Sunday, November 4, 2007

The Old Pump

When growing up on the farm, water was a precious commodity. We lived on a lot on the northwest corner of my grandparent's farm. They had a well where, on a hot, humid summer day you could coax clear, sparkling and delicious water from the old cast iron pump. You didn't need ice to get a cold, thirst quenching drink. It came directly from the well and was as cold as any that you would get today from a refrigerator.

On our acre of land there was no well. We did have a cistern, but that water was unfit for human consumption. It was only used for laundry, moping floors and other household chores. We got our drinking water from the well at my grandparent's house. We walked across the field with a pail and pumped the water from the well.

When the galvanized pail that set on the cupboard was getting empty, Mom would pour the remainder into a glass pitcher, hand the pail to either my brother or myself and off we'd go across the field to Grandma's. This job usually fell to me. My sister was too young to carry a full pail of water and my brother was usually in the barn or the fields. So, I was what you could call the water bearer most of the time.

I'd take the pail and run across the field, pail swinging through the air. Then I'd round the corner of Grandma's house and climb the verandah steps. I'd hang the pail from the hook on the pump and began the tedious task of working the handle. If the pump had lost its prime, I would have to go into the house to get a bit of water for priming. That old pump was cantankerous and there were a few times that Grandma would have to wipe her hands on her apron and come to give me a hand. Priming the pump in winter was a rigorous task, as warm water had to be used. It couldn't be too hot or the cast iron that the pump was made of would crack.

Whatever the season, the old pump would finally catch its prime and the clear, sparkling water would gush from its gaping mouth. I would continue to pump. The pail had to be full. There was no going home with a half pail of water. When the pail was filled almost to the brim, I would begin the journey home.

The pail of water was fairly heavy for a ten-year-old girl, but I was used to hard work and never thought anything of it. I did take my time going home. I kept a sharp eye on the pail, worried that some of the water may slop. Water was precious! Every drop was a treasure, especially in summers when we received little or no rain. Finally I would hand the pail of liquid gold to my mother and breathe a sigh of relief. The water had arrived safely.

I don't remember ever spilling any of that water. I just knew that it was priceless and so was very careful when transporting it. If it was spilled, I would have to account to Dad. He was very strict about the water we used. He knew that the well could go dry at any time. However, Grandma kept that spring running into the well by giving thanks to God each morning for its neverending supply.

Today my aunt lives in my grandparents old farmhouse. The farm is hers now and so is the well and that old pump. Yes, it is still there and amazingly enough, it still pumps water. However, there is one difference. When my grandparents lived on the farm, that old well never ran out of water. It was a spring and back then springs didn't usually run dry. Today, when summers are hot and little or no rain falls, that old well goes dry as a bone. Then water has to be trucked in. How times have changed.

We must all be good stewards when it comes to water. The Earth will only supply so much and one day we may find that water is very scarce indeed. The water levels around here are dismally short of what they once were. The Great Lakes are not at the levels they once were.

Water is precious. Be a good steward and protect our water supply. Water is a treasure to me, as are my memories of my grandparent's old cast iron pump.

Note: The photo at the top of this article is one that I shot of a picture painted by artist James Lorimer Keirstead. It hangs in my home. James is the cousin of my husband's mother. I absolutely love his art. To see more of his beautiful art, please click here.


Michele said...

I really enjoyed this post, Mary. I could just see a small girl running across the field with an empty pail, yet returning ever so slowly with a concern for what it held and a tender heart to its meaning.

This was just a precious memory and I'm honored that you shared it with us ;0)

Thanks so much!

I remember my grandmother telling me things like this. Oh, the precious memories...

And... you're right. We don't take care of our Earth, our water supply, anything that is vital to our lives and the lives of our coming generations. Thank you for opening our eyes on such an important issue, one that is dear to your heart.


Denise said...

I really loved this, you are such a talented writer. Your memories are precious, love you my friend.

Mary said...


What lovely comments you have left on this story. I love writing this type of thing. It brings back memories that are very dear to me.

Needless to say, my entire point was to make people aware of what a treasure we have in water. We need to look after our natural resources.

Thanks again for your kind words.


Mary said...


I'm so glad you enjoyed the story. I have others that I'm going to post that I wrote some years ago. This is the first one in a long time, but Philip from Tossing Pebbles inspired me with his Water Wars post. It brought back memories of how precious water is to us.

Thanks so much for being such a dear friend.

Love you,
Mary said...

I love that painting!! What a beautiful story!
My Mother had to carry water, too! She was born in 1903!

Mary said...


I'm old, but not quite that old. LOL I am a grandmother, but a young one. Grandpa didn't believe in modern technology and wouldn't allow the power company to install electricity on his property until the 1960s. Because of this, I grew up in the old ways. No inside plumbing or water, no electricity at Grandma's. Mom & Dad had electricity but couldn't afford to have a well dug, so we carried the water from my grandparents. My parents got indoor plumbing after I was married but we always had electricity at our house. However, I spent a great deal of time helping Grandma because she suffered from a rare type of anemia.

I'm glad that we had to live that way. It taught us a lot about life.

Thanks for stopping by. Love it when you visit.


Anonymous said...

Nice reading about the stewardship that you learned. Great memory. Great Story.

In the mid '90s I lived for nearly a year without electricity, running water, indoor plumbing etc. After we had a well put in I remember me and my sons playing in the hose water like it was miracle we'd never seen. So grateful for having water on the property.

Marcel said...

Thanks for the great story and the great message. I loved the painting too and will check out the others soon.

Mary said...


