The Actress and the Diaper Pail*


When I was five, my dad was stationed with the U.S. Navy on Guam, where we lived in a Quonset hut with

two geckos that scurried up the wall. My brother Blake was a year and a half younger than I, and my brother Doug was born on Guam.

Like other kids, we learned to do chores. Blake and I set the table, dried dishes, and made our beds, while my mom had her hands full with little Doug and the never-ending laundry. In the 1950s, everyone used single-thickness cloth diapers, about 30”x30”, that were folded small to fit a newborn and bigger as the baby grew. The diapers dried quickly on the clothes line or when hung out a car window on a drive around the island. When a diaper was soiled, my mom rinsed it in the toilet and dropped it into a pail of sudsy water on the back porch to soak before laundering.

One day when my mom sent me out with a used diaper, I managed to tumble into the pail. There I was—up to my armpits in water that reeked of ammonia, my rear end stuck. To make matters worse, I knocked the pail over in the process of climbing out, spilling the water all over the porch. My clothes were soaked. Blake and I howled.

My mom, who came out to see what happened, laughed, too, and then got the mop. “Before you change clothes, you’ll have to clean up the mess.”

“But Mom,” I said, putting on a hurt face and trying to keep from laughing, “I can’t—it’s too hard.”

“Sure you can.”

And I did, despite my fake tears, right after she snapped this photo for my baby book.

Crocodile Tears

*Reprinted from the January 2011 Issue of Northwest Prime Time, Scene from Childhood

4 thoughts on “The Actress and the Diaper Pail*

  1. Great story! I copied your link to my FB page for the young moms to read. 😀

    BTW, if you see Yusuke, please tell him I am praying for him and please ask him to send me his new email address! suzanneu2@gmail.com

    Thanks Norma!

    1. I agree, Becky. For years I thought she’d caught me in the depths of despair, so it was funny–and a relief–to learn the truth about this photo. Thanks for commenting!

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