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Sunday, July 2, 2017

Water Buckets - Alaska

Teachers are such a spoiled lot when you come right down to it.  Little things like not having enough pencils or paper, a broken electric pencil sharpener, or having to walk an extra 20 feet to your classroom when the temperature drops a little, can put them over the edge.  So when the most serious crisis to ever hit our village occurred one day a few years back I wondered how we would manage.
At our Friday night potluck dinners there was always a central topic of discussion.  Venting now and then was a basic necessity and always felt good to everyone.  The discussions were never really planned; they just sort of arose out of the ashes of burning complaints.  The week’s topic in question that potluck, over the aromas of sliced smoked turkey, barbecued caribou, moose stew, and pumpkin pie, was water – or the lack thereof.  The running water for the school, thus teacher housing, had gone out the previous day.
The well either had a bad pump or clogged filter, or was caved in or ran dry, no one seemed to know for certain.  In any case there was no drinking, washing, (dishes, clothes, or bodies,) or flushing water availale.  Gee, I thought at the time, just like the rest of the village.
I informed my friends in the lower 48 not to worry about me, however; because I was rather a resourceful person and there were other items at my disposal, albeit inconvenient.
First there were two watering points that tapped into different wells in the village.  One can walk to those points without much trouble and bring back a five gallon bucket of water.  We called that packing water.  The nearest watering point was only a quarter of a mile away and packing water a couple of times a day built character.
I suggested to my wife that she could make extra money packing water for the teachers but she showed little interest in doing so.  She only reminded me that one of the criteria she established before coming up here was that running water be available and that I would have to do the running.
We teachers had been warned that the main pump could go out and that we needed to store drinking water, we never seemed to store enough.  The acquisition of several five-gallon buckets was highly recommended so one did not have to resort to using honey buckets.  Most of the teachers spent the first day of the debacle scampering around looking for containers to store drinking water but for some reason the place my wife and I lived had 15 gallons of water standing by when we arrived and enough five gallon buckets filled so we did not have to resort to that honey bucket thing.
I chided my peers that Friday evening for being such wimps and told them we should be thankful that we had running water at all.  I told them I was aghast to hear them moan and groan.  Look at the bright side I told them, “By our contract if water is out for 10 consecutive days our rent is cut in half, school is out at one o’clock each day until the crisis is over, and the hauling of water is good exercise.”  The village watering point that week had some unfamiliar faces.
It was amusing to see teachers hauling water back to their dwellings.  There was snow on the ground, the temp was in the teens, and the boardwalks more slippery then ever.  My friends could not understand why I was not upset.
Secondly, they never understood that just a common ol’ pioneer type like me from Independence could take that sort of thing in stride, that my days in the army had prepared me for such things, my growing up in Fairmount made me tough because of all the guys I hung with from Sugar Creek, and working for the State Emergency Management Agency caused me to see real suffering and disaster.  What was happening was not a disaster.  Besides I had a secret.
My dwelling rested lower than the school and the other teacher housing.  I was not a hydrology expert, but I did remember from a Van Horn science class that water runs downhill.  I had also learned during my travels that you always made friends with the maintenance men.  They have keys to where you might want to go, respond quicker to your problems if they like you, and know where the valves are.
What little amount of pumping left in our worn out system did not create enough pressure to send water to the school or any of the housing save mine.  I received only a trickle but enough of a trickle for the necessities.  The pressure was enough to supply the engine room though.  Instead of going down to the village watering hole after work, when I determined that a trickle was not enough I just went out my back door, down the hall into the pump room, turned on the spigot, filled my buckets, and stealthily retuned to my abode.
I loved my fellow teachers but some things are better left unsaid.  I kept this bit of information to myself.  The last time this had happened was two years ago I was told and given the 80% turnover in personnel since then, no one knew about my source except Dennis, the maintenance man.  Cookies and a free lunch once a week bought his silence.
If anyone had gotten into real distress I would not have let them go with out naturally.  Distress and inconvenience are two different animals and comedic entertainment was hard to come by.
They had to set priorities as to what was important for them, ie, bathing, toileting, dish washing, or drinking water.    
It seems to me if I remember correctly they passed on bathing everyday in exchange for not having to use honey buckets.  I thought at the time that if the situation continued for more than a couple of weeks the aroma arising from the Friday night potlucks would not only yield smoked turkey, barbecued caribou, moose stew, and pumpkin pie.

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