Proust had his tea cake that extended memories to prosy heights that we all have started to climb, but failed to reach — my ascent stopped at Swann’s Way, but I’m not going to stay long on the ledge for I have hammered the next piton to assail the final page of Mt. Swann. “Cool Water,” a country and western classic by the Sons of the Pioneers, a tea cake of sorts, takes me back to old Camp Bowie, near Brownwood, Texas, as I complained the lack of water on a hot summer day, touring with my parents in a old, non-air conditioned Ford sedan. Why they weren’t thirsty, I’ll never know, but I campaigned persistently for halting somewhere, anywhere, for water.
I must have been persuasive for my step-father stopped the car along the highway and I crossed over a fence and ran to a pond of fresh, cool water in a green pasture. I drank, cupping the water in my hands, not muddling the water as I scooped. Even today, I still see that pond when I drive in the region, although it has been dug out and deepened countless times. Both my step-father and mother laughed in sympathy and I was dubbed, “Chief Water Bucket,” a name I did not like nor wanted.
The drought in the Southwest descends brutally upon the landscape, in the news and by the mails; the only shade at times is under lovely junipers. I look out upon brittle, brown grasses; the trees in the grove are turning golden. The newspapers boldface the headlines that cattle are being sold through the night at local auctions as cattlemen line up two-miles long with moaning cows in their trailers. In the mail, Barton Water Cooperative states that I can only water the yard twice a week and if the water usage exceeds tolerable levels, I will be assessed a fine, a surcharge. I fill one water trough for my horse, Star, allowing an overflow into a pan on the ground for wildlife. I dare a surcharge for that.
This summer I have thought often about “Cool Water,” and sung and hummed the melody and lyrics. Each time I reflect on the music, I am back with my parents alongside the road, running for the cool, clear water in that pasture. “Cool Water,” is my tea cake, my madeleine.
Here are the lyrics to “Cool Water,” followed by a current photograph of the ranchito’s only pond.
All day I face the barren waste without the taste of water,
Old Dan and I with throats burned dry and souls that cry for water,
The night are cool and I’m a fool each stars a pool of water,
But with the dawn I’ll wake and yawn and carry on to water,
Keep a movin’ Dan, don’t you listen to him Dan, he’s a devil not a man
and he spreads the burnin’ sand with water.
Dan can’t you see that big green tree where the waters runnin’ free
and it’s waiting there for me and you.
Water, cool water.
The shadows sway and seem to say tonight we pray for water,
And way up there He’ll hear our prayer and show us where there’s water,
Dan’s feet are sore he’s yearning for just one thing more than water,
Like me, I guess, he’d like to rest where there’s no quest for water,