I was beginning to wish I hadn’t let my friend Dorothy Ann talk me into this; alternatively I wished I was a Catholic or a Presbyterian; in either case, I would just need to get sprinkled to get to heaven. Leave it to the Baptists to insist on total immersion! Water and I got along just fine as long as I didn’t have to do much more than stick my big toe in it, but an aficionado of the depths I was not, and the creek water looked cold, murky and deep. Of course Dorothy Ann wasn’t worried; she wasn’t any bigger than a “speckled pup” as my grandmother was fond of saying, and besides, she swam like a fish! It was different for me. I wasn’t really fat, mind you, just sort of round and “pleasingly plump,” but that visiting preacher looked sort of young and flimsy to me. I had a feeling that if he got plumb tired and worn out and dropped somebody head first into the creek, it would probably be me. I had a sudden vision of my chubby legs flailing around hysterically in the water before someone jumped in and fished me out.
I had attended many baptisms. They were almost as common as wakes and funerals in Scottsville. They were usually rather dramatic, with all the honorees parading slowly into the water in their sparkling white robes as the audience sang “Shall “We Gather at the River” and “Just as I Am.” There was always a full contingent of parents, grandparents and aunts and uncles on the creek bank wiping away tears as they proudly took pictures as their young ones were unceremoniously prayed over, dunked and retrieved, and ushered into the flock.
I had heard mom talking to my father in a whispery voice that morning as she was getting out his Sunday clothes. I couldn’t hear the whole conversation because she had her head half- stuck into the chiffrobe, but the gist of it seemed to be that my parents thought I was really just a mite young to be joining the church and they weren’t sure I knew what religion was ‘all about’.
They had to be kidding! I counted no fewer than five preachers and 3 deacons among my slew of kinfolk, not to mention a passel of uncles who manned the “amen” corner every Sunday morning. I had practically cut my teeth on a Baptist hymnal! Besides, for three years in a row, I had won the silver cross in Vacation Bible School for memorizing and reciting the most Bible verses. (Tammy Lee Harris got jealous last year and went and told the preacher that I had the verses written on the inside of my palm, but he didn’t believe her). I had also garnered quite a few gold stickers because I never cut the humps off the camels. The most enjoyable part of Vacation Bible School was the cookies and Kool-aid (grape most days). There were several things we had to do each day before we got to the refreshment part. The teacher always told a Bible story. She used a felt board and little cut-outs that stuck to the board to illustrate the idea of the story. Then she passed out scissors, crayons and coloring worksheets and made sure each of us had a worksheet and at least 3 or four crayons. There was almost always a picture of man or woman in a long-flowing robe with a camel in tow. We had to color the pictures on the paper and cut out them out. This was easier said than done, because it took quite a bit of ‘manual dexterity’ to be able to cut out the pictures of the camels without cutting off about half their humps. Some of the kids took shortcuts because they wanted to hurry up and get to the refreshments. The teacher never said a word if she noticed person’s camel was squared off instead of rounded; she would just give a gold star to those who cut out their camels correctly. I caught on to the whole thing fast, and that’s how I ended up with a wall full of gold stickers.
So, here we all were, a parade of girls, our hair slicked back with rubber bands and barrettes. The boys didn’t get serious about their religion until after they had “sown their wild oats,” unless they got called to preach. If they got called, it was usually in their senior year of high school, about the same time they got their draft cards.
I was at the end of a long line of baptismal candidates that snaked from the center of the creek almost all the way back to the bank. My stomach was growling and the sun was almost directly overhead by the time my turn came up. The preacher put one hand on top of my head and one on my shoulder and said the same brief prayer he had said for everyone else. I held down my robe with one hand to keep it from floating up in the water, like I had seen the other girls do, and stopped up my nose with the other, in preparation for my ablutions. The preacher gave one mighty heave (I personally thought he exaggerated the whole thing a bit), and brought me up out of the water. It just happened, by sheer coincidence, that the grunions were running that day and just about the same time I got dunked, they ran my way. When I emerged victorious over my sins, I was accompanied by hundreds of tiny little silver fish, not much bigger than minnows. They wriggled around in the pockets of my robe, slithered coldly down my back and even flopped around in my hair, caught in all those barrettes! By this time I was totally humiliated, and even more so when I ventured to look up towards the bank. I could see my grandfather bravely wading in, fully clothed to come to my rescue as the preacher tried in vain to fend off the insidious little creatures, who seemed to be having a jolly good time. Those members of the audience who were the farthest up on the bank, thought I had “gotten the spirit” and started clapping their hands in unison, but those in the front could clearly see my predicament, so they turned around and apprised the others of the true facts of the situation.
Well, to make a long story short, I was the talk of the town for days to come and my entrance into any given room, often engendered poorly smothered giggles and an abrupt end to conversation. However, a few weeks later the preacher’s daughter ran off and eloped with a Presbyterian and that took precedence, and relegated my unfortunate “baptism incident” to the back burner-at least for awhile.