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Drawing Water: A Boy's Rite of Passage on a Southern Farm

Updated on June 24, 2017
kenneth avery profile image

I was born in the south. I live in the south and will die in the south. This is only a small part of the memories I share.

Common, much-used well water bucket.
Common, much-used well water bucket. | Source

Drawing water from a well - Revolution from Home

www.revolutionfromhome.com/drawing-water-from-a-well/

In early Marion County

located in northwest Alabama, there was an area entitled the New Hope Community and like many rural families, this community was a farm-based area of Alabama. The two major crops of the New Hope Community was corn and cotton and these commodities were what made this rural area of Marion County prosperous.

But for this timeframe from 1940 throughout 1960, the word "prosperous," for these rural citizens just meant that their crops were sown, harvested, and carried to the nearest outlet for selling and that money was what paid their bills for the rest of that planting season throughout the upcoming winter until the next planting time. This was the true definition of prosperous.

In today's viewpoint, prosperous, for the most part, stands for nice cars, homes, lands, and plenty in the bank account. This version of a family working to keep a family with food on their table and a roof over their heads is a far cry from the earlier mentions of prosperous.

Notice where the chain is attached. This device, homemade, is called a windless--to allow the water bucket (right) to go into the well and retrieve cold water. I cannot explain the reason why this lovely cat chose to rest on the well.
Notice where the chain is attached. This device, homemade, is called a windless--to allow the water bucket (right) to go into the well and retrieve cold water. I cannot explain the reason why this lovely cat chose to rest on the well. | Source
Antique cast iron water well pulley to allow a rope run freely from top to the bottom of the well.
Antique cast iron water well pulley to allow a rope run freely from top to the bottom of the well. | Source

Not many today

even in the New Hope Community, which is still there, can tell others what the nouns, "well," and "windless" mean. This is also very sad because this area in Marion County is among the rural terms that are second nature to the citizens who live and work there.

In laymen's terms, a "well" and a "windless" are both relative to a water well that most all of the New Hope Community citizens had from the early 1930s to the late 1960s to bring water into their homes. Unless the homeowner had plenty of money, the older children (teenage guys) were responsible for keeping "the water drawn" for clothes washing, cooking, and even bathing. Not only was water the basis of life, but the well itself--both working hand-in-hand to make life easier.

Origin of water wells

are not that hard to understand. If a landowner, those just starting out with wife and acreage to farm, or an existing landowner needed water (in this timeframe in 1930 in the New Hope Community, Marion County), he sought the Marion County Extension Service and tried to locate a man who knew the land well enough so the future farmer could have a good source of water.

And if there was water found deep in the landowner's ground, someone had to be hired to dig the well. Not every potential farmer had money enough to hire a professional well digger. Although this term might lend one to laugh, but (a) well digger was a very important man in the rural part of Alabama.

The young farmer either borrowed the fee to pay the well-digger or it was given to him at the time of marriage just so the newlywed couple would not have to walk miles just to have water in the house. And this guy, the well-digger, was a pro through and through. When he was expected to work, he worked until he got a morning break, a lunch time (possibly at noon) and an afternoon break and the cold fact is that when a man was digging a well, no one was to distract him for every lick he took by his pick was one inch closer to having a stream of good, clean water.

The complete water well package: well enclosure built by hand from wood or rock; windless; rope; pulley and crank.
The complete water well package: well enclosure built by hand from wood or rock; windless; rope; pulley and crank.

Drawing water

meant one thing: excitement. And to many youngsters of this time, excitement, like prosperous can be misunderstood. In this rural setting where this piece is written, the more-mature male children knew that the day of taking over the task of "drawing" water somewhere in the yard was coming to them without as much as the father having to tell them that this vital task was coming.

The only indication that it was time for the male kids to "draw the water" was for the hard-working mother to hand the pre-teen male with an empty aluminum water bucket and hand it to him. That was it. No negotiation. No frowns or long breaths from the excited teen because teens in this rural time knew better than to talk back to their parents. That is just the way it was.

A boy would take the bucket and literally let it go down until the bucket hit the well that was found several hundred feet below. In a few seconds, the hearty male would start the task of turning the crank on the outside of the "windless" (a slick piece of oak log) where he rope holding the well bucket was hung and start the crank turning with the bucket now heavier from a good bucket of fresh well water.

Upon the male now seeing the water bucket, he would masterfully negotiate the well bucket and pour it into his mom's aluminum water bucket that always sit in the kitchen with a matching aluminum dipper sitting inside for drinking of God's many gifts: fresh well water--that was key to the livelihood of this rural farming family.

The water could be used for cooking, washing clothes, mopping floors, and irrigating small produce gardens when Mother Nature was being stingy with the summer rains.

A reproduction of a water well.
A reproduction of a water well. | Source

It might appear

that a teenage boy having watched his dad or older brothers "draw the water," could be an excitement growing inside of his soul--and him waiting for his turn to take on the task for the job of drawing the water in order for the mom to get her weekly chores finished.

But by the same token, that same boy who had watched the water being drawn and then given to the mom for use in the house might be a bit apprehensive due to the task being (at his time) so daunting. Not at the water bucket falling off of the rope and sinking in the water, but lifting the heavy well bucket full of water for this can be overwhelming for any guy in this rural setting.

