Rainbows Drink Water
fish slip from our hands – in return for five loaves of breads,
in return for a sorrowful glance pale as a bleached sail.
who murmur about the old days: plink of water –
damp scent, freckles of salt – hideous jellyfish
stains cover the shore.
Recently I dropped by the farm that Pauline and her family lived on when they first moved to Canada in the 1930’s. The owners took me on a tour of the house and mentioned that they had never had a bathroom upstairs. When I asked my dad about that, he assured me they did, at least for a time. It had a large brass claw-foot bathtub, an unusual luxury for a farm in Southwestern Ontario in the 1930’s. The problem was, they only had cold running water. So one summer day, the kids carted the heavy tub downstairs and out the door where they parked at the side of the house next to the well and hand pump. Each morning the kids would fill the tub with cold well water and then go into the fields for the day and work. At the end of the day they would take turns bathing in the water that had been warmed by the sun. By the time the last one bathed, the water was black from all the dirt. But ahhhh, it was still a hot bath.
While in Yakima, WA recently, someone who also grew up on a farm told me her sun warmed water story. She was the youngest of several children who were lucky enough to receive a large blow up pool. They filled the pool up with water in the morning, and then their mother told them they had to kill and pluck the chickens before they got to swim. All day, the kids worked on the chickens, hacking off their heads (their mom actually did that job), draining the blood, and deflocking the birds. It was long, hard, work, and the kids were exhausted by the end of the day. But stolen glances at the inviting pool full of sun warmed water had encouraged them to keep working.
Finally, they were down to the last chicken. Their mom grabbed the chicken, hacked off its head, and began to hand it over to the next person when the chicken somehow managed to scramble away, headless, and ran around the yard, blood spurting out the cavity in its neck. Finally it conked out, falling neck first into, you guessed it, the pool. Blood quickly filled the water. The youngest child was totally overcome with grief and dismay and let out an ear piercing scream. Not for the chicken, but for the swim she had suddenly lost.
My husband, Nick, also spent some of his youth growing up on a farm. The water from the crops in the fields and the runoff from the livestock drained into an irrigation ditch. The water from this ditch then found its way into the cistern at the back of the house. Nick’s stepfather, Grant, would pour a gallon of bleach into the cistern every so often to kill the germs. A sand filter took care of the rest. Nick and his family drank this pesticide infested water daily (amazingly, they are all still alive). Last week when we visited the farm, Grant told Nick that he had once found a dead cat inside the cistern. For some reason, I think Grant ought to have kept that information to himself.