There is a young (30-ish) lady in this community who dreams of becoming a writer. I don’t know her and, in fact, only heard about her recently when my friend, Gina Nielsen, asked if I had any advice for her young friend.
I was immediately transported back in time to the beginnings of Oregon Coast Community College, when I was asked to teach creative writing. I jumped at the chance to inspire others as I had so often been inspired. (You can’t teach anyone to write, but you can suggest and motivate.)
The class was limited to 20, and all classes filled up fast with local people who followed this column in the Newport News-Times. My style was simple. I asked students to give me two or three double-spaced pages, and I assigned universal subjects. A subject that almost everyone can relate to is the reason for the phenomenal success of Chicken Soup for the Soul, for which I’ve been writing for since their beginnings. One of my first assignments at OCCC was “Describe your very first bathroom.” We all had one, even if it was an outhouse.
I can’t remember a student ever not showing up with the assignment, including copies for everyone in class so we could all “gently critique.” At the end of each class, I would give the subject for the following week. When I returned home, my husband, Burt, was waiting and interested in my classes and various subjects. The moment I mentioned the “bathroom assignment,” he began describing the one he grew up with in Brooklyn. I must have been tired because I said, “Oh honey, why don’t you just write it for me?” Burt was almost entirely left-brain, but a creative spark must have been lit because he wrote his story that night. The only thing missing in the story is that he waited for his big sister, Roz, to use the bathroom first, knowing she would warm up the seat. Here is Burt’s story:
• • •
Second Can Be Better Than First
By Burt Lippman
“It was cold — boy was it cold! The radiator was cold. The tile was cold. And it seemed that the toilet seat was coldest of all. The stark white of sink, toilet, tub, tile, floor and walls made it all seem even colder.
In the early ’30s, there was no heat in our one bedroom, one bathroom apartment until the janitor stoked the furnace and filled it with coal at 6:30 in the morning. The apartment was cold, but the bathroom was always the coldest room on those snowy, winter mornings in Brooklyn, New York.
The bathroom held the cold, and the small, white hexagon-shaped floor tiles and toilet seat were the worst of all. Even after the heat started to come up from the cellar furnace, the floor tiles and toilet seat remained cold for a long time.
Going to the bathroom without slippers was a cardinal sin. Without slippers, your feet could stay cold for hours. It was a small bathroom by today’s standards — one person at a time. There was no room to pass somebody already in the bathroom, unless you pushed them into the tub.
On the left was the sink and the tub. No shower, just a tub. And at the far end was the toilet, with little room to spare between the tub and the right-hand wall. The aisle between the tub and the right-hand wall was 16 inches, one inch more than the width of the toilet seat.
Four of us shared that one toilet, and waiting could seem like an eternity. Maybe that’s why families were so close back in the ’30s.
Having lived through those rigors of life makes today’s living a snap. The bathroom is no longer a torture chamber.
Today, the two of us share a warm, carpeted bathroom, which is a far cry from the old days when I waited for that uncarpeted, unheated, icy-cold-freezing toilet seat on cold winter mornings.
Come to think of it, maybe being second in line WAS better than being first.”
• • •
I confess to having a nostalgia attack from sharing such a personal and humorous story written by my beloved sweetheart. Lordy, how I miss that man who filled my life with such laughter and love!
I do hope that a small spark has been lit in that young person Gina mentioned. Sometimes that’s all it takes to motivate someone toward a successful life as a writer, an artist, a musician or anyone with a creative gene just waiting for a bit of encouragement.
I wonder how many readers are now thinking about their very first bathroom?
Bobbie Lippman is a professional writer who lives in Seal Rock with her cat, Purrfect. She is the author of “Good Grief: A Collection of Stories As One Woman Journeys From Heartbreak To Healing Through Honesty and Humor.” The book, with all proceeds going to the Rotary International Foundation, is available at JC Market in Newport and directly from Bobbie, who can be contacted at [email protected]