Baptized in Spring Creek

I don’t remember the guest preacher’s name or the messages he delivered, but I’ll never forget the three-night revival he led at my Uncle Walter’s church.

New Mardrid Mississippi River baptism 09-03-1967          My grandfather’s brother, the Rev. Walter White, was pastor of Mt. Nebo Missionary Baptist Church, which was down the street from my grandmother’s house. Because the church could be seen from the house and Uncle Walter always stopped by the house on his way to the church, my brothers and I rarely missed church on first and third Sundays. Uncle Walter pastored a church in Cross City on the second and fourth Sunday, so we were only required to attend at Sunday School and church service at Mt. Nebo on the first and third Sundays, Mt. Nebo’s once-a-month Sunday evening service, holiday services, and revivals.

            My brothers, cousins, and I weren’t looking forward to attending three nights of church service during the middle of the week. But, we had no choice.

            So, we moped down the street that first night.

            We sat twiddling our thumbs through the first part of the service, and we moaned and sighed when the service seemed to linger into the night.

            Then, my uncle introduced the preacher who was delivering the message for the night, and from his first word to his last, we clapped and shouted hallelujah like we’d never done.

            When we walked out the church that first night, we began counting down the hours until the next night’s service.

            Our grandmother didn’t have to tell us to get up and get dressed the next night, and by the time Uncle Walter came by to remind us, we were walking out the house heading to church.

            The second night’s service was just as spirited as the first.

            The third night, we were so moved by the preacher’s message that when asked who was ready to live for God, my brothers, cousins, and I all answered by joining the church.

            My uncle, who had been prodding us to join the church for a few years, was more than a little surprised. Our grandmother and my mother were even more surprised.

            The baptism date was set for the first Sunday of August, a little over a month later.

            During the next few weeks, my grandmother and aunts bought a bunch of white bed sheets then cut and sewed them into ten baptism robes.

            As the big day neared, the spirited joy I felt during the revival turned to fear of the unknown.

            My grandmother tried to calm my fears by giving me a new book of Bible stories and telling me, God loves you, but that did little to calm my fear of what creatures existed beneath the surface of Spring Creek at Folsom Park.

             When the first Sunday morning in August arrived, I stood in the middle of the line of about 16 children. I watched as Uncle Walter and one of the church deacons dipped each of the children in the water then said a blessing over them.

            Because none of the children in front of me came out of the water talking about the creature from the Black Lagoon, my fear disappeared when it came time for me to I step in the water. When I stepped out of the water into my mother’s arms, the spirit I felt during that three-night revival was all over me.

Every now and then, I wish I could step back inside Mt. Nebo M.B. Church, hear the message delivered from the preacher whose name I don’t remember, take a dip in the water at Folsom Park, then step into my mother’s arms and feel that feeling again.

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The Dad She Will Remember

memories photosMemories are scripted by the person remembering.

Was he really that nice?

Was she really that mean?

Were times really that good?

I am asked these types of questions all the time.

People read my newspaper columns and wonder did the memories I write about really happen the way I remember them. Then, when they see me, their questions begin. Most of their questions are about people we both knew and, sometimes, have slightly different recollections of.

“I remember her,” one person may recall. “She was pushy and had to have everything her way.”

And my response might be, “Well, I thought she was a bit wishy-washy.”

“Really?” the person is likely to respond with a dumbfounded stare. “We have to be talking about two different people or you have amnesia.”

I don’t have a problem when I encounter someone whose memories differ from mine. That’s because, like beauty is in the eyes of the person looking, memories are scripted in the minds of the person remembering.

During the past eight years, I’ve had the sometimes arduous task of scripting memories for my niece, Kennadie, because she doesn’t have her own memories of her dad, who passed July 16, 2008 when she was a year and eight months old.

My brother Ken’s two sons were older – 10 and 21, when he passed, so they remember him. Sometimes, I have to fill in the blanks for them, but their memories of him are mostly their own.

When I’m with Kennadie, she often makes “if my dad was here” comments, but she doesn’t ask me a whole lot of questions about him. I think it’s because, even though she’s a little girl, she’s wise enough to know that her uncle has not fully found that happy place when it comes to remembering her dad.

However, this past weekend during our family reunion weekend in Jacksonville, she couldn’t resist bombarding me with questions about him. I think hearing family members, young and old, talking about Ken, made her want to know more.

I answered most of her questions truthfully.

“Did my daddy come to the family reunions?” she asked. “And did he have fun?”

“Yes and yes,” I answered.

“Did my daddy talk a lot?” she asked.

My uncle Moon didn’t give me time to answer. “Yes, and that’s where you get all that mouth from,” he responded.

My responses to a few questions were sugarcoated.

“Did you and my daddy argue a lot?” she asked.

“No,” I told a little white lie.

We argued all of the time. It wasn’t because we didn’t get along. It was because I was the big brother who thought it was my job to always tell my two younger brothers what to do.

Kennadie’s questions didn’t cease.

By the time we made it back home, she had relived some of the 42 years I spent with her dad. She knew how fun loving he was and how nitpicky he could be. She knew his favorite color and his favorite sayings. She knew how much he loved his family and how much we loved him. And she knew he wasn’t perfect.

Memories are scripted by the person remembering them, so the brother I remember is the dad she will remember.

And, in his absence, that’s what he would have wanted.