Water Witch

Diana and I were watching night three of the History Channel production, Hatfields & McCoys, when in one scene Sally McCoy predicted a future attack on their cabin by the Hatfields. Diana turned to me and said, matter-of-factly:

“She’s got the sight.”

Diana had such a dead-pan look on her face that I couldn’t help but burst into laughter, which I should know by now not to do when she’s being serious.

“What’s so funny?”
“She’s got the what?”
“The sight. She can tell the future.”
“Does she got the rheumatiz too? The palsy? Maybe she needs a poultice or a mustard plaster.”
“Don’t you mean-mouth me.”
“You really believe in that stuff?”
“I don’t know. But just because you can’t explain something, doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. Remember, you used to not believe in water witching.”

She had me there. After the first 10 years or so of our marriage, I figured I knew everything there was to know about my charming southern bride. Over the years we had heard all the stories about each other from our respective families. Parents generally enjoy dropping a dime on the their children to their children’s spouses about what shit-heads they were when they were little. It’s small payback for all the crap the kids put them through growing up. Diana’s family had taken great relish in telling me about the time she and her cousin, Robby, started their own recycling business.

Up the road from their farm stood an old hardware/military-surplus/general store called the Country Boy Store. It was out in the middle of nowhere and sold a little bit of everything. If one day you woke up and decided, “dadgummit, I really need a shotgun, a claw-foot bathtub, a WWII pup tent, an old lawn mower, a cane fishing pole, a baloney sandwich, and a grape Nehi,” the Country Boy Store was your place. I could spend hours in there when I was young. It was the only place in the county I knew of that sold gas masks and jungle boots.

Diana and Robby had figured out that they could return empty, glass, soda bottles for money at the Country Boy Store. Money could then be exchanged for candy. So you can imagine their delight when they discovered whole crates of returnable bottles stacked behind the very store in which you could effect this magical conversion of glass to sugar.

After several trips from the back of the store to the front, Diana and Robby soon returned to Diana’s house, pockets bulging with their ill-gotten gain. Of course, they didn’t make it five minutes before one of the adults had noticed this bounty of treats and had wrung the whole story out of them. Soon the two of them were sweating the half-mile walk back to the scene of the crime, bellies aching from a sugar overdose, in order to apologize to the owner, Mr. Golladay, and make reparations.

Did they consider the moral implications of their introduction to supply-side economics? I doubt it, because, well… candy. That sort of thing is best dealt with at Saturday confession.

“Forgive me Father, for I have sinned. It has been a week since my last confession.”
“What are your sins, my child?”
“Predatory Entrepreneurial Capitalism.”
“Are you sorry for your sins?”
“Not really, because, well… candy.”
“Yes, well God forgives you. Make an act of contrition and say three Our Fathers.”
“Cool.”

All I knew was that I had something else to put into my ammo pouch should I need it later.

“David, I ate one of the cupcakes but left you the other one on the counter.”
“I don’t know. Can I trust you not to eat mine too, you little thief? I’ll bet there are still wanted poster for you and Robby all over Newstead.”
“You know, you’re a jerk sometimes.”
“I’m a jerk all the time, you just don’t always notice.”
“I notice.”

And, of course, Diana had heard all about my foibles as a child from my family, none of which bear repeating here.

The point is, I thought I knew my wife. But, an any relationship, there is room for the occasional surprise. During one of our vacations from England back to visit family in Kentucky, Diana’s Dad walked into the house with a Y-shaped tree branch and told Diana he needed her to do some water witching.

Now, you have to understand, I am a skeptic. I am Skepty McSkepticalface von Skeptinhoffer… the Third. When it comes to the invisible world and the supernatural, I require proof. I require science. If you come at me with a story about chupacabras, astrology, karma, ghosts, aliens, or how brown-eyed people are more loyal than other, recessive gene types, you damn-well better also be toting several Cambridge studies and a favorable Snopes review that backs your position. Incidentally, chupacabras? Coyotes with mange. Every. Damn. Time.

Coyote.

Mange.

Not a chupacabra.

Learn it. Know it. Live it.

So when it dawned on me that Diana’s dad was wanting her to dowse for water, I opened my mouth to crack wise about it. But Diana has a special look for me that she reserves for emergency situations, and since she only uses it when necessary, I almost always respect it. She threw me the ‘this-is-not-the-time-to-be-a-wise-ass’ look. I shut my mouth. Now, I was curious.

Across the road from the farm is a depression in the landscape that was once a nice spring-fed pond. Diana’s father was thinking about bringing the pond back and was wanting her to find the underground spring so he could tap it.

