Two summers ago, my grandmother moved from her mill house on Green Street in Woodruff to an apartment community for senior citizens. As small as her house was, her apartment was even a bit smaller, having only one bedroom and one room that did triple duty as the living room, dining area and kitchen. Needless to say, she had to get rid of some stuff. So on an unusually chilly summer Saturday, the whole family gathered at various times during the day to help sort what Ma Ma wanted to keep, to sell or to throw away. She wanted all of us to have whatever we wanted, stopping one of us every once in a while to ask if we’d picked out something to take home.
I selected a couple of glass serving bowls and plates, a covered skillet and a pair of bud vases, but the major item was the water jug. The water jug is an insulated thermos with a shiny, aluminum exterior and dark metal interior speckled with white. A bright red cap screws on top, a black spout beside it for easy pouring and a metal handle that swivels for carrying. The jug will hold at least a gallon of water, and it was a staple for every family beach trip. Granted, there were many things Ma Ma had to take, including tomatoes from her garden, a jar of Dukes mayonnaise (essential for any sandwich in the south), a couple of boxes of oatmeal cream or raisin cream pies (Little Debbie brand, of course), and one or two of her favorite cooking pans. There were other groceries, and my dad could only watch helplessly as she would bring bag after bag of stuff. He would laugh and shake his head and tell her, “Momma, you bring anything else, and you’re gonna have to ride on the hood.” Or, “Momma, there are grocery stores in Myrtle Beach.” Ma Ma would only laugh and throw her hand at him.
For all the stuff she did bring, when she came out of the house with the water jug, she was ready to go. She would sit in the back seat on the passenger side with the jug between her feet on the floorboard. It was wrapped in a towel and placed in a plastic bag with a few paper cups. The layer of ice cubes clinked against each other and against the side of the container with the twists and turns and bumps in the road. I can almost see her filling up that jug before each trip – cracking the ice out of the trays and dropping cubes one by one in the container filled from the faucet sitting over her white porcelain sink and making sure she refilled the trays she emptied and placed them back in the freezer. Every once in a while, she would ask who wanted a cup of water. My brother and I usually declined; we held out for one of the canned sodas that my aunt and uncle had in the cooler in their car’s trunk. But when I did take a cup, I was drinking some of the coldest, most refreshing water I ever tasted. There would still be water left when we arrived at the condo, but it would be gone by the time we left. I don’t remember her carrying water on the trips back home; we all thought the tap water at the beach tasted funny anyway.
I haven’t used the water jug yet myself. I guess I’ve been saving it for a road trip that I haven’t taken yet, but I remember my family that day remarking on my find, “Oh, you got the water jug.” Not really in disappointment that they didn’t get it for themselves, but in satisfaction that this icon would be staying in the family. Because no matter how far from home you go, I guess you always need to take a piece of it with you.