County Senoir Repeats As Writing Contest Winner

A Lucky Strike For Rural Family In The 1920s

April 24, 1991|By Dorothy M. Goerke Winning essayist

It happened in the early '20s: We had no water, and the crops were poor that year.

We did have a beautiful stream of water running through our meadow that we called "the branch."

Actually, it was the Little Patuxent River. Our animals drank of it, and my father hauled water from the branch for our use.

Our faithful old mare, Bessie -- who had the biggest feet I've ever seen ona horse -- pulled the cart with the barrels of water in it right up to the kitchen door, where it was parked. We had to boil the water before drinking it or cooking with it.

Baths were taken in a long galvanized tub in the kitchen. Two small children in that tub with a bar of Ivory soap would make one big mess that required using more water to rinse them and mop the kitchen floor -- fun for them, more work for Bessie.

Every time it rained, the branch overflowed its banks,and the water was not clear enough to use. At such times, we had to ration water and could not take baths.

A man and his son who were professional well-diggers said, "There is plenty of water under Maryland. All you have to do is dig for it."

They promised my father they would get us good water, so they began digging. After they dug down a long way, they struck solid rock and no water.

The rock had veins of metal in it that looked like silver -- they called it "fool's gold." It had no known use. Friends took small pieces for their fish bowls and larger pieces for doorstops and book ends.

One weekend, the young man was killed in a work-related accident at his home. Everyone was shocked, and the father was so devastated with grief he became ill and could not work.

After months of discouraging disappointments, my father met two black men -- farmhands looking for work -- who said they would finish digging the well but warned it would "cost a king's ransom." So my father decided to cash in his life insurance policy, but the agent convinced him it would be wiser to borrow on the policy.

My mother suffered with Graves disease. Nervous and excitable, she could worry about everything and nothing. She begged my father not to borrow: "How will we ever pay it back?"

She cried and cried, but my father simply said, "We finish what we start."

The men worked hard and eventually struck water just as they believed theywould -- an extraordinary stream of water! The men threw their hats in the air and yelled with joy. I'd never seen my father so happy -- we had water at last.

As soon as the water cleared, everyone was given a glassful. We held it high and sang the "Doxology." Then we drank the good, cold water, and Old Bessie drank with us from a bucketful.

The carpenters came and built a pump house over the well with alarge tank to hold the water that a gasoline motor pumped.

When we didn't have gasoline to run the pump, my brother and I pumped the tankful by hand. It was a fun job for us after we learned to pump in rhythm.

In hot weather, we would pump the tank to overflowing and take turns standing under it for a cold shower. Of course, we made sure our mother didn't catch us because people believed that swimming orplaying in cold water caused polio.

We had running water into a kitchen sink! My mother would never have to lift a bucketful of branchwater from a barrel in the cart and carry it into the house again. We didn't have 10 pennies to jingle in our pocket, but we were wealthypeople -- very wealthy people because we had water -- good, deep well water and plenty of it.

NOTE: SEE MAIN STORY (Dorothy Goerke, 81, tells of the past)

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