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Windmill a mixture of beauty and strength.

Although I was never actually a farmer's wife, I remember well the farmhouse we rented for a year in Nebraska. Living on a farm, I became extremely aware of the eccentricities of the windmill. The needs of a windmill are many, when one depends on it to pump water into a cistern for all the family's cleaning, cooking and drinking needs. To not heed the level in the cistern meant dashing outdoors in a robe, covered in suds and furious at my lack of foresight, to flip the lever to start the water pumping into the empty cistern so I could rinse. It was also necessary to turn the water heater off, until it had some "water to heat. After the heater filled, it had to be turned back on, and I had to wait, itchy and damp, for the water to heat.

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This occurred several times, but never again after I forgot to check the cistern in the middle of a bone-chillingly cold winter. We had returned home from work, fed the cows, eaten dinner, and my husband and child were warmly bathed and ready for bed. I savored my hot soak in the tub, and lathered my hair. But when I tried to rinse, there was not so much as one drop of water to be had. Foolishly, I had let the bath water out, so I was covered in foam, very upset and starting to get chilled from the drafty windows.

Leaping from the tub, I yelled to my husband for help with the water as I pushed myself, still damp, into layers of clothing. Knowing how cold it was, I wrapped two towels around my head, tossed on my coat, and we slipped out to the windmill.

The windmill was a delicately beautiful sight: coated with ice, shining silver against the black sky in the glow of the outside light. It was so lovely and so superbly exquisite, and yet so stubbornly frozen. My husband got part of the way up. the rickety ladder to unhook the brake by hand, but I had him come down because I was worried that he might fall. I got no farther up myself because of the same fear. I wanted no one to fall--I wanted to finish my bath. The windmill was marvelously, splendidly and completely frozen.

There was nothing to do but unlatch the windmill from the pump and pump the cistern full by hand, which we did. I reentered the house, intent on finishing my bath and going to bed. I removed all my clothing except the second towel on my head. It had frozen all around the edges, so it was necessary to thaw my hair before I completed my bath.

I decided I must be a slow learner because in the spring I neglected to watch the cistern level again. Mid-laundry, the washer buzzed about its lack of liquid. Happily I turned it off, ran down and turned off the water heater, and zipped out to the windmill to release the brake. The vanes caught the brisk and steady breeze, gurgling the water merrily into the cistern. It was a lovely day, and because there was no water, I had the perfect excuse to simply lie back and luxuriate in the sunshine. So I did.

The windmill's consistent clacking was soporific and soon the repetition of the wooden parts tapping together had me in a light sleep. When I finally awakened, refreshed and ready to finish the laundry, it was quite a surprise to step outside into a swamp. With the steady wind, it had taken less time for the cistern to fill. The wind had blown, the windmill had turned, the water had run into the cistern until it was full, then it had flooded the entire yard, run down a small rise and stopped only when it reached the dirt driveway, which soaked up the overflow.

I turned the windmill off and the water heater on and waited for the water to heat. The wait was not boring, however. We had several cats and numerous kittens, and most of them, being curious about the change in the yard, had come to explore. Some merely walked in and drank the water. Some walked, lifting one paw to shake and lick the water off, only to repeat the process on another paw that had become mysteriously wet.

Despite the difficulties, the windmill provided more than the sweetest, clearest and most thirst-quenching water I have ever tasted. It was beautiful dressed in ice, and a challenge to be met. It was a peaceful lullaby when the breezes were strong and steady, and a clattering devil in high winds. Looking straight up from the ground, the simple intricacy of its structure concealed its inherent strength, for such a delicate arrangement should not be able to withstand the steady blowing of an unrelenting wind that has no obstacle in its path. Even the turning of the vanes against the sky and the shadows moving across the ground as the windmill did its task bestowed beauty on an ordinary day.

Over a quarter-century later, I still miss the song of the windmill.

N.E.A. Hassall

Lockport, N.Y.
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Author:Hassall, N.E.A.
Publication:Grit
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Sep 1, 2005
Words:872
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