~~ by tkbrown ~~
16 December 2020 — My recent experience with a hot water heater that suddenly died in the middle of a shower on a cold winter morning brought back memories of growing up on the farm. During my seventeen and a half years of living at home, we never had running water. Until seventh grade, we lived in the clapboard house on my uncle’s forty acres with the back forty belonging to our family. While there, we carried water from an old dug well, which—I am guessing—was about one-hundred yards down the hill. The well was twenty to thirty feet deep and about six feet in diameter. The walls were rocked in and a concrete slab had been poured across it with an opening about two-feet square over which we kept a wooden lid laid atop the concrete. We used a two-and-a-half-gallon galvanized bucket on a chain to draw the water from the well. Then we poured the water into water buckets (of same or larger size) and carried them up the hill.
By the time we moved, I was just developing enough strength to think about carrying a bucket on each arm—but I was still carrying only one bucket. My older sister carried two five-gallon buckets at a time. Inside the home, we would fill two water buckets and one or two ten-gallon-cans for use the next day. The next night, it was all to be done again.
After meals, we heated water on the stove to wash the dishes and the milking vessels. Water was also heated each morning for old-fashioned sponge-baths. This did not present much of a problem except during the cold winter months. Our bedrooms were not heated; so, we learned to do a very thorough cleansing (from our face to our toes) in a hurry. Then we ate breakfast and readied ourselves for the bus on weekdays.
On Saturdays, we usually washed clothes outside using our old Maytag wringer washer with two rinse-water tubs. An aunt and uncle had a portable crank wringer which we borrowed and placed between the two tubs to wring the water from the clothes after each rinse. Then, they were hung on the line to dry. Prior to the actual washing of the clothes, the water to fill the washer and the tubs had to be carried up the hill too; after which we heated water for the wash on the old wood cook stove.
Things moved along rather smoothly for the most part during the warmer months, and the clothes were soon dry. During the winter months, the clothes froze-dry on the line. They would literally freeze, then the wind would dry the ice from them. After bringing them in from the lines, we would fold and store all other than the outer-wear garments. Those, we sprinkled with a water and starch solution and stored them in a plastic bag to keep them from drying again before we could iron them. I started sprinkling the clothes when I was about seven or eight. When I was nine, I began to learn how to iron—beginning with men’s dress shirts. After sprinkling all clothes to be ironed, the ironing began for the week ahead. If the task was not completed by end of day, the remaining clothes in the plastic bag were stored in the refrigerator until more could be ironed.
Our sprinkler was an old two-liter Coca-Cola glass bottle—lightly tinted green–with a sprinkler stopper that fit perfectly in the top. After ironing, some of the men’s dress pants were hung with stretchers in the legs. This kept the creases in place.
Our well was spring fed. During the hottest months of summer—sometimes June, always July and August—it would dry up. When this happened, we took the back seat out of our old ’46 Mercury and put ten-gallon cans in the back to haul water for us and for the animals unable to go to the pond on the back forty. Then we made our daily trip to the spring down by town where a rectangular concrete box had been poured around a living spring that never went dry. We were not the only ones needing this water during summer. This spring supplied some of the coldest water I have ever drank for my family and for many members of the surrounding community.
As I mentioned earlier, we moved to the home forty when I was in seventh grade. There, our well was ninety feet deep with a cylindrical shaft about five or six inches in diameter. We had a wooden frame built over the hole from which a rope and pulley hung with a cylindrical bucket on the end. We let this bucket down to the water level. The catch at the bottom of the bucket released and water filled the empty cylinder. When we began pulling the bucket back to the surface the catch closed the opening at the bottom, and the water was held inside. Once above ground, we released the water into the buckets and carried the water a quarter mile back to the house. This was the routine until my second year in high school when we had a well drilled in the yard on the east end of the house. After this, we went to the pump house when we needed another bucket of water. There was still no running water, but this option was much easier than the other two.
The Saturday wash routine continued until the summer after my second year in high school. That summer, I began working in the superintendent’s and principal’s offices where I went to school. I worked twenty hours a week on a program for disadvantaged students. During the school year, I worked ten hours a week. I assisted their secretaries with various office related tasks. Since I was working and going to school during the school year, we began going to the laundromat on Saturdays to do our washing, and I would help pay the cost. This allowed me to have the weekends free to work on the Sunday School lesson I taught on Sunday nights.
Growing up with these routines for fetching water, I learned to appreciate running water as an adult. Rarely have I had to go more than a day without it—which also means, I have rarely gone without hot water for more than a day other than the winter when my second child was a baby. Then, our water froze and stayed frozen for a month. We carried water from the milk-barn for our daily necessities during that time.
So, my lack of hot water the past few days has not been a major inconvenience. I have heated water on the stove in my water bath canner and continued to do as needed. It is times like this and the winter mentioned above when I truly appreciate the lessons of my childhood. Needless to say, it is good to have my hot water back—it was repaired this evening. Many thanks to those who made this possible. Now, I can begin my cooking for care packages I plan to send some family members later in the week.
Picture Above: from WorthPoint.com.