DeWitt column: Confessions of a back row Baptist
Columns share an author’s personal perspective.
Author’s note: This story was originally published in “Saying Grace Over Edible Underwear.” Some names have been changed to protect the innocent - and the ugly.
Cousin Zach was always getting into mischief with authority figures like school principals and game wardens. Maybe that’s why Granny hauled him and a couple of the boys to church to get baptized one Sunday. It must have been a popular day for getting saved, because there was quite a line of lost, young people waiting to take that holy dip. The Lord was apparently calling all of His lost lambs and they were flocking toward salvation, or away from Granny’s whip, depending on how you want to look at it.
Baptism is a sacred occasion in the church, and one that should be treated with the utmost reverence, but right there in front of Zach in the line was old Eunice, the dirtiest, smelliest, homeliest girl in Sunday School, bless her kind heart, and probably public school, too. God loves all people, and let it be noted that the author is not making judgement, merely observation, but when she stepped into the baptismal pool the preacher held his nose, the choir girls mumbled behind their Hymn Books, and an oily film oozed off of her and made a metallic sheen in the water like you might see around a leaky Evinrude outboard motor. When Zach saw this he locked up his heels like a beef steer at the loading dock on butchering day.
“I’m not getting in that water after that nasty gal!” exclaimed Zach, as he grabbed the door jamb until splinters went under his fingernails and then refused to budge.
“Come on, son!” hissed the Reverend, not wanting a scene on this holiest-of-holy occasions. “What are you waiting on?!”
“If Zach’s not getting in there, we’re not either,” said Zack’s sidekick, Isaac, and two of the boys behind him agreed, and they locked in their heels, too.
“I’d rather let the Devil jab me with his pitchfork than take a dip in that Eunice water!” Zach yelped, and Hopewell had become the scene of an epic religious battle that rivaled that fateful day Lucifer and his rebellious band of angels were cast out of heaven. And to top it all off, Eunice just sat there marinating in the water, grinning and making faces at Zach and the boys.
This backed up the baptism line quite a bit, and soon one of the choir ladies was dispatched to fetch Granny out of the pews to remedy the situation. Granny kept a large wooden spoon in her purse and had a reputation for dealing harshly with unruly boys. When Zach’s name was whispered in her ear as the cause of the commotion, you could see the old lady’s already-high blood pressure shoot up beyond the controls of modern medicine. And Granny’s bad hip had been bothering her, too, making it painful to walk, so by the time she limped her way from the back of the church and up the six steps to the baptismal chamber she was red-faced and steamy as old Satan himself.
Hopewell First Baptist Church records indicate that not only did one P. Zachariah McAlhaney get baptized that day, along with Isaac and all his pals, their sins got washed away simultaneously in the pool right alongside Eunice, making our church the first local house of worship in history to baptize five people at one time.
Michael M. DeWitt Jr. is the managing editor of The Hampton County Guardian newspaper in South Carolina. He is an award-winning humorist, journalist and outdoor writer and the author of two books.