June 17, 2022 - They have just about disappeared from the scene, but at one time every household had one or more of them. In the days before indoor plumbing, homes had water wells located near the back porch of the home. Drinking water was a bucket of clear, cool, well water freshly drawn by a bucket from the well.
My grandfather, Felix, never had indoor plumbing in his home at the crest of Murphy Hill. I still recall the back yard well, and the bucket of fresh water on a shelf located on the back porch. A utensil was needed to drink water from the bucket, and that utensil was a dipper. It resembled a small cup with a long handle. The dipper usually hung on a nail beside the water bucket.
Everyone in the home drank from that dipper and, strangely, no one ever seemed to get ill from this practice. My grandfather chewed tobacco, and my grandmother, Mary, occasionally dipped snuff, but that never stopped me from dipping a gulp of fresh water from the bucket. As I recall, the dipper was never covered or protected from flies or ants.
Dippers were usually made of tin, though earlier versions were hollowed out dried gourds. The better off folk might afford one made of copper or enameled paint. But, they were a necessity back in the olden days. In fact, they were so important then that a story was written about a little girl and her dipper. It was titled *The Legend of The Dipper:
“There was once a little girl who had a dear mother, and they lived alone in a little house in the woods. They were always very happy, but one day the mother grew so ill that it seemed as if she could never be strong and well again. “I must have a drink of clear, cold, water,” she cried as she lay in bed, so weak and suffering from thirst.
It was a dark night, and there was no one near to ask for water, so the little girl took her tin dipper and started out alone to the spring to bring her mother a drink. She went a long way through the woods, and she ran so that she grew very tired, being such a tiny girl; but she filled her tin dipper at the spring and started home.
Sometimes the water spilled, because it was not easy to carry, and sometimes the little girl stumbled over the stones in the dark road. All at once she felt a warm touch upon her hand, and she stopped. It was a little dog that had been following her, for he, too, was nearly dying of thirst, and he had touched her hand with his hot tongue.
The little girl looked at her dipper. There was only a very little water left in it, but she poured a few drops into her hand and let the thirsty dog lap them. He seemed as refreshed as if he had been to the river to drink. And a wonderful thing happened to the tin dipper – although the little girl did not see. It was changed into a silver dipper, with more water in it than before.
The little girl started on again, hurrying very fast, for she remembered how much her mother needed her, but she had not gone very far when she met a stranger in the road. He was tall, and wore shining garments, and his eyes looked down with a wonderful smile into the little girl’s face. He reached out his hand for the dipper, and he begged for a drink of the clear, cold water.
Now, the little girl thought how her mother had told her that she should be always kind to a stranger, so she held the water up to his lips. And very suddenly, as the stranger drank, the silver dipper was changed to a gold dipper – full to the brim with sparkling water.
The girl hurried on, but the road was so very long, and she was so tired that it seemed as if she could never reach home again. She was weak and faint, and she longed to drink just a few drops of the water, but, no, her mother would need all that was left. Had she not given some to the thirsty dog and to the stranger? So she never took a drink herself, but hastened home and carried it to her dear mother. And then happened the greatest wonder of all! As soon as the dear mother drank, she became quite well and strong once more; and the gold dipper, as it touched her lips, was changed to a diamond dipper – all shining and blazing with glittering gems!
And then the diamond dipper left her fingers to shine up in the sky, over the house and the woods. There it shines every night to tell all little children how, once, a child was brave and unselfish, and kind.”
I don’t recall ever seeing one of grandpa’s dippers ever change into anything other than tin. But who’s to say that old dippers do not end up with the Big Dipper high in the night sky? Stranger things have happened.
Carolyn S. Bailey for The Children’s Hour