Sunday, August 28, 2011

Mom and the Great Gallon Water Scheme

My entire life my mother has collected water in plastic gallon jugs.

There's even a system for this. She typically has between 2-3 gallons of drinkable water in the kitchen she buys from the store. Every Friday when she goes grocery shopping, she restocks whatever has been used. As the jugs are emptied she fills them with water from the tap and writes the date on the bottle with a black sharpie. The full jug is then carried down into the basement, where it is placed on shelves with 50-60 other plastic gallon bottles.

This sounds absolutely insane, right? I already know you're expecting me to now tell you that she scrawls government conspiracies on the walls or wears tin foils hats. (She does not. In fact she's the respectable sort of person who is president of her labor union and sometimes seated on the town council).

I don't blame you for thinking it. Everyone--including myself at times--has found this to be nuts. Plumbers have laughed at the tidy rows of gallon jugs, the sun shining through the water, the dates casting shadows on the walls. Friends have raised an eyebrow, especially when the jugs outgrew the shelves and were lined against the bottom wall. I called it my Mom's "Water Bottle Hall of Fame" when I was a kid.

Then hurricane Bob hit and the power went out. We were the only house in Charlestown that could flush a toilet. (If you open up the back of a toilet and pour 2-3 gallon jugs manually, it flushes). Mom could rinse our dishes, the cats had plenty of water, we could both bathe sparingly and be comfortable. Mom was one of the few the clean people to show up to work in Rhode Island that week. The basement kept the water naturally cool, and the dates let us know how old it was. And we had plenty of fluids until the power came back on because she always had the 2-3 gallons of freshly purchased water for drinking. 

Hurricanes hit during the hottest, most humid months of the year.
And now imagine you can't flush this for 3-4 days.
That's right: Super gross.

And the bottles didn't just save the day after storms. Later in high school our pump broke and during the two days it took for the plumber to arrive, we were once again comfortable. Being the overly self conscious creature that is every teenage girl, I was elated I could wash my hair and brush my teeth. I'm not going to tell you I stopped teasing my Mom about the water reserve, but I did begin to carry the bottles to the basement with significantly less griping.

Hurricane Irene rolled up the east coast this morning, thankfully much weaker than predicted. I called my Mom and she reported that sure enough the power was out and the water was off. She had already brought some of the jugs upstairs. "It seems sometimes like I'm the only person who knows we live in New England," She has mused before. Now reading about the panicked folks hunting for water in the stores a few days ago, I'm apt to agree.

As a kid her water bottle collection was embarrassing because other parents didn't do it. As an adult I realize: Why don't other people do this? Huge storms hit New England every few years. People know if they own a well or not. It's incredibly easy and affordable to save the bottles over the course of those safe 'in between' years. Mom replaces the old bottles after a few years in case the plastic is breaking down, it only takes her a few moments in the spring to read over the dates, pour the unused water into the bushes, and recycle the older bottles. It's not like they even take up a lot of space. We save other far more useless things in our basements. You can't drink a magazine stack or a basket collection.

Folks never save water. We might have battery operated radios and flash lights ready for a disaster, but you can't drink those either. Maybe some folks save canned goods, but I'll venture not many. We don't stock the things vital to our survival anymore, we just assume they will be there. We save money for emergencies--but what about when the money can't buy us something because it's just not there? I admire how self reliant my Mom is, this afternoon especially. For as much as I teased her every time she tightened a bottle cap and wrote a date, she gets the last laugh whenever the power goes out.


  1. writes the date on the bottle with a black sharpie. The full jug is then carried down into the basement, where it is placed on shelves with 50-60 other plastic gallon bottles. James L. Martin

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