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Wednesday, 16 May 2007 00:00

The day Uncle Billy’s sheep got baptized

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By Carl Iobst

Down in the flatlands of Eastern North Carolina there’s an Apex man that’s got a powerful interest in sheep. Now just wait a minute ‘for you get the wrong idea ‘cause this ain’t one of them kinda stories.

 

According to the Associated Press, David Watts was arrested for having 77 sheep in his house just outside of Raleigh. The police were called when someone happened to notice “sheep grazing in the town cemetery.” Investigatin’ further the police discovered Watts kept “some of the younger sheep on the ground floor of his house” and “others in pens in the yard.”

Now all this tomfoolery reminds me of the time my Uncle Billy Ray’s sheep got baptized. Say what? Uncle Billy Ray had a place up Cullowhee creek and was something of a free spirit and a practical joker. He was known throughout the county for the menagerie of critters he kept, too. Besides dogs, cats, pigs, cows and the odd ‘possum, Uncle Billy had a small flock of Merino sheep.

One day Uncle Billy heard about a new circuit ridin’ preacher in the county so he thought he’d have a little fun. Billy Ray invited the new preacher to stay up at his place and the circuit rider, a Reverend Henry T. Willis, accepted hoping to win another soul for the Lord. Preacher Willis rode up to Uncle Billy’s place ‘bout a week later on a decrepit old mule. Billy Ray welcomed the preacher and invited him in to have some victuals.

During the meal Uncle Billy poured the preacher a cup of clear liquid (XXX) from an old clay jug he kept for special occasions. The preacher took a sip, made a peculiar face, and said, “Brother Billy this here’s some strange tastin’ water.”

Uncle Billy told the preacher, “Why Reverend, that thare’s some special water from my sacred spring.”

“Sacred spring,” remarked the preacher, “I ain’t heard a’ any a’ them kind a’miracles ‘round these parts!”

“Yes suh,” said Uncle Billy Ray, “we was havin’ trouble with it runnin’ so’s I got the old circuit rider, Preacher Jones, ta bless it.”

“I dug a pond on the hill out back and folks been comin’ from all over to get baptized right here in the ‘Holy waters’ of tha ‘sacred spring’.”

“Praise the Lord,” said the preacher (who was fully took in by Uncle Billy’s ruse), “it tastes powerful strange but I likes it. Can I git another?”

Much later, after a lot more cups of water from the sacred spring, Uncle Billy had to pour the preacher into his bed. Billy Ray said the man of the cloth was just a snoring up a storm.

A little before sunrise Uncle Billy poked the preacher sayin, “Preacher wake up there’s sinners to be baptized and souls to be saved from the Devil.”

The preacher, all bleary-eyed and far from sober said, “Brother Billy, give me a ‘nother cup a’ that sacred spring water so’s I can wet my throat.”

Uncle Billy did, helped him to his feet, and led him in the dark to the baptizing pond out back of the house on the hillside. Earlier that morning Uncle Billy Ray had penned up his sheep right next to the pond and he also had invited a whole crowd of his friends and neighbors from up and down the creek. Little did they know just what Uncle Billy was plannin’.

Preacher Willis said a long prayer, not much of which anybody could understand, and ended with a loud “A-men.” He stepped into the pond and immediately proceeded to fall flat on his back-side sending a wave of ‘sacred spring’ water soakin’ the legs of the gathered crowd. Preacher Willis struggled to his feet with a kind of pinched look on his face and drippin’ wet cried out “Brothers and Sisters we’re gathered here this fine mornin’ ta’ bring sinners to tha Lord. Who’s gonna be first to be saved?”

Uncle Billy Ray replied, “Preacher, I got a whole bunch of repenters for ya. They wuz at a house party up the way an’ lightnin’ struck the house. I think they’s got the fear of the Almighty in ‘em. They’s ready ta come ta the Lord.”

“Thank ya Brother Billy,” said the preacher. “Bring me the first sinner.”

Uncle Billy Ray started to open the pen and grab the first ewe. Right then, my cousin Eugene who’d just come back from Asheville on a late night moonshine run and had over indulged hisself in several heaping plates of pinto beans and cornbread at an Asheville greasy spoon, cut loose with what I believe to be the loudest flatulence ever produced by a human being on Cullowhee creek.

A woman screamed and Uncle Billy’s sheep stampeded knockin’ the pen flat. Most of the crowd of folks was plum run over by the crazed ruminants. The baptizing pool became a riot of floundering humans and struggling sheep.

Preacher Willis had a look of absolute terror on his face as a large ram jumped up and ducked him under with a loud ‘Baaaa.’ Uncle Billy managed to escape a dunkin’ until one of the angry women threw a lamb in the water at his feet an’ drenched ‘em.

Later on Uncle Billy made a public apology at the Church and even sent a bushel of apples to the Bishop. I imagine the folks down in Apex will be talking for some time about Watts and his sheep just like folks up on Cullowhee creek still remember the day Uncle Billy Ray’s sheep got baptized.

(Carl Iobst live in Cullowhee and can be reached This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .)

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