Will Work for Water

Don’t it always seem to go that you don’t know what you’ve got ‘til it’s gone?

 -Joni Mitchell

I have just stepped out of a long shower under the hottest water my skin can stand.  I am wearing a bright white shirt and freshly laundered pants.  My hair is wet.

In the kitchen the dishwasher hums. The sink is dripping. A cup of water is boiling for tea.

If you think this sounds like just a normal happy day in the Raimondo home, how wrong you are. Our household, dear reader with the washed hands, has just come off four and a half days of no running water.

The last few weeks have brought low temperatures to the area that have not been seen – or felt – for a hundred years. One morning I woke up early and whistled my way into the bathroom.  I turned on the tap and – it was only water’s absence that I felt. At first I was not concerned. This is America, right?, and I’m sure the water will be right back. Where could it have gone?

After a few days of nothing but hope and visits from Mr. Master Plumber and the (No) Water Company I learned that an underground pipe had frozen.  And Mr. Master didn’t even have hope in his back of tricks.  “Wait ‘til the ground thaws?” he offered.  Based on weather reports, that would be at least 10 days out. Best-case scenario.

So we had to make due.  My neighbor offered the kitchen sink, and my husband and I trekked over there once or twice a day to fill water bags, bottles, pots, pans, buckets, cups, shot glasses, and anything else that could hold liquid. We had to think about how much we needed, when we would be able to get it again, how to use it in a conservative way.  We cooked foods that required the least amount of water in the pot.  We washed dishes with only a few splashes. We learned just how many bags and bottles were required to flush a toilet.  Washing clothes was out of the question, but thankfully for others around us, we could shower at the gym. 

Sure, there have been times when we didn’t have much water. Backpacking in the beautiful Adirondacks, for example.  But when you backpack you work into your plan how and when you are going to get water.  Maybe you camp next to a babbling mountain brook.  For that matter, being sweaty and dirty is part of the fun. So is being tired and sore, and sleeping on the cold, hard ground, and eating lousy food.  Come to think of it, why do people go backpacking anyway?

That aside, I did not know when I would have water again in my house. This caused a surprising amount of anxiety.  It wasn’t reasonable.  I had any number of neighbors who would help, or I could pop out to the store and buy water if I wanted. Still, I didn’t like the uncertainty. 

Concern about water – how to get it, use as little of it as possible, and then get it again – became a major focus of attention.  It got me thinking about the many people around the world who cannot take access to water for granted.  According to UNICEF, this amounts to around 768 million men, women, and children. Usually it is girls and women who obtain the water for their families, often walking miles each day to the source.  Because this takes up so much time, often they cannot go to school. And the water they have access to frequently is not even clean. Compared to this we had it pretty good. I had no grounds (frozen or otherwise) to complain at all.

 A couple of days later Mr. Master showed up with Mr. Welder and a “Don’t try this at home!” plan. Seems you could hook up a power source to each end of the water pipe where it exited the ground, and run an electric current through it.  This – at least in theory, as Mr. Master had only done it once before – would warm up the pipe, melt the ice in the pipe, and allow the water to flow.  Aside from the possibility that someone would be electrocuted, my home’s electric system would be toasted, my house would catch fire, or the plan wouldn’t work at all, I couldn’t think of any reason not to try it. I mean, what could be bad about combining water with electricity? 

After lots of pipe cutting, wall-hole-poking, wiring, conferencing, buddy-advice-calling, disconnecting, reconnecting, dis-reconnecting, and so on, the men had put everything in place.  After 45 minutes of running the electric current I heard a cry that sounded like “Hey, your mother!” but could have been “We got water!”  It was like Moses hitting the rock.

What a treat it is to have clean water available all day every day.  Watching it come out of the tap is like watching a river roll with the sun setting behind.

We still have a collection of bottles and bags full of water sitting on the kitchen counter. Although it would be easy to dump them down the drain and simply use the water coming out of the tap, there is no way we are doing that. We are going to remember what it took – what it takes millions every day – to obtain one of the most fundamental elements of life – clean water. 

© Barbara Raimondo 2015