‘Drouth (1944)’ by Wendell Berry


From The Threepenny Review:

Early in my childhood, when the adult world and sometimes my own experience easily assumed the bright timelessness of myth, I overheard my father’s friend Charlie Hardy telling about the drouth of 1908. I liked hearing the grownups talk, and when I wanted to I could be quiet. By being more or less unnoticeable, I heard a lot. Some of the adult conversations I listened to ended with a question: “How long have you been here, Andy?”

Charlie Hardy, anyhow, grew up on a rough little farm on Bird’s Branch. Charlie, as he said, “came up hard,” though that phrase, by now, has lost much of the meaning it still would have had in the early 1940s. At the time of Charlie’s boyhood, except for the railroad and the little packets that still carried passengers and freight up and down the river, there were no machines in the country around Port William, no electricity, no “modern conveniences” or not many. Now, when electricity, indoor plumbing, and many personal machines have become normal, people generally assume that a hundred years ago life was “hard” for almost everybody, though few still have the experience needed for a just comparison. It is perhaps impossible for a person living unhappily with a flush toilet to imagine a person living happily without one.

Like every child of his time and in his circumstances, Charlie grew up working. One of his jobs was to carry water for the household from a spring at the bottom of the hill. It was a good spring, with a reputation for never going dry. It was known as the Hardy Spring, and people spoke of its “deep vein,” and of its fine-tasting water that ran cool through the hot weather. It didn’t go dry in 1908, but it came close. In 1908 Charlie was big enough to carry two ten-quart buckets of water from the spring to the house. He made many trips.

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