We bragged about how long the pastor held us under the water. Jimmy Smith even said he thought a snake bit him on the toe. We sat on the hillside, in scratchy green Army blankets, and watched the parade of boys and girls and adults one by one step into the cold Arkansas River and to the waiting arms of Pastor Dan.
“He didn’t tell me to hold my nose and I near drowned.” Freddy pretended to be grabbing at invisible water.
Rodney wiped his nose with his arm. “Durn near choked to death riech der. Water leaked in my mouth.”
“Shame on you heathens.” Mary Beth Owens stood above us, her Army blanket dragging the ground. “None of you knows what baptism is.” Mary Beth was a head taller than all of us, and standing on the top slope she looked like a giant. “I bet none of you even thought about it.”
Truthfully, none of us did. We had been to confirmation class and had each felt the need to go down front when the preacher called. I’m not sure if it was the Spirit or my Aunt Anna threatening me with her spit dampened handkerchief. I believe she spat in that hanky every few seconds just to find a dirty spot on my face.
Nevertheless, we each one dutifully got out of our seat – pushed along by relatives – to the joyous shouts and praises of the ladies’ front row chorus.
Jimmy interrupted my thoughts. “You ever talk to God?”
“Sure, I pray. Don’t you?”
“Yeah.” Jimmy pulled the blanket tighter around his shoulders. “But, I mean, like I prayed that there’d be a thunderstorm this morning and we wouldn’t have to come down to the river.”
Freddy tried to stand and his blanket pulled him down. “If they’d baptized me first there wouldn’t been no water left in the river. I think I done drank it all.”
Rodney nudged Freddy with his shoulder. “Ya jes git dat tall tale sin forgiven too, with the dunk’n.”
“Jimmy, Baptism, according to my grandpa, is all about forgive’n sins. Didn’t you wanna do that?” I tried to lean up on one elbow.
“I guess. Ma told me I did.”
Rodney seemed to ponder the thought. “Guess it be lik pay’n off a loan.”
“Huh?” Jimmy and I both looked at Rodney. Freddy just scratched his head in a comical way.
Rodney continued, “Lik dem watermelons we stole last summer.”
Jimmy kicked at the sand and clay at his feet. “What’s steal’n watermelons got to do with baptism?”
“Lik did say’d,” said Rodney. “We napped dem melons, and steal’ns a sin. Well, we never paid fer dem melons, until now, cas we done been fergiv’n fer steal’n. Fergive'ns like not haven pay'n a loan. Jes glad ol lady Lutz not hur, she not fergive’n nohow.”
I pushed my glasses up on my nose. “But, the melons are still gone. Ol lady Lutz don’t got em no more. It was wrong for us to take her stuff.”
Freddy cleared his throat. “Lord
done forgave us, but…”
Jimmy bushed back his hair. “Guess maybe we oughta take a couple a dollars by her house huh?”
“Cool Jimmy.” Freddy slapped him on the back.
Rodney laughed. “I thiks dat baptism maya dun you riech gud afterall.”
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