Sure, the label, "a rite of passage," being placed on the next oldest male for drawing the well water when in fact it was an expected job to be thought of (by the boy) as a challenge, but it was more seen as a time of growing to the eager boy drawing water as his way to enter his dad in helping tend the fields.

© 2017 Kenneth Avery

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    • kenneth avery profile image
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      Kenneth Avery 6 weeks ago from Hamilton, Alabama

      Elijah,

      Thanks, man, for the wonderful comment. And a big thanks for the memory that I overlooked--blackberry, plum, picking. Yes, our family did this for a lot of years before the men (in this time) left the farm and went to work in the industrial part of our county and the small farms were gone.

      But not forgotten was the pies, cobblers that my mom made from those delicious berries.

      I may try this later. Peace.

    • kenneth avery profile image
      Author

      Kenneth Avery 6 weeks ago from Hamilton, Alabama

      Dear Donna,

      You? A fellow time-traveler? I though that I was the only one.

      Thank you so much for your sweet and much-appreciated comment.

      Sometimes my wife and I will take a drive out from the city and go by that very place in the rural part of our county and see the place where the old well stood. It tears me up to know that city water took over it's use.

      Sometimes I despise progress.

      Donna, thanks again and write anytime.

    • kenneth avery profile image
      Author

      Kenneth Avery 6 weeks ago from Hamilton, Alabama

      Randy,

      In all honesty, I found the feeling of reading your comments about how much real work you and your siblings did each morning that God gave, very nostalgic and tearful.

      I think now that I am in my 60s, those times of drawing water, slopping hogs, was God's way of saying, These are The Best Years of your life.

      I know that I could be wrong about this, but I doubt it.

      And I found a gem in your comment about cane syrup and that memory gave me a few days when I went with my now-late father-in-law and watched him work at the syrup mill. Priceless.

      I may research this topic and later write on it unless you want to do that and in this case, have at it.

      Keep the nice words coming.

    • kenneth avery profile image
      Author

      Kenneth Avery 6 weeks ago from Hamilton, Alabama

      Dear Jaye,

      How sweet that you used a witcher in your comment. I wish that I had used that reference. I did my share of drawing water at age 11 and I thought I was doing something very adult.

      Maybe at this time, I was. But now that that part of my life is now a memory, I miss these things so much.

      Thanks, dear Jaye for the sweet memories you shared and your friendship that always touches my heart.

    • The0NatureBoy profile image

      Elijah A Alexander Jr 8 weeks ago from Washington DC

      Memories of me in Mount Olive community, Lincoln Parish, Louisiana. The only thing is I never got to see was a "well digger" at work. my early country life ended in '53 when we moved to Fort Worth, Texas. Don't we country youngsters have memories few city youngsters don't have.

      Now you can talk about blackberry picking, plum picking and all of the other picking of environment produced foods country folks picked and canned. City people need to know there is food outside of grocery stores also. LOL Why not work one up on that subject and post it.

      Oh,by the way, our wells didn't have the crank for raising the bucket, just the rope coming through the wheel you showed in the third photo and a arm sticking out where the crank was where we learned to flip the rope with every other pull.

      A fun reading to say the least.

    • cygnetbrown profile image

      Donna Brown 2 months ago from Alton, Missouri

      When I was a young girl, I always wanted to go back in time. In a number of ways I have done exactly that at different times in my life. When I was in my twenties and thirties I lived in houses that did not have running water and we had to draw water from a cistern. More recently, I go back in time every moment that I am writing my novels. Again, while I was reading your hub I again went back in time. Thanks for this well written hub.

    • Randy Godwin profile image

      Randy Godwin 2 months ago from Southern Georgia

      Kenneth, drawing water was merely one of a young boys rites of passage on early farms here is southern Georgia. Among others was cutting and fetching wood for the fireplace and stove, learning to milk a cow, as well as helping butcher and process both beef and pork products. For the latter, learning the intricate smoking and preserving process was a must.

      My father's family butchered 8 hogs and cooked out several hundred gallons of cane syrup to last the winter. They didn't have much money but they ate well. Thanks for reminding us how easy we have it today.

    • JayeWisdom profile image

      Jaye Denman 2 months ago from Deep South, USA

      I enjoyed your nostalgic reminiscence about the drawing of well water "back in the day," Ken. This reminds me of when I was a little girl and went to visit my paternal grandparents. There was always a large galvanized pail (not the well bucket, of course) of cold well water sitting on a table on their back porch. It held a ladle (usually called a "dipper") from which we were supposed to dip water into a clean glass or cup to drink. However, I remember with clarity that I often saw boy cousins drink straight from the dipper and pass it on to the next one. Even though I knew nothing at that age about the spread of bacteria, watching them share the dipper always made me change my mind about refreshing myself with the water that was left!

      I also remember when my other grandfather, who owned a large farm in south Mississippi, paid a well-known water "witcher" to walk around the land holding a forked stick until it dipped toward the ground, after which the place was marked and a new well dug there. In case you're wondering--yes--the water vein was there!

      The fact that I recall those things only serves to remind me how old I am, but in the nicest way. Thanks for your enjoyable post, Ken.

      Jaye