Tales of a
21st Century Gypsy

April 11, 2006. The Fountain

I woke up to the sound of tumbling water. The living room window was open, outside on the porch of my house in Virginia stood the fountain. A fountain that entered into my life when I was a child, left it for many years, and only recently came back to me through a stroke of luck I hadn’t hoped for.

The fountain is copper, now green with the effects of age and water – though when it was new it was green with sprayed-on color to make it look weathered. It stands some seven feet high, a succession of cups and chutes spiraling around four thin tubes standing in a square. In the big rectangular base the pump seds water up one of the tubes to the topmost cup, which fills and then spills over, pouring into the lower cups and then rushing through the chutes to tumble back into the base. Above the base is a box for plants, to add to the illusion of a natural stream instead of an artful creation.

The fountain was a gift from my father to my mother. I went with him to order it, from a store that I think was on 38th Street and Madison Avenue, on the northwest corner. I think of that store, the fountain, and that excursion, whenever I pass that corner. But something else has long since replaced a store that might once have sold brooks captured in copper and paint for city dwellers, a deli perhaps, or a branch bank.

My mother never liked the fountain. I don’t know why. Perhaps she found it impractical. It splashed water onto the floor, as I recall, and was always surrounded by damp sheets of old newspaper. The water would evaporate, leaving the pump dry, so the base had to be refilled from heavy jugs. The space for plants wasn’t well designed, and our dark house had no sunlight to help them grow. My mother had no interest in plants anyway, and would never have wanted to nurture them around the fountain. Even more to the point, my mother – like me – loves the city, and perhaps – unlike me – saw no charm in bringing the illusion of a forest into our dining room.

So when I was eleven and my parents went their separate ways, it was no surprise that the fountain left with my dad. In his sequence of city studios it flourished, his green thumb filling the base with vines and leaves even if the cups and chutes sometimes collected dust. When he and his partner left the city for the Catskills and a real forest, the fountain went with them, taking a position of pride beneath the greenhouse window in their living room. But when my father died and his partner happily dropped her acquaintance with his daughters, I figured the fountain was gone.

But to my surprise and delight, she decided three years later to get rid of everything to remind her that he’d had a life before her. I don’t think she knew that the fountain was a gift to my mother, whom she couldn’t deal with, but she did know that she didn’t want it. Nor did my sister.

So I happily brought it to Virginia, forty years after it first entered my life. And now, passing through my former home, I can listen in the early morning to the songs of suburban birds and running water coming in on the breeze. I don’t have furniture or housewares, but when I live somewhere again I will have the fountain.

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