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The Same Water
by Michael Daniel

I was five years old and my Dad had some business at the county court-house. It was a blistering summer afternoon and the cool breeze that surrounded me in our 1956 Chevrolet Bel Air was a big reason for my wanting to tag along. The car had air conditioning, our house didn’t. Arriving at the court-house, Dad parked the car and when I stepped out the scorching, parched West Texas wind almost took my breath away. Dad wasn’t a tall man but he was a quick stepper and I had to trot along to keep up with him.

As we entered the court-house I noticed two water fountains and my thought was; “Boy there must be a lot of thirsty people in here for them to have two of ‘em.” We called them drinking fountains in those days. Now they’re called coolers. I like fountains better.

Then I noticed the signs above each fountain. I could read pretty well for my age and had no trouble with the words, “Black Only” over one fountain and “White Only” over the other. Well this five year old boy couldn’t make head nor tails out of this predicament so I immediately began my investigation of “Black Water” and “White Water”. Besides that, I was thirsty.

I had never heard of, nor seen black water before, so with ever increasing curiosity I approached the fountain with the “Black Only” sign above it. I reached up, pushed the button and to my absolute astonishment the water was CLEAR! It was just plain ol’ clear water! Well as you can fully imagine I was totally baffled.

After slight hesitation I decided I’d take a crack at the “White Only” fountain because, come to think of it, I had never seen white water either. Well, you guessed it. Lo and behold it was just plain ol’ clear water again. I couldn’t have been more confused if I had been in a room full of theologians all attempting (feebly I might add) to define and explain God. So stepping back with folded arms I glanced from one fountain to the other until at last a well of jubilation brought about an ear to ear grin. “I GOT IT”, echoed through my five year old brain. I had solved the case and wasn’t even a licensed PI yet. Black water must TASTE different than white water! That HAD to be it! It wasn’t the color, it was the taste. Yep…like chocolate and vanilla.

I spied a step stool and as the exuberance and anticipation mounted I pushed it in front of the “White Only” fountain. Climbing the steps to what must certainly be a triumphant tasting experience, my thumb hit the button. The stream shot forth and I plunged my face into what I expected to be a vanilla volcano but what the...HUH? It was cold. It was wet. It even felt good going down but it was just plain, everyday dumb ol’ water. Now what? Okay! I had one last shot and I was bound and determined to take it.

I slid the stool to the “Black Only” fountain and hastily climbed up to savor chocolate syrup succulence when, OH NO! This just can’t be! It was just ordinary, same ol’ stuff that comes out the faucet at home water. I just stood there scratching my head, bewildered and disappointed as only a child can be when he doesn’t understand the complexities of the world.

As I braced myself to step down I felt a gentle hand on my shoulder. Turning about, my eyes met those of a man who smelled of sweat and shoe polish. His eyes shined and through his genuine smile he said; “I been watchin’ ya for a bit. Watcha doin’ honey?” I replied; “I don’t get it. I just don’t get it!” What don’tcha get son?” he asked. Pointing to the signs I said; “The water? It’s the same water ain’t it? Ain’t it the same water Mister?”

The old man dropped to one knee and turned his head to the side as if he were giving thanks for the innocence of little children. With a deep sigh and an even more sincere smile he patted me on the cheek and said; “Yes honey, it’s the same water. And we all drink from the same well.”