Tuesday, February 03, 2009

And That's the Truth

I took myself to the Round Rock Antique Mall at lunch today for a quiet stroll. I quite frequently find some small little something to buy while I'm there and today it was a book.

The title of the book is "The Truth About Texas" by Lewis Nordyke. I was familiar with Mr. Nordyke because he wrote a book about John Wesley Hardin that mentions my old home town of Smiley at several points in the narrative. You see, John Wesley Hardin married a girl from Smiley and frequently visited the area. One of the small claims to fame for that little town that time forgot.

I bought the newly found book to acquire a mere two paragraphs on pages 7 and 8 and it was because Mr. Nordyke again told a story about Smiley:

"No one knows what really to believe about Texas. At least I didn't. If someone had come to my house a couple of years ago and told me that the residents of Smiley in Gonzales County, Texas, used their hot-water heaters to cool their water, I would have thought my leg was being pulled. While on tour, I stopped for a long, tall drink from the Smiley water system, and now I can't make anyone believe the true--absolutely true-- water heater story.

"Smiley, with a population of around six hundred, has one artesian well with such great force that no pump or storage tanks are needed. The water main screws right onto the well casing, and that's it. Not even any meters, since the price of water per month is based on the size of pipe leading to the house. A resident of the town could open every faucet and let them run full tilt all month, and his water bill would be the same as if he hadn't used a drop. This artesian water is hot, about right for bathing and washing dishes. So Smiley people do let the water stand in fireless heaters to cool for drinking and some other household purposes. When they want cold water, they turn on the hot faucet and vice versa."

I'm here to tell you that this is the God's honest truth. We moved to Smiley in the summer of 1963. Our first night in our new house, Mother proceeded to order baths all around. David was probably the first in line and discovered the water she had drawn up in the bathtub was too hot for bathing. You definitely could not cool it down by running additional water from the cold tap. I think we used up the available ice cubes to bring the temperature down. I don't know if we did the hot water heater trick for storing cool water or not, but I suspect we did. I have a dim memory of the taps being "backward".

Not only was the water straight from the tap the temperature you would want your coffee for drinking, it was loaded with the taste of sulphur. Straight from the tap you could not drink the stuff without holding your nose. It made wonderful coffee and steeped tea, but for plain glasses of water it was undrinkable unless you had boiled it or let the water sit long enough for the sulphur gas to escape.

Ice cold from the water fountains at school while holding your breath, it was possible to get a refreshing drink and we long-term citizens actually came to rather like the off-taste of the water in small doses. However, that did not mean we wanted to gulp big swallows of it. We lived in Smiley for 9 years and every night we drew up 4 gallon jars of water to sit on the cabinet overnight and by next morning the gas had dissipated and the water was perfectly fine. Four gallons was just the right amount to meet the needs of the the next day's drinking supply.

Shortly after we left and the school district was forced into a consolidation with the school from the next town, the City of Smiley was also forced to install filters on their water to eliminate the sulphur. The folks from the next town would not consider the consolidation if their kids were forced to drink our nasty water.

It was a joy to find this little mention of a forgotten piece of Smiley's history. The town has shrunk some since the book was written and now is home to somewhere between four and five hundred special people. Those of us old enough to remember when the cold water tap ran hotter than the hot water tap are a dwindling number.

Lord, I loved that town.



RMG said...

A little sulphur in your water puts hair on your chest, which ain't a problem, 'cept if you're a girl in which case, drink bottled water or buy lots of wax. He He.

LSW said...

Those were the days before the concept of bottled water. It was drink the stuff or dehydrate. It really wasn't so bad and a little hair on the chest never hurt anybody.

RMG said...

In Smiley, you drank your sulphur. In Newgulf we breathed ours... smelled like money.