The Fountain of Youth
by Lou Bernard
“Okay, little guy. Mama’s away on a work trip, so it’s just you and me. How about a story before bed?”
Sitting at home with my little boy, Paul Matthew, who is not quite two years old yet. It’s getting late. My wife is out of town on a business trip, and I have promised to do wholesome and educational things with him. So far, this has consisted mostly of Spider-Man cartoons. I figure a story before bed will round things out nicely.
“So how about one from Henry Shoemaker? He’s that writer from McElhattan that Daddy likes. We went to see his home when you were just a little baby, remember?”
Paul, learning to talk himself, likes stories. He loves being talked to and read to. Often he will add his own little details.
As of late, he seems to confuse “the end” with “and then.” We will finish up a story, close the book, and Paul will emphatically declare,”And then!”
I sort of like this. This is actually an improvement on the traditional ending. It suggests there’s always more coming, which is kind of how history works, really.
“Okay, little guy, Daddy’s going to tell you the Shoemaker story about the Fountain of Youth. It’s down in Mifflin County; I have an old Gatorade bottle of the water in the fridge. Daddy and big sister Biz went and found the location before you were born.”
“Da-ee. Biz.” Before he was born. Paul doesn’t believe there was such a time.
“A long time ago, there was this old Indian named Wisamek. He was the chief of the tribe, and he fell in love with a young girl. But she wasn’t interested, because he was too old. So he went to the tribe’s wise man, Mbison, and asked for advice.”
Paul is listening. I’m not sure how much of this he absorbs, but it’s probably best to start him early. When I was his age, my father was telling me stories of a green monster that lived on our farm.
“Mbison told him where to find the Fountain of Youth. It was in a cave down in Mifflin County, and he had to give a token to the guardian, Gamunk. This token was a carved tooth from a red bear. So, with his men, Wisamek went to find the Fountain of Youth.”
“Right, it turned out to not be such a good idea. Oh, it looked like it was going to work for a while. Gamunk told him to go in the cave and jump in, and soak in the water for a day. So he did, and when he came out, he looked young again. He went home, and married the girl.”
“But, see, it didn’t work out. Wisamek looked young, but he still felt old. So all the young Indians were hunting and stuff, and Wisamek was just telling kids to get off his lawn. He wasn’t happy with it.”
Paul is looking tired now; he’s settling down. It’s been a long day.
“So Wisamek went back to the cave. Gamunk warned him that it could be dangerous, but he tried it anyway. Wisamek jumped back into the water, and soaked for another day. He came back out, and he looked young….But it didn’t work. It was too much for him, and he died.
“His men buried him beside the trail, and went back to their tribe. His wife missed him, but later married another warrior, closer to her own age. And all the tribe learned a lesson about trying to cling to being young. It’s best just to age gracefully. You ready for bed?”
“But the cave is still out there, little guy. Daddy’s been there. So, sometime when you’re older, we’ll go exploring. I’ll take you out to the cave, and let you see. Okay?”
Paul smiles at me. He has one more comment.