The preacher’s words burned deep in my heart, as surely as the scorching sun was searing the prairie grass outside.
“Repent and be baptized,” he said, raising his fist in the air for emphasis.
I will, I declared.
But the weather conspired against me. By then, the grass had already wilted and withered. When I walked along the road in the wavering heat, grasshoppers scattered in every direction, smacking against my knees and hands.
“Did you hear me, son?”
“I said, pass me that wrench.”
Dad and I were fixing the Fordson Major tractor in the cool of the barn. A couple of cows were chewing their cuds rhythmically in their stalls, occasionally swatting their tails against the infernal flies.
“What are you thinkin’ on?”
“Getting baptized.” I passed him the wrench.
He tugged on the tool. “Fine thing to do, son, following in the steps of our Lord. Preacher’s been talking about it lately. Convicted?”
“Yeah.” I handed Dad the grease gun and tossed the wrench into the toolbox. Sweat dribbled into my eyes. “Nicholson’s Pond is just about dried up.”
“Then you better pray for rain, if you want to get baptized.”
So began my first real learning about prayer.
The wheat yellowed and curled and finally succumbed, lying flat on the parched, grey ground in defeat. The potato plants in Mom’s garden drooped and died, the lifeblood drained out of them overnight. Lettuce became brown, radishes, stunted and wooden, and beans folded their leaves and collapsed.
I walked down to Nicholson’s Pond, hoping that an underground spring had miraculously refilled the swimming hole. Wind whined through the barbed wire paralleling the road and jostled the dry brome in the ditch. A garter snake twined itself around a pile of stones.
I smelled the water before the pond came into view, sour and rank, not the usual sweet smell of water and willows. A flock of birds flew away, disturbed by my arrival, squawking their disapproval as they departed.
The pond was shrunken, the edge a rim of sludge. Tossing a stone, I watched as it sunk into the thick mud.
“Let it rain.”
The men met at the feed store and discussed the dire conditions of their crops, insurance, and the desperate need for moisture. I sat on the bench outside the door, listening to the steady hum of their voices, not hearing the words, only the hope and despair.
The next Sunday, the preacher entreated the congregation to gather to pray for rain. I could have sworn, if I’d dared, that the dry air crackled with the power of the Holy Ghost as we fervently prayed for even a few drops to fall on our fields.
I walked out to Nicholson’s Pond again. Powdery dust swirled around my feet. The grasshoppers were still.
The mud had dried into deep cracks around the pond, the edges of the cracks curling up. I sighed, the stifling heat catching in my lungs. I walked to the middle of the pond. The last of the water was cradled in a shallow stagnant pool, a few water beetles idly skating back and forth.
“Let it rain.”
As far as the eye could see were fields baked by a summer of scorching temperatures with no refreshment. Oats had turned a silvery grey, and wheat, a sickly yellow. Hay hung in lacy tatters, rustling on stunted stalks. If I’d been looking up, I might have seen the fist-sized cloud in the brassy sky. So, when the first drops splattered, I didn’t recognize them for what they were.
And the rain came.
I let the cool, clean water wash the filth from me, thanking God, even though it was too late for our crops, because it surely felt good after such a terrible hot summer.
Then, along came our pickup with Mom, Dad, the preacher, and a load of folks in the back. There were more cars and pickups behind them.
“Still wanting to be baptized, son?” The preacher leaned out the window.
“Sure do,” I grinned.
By the time we got to the pond, it was over half full, mucky, but it was water.
“This is our crop this summer, folks. Our new generation. I baptize you...”
When I came up, there was a gob of mud in my eye and a smear across the preacher’s cheek, but it didn’t matter. The windows of heaven were open, and the rain was still pouring down.
“Let it rain.”
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