Blog Schedule

I post on Monday with an occasional random blog thrown in for good measure. I do my best to answer all comments via email and visit around on the days I post.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

A Quart of Water

Sometime between 1960 and 1961 there was a six month drought in the Virgin Islands. Compared to what we are going through now here in Texas, six months doesn't seem like a long time. But for all of us who had to survive on rain water collected in cisterns or (as was more often the case) 55 gallon drums, it was a real hardship.

We were living at Gifft Hill at the time and were lucky to actually have a concrete cistern, even though it was only 600 gallons. (There's more about our cistern here. It has quite a history.)

During the drought we learned how to conserve water. For a while Mom was able to do laundry on the usual Saturday. Before Dad went off to work he'd started up the generator so Mom could use the ringer washer. It also meant my sister Erva and I could listen to Story Hour on the radio.

Next to the washer was a big galvanized tub for rinsing the clothes. Mom washed the whites first, like sheets and underwear. They got put through the wringer and fed into the tub to get rinsed by being sloshed around by hand. Then they got put through the wringer again and were hung out on the line. The next batch of clothes were lights and got washed and rinsed in the same water as the whites. Sometimes she could get three loads done in the white water before she drained it out onto plants and put the rinse water in the washer. But I think most of the time it was two load before she switched out the water. Anyway that last clothes to get washed were Dad's greasy mechanic work clothes.

Realize all that water was siphoned out of the cistern and into buckets that were then poured into the washer and tub. You can see the hose in this picture filling a large enamel pot. (Erva still has it!) See that plant in the center front? It's a baby papaya. Over to the right on the ground is the rinse tub. This was not only our laundry area, it was where we took our "baths."
See that quart jar by the red basin? That's how much water we used to take a bath. We'd pour a little water into the basin and wet down a wash cloth and get it all soapy. We'd use that little bit of soapy water to wet down and then scrub ourselves clean. The rest of the water in the quart was used to rinse off using another wash cloth.

Yes. A person can get clean in a quart of water.

There came a point though, when we could no longer do the laundry. But that's a story for next week, when you'll met Nora and Steve and their three dogs.


  1. Drought isn't cool at all, but your posts are really cool! Thanks for sharing these, I truly enjoyed the visit. :)

  2. Well, at least that childhood experience is good training for using water well now. I spent 7 years in San Angelo, the town that won a Fickle Finger of Fate Award when its reservoir caught fire, and when I'm camping I insist on being the one who does the dishes, because I don't know anybody else who doesn't waste water when washing dishes.

  3. We call that a "sponge" bath here. No idea how the sponge got into it. We were on a well and had to be careful of water in dry spells. Our bath tub was a galvanized horse watering trough. At least once each summer we had to drive to Holland Landing to the Artesian well there and fill up barrels until our well "came in" again.

  4. Thanks Mandy!

    OMG Peni, the lake caught on fire?!? This is the first I've heard that story. Only in Texas.

    mybabyjohn, you're right, it is sort of a sponge bath. And we helped our neighbors haul water from the catchment with their mule and our donkey. It was a easy going down, but was a long haul walking back up.

  5. You know I enjoyed reading about those wonderful memories. I remember when my grandmother had a wringer washer and then hung the clothes out to dry...what lovely memories!

  6. This is such an interesting post. It's amazing what people can do to survive when things get rough. I remember seeing one of those roller washing machines in my grandparents' basement but never saw it being used. No fun, I'm sure. Your post is another good reminder of how precious water resources are and how we take so many little things we take for granted Your mom was quite a trooper, wasn't she?

  7. Not only did Lake Nasworthy (aka Lake Nasty Water) catch fire, but the Army Corps of Engineers built a pipeline between O.C. Fisher Lake (which was dry) and Twin Buttes Reservoir (which was also dry) and got a FFF award for that, too! I may be wrong, but San Angelo may be the only two-time honoree. And both awards were due to drought. Same drought. It's a seven-year cycle out there.

    Of course the drought ended in a flood. That's how droughts end.

  8. Thanks Tracy. We had a wringer washer up until I was into my teens.

    Yes LynNerd, Mom was a trooper, but she, along with the rest of us, loved the life we lived. As for the wringer washer, it wasn't hard to use at all, and kind of fun actually.

    LOL Peni. I'd say two FFFs is quite an honor. :)

  9. Reading this post, my immediate response was what a hardship, but I doubt you thought that way at the time.

  10. This sounds like how my mom washed, except she could fill the washer from a faucet. She used the wringer washer till about 1980, maybe longer.

    Sponge baths have a long tradition in our family, too. Mom grew up in a house with no bathroom except a toilet, and this wasn't even out in the country. We had a bathtub growing up, but the daily shower, or any shower at all, was far into the future.

  11. What a story. We forget how difficult life used to be and may still become some day.
    N. R. Williams, The Treasures of Carmelidrium

  12. Wow. We don't realize how wasteful we are until we think about something like this!

  13. This is so interesting. I hate to admit it, but I do sometimes take the abundance of water at my fingertips for granted--and I shouldn't. Thanks for this, Bish. : )

  14. I am suddenly incredibly grateful for my shower.

    Your childhood was so amazing. So different from how I grew up. I love your stories and that picture shows it all!


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