Our cistern was near our house on the other side of our driveway. On top of the ground was a cement slab perhaps 30" square with a hole probably no larger than 10" x 12". A piece of wood (I think) covered the hole and a large rectangular rock on top of that held the cover in place. Beneath the cement slab was the cistern itself going deep into the ground. It was a hole perhaps 6 feet wide and I can't guess how deep. The cistern was lined with either cement or stones. Though we were cautioned to stay away from it that didn't prevent me from taking a peek when the cover was off. But it was so dark I couldn't see anything.
In a recent post I mentioned that my father had to clean the cistern because a neighbor boy claimed to have thrown a cat into it. Another challenge with the cistern was that sometimes we ran out of water. I remember one winter morning we turned on the tap and there was no water. Mom was beside herself. My sister and I suggested we just go to Gramma's house, two doors down. My mother forbade it. I think she didn't want to lose face with her mother for not having ordered water in time. But we were in luck because it had snowed the night before. We filled containers with snow and my mom heated it on the stove so we could wash before going to school.
"City water," as we called it, eventually arrived in Mineral Ridge. We felt like we were hot stuff to be able to take a bath in more than an inch of water.
I did not take water for granted when my husband and I lived in El Salvador for nearly a year. When we arrived at the home of our host we were told that the water would probably be off for several hours during the day. We never knew when those hours would be but, as it happened, only rarely was the water off when we were home. (When we were there in the late 1970s there were no hot water heaters. We showered in cold water.)
Six weeks later we moved to a room in a very tiny town in the country. There was a central public water source which most villagers used. It was usually the children who carried empty containers to the water, filled them, and returned with them to their homes. The girls carried them on their heads, the boys on their shoulders. We marveled that little 5-year-olds carried gallon containers (weighing 8 pounds) and 7- and 8-year-olds carried two gallons or more.
To explain, our pila was essentially a concrete box to hold water that was about 24" by 36" by 36" deep. It had a faucet to turn the water off and on. Since there was not always running water, the pila was filled when water was available. Beside and attached to the pila was a 6" deep, flat-bottomed "sink" for laundry, dishes, etc., which had a drain. When dipping water out of the pila we had to be very careful not to contaminate the water with soap, or anything else, for that matter. When I washed clothes I laid each piece in the sink, used a container to dip water from the pila to get the clothes wet, then used a bar of soap to roll over the clothing. And then I scrubbed them, dipped more water to rinse them, and wrung them out by hand. I tell you I was thrilled to see the end of hand-washing clothes in a pila.
In the photos of the pila, above, the woman in the top right photo is using the sink to wash clothes. Not all pilas had ridges on the bottom; some, like the one I used, was smooth. In the bottom photo, second from the right, you can see the pila on the right with the sink on the left. In the center bottom photo, the pila is in the center with a sink on either side.
I washed our dishes in the pila and collected water from it to clean our house. Pilas were also used to bath babies. Once a neighbor child, a toddler of about 18 months, was angry and screaming. Her sister picked her up, sat her in the sink of the pila, and poured cold water over her. I was surprised to see her begin to laugh.
I try not to take water for granted these days. When I remember my mom having to call to have water delivered by truck, watching children carry it from a public source in jugs, or having had to wash clothes in a pila, I'm so very grateful for fresh, clean, running water in my home. When I think of those times, then I don't take it for granted.
This is a Sepia Saturday post. Click through to this week's blog post and see the memories and insights others have posted this week.
Photo of water truck courtesy of Wikimedia.
Photos of pila from google search results.
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