Bath with a bovine view

The claw-foot tub looks out on the cow yard and barn.


Our bungalow-style farmhouse is replete with creature comforts – in the summer they include the easy chairs below the ceiling fan and in the winter, those same old chairs angled toward the wood stove. A daybed invites some afternoon downtime, and a southwestern corner of the kitchen often quietly beckons, its sun- or moonlit ambience filtering in through two long windows.

We regularly haunt the nook with its built-in bookshelves, and daily trek through the mudroom – which ushers us out to morning chores and welcomes us back from walks. But perhaps the "space supreme" in terms of sheer appreciation is the red claw-foot tub in the slate-tiled bathroom.

Charlie installed it almost three decades ago when he bought the farm and restored the neglected and heavily partitioned house to open, airy, Shaker-style splendor. He put in new floors and added wall pegs, trim, and frames for some long wavy-glassed windows he'd salvaged, painting the wood in quiet Shaker hues – brethren blue and Salem burgundy.

Somewhere in the process he found and installed the white-­enameled tub with its four-clawed pedestal feet – and painted its outer surface a brilliant scarlet. He claims the dazzling red was all he had on hand at the time, but his departure from the more muted Shaker motif elsewhere also answered his need to add a splash of flamboyance to the old place.

In keeping with that impulse he installed a picture window of beveled glass in the wall abutting the tub, providing a view from its sudsy warmth to the barn and cow yard. If the cows choose to gaze back on a cold winter's day, we don't mind – in fact, their stoic acceptance of bovinity's place in the scheme of things seems to heighten the pleasures of bathing.

The other day, I watched as my visiting 4-year-old grandson, chest-high in bubbles, played in the tub with a sieve, measuring cup, spoon, small bucket, and sponge. In the process of creating makeshift waterworks and mountains of foam, he inadvertently washed away the gritty film from the graveled drive where earlier he'd been pushing a metal dump truck amid clouds of drought-induced dust. Cleanliness was not on his mind, it just happened – such is the duplicitous adult agenda behind bubble baths.

My son was not much older than Connor when he first enjoyed the tub's embrace. We were brand-new to the farm and he slipped while crossing the creek, a hard tumble that left him weeping and ashiver. Within minutes of being ushered into the red tub he was merrily chortling some preschool tune.

I soon knew just how he felt. Over subsequent years in the farmhouse, as I worked alongside Charlie in the dairy operation, I came to know and appreciate the claw-foot tub perhaps more than any other residential fixture.

After milking and feeding the cows, I would trudge up the path from the barn with a keenly anticipatory eye, shed my mucky clothes in the bathroom, and flip on the faucets. I usually emerged from the deep red tub with its gently sloping back a new woman, freshly appreciative of the herd milling below, however much trouble they'd given me that day.

Long-haired Omaha accepts the necessity of the bath, climbing in over its smooth round rim at my command for the occasional herbal flea treatment without a whimper.

If the dog doesn't actively enjoy the hosing down, he appreciates the massage and seems to know he'll feel better afterward. When he leaps out to gloriously shake about the room, I pay tribute to the architectural inspiration that moved Charlie to install a slate floor with its own central drain.

The tub's red paint has never faded and it has never lost its magic for me, even over the postdairy years. We still keep a small herd of retired cows, who provide visuals through the steamed-up beveled glass.

Under the Shaker pegs and against the quieter hues of the bathroom doors and trim, the old claw-foot bathtub still offers a bold and singular statement – which I often interpret as an outright invitation.

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