The Marvel Of the Sinkspout

A GREAT-UNCLE from my childhood was too young to take part in the war between the states, but soon after the conflict was big enough to go to N.D. to homestead.

He never liked that country, and sold his ranch as soon as he got title, but he'd come home to Maine and regale his one-time neighbors with tall tales of ``Lonesome Place.'' He would tell how he drove a team of horses with a wagonload of empty barrels 15 miles to the Missouri River to fetch water for the stock. Folks would ask him why in the world he didn't dig a well. He said in Dakota it didn't make much difference as the distance was about the same.

These few words about water are preface to my answer to a reader, Mrs. A., of Camden, Ala., who inquires about the sinkspout I mentioned back along. I wrote about our homespun weather prophet who listened to the wind whistling in his sinkspout.

Plumbing has indeed made great strides. ``What is a sinkspout?'' inquires Mrs. A.

Dear Mrs. A.: Our pioneers did not have conveniences such as now grace our gentilities. Running water was something you dipped from a brook with a pail, or carried to the house from a dooryard pump. Not until piped-in water could be laid on did the kitchen need a sink with a drain. Before that a sink would be ``dry,'' usually made of wood. If water spilled into it, a sponge was used to sop it up.

Cesspools and septic systems were still years away. Understand, too, that any waste water with grease in it was skimmed for the purpose of soap, and all kitchen scraps went to hens and pigs.

When pumps came to kitchen sinkshelves, the sink got a ``gooseneck'' that drained through the wall into the outside atmosphere. It just stopped there in midair, a foot or so from the house, and what little water came through made no great never-mind in the ample environment. Household drainage was minimal.

This sinkspout, Mrs. A., thus became a sort of flute upon which the vagrant winds played as they went by this way and that - sometimes brisk in March, chill in December, refreshing in July - moaning softly before a summer thundershower or blustering in deep bass as a no'theaster built up to a January blizzard.

Inside the house, the family listened perforce to the changing cadenzas, and learned to foretell the weather by the nature of the tootling.

Our old farmhouse had the kitchen on the southerly side, so a sustained hum meant pleasant days and good haying. A small shift to the west, making a hoo-hoo-hoo, suggested a summer shower in season. Confirmation came if a hen were foraging in the moist area under the sinkspout and her feathers rumpled stern to prow.

We knew.

I well recall, Mrs. A., an evening when Lizzie, my grandfather's housekeeper, was tatting by the lamplight while Grandfather read his National Tribune and I was rigging my model of the Dash.

I was sharing the Reo lamp on the kitchen table when Lizzie, as I say, laid down her fancywork, lit a hand lamp, and went upstairs to close the bedroom windows. This was prompted by the sinkspout, which suddenly started going blup-blup-blup, signifying the breeze had veered.

Next we heard thunder, and Lizzie, now back in the lamplight in the kitchen, said, ``I thought so!'' It rained hard for an hour or so.

The day came when sophistication accrued, and things were different.

Household drainage went underground, and kitchen evenings lost their cozy context with conditions. We could now hear the electric pump reciprocating in the basement, but we had no notion if old Boreas was building up a baister.

And, we were very soon listening to radio weather forecasts that, for the most part, proved only that meteorology might do a better job if the bureaus would go back to sinkspouts.

When you stop and think about it, Mrs. A., the great wonderment about space satellites that orbit the universe to tell us the wind will blow is imprudently misplaced. We ought, instead, to marvel at the rude sinkspout, which was fully as accurate at much-reduced prices.

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