Water from the Well

PEOPLE USUALLY GOT A BUCKET OF WATER in the morning, one at dinner time and then one at night. Water was a commodity that had to be conserved and stretched as far as possible because carrying buckets of water long distances was quite a task.
Women usually carried the water from the well for use on wash day, but occasionally, a boy was employed to do this job for them. I remember seeing strong women carry buckets of water balanced on their heads while also carrying buckets in each hand. They accomplished this feat without having much water slosh from any of the buckets.
The ability to do this expert balancing no longer exists. And, of course, in this day of modern improvements, there is no need for such a practice. Yet, it was an interesting sight to see and an extraordinary thing for a woman to do.
Housewives sometimes caught rainwater in a large wooden barrel that was mostly used for rainwater storage. It was always placed on boards or bricks under the drip at the eaves of the house. On rainy days, a small amount of water would always pour down around the sides of the house, but anything placed under the drip at the house eaves was sure to catch a considerable amount of it.
Often, the water in the barrel would not be used immediately,. Sometimes it stayed for days and days before it was needed. In the meantime, the water often became infested with mosquito larvae or wiggletails as we called the wiggling little organisms. Whenever we peered into the depth of the barrel and saw those little soon-to-be-pests, we told Mother, and it wasn’t long before she saw to it that a few drops of kerosene were added to the water. This quickly dispatched the embryonic mosquitoes that were sure to develop from the wiggletails.
The neighborhood well had a plank floor over it. A wooden box-like frame was erected on the floor directly over the well itself. This frame supported a windlass which had a long iron handle inserted for turning. A chain sufficiently long enough to reach the water was wound around the windlass, and a wooden bucket dangled at the end of the long chain.
Occasionally, when someone was drawing up water, the chain would break and the bucket would drop back in the water with a splash. This always caused consternation to the person drawing the water and to housewives in the neighborhood as well when they heard the news because they were often in the process of cooking a meal or just at the point where there wasn’t a drop of water in the house. This sometimes meant that a child was hurriedly dispatched to a neighbor to borrow a small amount of water to tide the ill-fated housewife through the cooking of a meal.
But usually, this hard luck was short-lived. Men in the neighborhood were very helpful. As soon as they learned of the well bucket problem, one of them would secure a big grappling hook from somewhere, attach it to a long rope, and begin fishing in the well for the bobbing bucket. Sometimes this operation consumed a good bit of time before the bucket was caught on the hook. Once it was accomplished, the bucket was firmly attached to the broken chain and word passed around the neighborhood that the well was in operation again.
A wooden watering trough was on the side of the well for the use of thirsty animals. Horses and mules, usually used it, but occasionally, a dog would stop by and reach up to get a few laps of cool water. Drivers usually kept the trough in operation by drawing up bucket after bucket of water for their thirsty stock.
About once a year, the well diggers, or sometimes they were called well cleaners, would visit the neighborhood to clean the well. An adult passed the word among the people who used the well and assumed the responsibility of having the work done after collecting sufficient funds from the well’s patrons to pay for the well cleaners for their services.
Keeping the well in operation was a neighborhood project, and any expense that was incurred in keeping it going was whole-heartedly shared by all. These well cleaners usually worked in pairs. Always, there seemed to be an older man and a younger man. The more experienced one usually gave the directions, and they did the job together.
I remember seeing an enormous wooden bucket, much larger than the regular well bucket, which they used to empty the well. A very thick rope was tied to it and it was lowered and emptied of water time after time. The great slosh of water being poured out made a big sound, and as soon as the neighborhood children realized what was happening, many came to play in the water with their bare feet.
These men worked for hours, and when they decided that the water level was down low enough, one would descend into the well to clean it of all foreign matter. They brought up many different kinds of things that had fallen in the well, whether by accident or not. Once it was rumored that they brought up a dead cat which caused some talk and excitement, but it soon died away.
After the well was cleaned, the men would adjust it again, and leave it to refill. It was said to have been a very fast flowing well, and in no time, the water was at normal level again. I don’t remember this well going dry, and the neighborhood people always had a plentiful supply of excellent cold water.
When water pipes were laid on our street, this wonderful well was filled and destroyed. Of course, we were happy to have the great convenience of piped water in our homes, but we missed for many years the refreshing water of our neighborhood well. And even today, many of us who drank from its depth remember its refreshing cold water.

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