The Working Waterfront

My love affair with hot water

Sometimes fickle, it makes life in an old farmhouse livable

Sandy Oliver
Posted 2018-05-07
Last Modified 2018-05-07

We go back a long way, hot water and I. It has been passionately hot, torrid in fact, water up to my belly button, floating bubbles in the tub, splashing all around my fists and caressing my wrists in a dishpan, gushing from the faucet when I turn it on. Oh, hot water, I love you.

I can live in my drafty old farmhouse, haul wood for woodstoves to keep me warm, wake up to sometimes shockingly cold temperatures in my bedroom (like low 40s) because you are in my life.

I’ll never take hot water for granted. Several seasons of working in a living history museum, cooking in a fireplace and washing dishes in a basin with water heated over an open fire, taught me the value of hot water from a faucet.

Spending time with friends living in a back-to-the lander’s cabin with no hot water convinced me that I would be wretched living like that. A few spells of no electrical power served to remind me how life can be when all water has to be heated on a stove, and must be used sparingly. That’s when a hot-water-soaked washcloth held up to the face feels impossibly delicious and I long for the bathtub.

When we moved into this house there was only a cold-water tap. Fortunately, a plumber friend helped with the move and installed a hot water heater and one more tap in the kitchen, so within days of occupancy, I could wash dishes, my hands, my face, with my beloved hot water. There was hot water enough to tackle grimy floors, dirty socks, piles of greasy dishes. Hot water and I were, and still are, a great team in the clean department.

It took a couple more years to get a bathroom, so I became acquainted with the tubs and showers of all my friends where hot water and I met for our assignations. At last a darling little bathtub, which is exactly as long as the distance from my tail bone to my heels, was installed where I have since carried on with my hot liquid friend. I drown sleepless nights in the hot water of that tub. After an hour or two of wakefulness, I get out of bed, draw a tub full, dribble in some bubble bath, and fall sleep moments after climbing in. Perfect and better than pills. (Mind you, I do not spend the night in the tub: I do get up and go back to bed.)

For years I took up with electric hot water heaters of various sorts, one second hand-one, in fact, which actually did very well by me, and then a new one. From time to time, an element would give out, and I felt, temporarily, as abandoned as any neglected lover. Then this year, I added a heat-pump hot water heater to my household.

It is generously-sized, with a quietly whirring fan, and does its highly technical work in a fashion which I can barely fathom. This business of squeezing cold air until it gets hot seems like alchemy to me. Never mind. As long as it makes enough hot water for me to dally with, I don’t care where it comes from. It holds up to two or three loads of wash, plus dishes, and bathing. Really, nothing to complain about at all.

As much as I love my domestic hot water, I long for an exotic hot water affair. I hear that in Iceland, where hot water bubbles up from geothermal pools, one can slip into wild hot water. As we used to say: far out. I suppose a geothermal pool might be like the flings I have had with the occasional hot tub.

One memorable hot tub experience involved my body happily engulfed in hot water while snowflakes drifted down to disappear before my eyes into the bubbling surface. Entrancing. Another time, an hour in a hand-built, wood-fired hot tub in the pleasant company of women friends, liver-thawing warmth, whiffs of wood-smoke and soft voices pondering the mysteries of life.

These lovely hot water experiences were like all special times and it is the diurnal round that proves my beloved’s worth. Hot water is my best kitchen companion; a helper in the domestic round; and a reliable bathtub mate. May we go on forever.

Sandy Oliver writes, cooks, gardens, and writes on Islesboro.