Daddy, Uncle Judd, the Southern Evangelist, Baptism, and the Snake

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Humor  |  House: Booksie Classic

A short story from my memoir book "The Boy on Shady Grove Road"

Daddy, Uncle Judd, the Southern Evangelist,

Baptism, and the Snake

 

It was the 1950s. Summer in the South was hot, “Southern Un-Comfort,” my Daddy

called it. It was hotter in the South for the poor who did not have

electric fans like the rich people. We did not have electric fans in our

little house on Shady Grove Road. We were poor, or a little short on

money, as Daddy always said. The Second World War had ended, and

the people were searching for ways to better their lives.

It was steamy July. I was ten years old. Momma told me that our

church asked an evangelist to come to our little town and hold tent

revival meetings. The church was small and hoped to increase the size

of its membership. The members thought this would be the best way to

do it.

 

The day came when the evangelist was to arrive. I rode my bike to

the site for the tent and was very excited as I saw him pull up in a large

flatbed truck. He was driving and there were three men with him. I

introduced myself and told him that my Momma belonged to the

church that had asked him to come and preach.

 

He shook my hand and said, “My name is Brother Bill Davenport

and I am glad to meet you, son. I could use your help.”

I said, “Just let me know what I can do, sir.” I saw streams of sweat

flowing down his face. He was a thin, good-looking man with a big

smile. To me, he was awful nice looking for being a preacher. I

thought, the people who come to his revival will really like him. Then

he called out orders to the men to unload and pitch the large tent.

I hung around and asked him a thousand questions about his tent

and the meetings. He said he was going to hold nightly revival

meetings to bring local non-believers into the church. He flashed a big

smile and said, “My plan is to get as many people as I can to come to

my meetings. I hope they will bring big free-will offerings each night.”

Then he added, “Of course, at the end of the meetings, I hope to have a

lot of people accept Jesus and be baptized.”

 

“Are you going to advertise your meetings in the town

newspaper?” I asked.

“No, I have a better plan,” he said. “I am going to do two things: I

am going to run an ad during the local morning radio Country Music

Show and I am going to circulate flyers to people’s homes to

announce that I am going to give away free Bibles. Everyone loves to

get a free gift. The free Bible will entice the people to come to the

meetings and they will bring their offerings!”

 

He got very excited and flashed another of his big smiles as he told

me this. I watched beads of sweat form on his forehead. “Is there a

river nearby where I can baptize the newly expected converts?” “Yes

sir,” I told him. “I know the perfect spot. It’s a place where we love to

swim and the water is clear and peaceful.”

 

He asked if I would go house to house and leave flyers on people’s

doors inviting them to his evangelistic meetings. The flyers read:

 

FREE BIBLES

Come Sing, Praise the Lord and go home with a free Bible

Sunday Night at 7:00 pm

The Big Revival Tent on the Little Rock Highway.

 

He handed me several bundles of flyers and I spent the rest of the

day going house to house putting the flyers in people’s screen doors.

The July heat got even hotter and more humid as I trudged to each

home.

I was sweating head to toe when, late that afternoon I returned and

told the preacher that I had placed two hundred flyers on people’s

doors. He said, “Great, I will pay you a penny for each flyer you

distributed.” That amounted to two dollars! I could hardly catch my

breath as he counted out eight shiny silver quarters. Man! That was a

lot of cash! Even one quarter was a lot of money, enough to buy three

candy bars and two cold drinks!

 

He sat down on the bed of his truck, wiped his forehead and

continued to tell me his great plan. On opening night, he would give

everyone a brand new genuine imitation leather-bound red-lettered

edition of the Bible. Every word that Jesus had spoken was printed in

red ink. For the poor in our town, this Bible giveaway would have real

appeal. “On the first night,” he said, flashing another of his big smiles,

“I will present each person attending with their own Bible and tell

them to write their name in the front. This will let them know the Bible

will be theirs to keep. I will explain to them that at the end of each

nightly meeting, they will have to return their Bible before they leave

to go home.”

 

He explained that each person would be given their Bibles every

night when they returned, in order to follow the texts being read. “At

the end of the five nights of preaching, each will get to take their Bible

home, to keep, but only if they have attended at least four of the five

meetings.”

 

After I spent the whole day working for the evangelist, I headed for

home and told Daddy and Uncle Judd about the free Bibles and the

nice evangelist. Neither of them had an education beyond grade

school, but they could read. Their big eyes told me they wanted one of

those free Bibles. They both said that they would attend the meetings.

Momma and Aunt Ola already belonged to the church. Daddy and

Uncle Judd did not. Momma and Aunt Ola were so happy that their

husbands were going to attend the meetings. For years they had prayed

that their men would join the church.

 

On opening night a crowd of people gathered at the tent door. They

waited in line to be greeted personally by the evangelist and receive

their own Bible and a free paper fan. Daddy and Uncle Judd were first

in line. They planned to attend all five nights of meetings. On the last

night they would each get their free Bible to take home. This offer was

only for non-believers who had not yet joined the church.

