The Powder Room

Terry Connell
Terry Connell is a licensed acupuncturist and yoga teacher practicing in Old Town, Vallarta (www.eastmeetseast.net). In his spare time he walks his dog and reads and writes. His first book, “Slaves to the Rhythm” was a Cowley Literary Award Finalist (www.terryconnell.net).
When I was a kid, the Powder Room had two different meanings. There was the soft and fragrant place one enters in a state of need and walks out with fresh breath and newly applied lipstick, like in my friends’ houses. Those Powder Rooms sat sweetly under the stairs, near the front door; a small bathroom for guests that welcomed you with tiny scented soaps cut like roses, and fringed little hand towels that matched the wallpaper, draped perfectly from brass rings.
Then, there was my family’s Powder Room. It seemed almost like an afterthought; a few square feet of the laundry room that were cornered off with paneling nailed to a couple of studs and backed with drywall. There was no softness in that little room wedged beneath our kitchen. Instead of cute towels and wallpaper, we had the sharp corners of the furnace and the hissing hot water heater that filled the space like a sleeping dragons.
Still, for all of its lack of comfort, with eleven children moving constantly about, our Powder Room was the most used room in the house. I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that toilet got flushed more than fifty times a day as we ran in and out from the backyard where a game of tag or kickball was always in progress.
I have no idea how many times my mom cleaned the Powder Room during the week, but I do remember that every Saturday, one of us had to get on our hands and knees and scrub the toilet and that nasty floor. Keep in mind, there were eight boys using that bathroom, numerous times a day – often together, often engaged in “sword fights,” where piss splashed everywhere. Everyday. We all had a turn, holding our breath and pinching our faces as we reached down to scrub around the toilet, screaming at each other for being such pigs.
In spite of these conditions, the Powder Room was my father’s favorite room – especially when we were little. In fact, he called it his throne. It was the first place we’d look, whenever we couldn’t find him. After dinner, he’d literally run downstairs with the newspaper tucked under his arm and lock himself in that hot little space, reading while my mom supervised homework and made lunches at the kitchen table. The scent of newsprint (and other unmentionables) would hang in the hot air long after my father was finished in the bathroom.
Winter months were hardest on our Powder Room. From November through March, there were from thirteen pairs of gloves and hats draped and planted on or near every hot surface to dry. To use the toilet required stepping through and around thirteen pairs snow boots lined up around the heaters, dripping onto brown paper bags.
Please note, that in spite of this ridiculous crowding of space, my father continued to skip down the steps with his newspaper after dinner and add several layers of unpleasant odors to the earthy scent of wet wool.
For a while, the Powder Room became a library. My mother, trying to add some small bit of charm and softness, decided to stack a long row of Reader’s Digest Condensed books on a makeshift shelf with pink-laced curtains she made herself framing the thick books.
During hot summer afternoons, I’d sit on the toilet and read stories that have stayed with me since I was eight years old; The Education of Little Tree, The Yearling, The Adventures of Mrs. Polifax. Eric. I loved those books! Imitating my father, I’d sit with my elbows pressed into my thighs and read for so long my legs fell asleep.
It wasn’t until my oldest siblings moved into high school that the Powder Room’s morphed into something much more useful, and important – a phone booth. With a phone hanging on the wall right outside the bathroom door that had a cord long enough so that they could sit on the toilet to talk to their boyfriends or girlfriends – my siblings would occupy that little space for hours.
My poor father lost his throne to the turbulent love life of his teen-aged kids, sending him up to the second floor after dinner where, thankfully, the scent of newsprint (and everything else) floated out the window high above the backyard.
When I finally moved into adolescence, it was no longer the Reader’s Digest that I wanted to read. I used the drop ceiling in the Powder Room to hide my Penthouse and Hustler magazines. And later, when I was in high school, I would sit in the dark just like my older brothers and sisters, the phone chord pulled tight inside the door jam, and talk with my girlfriend for hours! When I’d finally hang up and join my family to watch TV in the Rec Room, I’d stand at the doorway, blinded, squinting into the light.
I broke up with girlfriends and got turned down for dates in that little bathroom/phone booth. With the heavy phone pressed into my ear, legs once again falling asleep. I told secrets and lies, bought weed, planned vacations, got fired from a job and bought a car, all in the darkness of the Powder Room. I also scheduled my first therapy session, whispering into the mouthpiece with only the hissing heater to hear, “I think I’m gay.”
It was only a little bathroom, added during renovations to accommodate our large family, but I like to think of the Powder Room as a half-bath with a whole lot of life; the smallest room in the house, where more happened than any of us will ever know.

One comment

  1. Terry,

    I hardly know what to think of this article ? Perhaps because my growing up was so different. I hardly remember the bathrooms in the homes of my youth. Or my mother making me do homework …. I think in my early days , homework was not given, and in high school, I did it in homeroom class. I never had much time for talking on the phone, or playing outside, just going hunting and fishing, for I got my first paying job in the second grade. I had one or two jobs at a time all through school.
    This of course allowed me to have a nice sporty car in high school , and the girl that I met in the 7th grade became my wife a year out of high school. However as kid , my dad taught me hunting and fishing at an early age. Also gardening in our Victory garden during WWII, where we raised rabbets, chickens, ducks and Canadian Geese. I guess I was a good catch for my wife of some 60 years.

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