Just the other morning I stepped in to take my morning shower. After running the water until the temperature was to my liking, I stood under the shower head for a good while when it occurred to me: I am on a public water line and at the turn of the faucet I have water and all I want. This was when I stopped and thought that I have not always had the luxury that now by most of the population is a necessity these days.
As I have stated before, I grew up in the country during the 50s and 60s. Living in rural Ohio I still feel was a privilege and a part of my life I will never want to change; however, back then, each home had its own water supply. There were some people who had strong wells to draw from that were fed by strong veins of spring water. Also, there might only be two in the household that lowered the amount of water used. But for the average (and I considered my family average), the supply of water bordered on adequate and not near enough depending on how and who was viewing the situation.
Our home was supplied by a cistern that was not too large in its holding capacity and I think had a small leak. It seemed that Howard Altman, the water man, was at our home to the point he could back up to the cistern blindfolded and Dad felt it costly.
A little over a hundred yards from the main house was a spring house. Simply a strong spring at some time in the past was developed and routed through there into a trough where the milk cans were put to keep cool until the milk truck arrived. The spring not only passed through there but exited out into the barnyard behind it and watered the livestock year round, never going dry or freezing.
Dad got the idea to dig out a holding tank in the spring house and run a line up to the house and give us a second supply of water. It was great except if used a lot at one time, it would run dry and needed time to refill. If it rained a lot, the water became very muddy and came out the faucet in that form. If the temperature were to be below 20 degrees for a few days, a spot in the pipe froze and it was out of operation.
So that meant water was a valuable commodity at our home. I think my mom was in charge as to usage (how much, when and why.) This was rarely questioned, just wiser to agree and follow directions.
Our place is just an example of what each family had to deal with and in their own way. People built bigger cisterns and designed them to catch the rainwater. This was a great idea in the rainy season but not much help in very dry seasons.
Some people had wells drilled to get more water. Of course, with that, a person was called in with a stick that looked like a “y.” The water witch, as they were known, would hold the rod with the tail of the “y” out as if pointing. When water was felt, the stick would point to the spot to drill or dig. It sounds a little hard to believe but the percentage of success proved it to be much more than just an old wives tail.
Even after I was married and we bought a home outside of Felicity the home had a cistern for the water supply. It was a 2,000 gallon cistern that caught rainwater and for the most part handled our needs.
But when we added two children, demand passed supply. As we had done as children, and so far as adults, we conserved as best we knew how. It really didn’t seem a terrible sacrifice at all. That is until the public water line passed by our home and we bought a water tap. The day the water came into our house we were in awe of just how big a tub of water could be, how many loads could be washed, and how it never ran out.
The days of muddy water or no water or, worse, having to carry it to the house, were over. I look back and think of those days and really have no regret that progress came to the country. My wife has told me that my showers many times last no longer than three minutes, tops. Old habits can be hard to break.
However, when I was about 12 years old, I was very interested in history and was very interested in the “old” days. I even thought I wanted to live in that time. One cold spell when the spring froze, my mother gave me two five gallon buckets and told me to go down to the spring house and carry enough water for her to do laundry. After my third trip up from the spring house with two full five gallon buckets I decided I was more than done with those good old days. Long live city water!
Rick Houser grew up on a farm near Moscow in Clermont County and likes to share stories about his youth and other topics. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.