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Ronda Rich: Take a sip from the community dipper
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Many years ago, out of nostalgia mostly, I ordered a dipper from a local hardware store.

If you’re younger than 30, you might not know what that is. Let me explain.

A dipper is made from aluminum or tin with a long handle and a shallow cup on the end. It always has a hole in the curved end, so it can be hung from the wall or a well.

In the mountains, where my people come from, a dipper was as essential as a cast-iron skillet. Without indoor plumbing, they traveled to the freshest part of a spring — usually where it sprung out of the mountain — and gathered drinking water.

A bucket of water with the dipper inside set “sommers” in the kitchen. Whenever someone thirsted, they helped themselves to the fresh water.

Yes. Everyone drank from the same dipper. There were few glasses, mostly just tin cups used for both coffee and water. If the family had a well on property, a big wooden bucket would be lowered into the well, then rolled up with a handle attached to rope. A dipper hung on the well.

“Mmmm, good water,” Daddy said whenever we visited someone with a well. And it was. Clear, cool and pure.

After I bought the dipper, I began to use it to water flowers in pots and window boxes.

Taking a page from my people, I toted an aluminum bucket and used the dipper — called a ladle by city folks — for watering. Finally, it broke and I searched with dedication until I found another.

One afternoon, I was planting the window boxes and Dexter, the wonderful young man who works part-time, was helping. I scooped up a cup of water. It occurred to me Dexter might not recognize a dipper.

I thought this because on a different afternoon, I asked him to call someone long distance on the landline. He started to dial then stopped.

“Do I dial ‘1’ before the area code?” he asked.

I laughed.

“Yes. Have you ever used a landline for long distance?”

He shook his head.

“I just use my cell,” he said.

In the past 10 years, it has become a very different world.

Now, back to my original story.

I explained to him the dipper, and it brought to mind another story.

I had, in fact, been thinking of the event for a few weeks since I visited a church while Tink was away. For one hour, children and adults twisted, turned and whispered in church, bordering on the point of irreverence. When the pastor stood in the altar and opened the doors for new members, one toddler scampered back and forth in the choir loft. By the time the service ended, I was jittery from all the carrying on.

It brought to mind a church service when I was 5 or 6 years old. In the days of my childhood, we attended little country churches that had no indoor plumbing. This meant a bucket of spring water was set on the altar with the dipper laid beside it for anyone who needed a drink. During preaching, a young teenager went up for a dip.

My thirst grew and grew until I could no longer contain myself: I jumped off the front bench, marched to the table and helped myself to a sip from the dipper. It was the last time I would ever move from a bench during service. I still recall the severe scolding I received from Mama and Daddy when we got to the car.

Dexter listened but missed the point because he was stuck on one detail. His eyes widened.

“People drank from the same dipper?” he asked, shaking his head. “Did they get sick all the time?”

“No,” I replied. “They were already covered in germs. No room for any new ones.”

It’s a different world in more ways than one.

Ronda Rich is the best-selling author of several books, including “What Southern Women Know.” Sign up for her newsletter at Her column appears Tuesdays and on