A Three-Legged Bathtub

by Terry Hogan

You do dumb things when you're young. You can do really dumb things when you're young and there is a war on that is killing young men as fast as the government can ship them overseas. So Louise and I decided to get married between our junior and senior years at Knox College. It was 1967. I had joined the Army ROTC to avoid the draft and make $50/month while attending Knox. I figured going in the Army as a Second Lieutenant made more sense than going in as a private. Since patriotism is on a high swing today, this probably isn't politically correct to say, but it is true. Youth can be both pragmatic and stupid.

Without any real regard to financial abilities, logic, the strain of college, a new marriage, and no money, we made the decision. It wasn't a good decision and the general belief that it was a dumb decision probably helped us make it through (By God, we'll show themŠ). So, I delayed my ROTC summer camp training until after we graduated from Knox so that I could work during the summer between the junior and senior year. We went out apartment shopping. It was to be a June wedding. The apartments within walking distance of Knox were overpriced, so we found an upstairs 1-bedroom apartment at 853 East North Street. We had an elevated railroad track as the neighbor next to our bedroom window. The house still stands and looks, at least on the outside, much as it did in 1967.

It was a nice old house and our landlords, a fine old Greek couple, lived on the first floor. They were elderly and looked forward to the $70/month rental check that was due on the 25th of the month. We were never sure if the loud Greek music that was played on the morning of the 25th was a simply reflection of the thrill that it was rent payment day, or whether it was a musical alarm clock to remind us. But they were good people, although a little forgetful, from time to time. He had fought in World War I. His old gas mask was stored in a closet in the bathroom. We never found out which army he served. Politics were strange in WWI.

The apartment consisted of a dining room, living room, a very tiny kitchen (formerly a closet, we think), one bedroom, one bathroom with a 3-legged clawed foot bathtub that could hold half of Lake Erie, and a hallway that ran down the center of it all. The bathroom was pretty good except for the tub. One leg fell off from time to time, threatening to create a tsunami that would send the water down the hall to the locked internal stairway that connected the first and second floors. The tub could easily handle two consenting adults, as long as they were well-behaved consenting adults. One false move, and the claw leg would fall off.

Our bedroom was built over a screened side-porch to the house. Our landlords used the rafters of the screened porch to hang their garden's yield of garlic and onions to dry. As the apartment had no air conditioning (or insulation), we were forced to sleep with the windows opened in the summer, waking to the fragrance of a Greek Isle, no doubt, as the garlic and onions permeated everything and everybody in the bedroom.

The kitchen was, without a doubt, my wife's favorite room. It had a small refrigerator that worked well, but noisily. The stove was an old white enamel over cast iron gas job that had an oven door that weighed a ton. Yes, we knew what it weighed. The oven door would, at unpredictable times, fall off the hinges when opened and pin my wife between the stove and the refrigerator. The kitchen had one small rectangle window that had been painted shut since Fido was a pup. No matter what I tried, the window would not open. It got so hot in there (this is my ''so hot'' story, so pay attention) that our mood candle, which was stored on top of the refrigerator, melted.

The dining room and living room were nice, but we had no furniture for them. So we went down to Main Street to buy furniture (you could back then). We bought a new kitchen table and four new chairs, a 9 x 12 rug, a large braided rug, two small braided rug, and a used couch ($5 for the couch) and convinced the store to deliver it all at no additional cost. The total cost was around $80, which was pretty cheap, even then. Although I do remember that my pay at Butlers back then, working that summer, was $84 per week.

But we still needed more furniture and money was going fast. Luckily, I was able to buy scrap wood at Butlers that was destined for the incinerator. The wood was yellow pine, intended for use in ''export crates'' to ship material overseas. With this yellow pine, I made a coffee table and two end tables. They wouldn't win any ''Better Homes'' awards, but they served us through college and through two years of army duty (as did the $5 couch, as I recall).

I remember when we were moving all the stuff into the apartment. It was a few days before the wedding, and we wanted some place to come back to after our weekend honeymoon at the glorious Meramec Caverns in Missouri. As we were getting stuff organized, Louise and I heard a click. Then another. We finally realized it was something hitting the glass of the dining room window. There on the sidewalk, were my parents. My Dad was poised to let fly with another small rock aimed at the window. I guess his purpose was to give us fair warning that they were there, but I would have thought a knock on the door would have worked as well, and probably not terrified our new landlords. We waved them up. The first thing Mom said was ''Oh, I want to see how you have set up the bedroom!'' My Mother being 5 feet 2 and my Dad being 6 foot 3, or thereabouts, Dad had no difficulty flashing a look of deliberate anguish, from his position, standing behind Mom. However, the bedroom (and bed) was perfectly in order. At the time, I figured Dad was relieved. In hindsight, it might have made him worry more. I'll never know.

As I said earlier, the elevated ''Q'' railroad track was our neighbor to the east. There was an underpass that allowed traffic on North Street to continue without delay caused by the trains passing overhead. However, the clearance distance marked on the overhead must have been measured before several reworks of the street. Over the year that we lived in the apartment, we had a bird's view of several semis getting wedged in the overpass, stuck like Winnie the Pooh, in Rabbit's door. Finally, tires deflated, the semis would be freed and would face the task of backing up down the length of North Street, against oncoming traffic.

