— By Al Batt
My thirst crept through the day.
As farmers, we worked in the sun. My forebears didn’t plant trees for shade. They built houses for shade. The sun could be a bully. The hard, physical work created a ravenous thirst. We didn’t spend time looking for a safe place to drink water. We were not particularly wise to the ways of the world, but we knew where to go when thirsty. We weren’t street smart, but we were hydrated.
We’d go to that old pump situated in the middle of the yard and wish for water. It wasn’t a wishing well. We just pumped like crazy and wished for water. The pump was the go-to-guy on hot days. It brought up cool water from deep in the ground.
The communal, metal drinking cup, dented from experience, hung from the old pump. An old stiff, rusty wire provided a hook for the cup. The handle of the pump was exercised and water ran into a pail located under the pump’s mouth. The cup was used as a dipper. To get a drink, you dipped one out of the bucket and then hung the cup back on the wire for the next thirsty soul.
Everybody drank from the same cup. My mother was not a big worrier about germs, but mothers and lawyers are required to think in terms of worst-case scenarios. My mother expressed concern about everyone drinking from a single cup. She warned me about using the same cup as men who chewed tobacco. Men wearing moustaches or beards drinking out of a communal cup bothered her. She said you never knew what might be living in all that hair, but she suspected horrible things lurked there. There are those who claimed that the cup made it possible to pass along a cold from one person to another, but we shared contagious maladies whether we drank from the cup or not. Mom advised me to place my lips on the dipping cup as close as possible to the handle. She reasoned that fewer folks drank from that area and I’d be less likely to make contact with a germ in that vicinity.
No one drinking from the cup felt compelled to point out certain critical health issues.
We did dump the bucket and rinse it quickly before dipping into it. We did this to wash away any chicken feathers, bird poop, or wiggletails that were in it. There were seldom any wiggletails in the bucket. That’s because most of them were in the rain barrel that stood alongside the house. The barrel collected rainwater and wiggletails. Wiggletails are mosquito larvae and move through the water with an ungainly jerky motion.
I loved that old pump and its partner, the dented cup. I would have to admit that part of the reason for my feelings were likely because that when I was at the pump, I was not working. I was a grinning boy, happy to be dragged away from productive work.
I was a tall drink of water?about half-full?when I would take the thirst challenge. There were days when I would drink endless amounts of water thanks to a generous and understanding bladder. There were days when I would drink so much water that I could hear it sloshing in my body when I’d give myself a bit of a wiggle. I’d drink until my thirst was compromised. The water was free and I couldn’t get enough of it.
It was my habit to take one of Mom’s delicious biscuits, poke a hole into it with a pencil and fill the roll with honey. I’d pinch the end and stuff it into my pocket. I’d ball up a bologna sandwich and shove it into another pocket. There the foodstuffs would commingle with whatever else was hiding in the deep, dark recesses of my pockets. The cold water from that old pump helped me wash such foods down.
At that time, I didn’t suspect that because things were the way they were, they would not stay the way they were.
The old pump is gone and it took the dented cup with it.
Change is seldom easy, but not always bad. If Jack and Jill would have had bottled water, Jack would never have fallen down and broken his crown.
The cup was from a time when “neighbor” was both a noun and a verb. It should still be so today.
Drinking from an old communal drinking cup taught us all a lesson.
We’re all drinking from the same cup.
Al Batt, © 2005
Al Batt is a husband, father and grandfather who lives on a farm near Hartland, Minnesota. He is a writer, speaker and storyteller. He writes a newspaper column. He does a regular TV and radio show, contributes to many magazines and newspapers, and is an avid birder. SnoEowl@aol.com