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James R. Stout

The Baptistry Caper

            It was the fall of 1965. We were members of Northview Baptist Church in Bryan, Texas. It was during a period of time that we quite literally were at the church if the doors were open. We spent almost all-day Sunday at the church. Sunday School was at 9:30 a.m. followed by the morning worship service at 11:00. We went home after the service and had lunch and “quiet” time which usually entailed a nap. By 4:00 p.m. we were all in the car and headed back to the church. Choir practice was from 4:30-5:30. My parents and both my sisters were in the choir. I was only 10 years old and too young to be in the choir. I’ll get back to this in a minute. At 6 p.m. there was what we called Training Union which was a time of Bible study per age group. Finally, there was an evening worship service at 7 p.m.

            Choir practice was a bit tricky for anyone with children. The church had a nursery for young children, but children above the age of 5 had to sit in the sanctuary while the choir practiced in the choir loft. But, after you were about 10 years old, you were allowed to find something constructive to do either outside or in the education building. My best friend at the time was a guy named Ronnie Thomas. Ronnie was a year older than me and therefore he was the defacto “leader”. We usually chose to find something to do outside. Of course, we had to stay clean for the evening service. So, there was no sports or that sort of thing. One of the things that we enjoyed doing was role playing games based on our favorite TV shows. At that point in time, our absolute favorite was “The Man from U.N.C.L.E.”

            As I stated earlier, Ronnie was the leader. Therefore, he was Napoleon Solo and I was the loveable sidekick with a Russian accent, Ilya Kuryakin. You would know him today as “Duckie” on N.C.I.S. We would hone our secret agent skills by playing games similar to hide and seek. One Sunday earlier in the year Ronnie came up with a brilliant idea. We would prove our worth as secret agents by sneaking into the church on the left side door, creep up a short staircase, slither our way silently through the baptistry, and back down the other side stairs and out the right-side door without being heard by the choir. You see, the empty baptistry was right behind the choir loft. We would wait until they would start singing a toe-tapper and then sneak our way through and make a soundless escape. We had done these many times by the fall of that year. Oh, there’s something you need to know. Ronnie’s father was the choir director. My Dad sat on the back row and both of our mothers and my sisters were in the choir.

            Then the day came. I call it “The Baptistry Caper”. Everything started out good that day. Napoleon was the leader and that meant he went first. I have been forever grateful for that. I was at the base of the staircase and I watched as Mr. Solo crept up the stairs. Then I saw him slip, heard a great yelp, and then heard a very loud splash as Napoleon Solo took a header into the filled baptistry. Well, I made a hasty retreat out the side door, ran the length of the sanctuary to the front entry doors, and then nonchalantly entered the church with my hands in my pocket as if I was just a cowpoke moseying along. The commotion was starting to die down when I walked into the sanctuary. What I saw was complete chaos. Ronnie was standing up in the baptistry with his hair plastered to his head and water running down his face. He was soaked to the skin. Most of the choir members in the back row, my father included, were drenched from the splashing overflow. Some of the ladies had their hands to their mouths in utter disbelief while others were trying hard to stifle their laughter. Mr. Thomas was red in the face and Mrs. Thomas was directing Ronnie out of the baptistry with the tone of a very mad mother bear. All eyes were on the melee except for two. Those two eyes belonged to my mother. Her eyes were boring holes through my soul at the time. She just knew I had to have been mixed up in the caper, yet there I was inside the church and apparently not part of it at all.

            Well, that event was a much talked about event for a couple of weeks. The preacher even came up with a sermon featuring the “The Baptistry Caper” and to his credit it was a most entertaining sermon. That night as we drove home my sisters were laughing about it and Dad was complaining about his hair getting soaked and it causing his hair oil to be very nearly ineffective. The wet head was not dead yet. Mom asked me for the 5th time if I had anything to do with the whole thing and for the 5th time I lied to my mother. I felt horrible about doing that and I carried guilt over it for decades. Ronnie was grounded for two weeks and had to sit with the other kids in the church during choir practice for a long time after that.

            Fast-forward about 45 years. I over at my parent’s home visiting one evening and we happen to be talking about our days in Bryan and Northview Baptist Church came up. I finally admitted to my parents that I had been on the side stairs when Ronnie took a dip in the Baptistry. I explained, with head hung low as if I was 10 years old again, that we had snuck through there many times before. Dad thought it was funny and got a kick out of it. I think Mom did too, but she still gave me a look over her glasses, a look that I had seen many times growing up, that seem to say, “You can’t fool me, Ilya”. She said that she knew I had to be involved given Ronnie and I were joined at the hip in those days. I looked at her and Dad and I did the only thing that seemed appropriate. I simply said, “I love you”.

            Dad told me he loved me too and then Mom said, “Well, I love you and you know that. But you deserve being punished for being a part of that.” I must admit that I was taken aback. I was 55 years old by then and what on Earth could she be thinking? Then she said, “Your punishment is to change the lightbulb in the utility room. Neither one of us can climb up on a ladder anymore.”

            We all burst out laughing and I promptly got up and changed that lightbulb for them. I must tell you that thinking back on all the days that I had with my parents, I miss them immensely. I know I’ll see them again one day, but in the meantime all I can do is to remember them for the wonderful parents that they were, the terrific people that they were, and the role models they were for me and my sisters. I can only hope that my own children will have half the warm feelings for me when I’m gone that I have for my parents.

P.S. – This is Ilya Kuryakin. This blog entry was dictated into my secret agent cigarette case recorder. For what it’s worth, the cigarettes are candy and not those nasty cancer sticks.

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