Bazaar of the Senses
It was late on a Friday afternoon, and my stepmother, having finished with the house, had just come out of the tub. She never spoke of bathing; she “tubbed” herself, or gave herself “a good tubbing.” (In general, she was a woman with an enthusiasm for health, full of vegetable greens and attracted by nature to all healthful things, which she identified by their shine and glow: tomatoes, red apples, oranges.) But her observation of personal cleanliness was more than a measure of health. It was, to begin with, an extension of her housework—done cleaning the floors and the furniture, the rugs, the dishes and the woodwork, she would begin on herself. And in this extended ritual the same motive would continue to operate. For it was no mere going-over that she gave to the house; it was a religious ceremony. Every Friday, the eve of the Sabbath spring, was a release from a winter of weekdays. And as she made ready the house, so she prepared herself for the coming of Queen Saturday, the Shabbes. I don’t know what women in the old country would do of a Friday toward nightfall, whether they went to Mikvah, the ritual bath, for purposes of purification. We, however, had none of the usual concomitants of an orthodox Sabbath. My stepmother baked no chalah, traditional woven loaves, braided like wigs and covered with a glossy patina of egg; nor, covering her head and cupping her hands, did she light candles after sundown. All this was left to my grandmother. Stepmother’s tabernacle was the toilet, and the tub was Mikvah enough; she braided her hair instead of dough, and as for the gleaming of candles, she found that cold cream, especially when applied to her nose, was as good a substitute as you could want.
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