Since Momma and Aunt Ola were already members, they were not eligible.

 

The evangelist spent each night of the week preaching about a lot

of terrible things that would be happening to the earth; including

floods and famines, and earthquakes, and ended the week telling about

the horrible Armageddon that was coming upon us.

On the closing night the weather was the hottest it had been all

week. Everyone was sweating and fanning themselves with the free

beautiful paper fans the Ashby Funeral Home had donated. The fans

had a picture of Jesus holding a lamb on the front side and

“Compliments of Ashby Funeral Home. Prepare to meet Jesus” on the

back.

 

The preacher had the congregation sing “Just As I Am” and he

called for the spirit to come down on the sinners and help them get

out of their seats and come to the front of the tent and publicly accept

Jesus before it was too late. I sat between Momma and Aunt Ola and

watched their sweating lips move as they silently prayed for the spirit

to jolt Daddy and Uncle Judd from their seats and move them to go to

the front.

 

Finally Daddy, Uncle Judd and four others made their way to the

preacher, Bibles in hand. The preacher tried to smile but I could see by

his face that he had hoped more would respond to his call to come

forward and accept Jesus.

 

The preacher prayed and prayed for the six to accept Jesus and

before long, he had talked all six non-believers into being baptized

into the church. Momma and Aunt Ola quietly said, “Praise the Lord!”

The baptism was set for Sunday afternoon at 3:00 at our favorite

swimming hole in the Saline River, at Cecil Jones’s Landing on the

Hot Springs Highway.

The church members all gathered on the bank of the slow-flowing

river. The preacher brought white robes for those being baptized and

they put them on over their clothes.

 

While the congregation sang hymns, the preacher waded out to

where the water was about three feet deep. He had the new converts

wade in after him.

The first to be baptized was Mrs. Snork. The preacher completely

dunked her under water and she came up waving her arms praising

Jesus. Next was Mr. Reynolds, well known in town as a wayward,

unemployed drunk. The preacher did the same as he had with Mrs.

Snork. Mr. Reynolds seemed a little embarrassed as he came

sputtering up from the water, but he waved his arms too. After the

next two were dunked, it was time for Daddy and Uncle Judd. They

started wading towards the preacher. The preacher gave them his big

smile. Momma and Aunt Ola watched and were so pleased this was

happening. “Praise Jesus,” they quietly said.

 

But their quiet moment of victory was shattered when someone

yelled, “SNAKE! Everyone stared in disbelief as a three-foot-long

water moccasin slid off the far bank and made his way through the

clear water, swimming ever closer to the sinners.

 

Daddy and Uncle Judd’s eyes got as big as saucers. They were

scared to death of snakes. They looked at each other, and headed for

the near riverbank so fast that you could say they almost walked on

water. They beat everybody out. Once on the bank, they pulled off

their white robes and dropped them on the ground.

 

Daddy said, “This is a sign! That snake represents the Devil! He is

like the snake that tempted Eve in the Garden of Eden. This means that

Jesus is not ready for us yet!” Uncle Judd shook his head in agreement

and said, “Amen.”

The preacher was momentarily dumbstruck! Then he found his

words and sternly said, “This is just that mean old devil trying to get

you men to not accept Jesus!”

 

Daddy was a superstitious man and said, “I think the devil is in the

snake, and I am not going to get baptized only to be bitten by a

poisonous water moccasin in the river and die. I would rather be a live

sinner than a dead saint!” Daddy and Uncle Judd never did get

baptized, but they did keep their genuine imitation leather, red-lettered

edition of the Bible. It made them proud. They knew that most poor

people were not lucky enough to have a red-lettered edition of the

Bible to proudly display in the living room next to the lamp with the

original cellophane covering over the lampshade.

 

The next day, I again rode my bike down to the tent site and

watched as the preacher supervised the folding and packing of his tent

onto the flatbed truck. It was still hot and he was still sweating. He did

not have much to say to me.

 

I was not sure he had done that well financially with his

evangelistic meetings. He had given away about forty Bibles, paid for

a radio ad, paid me to hand out flyers and yet had only won four souls

into the church. I was sure that the free-will offerings he requested

each night did not amount to much. Being only ten years old, I was

sure I did not know a lot, but if I were the preacher, I think I might

consider selling used cars, or life insurance policies, or even burial

insurance for the Ashby Funeral Home.

 

As I watched the preacher’s truck pull onto the highway, I waved

goodbye to him. I had hoped that, before leaving, he might give me

one of those beautiful genuine imitation leather, red-lettered editions

of the Bible. But he didn’t. He didn’t even smile. He just waved as the

truck disappeared down the Little Rock Highway.

 


Submitted: November 11, 2020

© Copyright 2020 clyde. All rights reserved.

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