Wells of Living Waters: (from the Collection, My Life on the Water)
by Ron Hobbs, May 26, 2020
photo, r. whittaker
Back home we had a well. The water was so sweet. It was not the hard iron water that turned the wash pans rusty or bit you when you drank it. Almost everybody else around had "city water" that came through pipes. It didn't taste right to me. Even the hard ground-water that was harsh with iron seemed more honest. The sweet water was a bonus. Besides, I could lead down a bucket on a rope fifteen feet long in August and lift up cool November waters.
There were water fountains in the halls of the grade school. I tried them a couple of times, but the water seemed flumsical and it didn't taste like real water to me.
Eventually as I got older, everyplace I went had the other kind of water, and I got used to it. I began to forget what real water tasted like and over the barely perceptible arc of time, whatever the child had known the man of him had forgotten.
There are myths told of this - how man forgets almost everything of his origins by the time he arrives at planet Earth.
Many years later I was working on a tramp-steamer that had pulled into Haiti. I hiked off on my own to learn the island. It was hot and mid-afternoon and I thirsted. I saw an old woman working her garden.
"Ma'am. Ma'am! Excuse me. I'm a stranger here and I am thirsty. Could I please have a drink of water"?
"Oh yes, Darling! You have come to the right place. The water from my well is the sweetest water in all of Haiti!"
She dropped her bucket down. I could hear it clunking; the echoes told me that she was going deep. Then she drew the water up.
"Drink this, darling. It is from the fountain of youth!"
We sat. We talked in the impossible heat, but there was not a bead of sweat left on my brow. I was refreshed to the very marrow of my bones.
"You know what good water is" she said, smiling, "I can tell. I know such things!"
I gave her my clumsy thanks, but she dismissed it -
"I'm supposed to do this. It's one of my jobs!"
Later, retracing my steps back to the ship, I pondered many things. But it was not like carrying a bag of stones pondering; it was not like that at all. I practically floated up the gangway.
At about sundown I settled into my cabin and opened the port-lights to let the sea breezes in. The First Engineer had gifted me with a bottle of Aquavit, a liquor that translates to "water of life." Thoughtfully, nearly prayerfully, I poured a couple of fingers into a glass and breathed the evening breezes.