Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Paybacks Are Hell

Ethyl had been imagining the scenario over and over in her head. How in the world was she going to break the news to Cooter? Was he going to chase her around The Rack 'n Roll Pool Hall with a cue stick when she told him that Brother Bob, pastor of the First Baptist Church, was insisting that Cooter be baptized before he could get the support of the FBC Women's Prayer Circle? Ethyl had been praying about finding the best way to tell him the news. She knew that the longer she waited, the harder the task would be. She finally decided to back her ears and get it done when she found Cooter sitting alone at a table in the pool hall.

"Cooter, can you spare a minute for an old lady?"

"Ethyl, you are a sight for sore eyes. Sit yourself down here and have a beer with me. What's on your mind?"

"I have something I have to tell you and I don't know how to say it."

"Just say it, Ethyl."

Ethyl couldn't make eye contact with Cooter. She focused on the girly calendar from Marvin's Liq-O-Nut Donut Shop and Package Liquor Store which was hanging on the wall behind his head. She blurted it out as fast as she could.

"Brother Bob said that you can't use the prayer circle meeting room and he won't give you his political endorsement and you can't use his mimeograph machine if you don't find the Lord and get baptized. I don't think this is right, Cooter, but it is Brother Bob's church and I have been going there all my life and what am I suppose to do?"

Ethyl closed her eyes when she got through talking. She sat there with closed eyes waiting to hear the sound of a breaking bottle or the crack of a pool cue across the table.

"Open your eyes, Ethyl."

She slowly opened her eyes and was pleasantly surprised to find no anger on Cooter's face.

"Ethyl, that church doesn't belong to Brother Bob. That church belongs to everybody in this town. Do you understand that?"

"I understand that it ought to be like that, but I'm pretty sure that is his church. Why aren't you mad? I thought you would be really pissed off about Brother Bob wanting to baptize you."

"What makes you and Brother Bob so dang sure that I haven't already been baptized?"

"It's just so obvious, Cooter."

"Well, you are wrong, Ethyl. I was raised in the church and I have been baptized."

"You have?  Oh, thank you, Sweet Jesus! That solves our whole problem. I'll go over to the church and tell Brother Bob right now."

"No, Ethyl. No you won't. Let me give Brother Bob the pleasure of saving a soul. I'm not sure he has ever saved anyone. It won't hurt me to make him feel a little better about himself. It's just a little dunk in the river."

"I'm not sure it is legal to get baptized twice."

"I don't think the Baptist police are gonna arrest us, Ethyl. Now, I want you to tell me why you are so surprised that I'm a man of God and have been baptized?"

"I don't know, Cooter. Maybe it's just the people you hang out with."

"Oh, now I get it. You judge me by the company I keep. Well, Ethyl, right now I'm hanging out with you."

Cooter's words hit Ethyl like a ton of bricks. She couldn't reply. She couldn't  move. Because of the tears filling her eyes, she could no longer focus on Miss September's neon green polka-dot bikini. Cooter reached across the table and put his hand on top of he hand as she cried in her beer.


The Brazos River flows 840 miles across the state of Texas. The Brazos is famous for it's muddy red water and numerous pockets of quicksand.  While most pools of quicksand are only knee-deep, historical records tell the stories of Brazos quicksand devouring horses, carriages and wagons never to be seen again. While the Brazos was not the top choice for baptisms, it was the only choice for Brother Bob. He was convinced that the original name of this river, Brazos de Dios, meaning Arms of God, was the perfect place to baptize Cooter. 

Member of the First Baptist Church Women's Prayer Circle had gathered on the banks with bibles in hand ready to witness the saving of another soul. They all greeted Cooter warmly as he arrived. Dressed in their cotton house dresses and summer sandals, they showered him with hugs, pats on the back, kisses on the cheek and words of encouragement. 

Cooter was no stranger to quicksand. Being a rough neck in oil fields, he often found himself wading through rivers and livestock tanks. Cooter showed up on the banks of the Brazos dressed in rubber hip waders in sharp contrast to Brother Bob who was wearing a white baptismal robe and brand new white tennis shoes from the local five and dime store.

Brother Bob started the service with a long-winded prayer about salvation and redemption. Then he took Cooter by the hand and led him into waist high water. When the water had settled around them, Brother Bob faced Cooter.

"Do you believe that Jesus Christ will forgive your sins?"

"Yes, I do."

"Do you forsake Satan and all of his ways?"

"Yes, I will."

"Do you intend to follow Jesus's teachings?"

"Yes, I certainly do."

"On the profession of your faith in Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior and in obedience to his command, I now baptize you, Brother Cooter, in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen."

When Brother Bob said amen, he instructed Cooter to grab his arm as he grabbed Cooter behind his back. He totally immersed Cooter under the muddy waters of the Brazos.  Cooter came up out of the water sputtering and gasping for air. When Brother Bob reached out and gave Cooter a big hug, Cooter whispered in the pastor's ear.

"That wasn't a very good baptism. I have been baptized by much better preachers."

Brother Bob jumped back in surprise. When he jumped, his shoes didn't come with him. The suction of the muddy quicksand held the shoes in place. The irate preacher was flailing around in the muddy water while sinking slowly in the mucky bottom of the river. Cooter couldn't help but smile as he lumbered over in his rubber hip waders and managed to kick one of the the preacher's shoes free. The shoe floated to the top of the water and Cooter grabbed it and handed it to the pastor. Everything could have ended nicely then if the reverend had just said a simple thank you. But there aren't always happy endings in the Brazos River.

"How dare you talk to me like that, Cooter! You have not repented of your sins. You better change your ways or you will end up burning in hell. Now, get over there and get the other shoe!"

Unaware of the conversation between the two men, the women on the banks of the river were already walking back to their cars. They were singing and rejoicing that Cooter had been saved. 

O, sisters, let's go down
Let's go down, come on down
O, sisters, let's go down
Down in the river to pray.

Cooter slowly labored his way back to the river bank where Ethyl was waiting for him. He had a glow about his face which amazed her. Ethyl wasn't sure if Cooter had found Jesus again or if he was just flushed from the labor of walking through the quicksand.

"Cooter, you can't leave Brother Bob out in the river. Look at him. He is up to his waist in that quicksand and can't get out by himself."

"Come on, Ethyl. Let's go have a cold beer. Brother Bob will be fine. He needed to save someone today. Let him save himself."

O, sisters, let's go down
Let's go down, come on down
O, sisters, let's go down
Down in the river to pray.

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