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When Water Was at a Premium

I remember two times as a child when water was at a premium, not in financial cost, but by a lack of water availability. The first place was when we lived in a summer cabin. There were six of us. Mom, Dad, my three siblings and I. If it didn't feel too creepy we could take baths in the creek water that came through the faucets.

Mom, having been from an area of Pennsylvania where this was not considered unusual convinced us this was normal and quite safe. Waterways were not so polluted as they are today. All we had to do was go back out to the dock and look straight down to the bottom of the creek through that clear water. So, what harm was there?

However, we were forbidden to drink this water. The only drinking water came from a spring up a steep hill from where we lived. My father and older brother used to go up there and fill up large containers of water and bring them home. A bucket sat in the corner of the kitchen with a long-handled cup in it. I'm sure in olden times a family might share this cup, going over to it to take a drink. However, Mom poured it into a Tupperware container and put it in the refrigerator so we could pour ourselves an individual glass of water. Otherwise, the long-handled cup was used to add water to cooking pots or for heating up for washing and rinsing the dishes.

The second circumstance where lack of water was an issue was when we lived in a hundred-year-old farmhouse out in the country. The wide creaking floorboards of the kitchen housed a large trap door that led down to the storage cistern, our only source of water storage. Winter snow melt and rain helped to keep the cistern partly full. But, it was necessary to go out to the well as summer passed and the cistern went dry. We had to pump water into large pails which we used to wash dishes or mop floors. (not very sanitary, but we never thought about that).  At first, we all shared in pouring buckets of water into the cistern. But it seemed an unending chore until my big brother rigged up a rain gutter beneath the spigot so we could pump water directly into the cistern. My big brother was a really clever guy! At one point, though, even the well went dry and my father had to order water and have it delivered in a large truck, which then emptied water into our cistern.

When I think about it today, I shake my head in wonder. I live in California now. I lived in Western New York in my childhood. I expect to experience drought here, but not in New York. It makes me wonder what people did in times past when water was at a premium. The world I live in today makes it appear that water is abundant, yet not all that safe to drink. Therefore, it is popular habit to buy drinking water by individual bottles. Truck delivery is done by five-gallon jugs.

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