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Tuesday, May 30, 2017

No. 141 "Washin' off with a hose"

Were I to mention to my grandchildren that they should wash off with an outdoor hose after returning from a day at the beach or in the sound, I doubt that most of them would even know what I was requesting. But for my generation of Island boys and girls, that was an everyday requirement.

The sound side water on the Island is salty, almost as salty as the ocean itself, especially after Barden's Inlet was opened by the "Storm of '33." But those of us who spent the major part of summer days swimming at the landing were hardly aware of the salinity. I suppose that was because we had nothing with which to compare it. As far as we knew all water, fresh or salt, felt the same. The only distinction we noticed was how warm or cold it was to the body.

But, thinking back, it was not unusual for a chalky film to form on our shoulders and forehead, and even on our eyebrows and in our hair. Arriving home after a stint in the sound, the first thing we heard from our mothers was a reminder to "wash off" before we came into the house. They had to remind us not because we didn't know what was expected, but because we dreaded the ordeal of shivering under cold water pumped from deep below the ground when were just drying off from water that was as warm as 80 degrees in mid-summer afternoons.

I must confess, there were many times when I fudged on doing a complete rinse. And on a few occasions I might have hardly washed at all. The cold water that spouted from the hose was that uncomfortable - at least until your body adapted to the change. Sometimes we resorted to filling a bucket with water and then lifting it up and pouring the whole contents over your head to shorten the time of exposure to the shock of the seemingly ice-cold shower.

There was, however, at least one way to comply with Mama's wishes and avoid the cold shock that resulted from the cooler fresh water. When the plastic hoses were left out in the sun, as they most always were, the hose itself, and the water inside it would heat up considerably as early as noon each day. The trick was to get to the hose before my brother, or my cousins, and take full advantage of the warmer water before handing off the hose to the next in line. Although the initial burst from the hose could be so hot that it was unbearable, within a few seconds the temperature would begin to drop, and for at least a while, it was as warm and comfortable as the showers we now take in our indoor facilities.

Eventually, if you paid close attention, you learned to sense almost exactly how much of the "just right" water there would be, and how much time you had to complete the wash down. Pure joy was finishing just as the water turned to the "frigid" normal that was the penalty for everyone who lost the race up the path to the water hose. Pure horror was winning the race only to find that someone else had so recently used the hose that there was not enough time for the water to re-heat. Usually, that was when I resorted to the bucket over the head approach.