“Fountain of Youth” by Tim Bascom

Fountain of Youth

By Tim Bascom
 

For my father, who remains remarkably young

 

To reach it, they had to hike twenty minutes along a wooded creek near the big river. During summer, their clothes clung with sweat as they sidestepped spider webs and eased through nettles. They arrived hot and dusty, itchy with mosquito bites. Then the two sons dashed ahead, browning trousers as they slid down the muddy bank and jostled for a first turn under the tree-root overhang.

Just to stoop into that damp, mushroomy shade was a relief, but the place felt almost enchanted at times because of a cool breeze exhaled from the ground, emerging along with a burbling spring. The chill air wafted out of a deep hole, feeling like something straight from the fridge. It drifted into the muggy vapor of the ravine, changing the whole mood of the day.

To avoid swallowing mud, their father scooped a bowl and let it clarify. Like a rippling lens, the water magnified everything—so that pebbles bulged twice as large. Even the little trail of sand under the pool seemed to pulse with secret life.

To drink they had to go down onto their hands and knees. They took long turns bowing into the grotto, but their father stayed longest, holding a half push-up with his face nearly submerged. When he backed out, he uttered a big “aaah” as if some much-delayed need had been satisfied.

“Years younger,” he said, incantation-like, suggesting that he was going to transform before their eyes. And perhaps the water did make him younger because he turned playful. When the boys asked him, on a whim, if he would help dig a cave, he surprised them by not hesitating: “Sure, let’s dig a cave.”

Back at the campsite, he helped to pick a rounded knoll and gather the necessary tools: a shovel, a hatchet, plus a few large serving spoons that might double as hand spades. He cut a circle into the slope, forming a barrel-like entrance. He got right down on his knees, taking turns with them as they reached into the hole and scraped.

The deepening entrance was hardly wider than the father’s torso, so that when he dug, he had to shove dirt between his knees. However, he kept at it, face to the hillside, slowly disappearing, until eventually he had emptied a ball-like interior where his sons could join him. Inside, their sweaty shirts went cool on their backs. The dark hollow seemed to exhale the same mysterious mineral breath as the spring—to whisper a hint of some subterranean elixir.

They opened the space a bit further and carved earthen benches. Then they sat and looked at the entrance. In the glimmering light, the father’s face was reduced to essentials: a high smudged forehead, a shock of black hair, a well-defined nose. He smiled softly. For a moment, all three were silent, savoring their shared secret.

In that cool shadowy remove, the two boys became caught up in their own dream-like thoughts, whispering what it might have been like to come from some past era when people lived in the ground—an ancient clan with an ancient way to stay young. Their father seemed a large child himself, stooped into their small world. If they dug deeper, the youngest boy asked, could they reach the source of the spring? Would it be a lake? A cold, black lake rippling endlessly?

Finally, they crawled back out into the brilliant sun patches. They blinked and grinned at each other, hearing the jackhammer noises of a woodpecker, the crinkling of leaves under their knees. Emerging felt like being born into a new world. It felt like starting all over again.

“In My Genes and on My Jeans” by Colin Morgan

In My Genes and on My Jeans

By Colin Morgan
 
 

As I pulled onto our gravel road I could see the outline of our ranch-style house and the bins and sheds standing out against the vivid blue sky. Our road was filled with deep tracks from the semis that constantly run up and down our road and cut scars into the gravel anytime there has been a rain. When the roads are wet you have to be careful to not get too close to the edge because your vehicle will slide right off the edge of the road when the gravel crumbles under the weight. And there it was, the black plume of smoke coming out from down by our creek. I chuckled to myself, trying to imagine what dad was doing down there that he would somehow try and convince me was necessary work. I pulled into and down our drive and parked my car, running into the house telling my mom and sister hi, while trying to keep my excited dog out of the house; mom doesn’t appreciate him coming into the house and dropping dead animals onto her kitchen floor. I told my mom and sister that I was going to run down to the creek and see dad.

I ran out of the house and down our deck. Which I was glad to see was recently stained and waterproofed, because I normally got stuck with all of those shitty jobs when I came back from school. Although with the pool that was connected to the deck it was hard to complain too much about having to take care of the deck. I hopped on my four-wheeler and burned out spraying gravel into our lawn, the best manicured lawn that will never be seen by anyone else because my dad is a psycho about his lawn even though we live 10 miles from the nearest town. I sped off towards the creek feeling the warm air run through my hair and the sting of a lady bug hitting my cheek at fifty miles an hour. I reached the drive and slid through it doing my best Dukes of Hazard impression and hammered the accelerator with my feet shifting as fast as they could. I reached my dad and jumped off the four wheeler leaving it in neutral and it rolled another 30 feet from where I jumped off, nearly hitting our skid loader broadside.

“Are you blind?” my dad asks me in his slow, low, and deliberate voice. He never went past high school because my grandpa was in an accident and my dad had to take over the farm when he was 17. He is not well versed in all of the theories of farming that they teach in colleges now, but try telling him that he needs to know all of those. Don’t fix it if it isn’t broken, and it has been working for him for five decades.

