Tommy goes down to the Loosahatchie River – an excerpt from the book
A string of cars and trucks are parked along the roadside. I slow down. I hear singing coming up from the Loosahatchie. I pull over to see what it’s about. I follow the footpath down to the river and come upon a group of people singing a hymn. Several stand soaking wet with the clothes on their back dripping in the sun. I look beyond. Two men stand in the river on either side of a lady. The taller man speaks:
“This is something Shirley here tells us is missing in her life. Praise the Lord! And so she wants to be baptized. Amen! And to feel the righteousness flow from the top of her head all the way down to the tips of her toes. Whoa! And so Shirley we now baptize you in the name of the father and the son and the Holy Ghost!”
And as he finishes his oration, the two men tilt the lady back. Her head goes under the water. Her blonde hair floats fan-like upon the surface. They raise her up. With water streaming from her hair and face, she smiles and uses her thumb and forefinger to clear her nose. The people begin to sing and two enter the river to help her out. An old man in a pair of khakis nods to me. The lines in his face show he works under the sun.
“You been baptized?” he asks.
“I don’t know. I was too young to remember.”
“You don’t remember? Then it was ain’t done right.”
I smile and shake my head. He steps to me and places a hand on my shoulder.
“When your house is on fire you gonna drip some well-water on it and call it done? Well, the house of your soul is on Hellfire, son. And less you get right with Jesus, you’re gonna burn when the time comes.”
Another one’s plunged into the river and I point there.
“You been baptized? Like that?”
“And that makes everything all right?”
“In the hereafter.”
“What about now?”
The old man shakes his head and mutters. I look toward the riverbank. Identical twin boys, about sixteen years old, get ready to receive their ablutions.
He points his finger at me and says, “When you bury the dead, you just gonna toss a little dirt on ’em? Or you gonna bury ’em deep?”
I don’t reply. He walks away.
Someone chuckles behind me. I turn around. It’s a man, he’s in his forties. A narrow brim straw fedora sits on his head. He holds a jacket over his shoulder.
“You been baptized?” I ask.
“Yeah, but in church not in that river.”
“TThen why are you here?”
He mops his forehead with a handkerchief and smiles.
Get Descending Memphis to find out what happens