On a hot summer day, when farm work left us dirty, tired, and thirsty, nothing was more refreshing than a drink at the old well pump. A hand pump brought up cold water from a hundred feet deep where an underground river ran sixty degrees cold and seemingly inexhaustible. The tall windmill that stood above the well had served for many years, but it was disconnected in the twelve years of my childhood and youth there. There was still plenty of water available for a water fight or filling the tank nearby where we kept the turtles for a time, and sometimes took a dip ourselves.
One tin cup hung from a hook on the steel windmill frame, and it served as our common cup, in the years when we did not fear each other’s germs, but gladly took our turns for several full to overflowing cups. It was a fitting symbol of everything we shared in those days, including the work that put most of the food on our table from the garden, fields, and feedlots. No bottled water or soda pop or even fresh-squeezed country fair lemonade tasted as good or quenched thirsts as well as the water from that well.
Later a deeper well and a pressure tank was needed to sustain a constant supply for the growing herds of cows and pigs. That well was connected to a hydrant at the same location, and its lever was easy enough to open and didn’t require any pumping by hand. And that water, just as laden with iron as the first, and just as cold, served us well also, but there was a magic to that old hand pump that the new system lacked. The water splashed out of that old pump in flagrant gushes that responded to the force of our muscles, and always filled the cup in one big splash, washing our feet as well. The new well nearly knocked the cup out of our hands, but never filled it to the brim. The uncontrollable pressure gave us a shower as well, much higher than the feet. No matter, I suppose. The shower was often as welcome as thirst quenched. And the same battered tin cup still served.