soaking. The tubs that were deep enough cost too much, were huge and inappropriate for my tiny 1970’s bathroom. I could not afford to buy, maintain and heat a hot tub. What was a woman to do?
One day in Havre I drove up the hill to Big R and parked. Right in front of me, stacked behind the fence, in a variety of sizes and shapes, sat the solution to my problem. I nearly danced with excitement. I took some measurements, drove home and took some more measurements, drove back and bought a galvanized stock water-trough for a mere seventy dollars.
Then I proceeded to rip apart my bathroom, plumbed in the trough, lined the walls with cedar and burlap, propped an ancient wooden ladder in place of a towel rack, installed an old dresser to hold my sink, and built an outhouse surround for the commode. The traditional quarter moon on the door completed my rustic in-house out-house.
Let the wind roar, the snow fall, the drifts pile and shift and bury all evidence of yards and sidewalks and streets. Let the ice build and snow and cold have their way. Tonight I am in my own tub, in my own home, steam wafting off my shoulders, up to my neck in hot water.
Sondra Jean Ashton
Havre Daily News: Looking out my back door
January 7, 2010