The trains had a more direct effect for us. With every passing train (and there were many), fine plaster dust would escape from the cracks in the apartment walls, particularly in the hallway. Plaster dust would glisten in the sun's light, settling like a new morn's snow. The trains accomplished this by rattling the house from its foundation up to the 3-legged bathtub. Small items perched on our shelves had to be pushed back about once a week to keep them from vibrating off and falling.

Our landlords were quite elderly and had their share of health problems. Nevertheless, this did not hinder their God-given-right to drive a 1950 Ford. The driving style can best be described as slow, but reckless. Of course, I should have thought about him first, when our old 57 Ford was rear-ended as it sat parked on North Street. We were furious. There was a lot of damage to the rear of the car, no note, and we didn't have a dime for repairs. About a week later, I saw the landlord and made an unkind comment about mankind and the thoughtless types who ''hit and run.'' He startled, and confessed that he had done it, but forgot to tell me about it.

The Gods have a sense of humor. Me, a mere mortal, foolishly thought my problems were over when our landlord gave me the name of his insurance company. Now this was a long time ago. Perhaps the insurance company is much nicer to poor college students who have had their car wrecked (dare I point out ''hit and run'' again) while it was parked on the street. But, frankly, I didn't feel like I was in very ''good hands'' when I tried to get my car fixed. I'll leave the details to your imagination. We've all dealt with insurance companies who would rather build lavish corporate headquarters than pay valid claims.

Louise made me a birthday cake that year, using that cranky old stove. She baked a number of single-layer cakes and then cut them into parts, joining the parts, and forming a ''Snoopy'', which was then pains-takingly frosted to form a black and white Snoopy. I took a photo of it. It was the nicest birthday cake I have ever had.

We used to buy chicken and beef pot pies on sale -- ten for a dollar. We'd count the number of peas and recognizable chucks of meat when we'd eat them. It shows how important money was then, that I can remember the prices, after all these years. There was also a Wonder Bread bakery outlet store within walking distance. We heated a lot of stale cinnamon rolls. They were pretty good.

Louise's father was a farmer near Alexis. He'd drop by once in awhile and ask us if we could do him a favor. He'd say that he had butchered some more beef and was short of freezer space. He then wondered if we could use a little beef that he didn't have room for in his freezer as the new beef would be ready soon. He was straining his credibility pretty hard, but we didn't want to accuse him of lying. Besides, a nice thick corn-fed steak was pretty nice after a beef pot pie diet that had about 6 to 10 peas and about the same small rectangles of meat of unknown origin in each serving. I believe we splurged and bought a few potatoes to have baked potatoes with the steak.

We made it through Knox. We both graduated. I went off to scenic Fort Riley, Kansas in the summer of 1968 to complete my officer's training. Louise remained in the apartment. I received my commission at Fort Riley from none other than General Westmoreland, freshly back (temporarily) from Vietnam. I suppose he was on his way to Washington or on his way back from Washington, seeking more young soldiers for cannon fodder.

We moved out of our first apartment on New Year's Eve day, 1968-1969. The movers were late, and I was recovering from the flu. When the movers went to roll up the cheap 9 x 12 rug, the rubberized backing of the rug decided to stay with the apartment floor. Everything we owned was already boxed up and loaded on the moving van. The movers were rather surly and becoming more so, anxious to start celebrating the New Year. Louise and I had no choice but to spend a long time on hands and knees, scraping up the soft rubberized foam from the old hardwood floors without benefit of any tools. We left our first home about midnight. The temperature outside was about 20 degrees below zero. I had houseplants in my hands and arms. I slipped and fell on the back steps of the apartment, unable to catch myself due to the plants. When I got to the car, the driver's door was frozen shut so I had to climb across the passenger side, with the houseplants. We went to a local motel on North Henderson Street to spend the rest of the night, carefully taking the house plants into the motel to protect from them freezing. When we awoke in the morning, all the plants were wilted. Apparently it doesn't take long at 20 below.

But, I was now an ''officer and a gentleman,'' although it was changed to simply ''an officer'' while I was still on active duty. I guess ''gentleman'' smacked of being a title, and I think it was Congress that changed it. Perhaps it was that Congress didn't want any gentlemen being blown to bits in South East Asia. But that's another story better told by others.

Soon I (we) were on active duty, assigned to Fort McClellan in Alabama where the Governor was a guy named Wallace, and I drove a car with ''Land of Lincoln'' on its plates. We were later assigned to Fort Eustis, Va. where I made the staggering take-home wage of $324 a month as an officer. To put this in perspective, if we had lived off-post, we would have qualified for subsidized housing. Uncle Sam wasn't much on paying a livable wage back then, for enlisted or junior officers. The nearest I got to war was riot control duty in Washington, D.C.

Since then, we have lived a lot of places, and moved more often than rational folks should. But in all those years, we only lived in one place with a 3-legged bathtub, and slept in a bedroom bathed in the fragrance of drying onions and garlic, freshly pulled from the prairie soil.

Frankly, you can keep the stove with the killer door, the odors of onion and garlic, and the rest. They were hard times, even looking back over nearly 35 years. Movies overrate young love and poverty -- probably written by someone who has experienced neither.

But I do miss the three-legged bathtub.

Uploaded to The Zephyr Online May 30, 2001

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