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Back in the Day

Keith Tucker


Special to The Enterprise

One Saturday, many years ago, my parents decided to take us to visit some of our relatives in southwest Tennessee. It was only about a two-hour drive, and we had not made contact with these folks that I recalled. Now my mother had warned us repeatedly not to drink out of the water bucket. Their drinking water came from a cistern that collected the runoff from the roof. There was a metal bucket with a ladle that everyone used to get a drink of water sitting on the kitchen countertop. But the bigger issue was one of the household members there had tuberculosis. This might explain why we didn’t visit much. So, we pull up to an old, unpainted wood-sided house with a corrugated, rusty-metal roof. OK, so I got poor relatives. No crime in that. So, we rolled up and exchanged our greetings. There was a group of teenagers about our age out in the yard standing around a fire. They had collected a bucket of sandstone rocks and were in the process of heating them up. Now, in case you didn’t know, sandstone rocks often have voids in the center and when the air inside got hot enough, it would explode with a loud bang. There are some associated rock shards today called shrapnel blown around but hey, don’t stand too close because these things can go off at any time. At least that was the advice given out by the locals at the time. Poor man’s fireworks you can call it. So, we blew up a few rocks for entertainment.  After getting bored with that we went over to the pond and collected some cattails. In case you’re not familiar with that term, those are the brown seed pods about the shape of a hotdog on top of those plants you see growing in wetlands. If you break one in half, there’s about a million light fluffy fibers with a tiny seed attached to each one. When cutting them, it helps to leave a long green or brown stem with which to hold it. Now if you soak the brown pod in kerosene and light it up it will burn for quite a while. And you can chase each other around ‘til you decide to stop and just play sword fight with a firestick. As I was worried on the way down that this day could turn out to be a bust, I was pleasantly surprised at the resourcefulness of my kin. Needless to say, mom had brought a couple mason jars of our finest northwest Tennessee well water and we didn’t partake of the germ-laden stuff in the bucket on the counter, which had been drawn up with a rope and windlass off the porch which sat over the cistern. It did have a wooden top on a hinge to keep bugs and varmints from falling in and spoiling the water.  Whoever got the job of drawing the water always got a stern “don’t stir the water.” Nobody likes cloudy water, I was informed. One last thing I took away from that day. When you went out to pee off the porch, it was on the side away from the cistern.

Editor’s note: Keith Tucker is a Greenfield resident and owner of The Marble Shop. He may be contacted by email at

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