"When the well's dry, we know the worth of water."
-- Benjamin Franklin
Prologue: One day this past week, thanks to Engineering Specialist Willie Smith from the Columbia County Water system, I didn't have to go up a hill like Jack and Jill "to fetch a pail of water." With five days' warning that water on Stevens Creek Road would be turned off for one day, I had plenty of time to do all the fetching and filling I needed to last the day.
Plan A: Post sticky notes all over the house with the word "water" on them so I won't forget. Then, look for that pile of plastic milk containers I'd been saving for emergencies like this, only to remember my after-Christmas cleaning spree when I finally decided to throw my "useless" collection away.
Plan B: Buy bottled drinking water, and figure out how to store enough for cooking, hand washing, and rinsing dishes.
Plan C: With two days to go I made detailed plans: Catch up on laundry, run the dishwasher the night before, and take my D-Day shower at the "Family Y" following my morning swim. Lastly, for flushing toilets I had the perfect solution. I could fill one downstairs sink and the upstairs tub, and get out my berry-picking gallon buckets to perform the necessary deed. I felt a puff of pride at that one.
Though I never had to go "up a hill" for water, with little indoor plumbing in my early days I drew many a gallon from a well, even to learning how to position the bucket to bring it up full of water instead of half or quarter full. (It's all in the wrist.)
D-Day: With laundry and dishes done, jugs, bottles, and coffee-maker full, and sink and tub nearly overflowing, I left for the "Y" knowing I would suffer no ill effects from my (tap) waterless day.
After-Action Report: I had plenty of clean water for cooking and drinking, and a "pool" on both floors for external needs, but how many times during the day do you think I went straight to the tap to wash my hands? Habits die hard. And all that bravado about drawing full buckets of water from a well? Well, I had forgotten how to keep them full while carrying them, and I never did master the art of emptying just the right amount into the john, bI spilled enough water on my floors to last another waterless day.
As the afternoon waned I watched the clock proceed toward the magic 5 o'clock hour when, the good engineer said, the water would be turned back on. Five-o'clock came and went, as did 5:30, 6, and 6:30. Finally, with a meeting at 7, I gobbled down a water-free sandwich and ran upstairs to brush my teeth -- without taking any jugged or bottled water with me. But with plenty of water still in the tub, I gritted my dirty teeth, grabbed a cupful of water from the "pool," and winced, hoping last week's tub cleaning was still good enough to produce a somewhat clean cup of water. I brushed quickly, rinsed my mouth with the rest of the dirty water, and placed my toothbrush back in its holder -- just as the air-bubbled water in all my pounding pipes came back on.
Reflection: Besides trying to remember all day long to pour water on my hands to wash them, and sloshing through my watery trail from pools to johns, I couldn't get the old Sons of the Pioneers song, "Cool, Clear Water," out of my mind. I continually sang:
"All day I faced the barren waste without the taste of water: cool, clear water...." At least I didn't have to add the line, "Old Dan (horse) and I with throats burned dry and souls that cry for water: cool, clear, water."
And by the end of that day and the thousands of other days in my uber-fortunate life, I am supremely thankful that, unlike the desert-wandering man and his horse, I don't have to look for a rare oasis to sing, "Dan, can't you see that big green tree where the water's running free and it's waiting there for you and me?"
Water; cool, clear water. What a gift!
(Barbara Seaborn is a local freelance writer. E-mail comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.)
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