There are certain memories that snap you back to the past. Smell can carry you all the way back to the earliest memories, like Grandma’s house on a Sunday, or freshly cut grass in the morning. The sharp bite of the cold can bring back memories of childhood Christmas, or training missions in the worst possible combination of sleet and snow, in the middle of the night.
Some of these feelings might not open up the floodgates for distant memories to climb back into your head, but they might still reveal the imprints they have made on your mind in the past. The touch of an ocean breeze or the smell of old leather might not bring up specific memories, but those imprints remain.
Take, for example, hot water.
The picture above was taken on this day, March 13, in 1940. British soldiers used these bathtubs while on the western front in France. They were from the British Expeditionary Force, part of the Dorsetshire County Regiment, otherwise known as “The Dorsets.” This image reminds me of the scene in “Band of Brothers” when Malarkey takes a shower as they pull back from the front after a series of impossibly difficult combat experiences.
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I didn’t grow up with hot water. My family lived in northern Pakistan and in the early 90s, we had electricity approximately once every three days. Our house was fairly nice, but little electricity and the rare occasion for a hot shower had me wanting for more. As technology improved, the frequency of those luxuries also increased. By the time my family left in 2002, electricity and hot water were daily commodities.
Fast forward to the military, and those things were once again stripped from me. In fact, there were times when I just wanted to feel warm water more than ever. After the last phase of Ranger School in Camp Rudder, Florida, I had just gotten back to civilization and got to take a hot shower — we even had quite a bit of time to do it. I remember falling asleep while standing up in the warm embrace of steam and water, as I washed the grime of Ranger School off my body. I stood there for 20 minutes, nodding off and maybe turning around twice after I was initially washed up. I just soaked it all up, as best I could.
Later, in the freezing Afghan winter, hot water was once again a precious commodity — especially when the pipes froze and running water wasn’t available for days on end. Taking a hot shower, thawing my body after a mission in negative degree weather, felt like heaven, even if it was only for a few minutes.
Now, when I step in the shower, I don’t have flashbacks to any of that. But that imprint is recalled somewhere in my body and mind, and I try to enjoy it as much as I can.