During the early stages of a very serious romance, my girlfriend Ann and I took a trip to St Augustine, Florida, to visit friends. We included a side trip to the Ponce de Leon’s Fountain of Youth Archaeological Park, the area discovered in 1513. After an awesome tour of the park, we rested on a bench and sipped a cool drink.
Across the path from us was a makeshift sign that read:
WATER FROM THE FOUNTAIN OF YOUTH
$.39 LIMITED QUANTITY
MONEY BACK GUARANTEE
Next to the sign sat a shabbily dressed middle-aged gentleman. A large dog rested its chin blissfully on the man’s lap.
“Thirty-nine cents is a bargain if the water really works,” Ann said to the man.
“Oh, it works alright,” he said. “Why else would I offer a guarantee?”
“Do you use it?” Ann was now intrigued.
“Yup, both me and my dog Ponce. We’ve been together for ages. As you can see, we are inseparable. Most loyal companion I’ve ever had. I’d do anything for him, and he has never failed me. Wife left me, never hear from my children, friends ignore me ’cause they think I’m odd, but old Ponce here is always by my side. A comfort he is to me and totally non judgmental.”
“He doesn’t look very old to me,” Ann said.
“Been with me most of my life; had him since he was a pup. I give him a bottle of this water ’bout every twelve years, the average lifespan for this type of dog. We humans need a bottle about every ten years because of the unhealthy lifestyles we lead.”
Ann, an absolute pushover for this type of pitch, went over to the man’s bench and petted the dog. He raised his head and looked into her eyes. She was hooked.
“How old is he really?” Ann asked.
“Hard to say. He was given to me by a Timucuan Indian long ago,” was his evasive answer. Ann purchased six bottles, and the snake oil purveyor graciously allowed us to take a picture of him and the dog.
We went back home, got married, pursued our respective careers, reared children and catered to our cats. A very long time later, Ann announced that we were down to our last bottle of the Fountain of Youth Water, and we needed to go back to Florida to purchase more. I not too patiently explained to Ann that the search for the Fountain of Youth never resulted in anyone finding it, and that it was just a promotional ploy to lure gullible tourists to St. Augustine. Furthermore, there was no credible evidence that the waters sold there ever lengthened anyone’s life. Ann gave this a few minutes’ serious thought, and then revealed that she had already purchased the tickets and was packing our bags.
The day we arrived, we went directly to the Ponce de Leon’s Fountain of Youth Park. Hoards of susceptible tourists were buying the small bottles of the water from the gift shops. Ann would have none of these. In her mind the one and only real Fountain of Youth Waters were the ones being sold by the man with the dog. She pulled the picture of the dubious gentlemen and his pet from her shoulder bag.
It wasn’t long before we found a guy on a bench with a dog contentedly resting his chin on the man’s legs However, this man, unlike the one long ago, was very old, and there was no makeshift stand with bottles of water next to the bench. Ann was undaunted.
“Are you the man who sold us the bottles of Fountain of Youth Water many years ago?” she asked. The sharp-witted old man looked at Ann. Let me add at this point that people often comment that Ann does not look her age: She still has a good figure, and her face has almost no wrinkles.
“Yup,” the old man replied, “I’m the man.”
Okay, now I had the proof that he was, indeed, a fraud. I looked at Ann and triumphantly announced that if the water really worked, how is it this man was now so old? A little crestfallen, Ann looked inquiringly at the elderly man. He was totally unfazed.
“And look at the dog,” I continued gleefully. “This one is younger than the one in the picture you are holding.” Ann looked at the picture, disappointment growing in her eyes. The old man smiled indulgently.
“As you can see, I am no longer selling the bottles of water,” he said.
“Yeah, okay, what has that got to do with anything?” I asked.
“Well,” he continued, “The Fountain that Ponce here found with me so many years ago was covered by a super highway years ago. Those gift shops never had the real thing. I am now down to the last three bottles.”
“Oh, really?” I sneered. “Then why don’t you take them yourself instead of growing into an old man?”
Smiling, he looked down fondly at the dog he called Ponce, and with a slight waver in his voice, he imparted the following words: “I have said many times that Ponce has been my loyal, loving companion for most of my life, and, as you know, dogs don’t live as long as humans.” Now more slowly and with a tear running down his wrinkled cheek, he haltingly continued. “When the Fountain went dry, I gave a few of the remaining bottles to Ponce here. He stayed young as I grew to the old man you see now.”
Well, as you can imagine, I was incensed by what I saw to be an egregious, indeed, outrageous attempt to win Ann over.
“Good grief, Ann, you can’t possibly fall for that. I agree, the dog looks similar to the one in your picture, but it can’t be the same dog,” I said, perhaps with a little too much hostility. Yet, Ann’s eyes were transfixed on the young dog, who still had his chin lovingly on the old man’s lap. With the picture of the dog and his master in one hand, she petted the dogs’ head with her other. Ponce’s head rose as the dog had years ago, and he looked directly into Ann’s eyes: she was captivated. With her voice low, steady and awed she said: “Tom, this dog is Ponce.”
Okay, I know when I am beat, even when all logic points to the contrary. We went home, to the one remaining bottle of Fountain of Youth Water: what I refer to as swamp swill. Now that I am elderly, Ann reminds me that I am ten years older than she is, and that she does not want to spend her remaining years alone.
So what happened to that last bottle of water? Well, Ann has always been a strong believer in a loving, long-lasting, and supportive relationship; she would do anything to protect that bond. We often have a cocktail hour, and last week, totally unobserved by Ann, I watched her mix the drinks at our small bar.
To my astonishment, and with the realization of why I loved her so, she took the last small bottle of Fountain of Youth Water and poured it into my drink.