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The well on the old farm

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By Elroy Riggs

Recently my son bought a small farm that has an old well pump in the front yard.

In looking at it the other day, it brought back memories of my childhood when most farm families had a water pump in their yard, along with a tin drinking cup that hung from the side. It suited us just fine, though, especially on summer days when hard work in the blazing sun seemed to bake every drop of liquid out of you. In fact, I've never tasted anything sweeter than the cool, clear water we pumped by hand from deep under ground.

As a boy I developed the habit of poking a hole in one of Mom's delicious biscuits with a pencil, then filling it with honey. I'd pinch the hole shut and shove it into a pocket with whatever else happened to be hiding in there. I'd ball up a baloney sandwich and stuff that into another pocket.

Those lint-speckled snacks would get me through the afternoon, along with a couple of quarts of cool well water to wash them down. Some days, I'd drink so much water I could hear it sloshing inside me when I wiggled just right.

When properly exercised, water gushed from the pump's spigot into a bucket, then you'd grab the metal drinking cup and no one felt compelled to point out the obvious health issues. That doesn't mean, however, that we didn't develop some peculiar sipping strategies.

My mother in particular put a lot of thought into the subject. She warned about using the same cup as men who chewed tobacco. Men with mustaches and beards worried her, too. You never knew what might be living in all that facial hair, therefore Mom wisely advised to place my lips as close to the handle as possible. She reasoned that fewer folks drank from that area, making it less likely to harbor mustache germs.

The truth was though, we shared whatever contagious malady was being passed around, whether we drank from the cup or not.

I loved the old well pumps and their partner, the dented cup. But looking back, I mostly respect what the cup represented. It was a time when "neighbor" was both a noun and a verb in the country, as it still can and should be today. Because when you get right down to it, we're all drinking from the same cup.

In thinking back to the changes in our water systems and all aspects of our lives, a few years back there was a lot of talk about adopting the metric system along with the rest of the world. There were some good reasons why we didn't. Imagine some of our favorite sayings in metric:

• A miss is as good as 1.6 kilometers.

• Put your best third of a meter forward.

• Spare the 5.03 meters and spoil the child.

• Twenty-eight grams of prevention is worth 453 grams of cure.

• Give a man 2.5 centimeters and he'll take 1.6 kilometers.

• And Peter Piper picked 8.8 liters of pickled peppers.

Elroy Riggs is a Campbellsville resident and guest columnist for the Central Kentucky News-Journal.