Southern Scribe
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The Longest Secret
 
By Sherron Killingsworth Roberts

 

 
 

Mamie watched as drop after drop of sweat trickled down her mother's temples and onto the ironing board. Even early in the morning, the kitchen was popping-grease hot from all the Sunday cooking.  Mamie wanted to ask if she might hold her nose when the preacher dunked her. But, instead she said, "Mama, will it hurt, being baptized and all?  I mean, Brother Jess told us Jesus is gonna wash all our sins away today." 

Mamie knew just a regular old bath could be a painfully vexing experience. Mama would wring out the rag, soap it up real good, and then head for Mamie's ears like a mad hornet.  "Cleanliness is next to Godliness" was Mama's swift reply to any squawks, yelps, or ouches. 

Anyway, Mamie figured her ears probably weren't nearly as tough to clean as ten years' worth of sin would be! 

"You won't be hurt, child.  You just you make sure your heart is in the right place today.  Keep your eyes on Jesus, Mamie.  Pray with all your power and the Lord will do a mighty work in your life," Mama said as she anointed the wad of material with sprinkles of starchy water. 

With her heavy, coal-black iron, Mama miraculously transformed the chalky clump of cloth into Mamie's milky-white confirmation dress.  She had wanted to wear that dress a thousand Sundays before to the Bloomberg Holy Pentecostal Church.  Why anyone would be so dog-dumb as to wait until today, was beyond her.  Because like all her kinfolk before her, she was gonna be dunked in Rabbit Creek. 

Mamie's curly hair disappeared for a moment as she slid into the sweet-smelling, still-warm  dress.  Rabbit Creek was the place for hunting tadpoles, gigging for frogs, or begging crawdads to venture out of their homes.  Normally her mama would skin her hide for even thinking about wearing any dress, much less this one, into Rabbit Creek.  Yep, that ol' creek was just about as clean as Mama's red-eye gravy, Mamie thought as she combed through her hair. 

Mamie heard Pa bring round the wagon.  Mama quickly set out a beautiful blackberry cobbler topped with crusty puddles of butter to cool.  And they were off to the church house. 

Once in the wagon, the steady clip-clop calmed her fears.  So did the church songs they sang on the way.  Mamie loved the hand-clapping beat of all these songs.  When everyone sang, she was sure all was right with the wonderful world.  She could hardly keep her feet and shoulders and even her hips from bobbing up and down, but the stiff white dress helped her ward off any wrinkling wiggles. 

By sermon time, the whole church was practically asleep.  Mamie had to punch Pa to keep him from nodding off.  And sleepy Mr. Snowden just about jerked his head off when the preacher's booming voice dismissed everyone to Rabbit Creek for the baptizing services. 

Needless to say, the Bloomberg Holy Pentecostal Church was in a religious slump.  No one could even remember the last person to get the Holy Ghost or to be slain in the Spirit.  Why, they hadn't seen hide nor hair of a Holy Ghost revival in years.  Mama said once, "If someone doesn't hurry up and receive the gift of speaking in tongues soon, we might as well be a bunch of chicken-eating Methodists!" 

Even though Mamie didn't quite understand all this Holy Ghost-Spirit-stuff, today she truly wanted to become pure and clean and good like Jesus.  Even if no one else had heard Brother Jess' sermon, Mamie had.  She remembered Mama's advice and was praying hard for the courage to be baptized. 

Her three other friends had waded out into Rabbit Creek like tongue-tied sleepwalkers out to Brother Jess.  The stifling heat of midday seemed to muzzle the whole congregation.  With their solemn heads in his hands, the good Reverend gently dipped the youngsters into the creek and then the children waded back looking like drowned rats.  Not one "Amen" or "Praise the Lord" or "Hallelujah" was heard as each young convert emerged from the water. 

At last, Mamie's turn came.  She felt the red clay ooze through her toes at the bottom of the creek.  Brother Jess hooked his great preacher hands securely around her.  Then her head plunged backward into the creek.  A flood of feelings came over her -- feelings of cool joy and peace and humbleness.  But, as the preacher lifted her out of the cleansing waters, Mamie burst out crying and screaming, leaping and jumping all around. 

Immediately the congregation was both flabbergasted and elated.  "Mamie's got the Spirit!  Oh Lord, Hallelujah!" they hollered.  They raised their hands to Heaven, palms open, and thanked God for sending down a revival to their tired little church.  Indeed, Mamie had received the Holy Ghost and His gift of speaking in unknown tongues!  Everyone said that it was a message from God Himself. 

After that, the Bloomberg Holy Pentecostal Church sure perked up.  Many folks were saved from their sinful ways and lots of backsliders were drawn back by the church's newfound energy.  For years, they talked about how a little girl in a starched white dress miraculously changed their lives that glorious day. 

You know, Mamie's mother had always told her that God worked in mysterious ways, but Mamie never really quite understood.  That is, until God used a stubborn ol' crawdad dangling off the end of Mamiešs big toe to send down a revival!


ENDNOTE: This story is entitled "The Longest Secret" because it was told to us in reverent tones as our grandmother entered her nineties. For eighty years or more, Mamie (known to us as Mamaw) patiently kept the secret of how the revival in her little church came to be. Only as she knew she was approaching the end of her life, did we hold her soft hands and hear the whispery secret of how God worked a miracle so many years ago. 

Sherron Killingsworth Roberts is an assistant professor at University of Central Florida. She is a published poet and researches innovative instructional practices for preservice teachers, such as the use of technology or literature study groups within methods courses. Additionally, Roberts continues exploring gender issues within a large database of all Newbery books. Sherron has been married to her best friend Robin for twenty-plus years. They are fortunate to have two daughters, Anna and Caroline, who make them happy to be parents everyday. She may be reached at skrobert@mail.ucf.edu .

 

Š 2002, Sherron Killingsworth Roberts, All Rights Reserved