As I stood in the family circle above the baptismal font, I watched our little grandson Clayton walk timidly down the steps with his daddy. Raising his arm to the square, his father said the baptismal prayer, then buried him in the water that sloshed and splashed around them.
After the last song had been sung and the closing prayer said, the families of the newly baptized children reverently left the meetinghouse. Later, as we celebrated the occasion, one of the children looked up from his ice cream and asked, “Grandma, were you baptized in shiny blue water?”
“No,” I chuckled. “When I was baptized, we didn’t sit in draped, carpeted rooms with soft music and inspirational talks. No one wore white coveralls and there weren’t clusters of relatives standing above a tile font.”
“Tell us about it, Grandma,” the children pleaded. And so I told them my story.
Well, you see, Hurricane was just a pioneer town in Southern Utah when I was little. We planned for me to be baptized in the Hurricane Canal on my birthday. I was so excited I could hardly wait. And then, just four days before my birthday, the canal broke.
The farmers were frantic. Peach orchards and hayfields were dry. Every man in town went up the river with his pick and shovel to help fix the break, but it was a bad one. The day before my birthday, I climbed the slope to the canal, hoping to see just one trickle of water. Instead, the hot, dry winds had caked and cracked the mud in the bottom, curling it up into little clay dishes. “Oh mama, what shall we do?” I asked. “How can I be baptized when the canal is dry?”
“You can always go to the hot sulphur springs, like your sisters did,” she suggested.
“But their birthdays were in the winter. We’d scald in July!”
Mama knew better than to suggest postponing the date. It was family tradition for each of us to be baptized on our eighth birthday.
“Let’s see what other choices you have,” Mama said. “Come with me.”
The cow’s watering trough was just outside the corral under the apricot tree, with a hole in the fence for the cows to poke their heads through.
“You could be baptized here,” she said. I regarded the long strings of floating green moss and shuddered. “You can scrub the trough with the broom and fill it with fresh water from the cistern.”
“But Mama …” I wailed.
“If being sorry would fix the canal, the water would be running in it now,” she said, cradling me in her comforting arms.
I had heard Uncle Ren say that the canal might be mended by sundown, so just before dark I climbed the bank, hoping to see the frothy head of the stream. But the cracked clay was only curled deeper. Heavy of heart, I trudged home and plopped down on my bed in the peach orchard, where we slept in the summertime. Looking up at the evening sky I watched the first stars appear. “Please, Heavenly Father,” I prayed, “help the men get the water in the canal by tomorrow.”
I wasn’t surprised when a short time later I heard a little splash of water coming through the headgate high on the bank above our house. Scrunching my feet under me, I sat on my heels and listened. The sound grew until it was the full-grown tumble of water splashing over the rocks and, finally, rippling through the ditch past our place. The canal had been fixed before sundown, but the water had miles to race before reaching town.
“Oh thank you, Heavenly Father,” I whispered. Then I hugged my pillow and drifted to sleep, lulled by the merry music of laughing, tumbling water.
By the next afternoon, all of the debris and froth from the new stream had washed itself on through the canal and the water ran placid and smooth. I put on my clean white nightgown and Uncle Ren Spendlove came in his faded bib overalls. Mama walked to the canal with us. Sitting in the shade of the willows along the bank were my playmates and cousins, waiting. Uncle Ren stepped down the slick muddy side into the water then, reaching up, gave me a hand. Ripples of light danced on the stream, and a few willow leaves glided like canoes through the mottled shade. The wind held its breath as Uncle Ren said the baptismal prayer. I felt the rush of water in my ears, and he brought me up blubbering. He held onto me until I had caught my breath. Then I noticed everyone watching and smiling at me and I felt wonderful and loved.
“Mama, I’m baptized!” I exclaimed. Reaching for my hands, she pulled me up beside her. She had said that baptism was a sacred ordinance, and when she hugged me, dripping wet as I was, I knew it was true.