by: Wes Ishmael
If you've ever been a pallbearer, fighting to keep hold of your part of the precious cargo, lest your slip sets loose a chain reaction that ultimately upends the proverbial applecart, then you have some idea how desperate Thomas Terwilliger was becoming.
At the moment, Thomas was struggling to remain calm while fighting for his balance without letting the head and shoulders of Gulliver Clarence Luchinski slip beneath the water until the appropriate time.
Thomas, Pastor Tom, was the visiting clergy for the dwindling but stalwart congregation of the Apache Southern Baptist Church. Gulliver, “Gully” Luchinski was a new believer who had been looking forward to his baptism by immersion for weeks.
Gully had been raised on horror stories about the Second World War from his Polish immigrant grandparents. They hadn't renounced God as much as they had stayed mad at Him. Gully's Dad adopted that same combative stance and passed it along to Gully, who had tried for the better part of 60 years to keep God at a distance.
“It was the Missus, she's the one that got through to him,” Peetie Womack beamed.
As the crowd gathered at the side of one of his ranch tanks, Peetie would tell anyone who would listen that Gully asked her how it was she could always seem so joyful being married to someone who could be so grumpy. Mrs. Womack told him that true joy came from a relationship with Jesus Christ, not anything of this world. Slowly, she began to teach him.
There was plenty of opportunity.
Gully split time between his home in New Mexico, Rio Rojo County and several other locations. He was a dog trainer with a growing and glowing reputation. Peetie was always trying to come up with a new hound more efficient at doing this or that. The latest pupil he had for Gully was a yellow Lab puppy named Amarillo Flash—“Amarillo” as in the Spanish name for the color rather than the town.
“Her daddy is Mallard Marauder, who of course is an own son of Harlequin Harry,” Peetie explained to Gully when he invited him for some in-home tutelage. “Her mama is Guntown Bedazzled, who goes back to Lady Jumbo. So, as you can see, she's bred for it.”
“Sure,” is all Gully would say. He didn't know a dog pedigree from a black hole in space. He knew dogs. He knew how they thought and more important seemed to understand why. If you wanted a dog, despite all breeding, to hunt, track, retrieve, heel, herd or just stay where you wanted, Gully was the guy.
“Smart as whip,” Peetie had continued. “Loud noises sure bother her, though. That's the main challenge as I see it.”
So it was that Gully's extended visit coincided with his final surrender and impending baptism.
Dampening the Spirit
Gully was about 6' 5” and weighed closer to 300 lbs. than 250. Pastor Tom might have reached 5' 4” in his platform Ropers and weighed maybe 110 lbs. if he was soaking wet. And, soaking wet was a condition Pastor Tom avoided at all costs, given his fragile immune system. That's why Pastor Tom was in hip waders and was holding Gully's head and shoulders in the shallower end of the tank while Hooter and Cousin Charlie commandeered the rest of the convert in the deeper end.
Nelda Isselfrick eyed the goings on with approval. It had been a long time since her church had baptized anyone, so long in fact that the baptistery had gone to seed, making the stock tank improvisation necessary. She elbowed Aunt Pinky: “As you can see, unlike you sprinkling Methodists, we're not afraid of complete surrender.”
“And, unlike you big dippers, we understand you don't have to wear flippers in order to be saved,” Aunt Pinky growled.
Uncas Bingelmeyer wedged himself between the rivals. “Exploring the mysteries of our faith, I see. Anyone care for a mint?”
“I'm sure she could use one,” Nelda said, folding her arms in defiance.
“Harrumph,” went Aunt Pinky as she cast a last glare at Nelda.
Splashing sounds came from the tank as Pastor Tom struggled for a better grip.
“Hold tight, Padre, don't want to go jinxing it,” Hooter said with a chuckle.
“Hooter! Now is not the time for joking,” Charlie said as crossly as he ever said anything to his cousin. “There is no way to jinx this.”
“Huh, what, what are you saying?” Gully asked, trying to remain still and calm but starting to cramp up. “I can't swim, you know.”
“Don't worry, Gully. Nothing bad is going to happen to you,” Hooter said. But, eyeing the beads of sweat spreading across the pastor's face like glistening hives, he wasn't so sure.
“Brother and sisters…” Pastor Tom began. He suddenly felt his left foot growing wet and cold. One of his waders had sprung a leak.
“Brothers and sisters,” he began again. “What a glorious and joyous occasion…” His other wader sprung a leak; both were filling fast.
Pastor Tom tried again, but before he could get around to asking Gully about repentance and faith, his foot began to slip.
Between Gully's heft, Pastor Tom's slight build, the weight of the water filling the waders and the slick wall of the tank, the pastor's legs went out from under him; he was sucked beneath the water in a wink. Gully's head and shoulders followed suit.
Instinctively, Gully began to flail at the water in a panicked attempt to get upright and get out. The sound of his plate-sized palms striking the water the first time sounded a lot like a gunshot.
Flash took off like a…well…like a shot, upending several spectators along the way.
“Some gun dog,” Izzy called after Peetie, who was scrambling to catch up with his prized retriever: “Here Flash, it's O.K., nothing's gonna hurt you…Heeeere Flash…Flash, you spineless fleabag, get back here…”
Back in the tank, or out of it, Pastor Tom had scrambled ashore, soaked to the gills and already wheezing as folks fought to extract him from his waders and stand him upright.
Gully was on his hands and knees, half in the water and half out of it, gasping for air and looking shaken. Hooter and Charlie were half-standing in the water, half dog-paddling, too overcome with laughter to be of any help to anybody.
“Get a grip, both of you boys, said Nelda, prodding Gully and Pastor Tom with her cane. “And, you two polecats, stop laughing,” she said, pointing her cane and shaking it at Hooter and Charlie.
“That's right,” Pinky scolded. “Ain't no one ever got sick taking communion and ain't nobody ever drowned getting baptized.” She grabbed Pastor Tom's arm. “This man came here to be baptized and we're not leaving here until he is. Now, get on with it.”
And they did.
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