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December 14, 2017

Elderly Mothers and Sweet, Sweet Water

It’s been a week without water.

Okay, not without water, exactly, but without running water. Living out in the country means that we live by well water alone. Many people do, out here in East Texas. Or Middle East Texas. Or north of Houston, anyway. Or much of rural Texas. It’s not uncommon.

Unlike the 1930s when Lyndon Baines Johnson, at the time working for Franklin Delano Roosevelt, brought Rural Electrification to all Texans, water has never been an issue. Mainly because if you didn’t have a fancy, Sears and Roebuck wind mill to draw up your water, you always had a hand pump attached to a shallow-water well. And you could send the kids to the well to pump away and bring in a bucket or two or three or more of water.

Now, thanks to that same Rural Electrification, we have an electric pump attached to our water well. It sucks water from fairly deep underground and sends it to splash and gurgle, in constant, repetitive spurts into a huge 500 gallon tank. From there, another pressure pump sends the water on its way into the house to flow freely from kitchen and bathroom faucets, and probably most important, into the tanks on the toilets. Great when it works.

Two small problems. Our neighbor, several miles south, was a pulp mill that sucked water from the same underground aquifer. They used giant pumps (certainly gianter than ours) to spray water continually over the large pine logs to keep them damp until they could be ground up into pulp. Their giant sucking depleted the underground water until our puny little pipe could no longer reach the water table. Several times, we have had to pay the well guy to lower our pipe deeper to reach the water.

The other problem was the electricity. When a bad storm takes out the power lines or some idiot runs into a power line pole (that did happen recently) then the water well, along with our household electricity, is kaput. Ask the Puerto Ricans what it is like to be without power. Not fun.

But if it had been raining as part of the storm, which it was this week, then we caught rain water in buckets as it poured from the down spouts. Or, we can dip water from the intermittent creek that runs along beside our house and behind the trailer. It fills during rain storms with undrinkable, but useable, muddy water. On one occasion, I thought it would be a good idea to go out to the creek to dip buckets of muddy water for use in the toilets.

The bank of the creek is steep. It is slippery with mud. With a bucket in each hand, I started to ease down the slope. You see it coming, right? I slipped. Flailing wildly, I fell, butt-first into the creek. My husband, watching from above, exploded with laughter. Did I think it was funny? Mud-covered and mortified, hardly! I really need to get a sense of humor.

Of course there have been other instances of water loss. During one storm, a pine tree fell across our water tank and crushed it. A week to get another. And who knew the ants enjoyed getting into the electric box to get their jollies? They shorted out the wiring. Or the rats love to chew on the covering on electric wires. We had to give up any hope of a hot tub on account of them.

This time, the problem was the main pump. Ours is probably forty or fifty years old, installed when the house was built back in the 1970s. It has chugged away faithfully all that time. But it finally called it quits.

We called in the well guy. An elderly, scrawny senior citizen with a white beard and scraggly yellowish hair sticking out from under a gimme cap, showed up in a company truck. Slowly, he hiked across the creek and inspected the pumps. He nodded half-heartedly and said he would “see if he could find a pump.”

I don’t know if he was trying to be cheap or if he was getting dementia.  Houston has giant stores with plenty of pumps. Three days later he showed up with a 110 volt pump with a new motor that didn’t match the 220 line coming in from the power pole. My poor benighted husband called the electricians. They, too, came out and nodded sagely, called the big boss, and all agreed that the pump wouldn’t work. Once again, the well guy scratched his head and said he would “see what he could find.”

By this time the Witchdoctor, a certified nurse, was ready (or as we say here in East Texas, “fixin’”) to tear her hair out. Nurses MUST wash their hands every time they touch a patient. And Mom’s gangrenous leg and the various herbs and salves we were putting on it were not conducive to a clean and sanitary environment. We had to have water.

Not trusting the well, I have, for the last twenty years, paid for bottled water. We have graduated from an Ozarka water cooler, to a new Primo hot and cold water dispenser. Out here in the trailer, I appropriated a counter-top, clear-plastic, party-style container with a faucet. I filled it periodically from small bottles of water that I borrowed from the big house.

Now, however, this was a much bigger deal. We don’t realize how much water we use in a day. It is so easy to just turn on the faucet. And how many times we reached for the faucet only to remember that it was dry. Or reached to flush the commode. Really, really frustrating. The WD was getting panicky. Would the Hospice nurses shut us down for not having hand-washing water?

We needed lots of water. Water for hand washing. Water for washing Mom. Water for washing load after load of sheets, towels and clothes. Water for drinking. Water for the Keurig. Water for washing dishes. Water for rinsing. Water for boiling Marshmallow Root for the foot soak. Water for fixing food. And then, probably most critical, water for flushing the toilets. I didn’t go down into the creek to get muddy water but we did use the dish water or the rinse water to pour down the commode. No sense using perfectly good, drinkable water to flush with.

Wal-mart, much as I complain of their alliance with the Chinese, also offers a water refilling machine. For all of .27 cents a gallon you can fill as many jugs as you like. I appropriated two of the 5 gallon Primo water jugs from the big house. Those 5-gallon jugs weigh a back-breaking, gut-straining forty pounds each. They weren’t enough. So, at my husband’s suggestion, I bought a 3-gallon jug and appropriated another old one from the house. At only 24 pounds each, they are much more manageable. I don’t need to go to Curves, I’m doing my weight-lifting right here.

Daily trips for water became the order of the day. Sixteen gallons at a time. Even Sister had to pitch in and go for water when I had to make an over-night run to San Antonio. Finally, at long last, our well guy, after consultation with hubby, found a pump. He got it installed and we are, a week later, back in business.

Blessed Veronica, without thinking, reached to turn on the faucet in the sink. To her unbounded joy and amazement, water flowed from the tap. Grateful for the blessed liquid, she immediately scrubbed the bathrooms, top to bottom. Then she did five loads of laundry. Then scrubbed the kitchen counter tops, the sink and the floors. And rewashed all the dishes. I don’t know who was happier to get the water back on, her or me.

The WD is gone, but the rest of us now have water we can use again. Oh, I should mention that the well water does have iron in it. Don’t pour it into a glass and look at it, or wonder why the toilet looks unflushed. It’s pretty awful, gritty with yellowish, pee-colored iron. But it still works for washing everything from hands to sheets to dishes, and for flushing the toilet.

So I’ll continue to carry water for drinking, but in much smaller quantities.

Elderly Mothers , , ,
About Caroline Castillo Crimm

Retired Professor Emeritus from Sam Houston State University, interested in writing novels and speaking about topics such as the history of Latin American. Would like to share the AMAZING world of the 18th century in Northern New Spain, that's Spanish Texas and Mexico!

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