Water conservation was pretty much a way of life when “running water” meant that the winter temperatures hadn’t frozen the creek over.
One of the many chores that my sister and I shared was referred to simply as getting water. It really wasn’t actually simple though. Most often this was achieved by carrying empty gallon milk jugs down to the creek and filling them up with fresh water. Calculating just how much water was needed for a family of five was an art. At 15 my hands were large enough and my fingers strong enough to actually carry three gallon jugs in each hand (provided I didn’t need mittens). I always took time to remind my sister that I was doing more than she was – at a stretch, she could only manage a total of four – wimp!
Bath night required more water to be gathered – in fact about 4 extra gallons per person. Yes, we pretty much bathed in as little water as necessary. We had two porcelain covered steel pans that would be placed on the wood stove and filled with 2 gallons of water each. One pan was for washing with soap, and the other for rinsing off afterwards. After the water was heated we would move the pans to a bedroom area, stand in front of the pan and painstakingly wash our bodies by using a rag with soap. Not too much soap though, because if the water became too soapy, then the rinse water in the other pan would become soapy too.
In the winter, when clean snow was on the ground for collecting right outside of the door we sometimes just spent the day melting the snow into the pans to make enough water to bathe. You would be surprised just how little water is actually in snow. That’s why it took all day. No sense in hauling in extra water when Mother Nature provided for us so amply.
To be fair, we didn’t always have to bring in the water by hand. In the summer time we often just stopped by the spring on the way home, filled up the jugs and loaded them into the back of the truck. In fact, sometimes we filled up a 55 gallon steel drum with water and brought it home for use as non-drinking water. These bath days were nice because that water was sometimes poured into a horse trough, left to warm (kind of) in the sun and then at the end of the day we could enjoy a real bath – well, a bath you could actually climb into and soak.
Of course the horse trough was out in the middle of the meadow in front of the house – so you had a choice between modesty and cleanliness.