I was getting ready to step into the shower this morning and I started thinking about how wonderful life is, and how grateful I am for everything in my life. I get up in the morning and use the toilet. I flush the toilet. I step over to the sink and turn on the water to a temperature I prefer. I wash my hands with soap. I turn off the water and dry my hands on a soft clean towel. I walk out of the bathroom.
Later I go back into the bathroom and turn on the water to take a shower. When the water is warm enough, I step in to the shower and I am washing with soap I prefer to use. I rinse off with warm clean water. I turn off the water and dry off with another bigger clean soft towel. So on and so forth.
A few generations ago and even today, for much of the world these things were and are not present. There was no finished bathroom, no running water, no soap, no clean dry towels. People when they did wash-up, usually only had enough water for their hands and face. There wasn’t enough water to wash any more and they preferred not to anyway in Europe at least.
They must have stank. Think about the simple fact of using the bathroom to blow your nose. If you do not have tissues in your bathroom, at least you have toilet paper. Toilet paper is a recent addition for the bathroom. I do not know what people used before, but it was not toilet paper, and there were no daily showers. There was no deodorant, toothpaste, and other items of cleanliness we take for granted. If people wanted a shower, they stood under water that was falling via gravity.
I had the fortune of touring a castle in England one summer. The bedrooms were upstairs, and one had a toilet. The toilet which I am sure was a relief over what the rest of the people used – a bucket – was simply an addition built into the castle wall. There was a seating area of stone which I am sure had wood over it back in the day. The bowl was simply a foot wide hole that dropped perhaps twenty feet before it ended.
After the hole ended it was just the wall of the castle. I could see in my mind the collection of human waste covering the wall below the ‘toilet’. I remember my first thoughts as I looked at a medieval toilet. It must have really stank in that room when the air came up the toilet from below. Modern plumbing is something we never think about. We never think about the journey water takes to get from the source to the tap or the shower head all heated and ready to use as is. We never think of the planning that goes into making a working sewer system for a neighborhood, district, whole city.
The towels we take for granted are of a quality never imagined a few generations ago unless money was no object. Soap was a rare commodity unless it was lye and ash soap, or another harsh mixture that damaged ones skin as much as it cleaned it. Underwear was stiff and smelled awful I am sure. Who knows how many accidents it’s owner carried around on his or her underwear, or whatever passed for underwear.
I thought when I see someone out in public, and they do not look very clean, or their hair is a little oily, I will try to imagine what they would have looked like in an earlier time when people shaved their heads to evade lice. How their clothes must have stank because there were no clean clothes to change into. How the only part of their body washed in the last days was maybe their face and hands. How heir breath must stank from lack of toothpaste, toothbrush, and the basics of preventive dental care.
City streets doubled as sewage systems. Every bit of trash and bodily waste was thrown into the street to be washed away by the next rain. The streams and rivers next to towns and running through cities were sewage lines. The water would not be fit to drink. Disease would be rampant, as there were only the simplest medicines available.
People would have swollen jaws from abbesses under their teeth, running sores that would not heal for whatever reason. They would literally stink because they would not or could not clean themselves. They would be bald, and they would be unkempt, because there were no mirrors for the common people to see themselves.
Animals would be butchered in the streets, their offal would be everywhere. Rotten food would be thrown in the street as there was no way to keep food fresh. Diarrhea from contaminated food would be more the norm than not. Everyone drank alcohol because the water would kill you. There were no sweets, or soda to eat and drink. Bread had particles of stone in it left over from the grinding. People ate off of wooden platters called trenches. They had horrible mouth infections called, (did you guess) Trench Mouth.
All that came from a few minutes while taking a nice warm shower and enjoying the feeling of the warm water on my skin. It is not hard to be grateful about my life when I think what life could have been like under different circumstances. I am truly blessed and grateful.