“Yeah, that was close I know, relax.” I take a look over at what my dad was doing, and apparently today he felt like he needed to make the creek deeper than it was, and in the process he broke a tile line that ran underneath the creek. Our creek is one of those little lazy moving creeks that look like there is only about a foot of water in it. It seems to wind and curve without a worry in the world. A leaf on the surface of it seems to move about as quickly as a snail in quicksand. However, it actually has a very fast undercurrent and is deceptively deep. In the spring the water often rises out of its steep banks and creeps into our field and up towards our house.

“That was a smooth move, huh?” I ask him, sarcasm evident in my voice.

“Shut up and get over here and help me.” I walk over next to him and see what he is trying to do. His hair is grayer than I remember and his eyes even more sunk in than before, although they still have the twinkle of a ten year old. He is wearing one of his 10,000 John Deere shirts that he has turned into a cut off and a pair of Carhart shorts, because according to him “if you’re gonna buy something, you might as well buy something worth a damn, and Carhart and John Deere are the only brands worth a damn.” His arms are already a deep bronze from being out in the sun all day and his face is so dirty it’s hard to tell if he hasn’t shaved in a couple days or is just covered in mud.

We work for a little while and then we decide that we should go and get some food before we finish. I’m standing down in the creek and can’t get up and over the creek bed without and hand up. I reach up for my dad to help me. His massive hands close around mine and I feel the calluses as he pulls me up onto my feet. My hands feel as though sandpaper has just been drug across them. I look down and see that some grease has been transferred onto my hands from his. I think exactly why I can never be around you whenever I have nice clothes on, as I wipe my hands onto my jeans to get the grease off. I hop on the four wheeler and speed back to the house, trying to avoid the Grand Canyon side tracks that are in the road thanks to the semis. Although not quite as fast as before because I know that dad is behind me and I don’t wanna piss him off the hour I get back home.

We get back and start to walk out of the machine shed, it is easy to see where I get my height from while standing next to him, although he has about 100 pounds on me, and not fat, muscle, which he likes to remind me at every chance. He puts his arm around my shoulder as we walk into the house and I am hit with a strong smell of grease, sweat, and hard work; the smell that I have grown to know as my dad.

“It’s been different not having you around here kid,” he says as he pulls his arm off of my shoulder, aware that this was something that he didn’t normally do, and I could tell that it made him feel uncomfortable.

We walk into our house, where my dad has lived in his whole life. It isn’t the biggest farm house around, or the nicest. but my parents take extreme pride in it. The landscaping is always kept in tip-top shape and the counters cleared in the kitchen. We have redone almost everything in the house since I have been alive, in order to make it look the way and have the feel that my parents want it to have. Stone floors in the kitchen give the rustic feel of an old farmhouse mixed with the modern look and feel of stainless steel appliances. The walls are mostly neutral colors but they have more vivid colors sponged onto them, giving both a dull natural feeling but also a more exciting and inviting feeling without being too overwhelming. Family pictures cover up much of the walls, make it apparent what matters to my mom and dad; family above all else. The stairs that lead downstairs have been covered in pictures on both sides of the stairwell. The left side is covered in my senior pictures and the right side the same with my sister. And then right at the bottom of the stairs, the only thing that my dad has ever put up as decoration, a massive picture of my mom and dad on their wedding day sitting next to a lake at sunset. My dad isn’t big into gifts or flowers, I could count on one hand, actually about one finger, how many times I have seen him give my mom a present, but yet there is this picture that he picked out himself, framed and put up one day for no reason. The focal point of the stairs, it just seems fitting for my dad, no reason to do it, no big deal made about it, just one day it shows up and is there.

We start talking about how the baseball year ended up at NIACC. I start talking to him and I can tell that his hearing had gotten even worse since the year before. A lifetime of not using ear protection was finally starting to catch up with him, and he just shook his head to pretend like he was hearing what we were saying rather than hurt his pride and ask us to repeat it.        Dad sits down in his chair and realizes that he wants a glass of water, he goes to stand up and it is clear to see that his age is starting to catch up with him. Five decades of working the land day in and day out have taken a toll on his rugged and scarred body. I turn away and look out the window, not wanting to see my childhood hero struggle a little to get out of his chair. As I look out of the window I look over our farm, all of the barns, machine sheds, bins, and various other small buildings and equipment. This was all mine for the taking, if I so wanted. But instead I went to college, to live my dream of playing college baseball, leaving three generations of farmers hanging in the balance. The question of who is going to take over the farm looms over my dad and I whenever we are together, time is ticking, yet nobody wants to discuss it yet. My dad because he doesn’t want to believe that he won’t be able to farm forever, and myself, because I honestly don’t know what I would say, or should do…

Dad goes out to heat up the grill to start grilling the pork chops that he smokes out back in his hickory smoker. He opens up the smoker and the smell hits me in the face like an Ali punch. Dad throws them onto the grill and cooks them until they are juicy and smelling amazing. Dad brings in the pork chop and sets them on the table next to all the other things mom has set out. We dig into the feast and with the first bite of the pork chop my brain screams dad, it is just one of those tastes that as soon as it hits your mouth you instantly think of someone, kind of like grandmas homemade apple pie. This is where I am supposed to be I think to myself, at home with my family, and most importantly, back with my best friend, my dad.