My Happy Place

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The Alhambra. Is this Katherine's happy place??? (from author's personal collection)

When I try to think of where I have felt the happiest in my life, my mind glides over so many possible places.

Could it be the palace in Rome where I spent four of my earliest years?  The marble winding stairway, the echoing hallways, the magnificent paintings on the ceilings and statues decorating the entire palace?

Palace in Rome (from author’s personal collection)

Was it the cliffs and caves in Chong Qing where I went to play my imaginary games when I wanted to be alone?

Was it high up on the mulberry tree which over looked the Franciscan Monastery in DC when I sat eating the ripe fruit and surveying the landscape?  

Or, maybe it was on the stage, dancing with the Broadway cast of The King and I, and earning real money so I could afford to attend college.

Author is the dancer to far right (from author’s personal collection)

Perhaps it was in Salzburg, wandering in the woods with my husband, Ray, where Mozart wrote his Magic Flute, and the fragrance of the spring blossoms filled the air while English robins sang their morning songs.

It could be that it was riding my champion barrel racing horse over the expansive prairie in North Dakota, galloping over the wildflowers of varied hues.

In theory, it should be my classroom, where every single day of my 44 years teaching, I was astounded by the unique ideas and questions of my beloved students. I marveled at how their minds worked.

Author’s classroom (from author’s personal collection)

Another alternative is climbing up and down the staircases in The Alhambra in Granada, taking in the intricate architecture and gardens of the Arab world, while holding my second husband, Bob’s, hand.

At the Alhambra with Bob (from the author’s personal collection)

The reality is, though, that none of these make me so thoroughly and completely happy as soaking in scalding hot water in my bathtub.

My first baths were in Shanghai. Our house had running cold water, and once a week my parents paid dearly for men carrying heavy large metal canisters of hot water hanging from bamboo poles on their shoulders. Three or four men marched into our bathroom to fill the tub.  First my dad bathed, then my mother. Next my brother, the youngest, but because he was a boy, he ranked next. Then, my older sister washed. I was the last. By then, the water was cold and soapy and scummy.

When I arrived in America at the age of 11, and had my first bath in HOT, CLEAN water, I thought I was in heaven. Ever since then, bathing in hot water filled to the very top of the tub, leaning back and just lying there, has brought me true happiness. I can rest there and relax. Nowhere else do I feel so luxurious, so privileged, so lucky. In the warm water, my mind is startlingly clear and I find that my best ideas come to me while I’m there. The bathroom is steamy, and quiet. Sometimes, I wind up my little bath toys to splash around me or float the rubber duckies that flash little lights as they skim across the water. I realize that maybe I’m too old at age 83 to play with windup toys in the tub, but no one is there to judge or make fun of me.

A hot bath is truly my happy place.

Happy Place, complete with hot water and toys! (from the author’s personal collection)

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Katherine Haas taught at Key School in Annapolis for 43 years. She now spends her time enjoying the arts with her husband, teaching Chinese, working part-time at Key as a Storyteller and engaging in progressive activism.

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