DEWITT COLUMN: The miraculous baptism of Hank Shakes
“And He saith unto them, follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” – Matthew 4:19 The waters of the Cattywampus Church of Christ baptism pond are said to have magical powers of healing and rejuvenation. Wictor Lawton, Swampton County’s oldest living resident at 107, takes a bath in those waters every full moon and even mixes a little with his Old Crow whiskey. Pee Wee Palmer swears that he poured a quart of it down his britches and cured that nasty venereal disease he picked up at the last family reunion. Momma Shakes rubbed some on her dog’s belly and it passed a dozen healthy puppies that were all housebroken easily and never chased cars or bit the mail lady. Every man has a sickness that needs curing. For some it is drink, for some drugs or gambling, for others the allures of loose women who wear too much makeup and smoke menthol cigarettes. For Hank Shakes, it was fishing, and in that regard he was a sick man indeed. “Come on, Reverend, please!” Hank had begged the good Rev. Dr. Trent. “Just let me fish that magical baptism hole one time! I’ll do anything. I’ll cut grass at the church and the cemetery. I’ll come to Sunday School, followed by Sunday morning services. I’ll empty my pockets into the offering plate and even bring the fried chicken for dinner on the grounds, if you will just let me fish that blessed pond!” So Hank sold his soul to the Lord, and found himself cleaned up and standing between the Cattywampus pews with a songbook in his hand come Sunday morning. All around him were the freshly scrubbed faces of cherub-like children, matrons in fine clothing with large, elegant headwear, men in their Sunday finest, angelic voices floating from the choir. But the only thing Hank noticed was the pond through the cracked stained glass window. It tempted him, beckoned to him, spoke to his soul. A window to the gates of Heaven! Maybe it was the excitement of the service, or perhaps his impatience to get into that sacred water, but sometime during the sermon (probably the part about the loaves and fishes) Hank became overcome by the Holy Spirit and jumped up, begging to be baptized right away! Always eager to save the lost, Rev. Dr. Trent immediately stopped the service and rushed everyone to the shores of the pond. “Is it going to hurt, Reverend?” Hank asked, as he stood waist deep in the holy waters with the preacher. “Is it going to burn? I’ve been a pretty bad boy. I once stole a fish from a crippled child, and there’s still a restraining order on me down there at SeaWorld.” “You’ll be fine, my son,” Trent reassured him. “Just count to five and it will all be over.” After the proper scripture, Rev. Trent submerged Hank for exactly five full seconds, as he had done for hundreds of sinners before, to give the water time to wash all the sin away. Hank emerged, sputtering, a new man washed in the blood of the Lamb! The divine waters had purged him of every sin and every impure thought and vice – except for one. The next morning, Hank dodged work and evaded his wife, as was his habit, and stood in the morning mist beholding his newfound heaven. There was a slight breeze, not much dew on the grass, fish already jumping in the early light. He cherished a deep breath of cool damp air and made his first cast. Almost immediately, a monster of a bass annihilated his top water frog in a heart-pounding, adrenaline-pumping splash! Hallelujah! Praise the Lord! Moments later, he held the beast up toward the heavens in gratitude and then weighed him. Hank gulped and felt the presence of a higher power. The Reverend had held him beneath the water for five seconds, and here before him was a five-pound bass. It was a miracle! An hour later, his creel was full of five-pound fish… It’s the Sabbath again, and Rev. Dr. Trent is really going to town with his sermon, stepping on the toes of all the sinners hard and asking anyone and everyone if they wanted to come forward and be saved. Suddenly, he hears a loud voice from the back pew and is astonished to see Hank dressed in fishing hat and lucky waders. “Me! Me!” shouted Hank. “Lord, take me! I want to be baptized again! Only this time, can you hold me under for ten seconds?” Michael M. DeWitt, Jr. is the managing editor of The Hampton County Guardian, an award-winning journalist, columnist and outdoor writer.