A Garden and a Bathtub

Someday, I would like to have a house with a garden and a bathtub.

After I graduated from law school, I moved with my then-husband to Larchmont, New York, so I could work in Manhattan. That apartment had a bathtub, but of course no garden. A year later, I left the New York firm and we moved back to Massachusetts, to a tiny house in a town called Wilmington. It had been a summer cottage, and then the house of a carpenter who had put in a heating system. It was so small that it had only four rooms: a living room, a bedroom, a kitchen, and a bathroom. Its most important attribute was being very, very cheap — those were the years I was trying to repay my law school loans as quickly as possible. Really, it was a house smaller than most apartments. It had a small but lovely garden, partly shaded by tall trees. I grew roses in a bed on the sunny side of the house, and shade plants among the tree roots. But it had no bathtub, only a shower. When the landlord decided to sell that house, we moved to an apartment in the city.

That apartment had the best bathtub ever — a deep Victorian tub, a real nineteenth century relic from an era when products were designed to be both sturdy and comfortable. Bubble baths in that tub were heaven. I developed a ritual of reading in the bathtub every night. But once again, I was in an apartment. There was no garden. Eventually, we moved to a house in the suburbs so our daughter would be in a good school system. It was probably the cheapest house in that very expensive school district — I could tell that it had been built in the 1960s. It had two bathtubs, neither of which were long or deep enough for a comfortable bath, and a yard so shaded by tall trees that I could not grow anything at all. The back yard of that house was a pine wood, the ground carpeted with needles and moss. Anyway, at that point I did not have the energy to plant a garden — I was trying to finish my doctoral dissertation and dealing with the worst depression I’ve ever had in my life. Either a workable bathtub or a sunny spot to grow some herbs would have helped.

After a separation and divorce, I lived in two city apartments, both in old buildings from the turn of the century, both with lovely bathtubs. Not as fancy as the old Victorian bathtub, that platonic idea of all bathtubs. But they did the work of bathtubs, which is to soothe the soul. A shower can get you clean — a soaking bath restores your spirit. Of course, they had no gardens.

I would probably have stayed in one of those apartments — I would probably be there now. But the building was being renovated, and I was told that at the end of August I and all the other tenants would have to move out. I scrambled to find another apartment. The housing market was horribly tight that year, even worse than it usually is in Boston. The apartment I’m renting now was my third choice, but the first two choices both fell through. It was the largest but also the most expensive, and . . . it did not have a bathtub, just a big shower.

Now, there are a lot of people who prefer showers, and I will admit the superiority of a shower in getting one clean. But they have an important drawback — one cannot read in them without imperiling one’s books. Books are not made to be showered on.

At first my apartment had no garden either, just a strip of dirt and grass along the side of the building. But during the first days of the pandemic, when the university abruptly shifted all of its classes online and the shops were closed — in those days when we were told to stay home — I asked the landlord if I could create one. I think gardening got me through that time. When it seemed as though life had fundamentally changed — as though we might never hug another human being or have toilet paper again — there were still plants to put in the ground. Slowly they grew and blossomed and faded and grew again next spring, as that terrible year passed. Now I have hostas and heucheras and astilbes in the shady bed, roses and lavender and herbs in the sunny bed. I have a garden.

I also have a bathtub, but it’s not here — it’s in Budapest. I wrote in another post about my grandparents’ apartment, which passed to my mother and then to me. All through the winter it was being renovated. I saw it again once the school year ended and travel restrictions eased for a while. It has a very fancy bathtub, almost too fancy for me, surrounded by beautiful tiles. A bubble bath in that tub is particularly luxurious, an indulgence. It seems almost decadent, like very rich chocolate.

So I have a garden and a bathtub . . . in different countries.

I should have a talk with the Fates, those annoying women. They probably think this is funny. “Let’s give her a garden, but no bathtub! Now let’s give her a bathtub, but no garden!” I can hear them cackling. They have a terrible sense of humor. If I could speak to them — they are somewhere in Greece, I believe, at the moment, and can’t travel as much as they used to because of Covid — I would tell them, “Dear, lovely Clotho, Lachesis, and Atropos. How nice you look — have you had a haircut lately? No? Well, the long, waving locks suit you. Anyway. I would like a house, and inside I would like it to have a bathtub, and around it I would like a garden. I’m not asking for anything extravagant. I don’t need a helicopter or a yacht. I’m not asking to be a billionaire (although enough money to retire on someday would be nice). I just want a house with a bathtub and a garden. And, if you don’t mind and have one lying around, a tortoiseshell kitten. Have a mentioned how nice your cave looks? No? Well, it’s so charmingly damp.”

That’s not asking too much, is it? I don’t think so . . .

(Here are some fernleaf bleeding hearts, in the shady bed.)

(And this is my rosa Iceberg, in the sunny bed, blooming for the last time this autumn.)

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4 Responses to A Garden and a Bathtub

  1. belstonefox says:

    Greetings from Tasmania. Beautiful musings!

  2. Patrick Murphy says:

    You write with charm, and understanding. You reminded me of an upper duplex apartment with a huge old claw footed tub that I could soak in, and read. The master bedroom had a cherry tree just outside, and at a certain time of the year the bedroom filled with the scent of cherry blossoms. The home I own now sadly lacks the type of well designed tub we both used to know:-) It sounds like both your current homes are becoming sanctuaries with comforts, and beauty. The flowers in your garden are lovely, and the remodeling of your other home sounds like you rewarded yourself with a proper tub:-) By the time you retire I expect the teaching, and your talent for writing will provide more flowers for your garden, and a coffee, and pastry treat occasionally to reward yourself after sitting in a large tub reading, and reciting Hungarian:-)

    Stay safe, and cozy,

    Patrick Murphy

  3. Nancy says:

    Your “situation” would make a wonderful silent film…lovely garden.

  4. Riccardo says:

    More like this, please.

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