Because of some repairs to our plumbing, the water at our house was cut off for a while. Of course, this was precisely the time that we suddenly had a desire to make coffee and brew some iced tea. Maybe even boil some rice and cook some pasta. And we probably needed to put water in the iron and take a shower and water the garden. When you do not have something then you find there is a pressing need for that something that you do not have.
So we took our usual course -- sat down to discuss this malady. We first lamented the fact that we had no bottled water, so we vowed to get some the next time we went to the store -- just in case our water was cut off again sometime in the next five years. Then my resourceful wife suggested we get water out of a toilet tank -- so, we finally had water to make coffee. (Note that I said 'toilet tank' and not 'toilet bowl'.)
Now we could sit down and lament our dire fate with steaming coffee in hand. We criticized ourselves about being so helpless when denied a simple modern convenience. Marilyn said that we would really be suffering if we had to pump our own water out of the ground. I told her that was exactly what my grandparents had to do.
My paternal grandparents lived on a farm about fifteen miles outside of a small town in Oklahoma. They were farmers. Primarily grew corn, I think.
I explained to her that when we would drive up to visit them, the first thing my grandmother would do was stoke up the wood stove, put on a pot of coffee, and start rolling out pie dough. That wood stove was a marvel to me, and temperature control was governed by my grandmother's experience. Somehow she could make marvelous meals including an apple or cherry or raisin pie baked to perfection.
Like many people in rural communities, a lot of technology had passed them by. They had electricity and a refrigerator and this fact confuses me a lot. It may be that my memory is messing with me, but I distinctly remember that my maternal grandparents also had electricity but had an ice box. Ice box: That was an insulated cupboard that was filled with a block of ice delivered every third day. Why does this baffle me? My maternal grandparents lived in town and had an ice box whereas my paternal grandparents lived on a farm and had a refrigerator.
My sister and I always enjoyed visiting my father's parents. They were pretty much no-nonsense folks but went to extraordinarily lengths to make sure we were comfortable. Grandpa would take us out to talk with the sole cow and into the chicken coop to grab some eggs or over to talk with his only horse and sometimes back into the corn fields where he would shove rattle snakes out of the way with his shoe while we ventured through the fields to the river behind. We always had fine meals and red beans was a staple at every meal. At eight o'clock it was bedtime because all would have to rise at 4:00 a.m. My sister and I were bedded down into a bed that sunk deep when you lay on it with thick quilts that kept us toasty.
I told my wife that they didn't have a car and I said that because I remember The Preacher would stop by and pick them up every Sunday for church. But I do have a vague memory of a blue pickup truck somewhere, so I might have told her wrong. After all, how did they get their farm product to market? And get groceries? They couldn't have needed many groceries though. They had the cow for milk and Grandma churned her own butter and they had chicken and eggs and veggies from the garden, but little else.
Sometimes people would stop by to visit and the guest parlor was the front porch with a line of rocking chairs. Sometimes they would bring out a card table, and it was on this card table that I learned how to play dominoes. On those nights when guests came by, there was a bedtime exception. Everyone stayed up until nine or nine-thirty.
I wonder if I am getting any of this wrong? I don't think so and if I did, Sally, my sister, will be sure to correct me. But the one thing I do have a solid memory of is the outhouse. I hated the outhouse. It was located out the backdoor about fifty feet away. When I went to the outhouse I always had a dreaded fear of not only being attacked by snakes and scorpions and spiders on the way to the place, but that those very same critters would bite me on the butt as I would nervously sit there.
But the outhouse was a special ritual for my grandparents. It's funny. Today in 2011 we are pretty open and accept all sorts of behavior. But would we accept daily going to outhouse with your spouse? It was a two-holer and my grandparents had a ritual of going to the restroom together. They would stay for a while and if you listened you could hear them talking as they sat together. As odd as it may sound, this seemed to be a special time together when they talked things out and communicated with each other.
My father talked with them quite often about moving to town. He offered to help get them a house. After all, they were getting on in years and would have a harder and harder time maintaining the little farm. As was their way, they would 'think about it'. It wasn't so much that they were stubborn, they just simply discarded any notion that didn't make a lot of sense. There came a time though when they listened. I'm not sure when it happened. Maybe it was when my grandmother broke her arm. Or maybe they began to feel the weight of years.
My father found a house for them in the small town. It had running water and window water coolers and a gas stove and he would get them a TV and it had an indoor bathroom. When my father showed them the house and he was explaining the stove, my Grandmother just stood in front of it staring at it. She wasn't excited. She just had a hard time understanding how the damn thing could possibly work. The fact that they wouldn't have to pump water didn't particularly impress them. Neither did the indoor bathroom.
But one thing it did have was a front porch. They spent a lot of time on the front porch thinking. Then they went back to the farm and proceeded to the outhouse and spent a lot of time there. Talking it out.
My father worried about whether or not he was doing the right thing. But they were in their eighties and stuff wasn't so easy anymore.
They relented and my father moved them.
They never turned on the TV, but it made a fine shelf. My grandmother slowly began to like the gas stove although she complained that it would never get the right temperatures. But they never were comfortable with the bathroom. There was only one toilet -- a one-holer.
Until they died, they spent most of the time on the porch.
Our life was turned upside down because we lost the routine convenience of running water for a couple of hours. There were some people that relished their lack of convenience. And never lost their love of their blessed two-holer.