It was very hot and muggy that summer. As best as I can remember, we were sent by my dad to watch the irrigation as it slowly wound its way down the furrows, just as the memories of that long ago time trickle through my mind.
My older brother was 11, my younger brothers were 7 and 6, and I would turn 9 during that eventful summer. While we lived on the outskirts of Benson, Arizona, Dad worked in Tucson, a good 50 miles away, and he owned a parcel of land in the garden oasis known as St. David. His idea of fun was to plant some sort of crop that typically struggled to grow, but would provide his sons with the opportunity to “watch the water” during the daytime so that when the water reached the bottom of the field, we could adjust the siphons and move the water to the next set of furrows. Needless to say, this task didn’t take up much time during the hot summer day, so our time would eventually be filled with other pursuits.
Mom would fix us lunch which would consist of some sort of sandwich, Delaware Punch or Hires root beer to drink, and inevitably various types of candy, usually Bit O’Honey or Root Beer Barrels. Most of our leisure time was spent next to the stagnant retention pond at the bottom of the field, swatting mosquitoes in the 100 degree heat, and lounging under some salt cedar bushes to stay out of the sun. To pass the time, we would read from the classics, namely the Hardy Boys series or the Happy Hollisters. When we couldn’t stand the suspense of these literary gems, we would make our way over to an abandoned jalopy in the adjacent field and pretend we were racing across some vast expanse somewhere, perhaps the Gobi Desert or some mountain pass in the Alps. I mostly marvel that some of the surrounding neighbors didn't call Child Protective Services for these unsupervised children.
Typically that summer we would be in the fields until night fell, when down the road we would see the bouncing headlights of an approaching car slowly making its way towards us. This usually meant that Dad was done with work and was coming to pick us up and haul us back home. This also meant the day was over, the mosquitoes were put at bay for at least a few hours, and we would be able to drink as much liquid as we wanted to our heart’s content when we reached home. The reason we were so parched was because we had a finite supply of soda and the infinite supply of irrigation water had a peculiar aftertaste that none of us particularly cared for.
Occasionally Dad would be able to knock off of work early and he would show up mid-afternoon, breaking up our revelry by introducing us to the concept of actual work, such as mending barbed wire fences or tearing down offending mesquite trees. He would invariably bring a large pitcher of what was formerly ice-water from our house for all of us to imbibe. This went on intermittently throughout the summer until one afternoon he showed up with the beloved pitcher and I grabbed a great big swig. As soon as the cool water hit my taste buds, the ones that register SALT let out their klaxon-like warning- this is NOT what I had bargained for. A strong saline taste permeated the erstwhile delicious liquid, and as I spewed out the obnoxious liquid I stammered, “What’s IN this stuff?”
“Salt” he replied. “You guys need to replenish your sodium because you sweat so much during the day.”
“Great” I thought. This was going to take all the pleasure out of guzzling down the entire contents of the water pitcher in less than a minute. Why did my dad have to pick this summer to warn us of the dangers of hyponatremia and provide his own concoction of the forerunner of Gatorade? Needless to say, much less pitcher water was imbibed that summer and much, much more of the well water ingested.
I’ve often wondered about this episode. Was Dad truly worried about us dying from water intoxication? Or was he just tired of four little boys drinking up all the good water? I’m not sure, but I suspect the latter when I recall that our loud and discomfited griping over the water was accompanied by a slight, bemused smile that flickered across his face.
Electrolyte imbalance indeed…