Yes, once you've done without modern conveniences, you appreciate them more. I'm sure you and the children were thrilled to have water from the hose. We often don't appreciate what we have until it is no longer available. Thanks so much for visiting.

Mary said...


Thanks so much for the kind words about the story.

James Keirstead's art is wonderful. He takes the viewer back to a time when life was much slower paced. Enjoy!

NorthBayPhoto said...

Great artwork and wonderful information in your blog.

Thanks for visiting my NorthBayPhoto blog. When you visited in the summer, did you arrive during Shad Fly season or were you advised to miss that time of year?

Terri said...

You are a fine writer,Mary. I enjoyed your story very much!
God Bless.

Mary said...


No we had missed the Shad Fly emergence, but I have seen it and it's not pretty. However, if I'm correct, the flies are important to the health of Walleye that fisherman like to pull from the lake.

Take care and thanks for stopping by.

Mary said...


Thank you for your kind comments. You make me blush. I can write these stories from the heart because they are part of me. The words just seem to flow and it's very seldom I have to edit them. Other writings is somewhat different. Those I do have to edit sometimes.

Thanks for visiting. It's nice to see you here.


Lady Di Tn said...

Those of us who had to carry water either from a pump or spring know very well how precious water is to us all. I began carrying two pails of water as soon as I could manage because it was a "FUR PIECE" to the spring.

Most people think all you have to do to get water is turn of the facet and never think about how it got there just like that silly woman who did not care for farmers and just went to the grocery store for food. Hard for me to fathom someone so silly must have had blond hair.

Tossing Pebbles in the Stream said...

I enjoyed your reminiscence of well water.

I bought a cistern pump for the log cabin. It its on the side of the sink and my son can pump water from the river.

If things continue to get dryer people might consider installing a cistern to accumulate water off the roof to use for watering the garden at the dry season.

Mary said...

Lady Di,

LOL I didn't ask my brother what color hair that waitress had.

Yes, I carried water from the creek to the livestock two pails at a time, but we only brought well water in one pail because it was nice to have fresh, cool water.

Water is precious, that is for sure and once you've carried it, you have no doubt about it. Folks today just don't think.


Mary said...


Cisterns are always a good idea. However, in this city you can't have a cistern. We've all became so modernized that the old ways have gone by the wayside. I never did get sick from using cistern water to bath and flush the toilet or to mop floors or water the garden. But today the city seems to think that cisterns are full of pollutants. They better take a deep breath. The air is polluted and it's all the fault of mankind.

I'm glad you enjoyed my memories. Thanks for dropping by. Hope the toe is better by now, but I bet you're still in a lot of pain.

Blessings for a safe week.

Terri said...

I love reading about your thoughts about the past. There is nothing like water right from the ground. I also love the artwork - beautiful.
Thanks for your prayers for my niece. She came through surgery fine and will probably spend the night there. It's just a bit more complicated for her because she is diabetic.
Thanks again.

Mary said...


I am a diabetic also and any surgery is a little more tricky. Thanks so much for letting me know how she is doing. I appreciate it and will keep her in my prayers.


Patriot said...

New giveaway at my site this week - come check it out! Thanks!

gab said...

Oh yeah! We have inherited my fathr's family farm. We have a well at teh bottom of the hill that is just as you say fresh cold water anytime you pump it up it was cold. We have another well up top but this too is unfit to drink it is only used for washing the floors etc. So when Iread this post I became homesick once again. We are here taking care of my dad (his wishes are to die at home like mom did) Ive already been here since 2004. I yearn to go home but know that dad needs me so here I stay. thanks for sharing.

Paula said...

Beautiful post, Mary! I just found this other blog of yours today ~
We also had a pump on our little farm when I was growing up. Our milk cow, Buttercup, figured out how to rub her back on it just so to open it up and drained our well doing this until we had to keep the pump tied shut with baling twine. Great story. Thanks for the memories!

Mary said...


Farm animals are intelligent creatures. I enjoyed hearing about Buttercup. I've seen pump handles held down with binder twine and that is a great way to keep intelligent cows from getting their own water. hehe.

Glad you found this blog. It is my secret garden so to speak. A little of me hidden away in a beautiful corner.


Tina Coruth said...


I loved this story! You tell it so well, I can picture it in my mind. Those were the days. I think kids would be healthier and get into less trouble if they had a little hard work to help the family out rather than video games!

You are so right about our need to take care of our world and its natural resources. We human beings have not done a good job of that in a great many years. I worry about the generations coming up now and in the future.

Thank you for sharing this wonderful experience. :-)


Tina Coruth said...


I forgot to mention, I love that painting, too! I'm off to see more.


Marcel said...

I agree I love the art too! Thanks for the link.

Mary said...


I'm glad you enjoyed it.

Blessings for a great day.

Living Beyond said...

Fabulous thoughts - I almost ran with you with that pail - thanks for sharing and thanks for stopping by!!

Mary said...

living beyond,

I'm glad you enjoyed the story. Writing it brought back many pleasant memories. Thanks for your kind comments.


RUTH said...

A beautiful post filled with happy memories and an important reminder of the trasures our Earth freely gives to us.

Lisa said...

I enjoyed visiting your blog. This post was very good.

Rosa said...

It takes stories such as these to remind us how precious water truly is. I remember visiting my aunt and uncle's house in rural georgia and they had well water up until the mid 70s. I too remember how fun it was to raise and lower the pail (they didn't have a pump) with what seemed to be a huge crank. Your story brought back wonderful memories.

Nan said...

Hello there. Thanks for stopping by my new blog. :)
I'll be back!

Donetta said...

Well Hello, I have so enjoyed coming over to meet you. This post touched my heart.
I will continue to try to contact Denise.