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Tuesday, June 02, 2020
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The Old Water Bucket

     
     Water is an essential ingredient for living. Speak to any medical professional and he will emphasize the importance of drinking a certain amount of water per day. Our health depends upon it. Most homes today are equipped with what we describe as “indoor water”. That means for most of us we have the ability to walk into a room and turn a knob and out comes either hot or cold water. It’s relatively inexpensive and quite refreshing for bathing or drinking.

    As a child, I recall a time in which water was not so easy to access. I remember the two years I lived in Green County, Kentucky and stayed with a maternal uncle and grandmother. This home did not have inside water. Well they did have water, but in those days the water was collected in a large galvanized pail and accessing it was through the use of a dipper. My recollection of dippers includes those that were made of wood and later of porcelain metal. The dipper usually hung on a nail or hook just adjacent to the water bucket. The pail was filled with fresh water several times a day where it was collected from a pipe running out of a hillside with fresh spring water flowing out of it.

    I also recall my paternal uncle R.J. having an in-ground well in the yard that always contained ice cold water that tasted especially good on a hot summer day. By turning a crank at the top of the well, the water would eventually rise up in a pipe and the water would gush out into a bucket placed immediately below the pipe. It was efficient and did not require a lot of effort to acquire a one or two-gallon bucket filled to the rim. I do recall that my uncle kept a small glass jar with water in it. It had a mason lid and was kept inside the house near the water bucket. I was told not to drink that water as it was there to occasionally prime the pump. Occasionally the water pump would lose its ability to draw water out of the ground. The pump would have to be primed with the water in the jar.

    My grandmother Keltner in southern Kentucky had a different mechanism for gathering the water. This was the only source of water available to feed and bathe the family. My grandfather had installed something called a windlass system. The windlass was a handmade contraption that allowed a two-gallon bucket to coast down a steep hill on a wire suspended above the ground leading to a spring with good water. At the bottom of the hill the windlass would stop at the mouth of the spring. The placement of the bucket would result in the bucket stopping beneath a pipe coming out of the ground containing a perpetual flow of fresh water. When the bucket was filled, the person collecting the water would wind the rope on the windlass in the opposite direction and thereby pull the bucket back up the hill. Since this windlass was on a series of posts that allowed the bucket to ride an obstructed path up the hill, it was an easier way to get water rather than sending a person down to the bottom of the hill and carrying the water by hand. Sometimes when it had been raining hard, the water coming out of the spring might be a little muddy. Other times as a result of the increased amount of water flow, one might find a live crawfish in the bottom of the bucket swimming around. Either the crawfish or the brown water never seemed to be too big of a concern for the family. One would either dump the bucket and repeat the process or drink the water and not think much more about the experience.

    In the later years of my recollection, it seems that both water buckets at my uncle R.J.’s home as well as my grandmother Keltner’s home consisted of a white porcelain two-gallon pail. Each one had an assigned spot in the kitchen. The dippers were also white porcelain in my recent recollections. I never thought a lot about the fact that we all drank with the same dipper and seemed to avoid any significant communicable diseases while doing so.

    Life is much different now. These experiences are but a fleeting and distant memory. I still enjoy the taste of fresh water as much today as I did those 65 or so years ago. Water remains an essential ingredient for life just as it was in those days gone by. Now we drink water out of plastic disposable bottles. Are we certain today that we live a healthier lifestyle then we did those many years ago? I wonder if we had to fish the crawdad out of our bottled water before taking a drink, would we still be thirsty?