Baptizing in the Pond
by Fred Prince
When Daddy got hurt real badly working in the oil field, we moved to northwest
Louisiana where my mother had inherited a small farm. It was during the depression
and the farm offered no modern conveniences in the rural community of Shiloh.
We had no electricity, no running water, and the toilet facilities consisted
of a little outhouse with two holes.
had gotten his jaw bone broken in a freak accident that knocked out all his
top teeth. While he waited for the healing and the new dentures, he could
eat only soft pliable food. He dearly loved chicken and dumplings and since
Mother was famous for making the best in the area, every night for supper
we would have chicken and dumplings, the next morning for breakfast we had
chicken and dumplings and, would you believe we had chicken and dumplings
for lunch? It seemed that for the nine months it took Daddy to recuperate
we had chicken and dumplings for every meal. I promised the good Lord
that if Daddy ever got his new false teeth, I would never eat another bite
of chicken and dumplings. To this day I cannot tolerate that culinary treat.
this time, our primitive habitat was very appealing to our city-bred cousins.
James Elbert and Hazel were a little older than Donnie, Marthe and me, but
they thought a vacation at our idyllic retreat was great fun. They
were so sophisticated that we three little country bumpkins were rather awe-struck
when they visited.
stubbed her toe she would say, "God... bless America!” with strong emphasis
on the God before adding softly the bless America. Even
with no adults within hearing distance, we three unsophisicates were dumbfounded
at such audacity. We could just see visions of mouths being washed out
with Octagon soap! This was standard procedure for young'uns who said
cuss words. It was a yellow lye soap used to wash grimy work clothes.
A new bar came wrapped in a cover that had a coupon in the shape of an octagon.
All the missionary society ladies at the church cut these coupons out and
sent them to the orphanage to help buy a bus or something for the poor little
children that didn't have any mothers or daddies. It took hundreds
of coupons to buy one bus, so you can imagine how many bad words it took
to get one of those busses!
our cousins were visiting, Mother had to mail a letter. The rural free
delivery mailbox was one mile down a dusty dirt road. It takes a long
time to walk down and back a dusty road in the hot Louisiana summer time,
so Mother put on her bonnet that Aunt Fanny had made out of a flowery sugar
sack, and took off on her unpleasant trek. Her parting instruction was,
"Now don't you young'uns get in that pond while I am gone. That water
is stagnant. The cows have been using the bathroom in it and I don't
want y'all wading in it. You might catch the leprosy or something!"
hardly gone around the bend in the road when James Elbert said, "Let's go
play baptizing.” Now you must understand that all our clan are dyed-in-the-wool
Baptist. We don't have any of that sissy sprinkling-water-on-the-head
type of baptizing, no siree, Honey. When we baptize them we hold them
under water until they gurgle! And where else, might I ask, can you
play baptizing on a hot summer afternoon than the slimy green pond where
the cows had been using the bathroom? My sisters and I warned James
Elbert of the dire consequences that could occur from disobeying Mother.
We knew from personal and bitter experience, but he and Hazel assured us
that since they were company, Mother wouldn't do anything. Besides
our hair and clothes would be perfectly dry by the time she walked all the
way to the mailbox and back. We thought, She will never know
, --so we abdicated to his superior charisma. Besides, playing baptizing
Elbert was the preacher. He did just like Uncle George did when he
baptized people for real in the creek. First he lined us all in a row.
Then one at a time he bent us backward under the water, intoning in a deep
sepulchral voice, "I baptize thee, my sister, in the name of the Father, the
Son, and the Holy Ghost." Then he would hold the candidate under water
until he gurgled several times. When the candidate was lifted back to his
feet, spitting green slimy water and gulping for breath, everybody would
holler real loud, "amen", and “praise the Lord!" "Amen", and "hallelujah!"
places several times, even letting the girls be the preacher.” We invented
new methods of baptizing. Sometimes we would dunk the candidate three
times, one for the Father, one for the Son, and one for the Holy Ghost.
After everybody had been baptized several times each, James Elbert decided
it was time to get out and let our hair and clothes dry before Mother got
back. While we were still standing in the green slimy mud at the edge
of the pond, we noticed a big cloud of dust following a pick-up truck coming
down the road. It was Cousin Ralph, and to our horror-stricken eyes,
he stopped even with the pond and Mother got out, thanking him for the ride.
glance, she took in the whole situation, marched to the bank of the pond,
broke a long rubbery limb off a conveniently located willow tree, stripped
off its leaves, and said, "All right, every one of you come right up here
on this bank." Then she took one of Marthe's hands, and with her other
hand she administered corporal punishment--mostly to her tender little legs,
eliciting great cries of anguish, repentance, shame and remorse.
with Marthe's cries were those of the other culprits, simultaneously howling
in anticipation of their own turn, sharing in her emotions, thoughts and mostly
her feelings--feelings like short-legged pants that can't be pulled down
over naked, vulnerable legs! There also were the awful feelings of
embarrassment that had brought us down to the level of inferior criminals,
publicly exposed, with witnesses we could never deny or put a more unscrupulous
interpretation on what happened to us. At some distant time, this odious
subject would surely be recalled and discussed.
Elbert got his licks, along with such admonitions as, "You are the oldest
young man, and you should set the example for the younger ones…”
above all the hollering and sniffling came Hazel's turn. "You can't
whip me," she wailed. "I'm not your little girl!"
Mother replied, "You just get yourself up here young lady. Any little
girl who can't understand plain English and wallows around in stagnate old
cow ponds gets the same treatment as the others". And I suspected she
got it worse than the others did because Mother was as adverse to little girls
who sassed adults as she was to little girls who disobeyed them.
it seems all this happened a hundred years ago. Eventually we were
all legally baptized in clean, sterile baptisteries, with pictures of the
Jordan River flowing in the background, and robed choirs singing, "Shall
We Gather at the River,” and the organ quietly playing, "In the Sweet Bye
and Bye." And come to think of it, I don't believe a single one of
us ever got the Leprosy!
years that followed, when we gathered annually on the Second Saturday in
May for "grave yard working" at Shiloh Cemetery, invariably some adult would
bring up the story of the baptizing in the cow pond. No one, but me,
ever remembered exactly how it happened. Everybody had a different interpretation
of what happened. James Elbert would argue 'till he was blue in the
face that he was not the one who instigated the affair. Donnie says
it wasn't Cousin Ralph who picked Mother up, but Uncle Arthur, Ramona's daddy.
But they are all wrong. I remember exactly how it happened. They
have "senior moments" and forget things.