Liquid Assets
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“Liquid Assets,” Ensign, Aug. 1982, 60–61

Liquid Assets

Some people collect gold coins; others buy bonds. I decided to invest in water. Bottled water.

One hot September afternoon several years ago, I was hurrying through the supermarket not far from our home in North Hollywood, California, looking for something cool to prepare for supper.

Lynette, my four-year-old, stood in the grocery cart with three-year-old Shannon, Richard, age eighteen months, and the groceries. When I went shopping in those days, the cart was always so full of children there was scarcely room left for food.

As we moved down aisle 12B through the beverage section of the market, the children reached out eagerly to brightly colored powdered drink mixes. But the display that caught my eye was one of rounded gallon jugs labelled “Bottled Spring Water.” Plain drinking water in sealed containers!

“… wheat, dried milk, and water,” Sister Jones’ voice echoed to me as I recalled her reading the list on “Emergency Preparation” in Relief Society. “Sisters,” she concluded, “follow this list in the manual, obtain these items for your family’s home storage, and you will be prepared to meet unexpected emergencies. The Lord has promised, ‘If ye are prepared, ye shall not fear.’” (D&C 38:30.)

Water. That was the one item I had neglected. We had canned goods, wheat, honey, and milk (in steadily growing amounts), a well-stocked first-aid kit, and some clothing.

“What is more available than water?” I had laughed as Sister Jones and I stood in the parking lot visiting after her lesson. “I run out of milk sometimes, but we’ve always had plenty of water!” She smiled back and then gently chided, “The foolish virgins probably felt the same way about oil.”

“Bottled Spring Water.” I looked at the rows of gallon jugs and decided this might be a good time to start our supply.

On that day in 1970, the price per gallon was $.25. If I bought two of these a week, I calculated, I’d soon accumulate a nice little reserve of drinking water. There were several brands available in both gallon and half-gallon sizes.

I picked up two jugs, wedged them into the cart with the children, and finished my shopping.

On the way out to the car I noticed there was a water dispenser to which people brought their own containers to be filled. I might try that sometime, too, I thought.

The market was by no means our only source of water. I filled clean bottles and jars at my kitchen faucet and then read articles describing simple methods for purifying the water so it would keep for extended periods. One friend showed me how she “put up” water in her canning jars and then processed them in a hot water bath. The children helped fill plastic barrels from our backyard hose so we would have some “utility water” to go with the drinking supply.

Once I began, the project was so easy that our inventory grew remarkably fast.

At first I brought the jugs home and put them away under the cupboards in the kitchen, but they were bulky and took up valuable space. We didn’t have a basement and the garage was not suited to food storage, so I decided to use the hall closet. Sister Jones had mentioned that where space is limited this is often a secure and accessible area. I lined the bottles along the floor until my husband began to complain.

“What are we going to do with all this water?” Chris moaned as he opened the closet and tried to find a hanger among the growing rows of jugs. “Honestly, dear, don’t you think we have enough of these?” He hung his coat and I watched him eyeing the bottles with an expression of good humored indulgence. “Water!” he muttered as he closed the closet door. “As long as you are building a supply of something, couldn’t you find a drink with a little more flavor?”

One rainy afternoon I was cleaning the house and came to the closet. I saw dust beginning to form on the lids of the jugs, and Chris’s question rang in my ears. “What are we going to do with all this water?” Standing at the sink, I watched water spilling into my glass and sighed, “Someday I’ll probably end up opening all those jugs and pouring the contents down the drain.”

Am I glad I didn’t!

At 6:00 A.M. on the morning of February 9, 1971, an earthquake measuring 6.8 on the Richter scale rumbled through the San Fernando Valley. Shaken from a sound sleep, jolting back and forth on our beds, we listened to china crashing from shelves onto the counters out in the kitchen. The walls groaned as our whole house rocked on its foundation.

The children! A single impulse sent us running down the hall to their rooms where we found them sitting on the edges of their beds chattering together, more curious than frightened. No one needed to be called twice to say family prayers that morning. Chris and I knelt down and the children gathered around us. We expressed sincere gratitude to our Father in Heaven for his protective care, and, as the floor moved under us in the first of many aftershocks, Chris prayed for a blessing of continued safety.

The usually uneventful routine of preparing breakfast turned into an unforgettable adventure. I stood on the unsteady floor, my feet apart for balance. The chandelier tinkled as it swayed gently with each new tremor. The windows rattled. After sweeping up the broken glass, I set the table with our remaining plates.

I took a can of orange juice out of the freezer, then found a plastic pitcher and a large spoon. Automatically draining the juice into the pitcher, I held the empty juice can under the faucet and turned on the tap.

“Ugh!” The water sputtered out, cloudy, brown, unappetizing, filled with sediments shaken lose from underground pipes as the earth had moved. It was plainly unfit for our orange juice or anything else.

My husband is an investment counselor, who advises clients about the advantage of buying one stock or bond rather than another. Running to the hall closet an hour after the Sylmar earthquake, I learned first-hand the advantage of owning “liquid assets.”

It was there just waiting to be used: pure, clear water for our breakfast juice, the children’s lunchtime soup, and drinks in between. Each time I reached for a bottle of the precious liquid, I was filled with appreciation for the great blessing of preparation.

And our investment paid dividends. After lunch the children and I went around to each neighbor to deliver a jug of water along with a brief message about the Church’s family preparedness plan. My Jewish neighbor, a nurse in the cardiac care center of the local hospital, asked for more materials on food storage. Several months later when I was visiting with her, she led me out to the garage where she proudly unveiled her own food and water supply.

Eleven years ago, on that cold gray evening of February 9, I entered my neighborhood grocery store and saw the manager cleaning up debris that had fallen from his shelves twelve hours earlier. On the way to the produce section, carefully avoiding broken jelly jars, dented soup cans and crumpled cereal boxes, I walked through aisle 12B. (Force of habit, I suppose.) Powdered drink mixes, root beer, and—I stopped to stare. The shelf was empty.

Every bottle in the entire section had been sold. The fruit juice was also gone. Customers were reaching into the dairy case carrying away the last quarts of milk. As I left the store there was a “sold out” sign on the water dispenser.

But it didn’t matter.

Driving home through the darkness with a prayer of thanksgiving in my heart, I envisioned my hall closet, the family reservoir, and it was full.

We live in Oregon now. The large water barrels we bought after the earthquake are filled and ready in case we should ever need them. The Northwest is known for its plentiful supply of water, but we have a new neighbor, Mt. St. Helens, and we keep our barrels handy. Judith Hill Toronto, Milwaukie, Oregon

Illustrated by Barbara Bailey