What’s on my Mind

Making connections in unexpected places

Cooperation and a cold one—that’s what on my mind. uuu

I don’t always know where inspiration will come from when deciding what to write about for my column. I had a few things going through my mind over the weekend, but nothing seemed to stick until I took a drive to our local watering hole on a Sunday afternoon.

Before you jump to conclusions, the watering hole I’m referring to is the Idington spring, just south of Cook off of Highway 53, where we’ve been filling up bottles of fresh spring water for many years. Don’t get me wrong, though—I’m not adverse to bellying up to the bar on occasion at other watering holes in our area. The banter and smalltown connections seem to be the same whether the beverage being served is a tap beer or a fresh stream of spring water.

My intention for my column, at one point, was to vent my frustration over the current state of events in our country and our world. I think I’ve finally reached coronavirus and politics burnout. I was going to call the column, “The good, the bad, and the ugly.” Luckily, a visit to the spring gave me a fresh outlook and I wasn’t really convinced that I wanted to write about our current state of woe.

We have a pump that feeds water from Lake Vermilion into our home providing for cooking, bathing, and general water needs. However, over the past 20-plus years we’ve lived here, we’ve hauled drinking water from the Idington spring. My husband, Fred, says his morning coffee tastes much better with fresh spring water. I can’t comment on that since I’m not a coffee drinker, and I think water straight from Vermilion would work just as well, but I’ll keep those thoughts to myself.

We also have several six-gallon jugs that fit into our commercial water cooler. It dispenses cold, hot, and room-temperature water. I’m not sure why the room-temperature setting is necessary, but the hot is great for an instant mug of hot chocolate or cup of tea, whereas the cold provides for a refreshing beverage any time of the day or night.

Our previous water cooler had to be loaded from the top, requiring one to hoist the heavy jug into position upside down, aim it just so to make sure the lid would line up with the dispenser mechanism, then gently place it into position until it was snug in the cradle. All fine and dandy if you’re young and strong and not working within the confined cabinet where we keep our cooler.

Unfortunately (or maybe fortunately depending on one’s viewpoint), the cooler we had for many years began to fail and, after shopping around, I was able to find one that loaded from the bottom and pumped water up into the dispensers. However, I no longer have an excuse to not load a fresh bottle of water when one runs out, when in the past I would claim, truthfully, that I couldn’t lift the bottle to the top dispenser. Bottom loader it is, and I can manage that.

While we do have the typical office cooler in our home, Fred and I do not spend time swapping gossip or news of the day at said water cooler as seems to have become the stereotypical scenario for a day at the office. We prefer to sit in our front room, perhaps with an adult beverage in hand, to talk over events of the day and future plans.

Anyway, back to the spring. When I arrived, there was a couple who were just finishing up filling their water jugs. In the meantime, an elderly woman arrived with only a couple of water bottles in hand and I motioned to her to go ahead and fill up since I had quite a load of empty jugs in the back of my vehicle.

After she left, I backed my car up close to the spring and noticed that another vehicle had pulled in by me. Knowing that I would probably take up quite some time to fill all that I needed, I walked over to the new arrival to let her know that I would be there for quite a bit of time and she could go ahead of me if she wanted. She replied that she too had many to fill and suggested we tag off filling our containers at the spring. Perfect idea! We took turns and conversed in between.

I learned that she had bought farm property nearby, and was making a go of living off the land. Her daughter, who was also with her, is currently searching for rural property in this area in order to escape the bustling, busy, and sensory overload of life in the Twin Cities along with the craziness that has befallen us over the past months. Nice ladies to talk to and a pleasant way to cooperate in getting our task accomplished.

They left just as I started to fill the six-gallon water bottles. I hadn’t heard another vehicle pull up, but a nice gentleman approached me at the spring and said he had a bunch to fill and how about if he helped me out to get the process moving along. He filled the big bottles as I hauled the full ones back to my vehicle and brought out empties.

Once again, I found myself in a conversation with a stranger. He and his wife have a summer place on Lake Leander and were, just that day, reluctantly, heading back to their home in the Cities. “My wife is really bummed and so am I,” he said. “We sure wish we could just stay here.”

Within the span of about 30 minutes, I had met three complete strangers who shared their story of how they came to be in this area and their dreams to make it a permanent home. I left feeling very grateful that I am able to call this place home.

Another thought occurred to me as I was driving home that afternoon which reminded me of earlier days of filling up at the spring. At one time, the Idington spring was a booming place and it was typical to wait at least half and hour or more to get in line to fill up. Many waiting were locals and we would step out of our vehicles to gather, chat, and catch up on local news. (Hmm…I just realized the correlation of gossiping around the office water cooler akin to gossiping around the fresh-water spring.) In true local fashion, we would help each other haul and fill jugs to each other’s vehicles to speed up the process.

I recalled one summer day, when there was a particularly long line, a summer visitor to our area came pulling up to the spring and, seeing the long line, busted his way to the front saying he needed to meet someone, was running short on time, and this was the only time he had to fill up with water before heading to his cabin. Apparently, his time was more important than others. We locals obliged; not being in any hurry, and seeing through his bravado and self-adorned VIP status, we nodded our consent to allow him to the front of the line. I guess it made him feel important, and it also gave us locals more time to visit. Not too long afterwards, I ran into the VIP strolling up and down the aisles of our Cook Zup’s Food Market. He must have recognized me from the line at the spring as he turned various shades of red and hustled off to a different part of the store. Oh well, we have ourselves to answer to if we know we are in the wrong.

Quite a few years ago, the St. Louis County Health Department tested the water at the Idington spring and found it a bit questionable to drink and posted a very official sign stating such. After a couple of calls to the department for some specific test result information, along with some local input, we determined that the risk was so slight in becoming ill from the spring water that we continued to get our water at the spring, as did many other locals. The bonus was that visitors to the area were deterred by the sign stating the questionable drinking safety of the spring water and the waiting lines became next to nothing.

In retrospect, I guess this column is a bit about the good, the bad, and the ugly, but not necessarily in that order of importance or relevance. Mostly, it’s about the good. People helping each other and connecting through the simple act of filling a bottle of spring water (or tipping a bottle of beer at a local establishment). Sharing stories, maybe looking for a bit of advice from those who may be more the wiser, and finding ways to make it through the good times and bad times through a cooperative effort.

Whether it’s water or a beer—friendship is always here. Cheers!

Kirsten Reichel lives in Cook. She is a Hometown Focus staff writer and columnist and can be contacted at kirstenr@htfnews.us.

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