I followed them across the road. By that time I had gotten enough courage to start voicing my skepticism. Unfazed, Diana’s family began explaining the science of dowsing to me. According to their lore, every family has at least one person who is a water witch. Branches from fruit trees work best – peach tree if you have one. You aren’t allowed to take money for your service, otherwise you might lose the ability to perform it. I watched in fascination as Diana walked a rough grid pattern, holding the tree branch vertically, one end in each hand. I expected her to hold it horizontally like I had seen in the movies, but apparently there are varying techniques.

As she crossed a certain point along the depression, the branch would swing to one side. After a couple of steps, the branch swung back forward. It always swung the same direction no matter which direction Diana was walking. Diana’s dad explained that it pointed to the direction the underground spring was flowing. They set out marker stakes along points where Diana indicated there was water.

Once we got back up to the big house, I began making dousing jokes, so Diana walked around the house and found all the water lines running to it. At one point, her older sister (who is NOT a water witch) walked the same path as Diana holding the same branch, but nothing happened. Then Diana walked behind her with her hand on her sister’s shoulder. When she did that, the branch swung over the underground water lines just as it had when Diana walked it. To be honest, it was a little spooky.

Her family said every well on the farm had been found by dowsing, and at least one of them by Diana when she was a kid. Later, when my Dad heard about it, he had her come out and see if she could find all the water lines around his house – which she did, and the septic tank. I still refused to acknowledge the reality of my wife’s ‘gift’ for many years after that , and would bust on her about it at regular intervals. Then we moved back to Kentucky after I retired from the Air Force and occupied a nice, old farm house on the family compound.

One day I discovered we had no water in the house. This was before we had county water, and everything ran off a well. I went out to the well house, but couldn’t find anything wrong with the pump. I figured we had a broken water line and did not relish digging up the yard trying to find it. There was no surface water indicating where the break had occurred, so the pipe must have been buried fairly deeply. Having no other options, I swallowed my pride and went to find my witch.

“Our water’s out.”
“Did you check the well house?”
“Yeah, everything’s working fine.”
“So what do we do?”
“I think there’s a break in the line to the house.”

Diana smiled her sweetest smile.

“Well, good luck finding it. Do you want me to call Daddy to come out and look at it?”

No, I did not. It was tough enough being a townie among a bunch of mechanically-gifted farmers. Shortly after moving back to Kentucky, Diana had bought me a big, John Deere, zero-turn-radius mower with a 5-foot deck. The first time I went to sharpen the blades on it, I couldn’t budge the nuts holding them to the mower deck. I went up to the farm shop to ask Diana’s Dad’s advice. He went to the back of the shop and returned with what looked like a length of iron pipe.

“Here. Stick the end of this over the handle of your socket wrench. You should be able to turn it then.”

Thinking this was some special John Deere tool, I asked her Dad what he called it. He smiled and said,

“Well, around here, we call it ‘torque.'”

Turned out it was actually just a length of iron pipe. Thereafter, any chance I had to avoid looking like a complete idiot in front of Diana’s family, I normally took advantage of. It was important to me to show them I was both handy and manly, and to not go running to Diana’s dad every time something went wrong with the house.

“Yeah, ummm, no… I was thinking…”

Diana’s smile grew broader and even sweeter.

“Say it. It’s okay.”
“Hhhhhh… dammit. Would you help me find the where the water line runs to the house?”
“There. That wasn’t so hard, was it?”
“Yes it was.”
“Of course I’ll help you, Darling. Go down and get me a branch off of one of Daddy’s fruit trees.”
“Okay.”

I returned with a nice Y-shaped peach branch. Diana walked a grid between the house and the well while I staked out points where the branch swung to the side. Suddenly, Diana stopped.

“Here’s where your break is.”
“How do you know that?”
“I just do. You’ll save a lot of time if you dig here first.”
“Fine.”

After she finished, I got out a shovel and started digging where she told me. The line was buried pretty deeply, but eventually I got down to it. Sure enough, there was the break in the old, galvanized-iron pipe. Instead of trying to fix the old pipe, I ended up digging the whole line up and replacing it with PVC. After that, I don’t know that I completely believed my wife could find water in the ground, but I didn’t make fun of her about it either. To be honest, I was a little scared of her, and decided not to argue the merits of precognition as it applies to historical television dramas.

“I’m sorry, honey. You’re right. Sally McCoy clearly has ‘the sight.’ I should know by now not to doubt you.”
“You’re forgiven.”
“After all, it takes a witch to know a witch.”
“I’d quit while I was ahead if I were you.”

I did quit. When you are married to a sorceress, it’s unwise to test her powers until you’re absolutely certain what those powers are.

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