I’m not sure what I was expecting, but the baptism went as well as could have been expected, I guess. The water was cold, though not as cold as the lake, and I wasn’t in the font very long. Mom had sewn white pants for me and Dad out of old flour sacks, and after we changed, we went down into the water. I doubted the pants would ever be used again, except maybe when Ellen turned 8.
Before the actual baptism, the bishop said a few words, though I don’t remember much of what he said, and then we sang “I Stand All Amazed,” which no longer filled me with dread. When I came up out of the water, I didn’t feel any different, but then I thought maybe the difference would come when I received the gift of the Holy Ghost.
After we changed back into dry clothes, I sat in a chair at the front of the room, and my Dad, Uncle Bob, and the bishop laid their hands on my wet hair, and I could feel my dad trembling slightly as he pronounced the words that made me a member of the church and authorized me to receive the companionship of the Holy Ghost. When we walked home past the crab-apple tree, I realized I had been wrong: I didn’t feel any different than I had before, but I was determined to keep myself pure and free of sin.
When we got home, Dad changed back into his work clothes and headed out to the pasture north of the lake, where the springs arose that gave the pond its impressive name. The bishop had noticed a fence post was nearly down, so Dad would need to repair it before any of the cattle got out into the neighboring fields or, worse, onto the highway. Dad said it was my special day, so I could stay home and help Mom and Grandma with dinner. Uncle Bob went along with Dad to help, though I don’t know how he was supposed to help since he was still wearing his suit.
It didn’t take us long to get the roast in the oven and the table set, so Grandma suggested we take Uncle Bob’s car and go for a drive. Gloria looked a little irritated, but Mom agreed it might be nice, especially with the top down. We all piled in the car, Ellen and me sitting in the back seat with Mom, the breeze blowing through our hair as we headed up the hill toward the canal road east of town. As we rounded the corner at the north end of the pond, I could see Dad’s old truck out in the pasture, near the fence he was mending. Uncle Bob sat on the rusty tailgate, looking out over the valley through binoculars.
“Well, at least one of my sons knows how to work,” Grandma said a little bitterly.
“He does just fine,” Gloria said, giving her a little glare.
“Never said he didn’t,” Grandma said, looking straight ahead.
On the way back, we passed Brother Ashton’s apple orchard, where the trees were heavy with fruit, which at that point were blushed with red over a dusty green–almost ripe to eat, but not quite.
“Pull over, dear,” Grandma said. Gloria stopped the car. “Wouldn’t those apples make a nice pie?” Grandma said, turning to look at Mom.
“They just might,” Mom said, “but they aren’t ours.”
“Oh, it won’t hurt to pick a few,” Grandma smiled. She turned to me and Ellen and said, “Do you think you two could bring back about a dozen apples? I think a baptism is an occasion for a pie.”
“I don’t know,” Mom said, looking very uncomfortable.
“You wouldn’t deny the newest member of the church a proper celebration, would you?” Grandma chuckled. “Go on, you two. It will be all right.”
We climbed over the seat and out the car door and ran off to pick a few apples. Soon we had our arms full, and we brought them back to the car.
“Perfect!” Grandma said. “Now, let’s go.”
At the house, I helped Grandma peel the apples, and Mom made a crust. With some butter, cinnamon, and sugar, and some strips of crust criss-crossed over the top, the pie went into the oven. Grandma called us over, and Ellen and I sat on her lap, taking turns reading Stuart Little to her.
About the time we started smelling the heavenly scent of the pie, Dad and Uncle Bob came in the door.
“Smells like apple pie, Mother,” Bob said. “Delicious!”
“Where did you get those apples, Moira?” Dad said, looking suspicious. “We didn’t have any apples this morning.”
“They were a gift from me,” Grandma said, “and I hope you’re not going to look a gift horse in the mouth.” I had no idea what that meant.
“Where did they come from?” Dad looked me in the eye.
“We picked them from Ashton’s orchard,” I said. “Grandma said it would be all right.”
“Mother, that’s stealing!” Dad said, quickly picking up the telephone and dialing.
Stealing? Did that mean I had already sinned, mere hours after being washed clean?
“Hello, this is John Murdock,” I heard Dad say into the phone. “How much would you charge for a dozen apples from your orchard? … Oh, well, you see, my mother thought it was a good idea for my children to pick some apples out of your orchard, and they got a dozen.”
I was horrified. Was he going to make me confess? Beg forgiveness?
“Well, you may be right, it’s just a few apples, but our family doesn’t take things without paying for them. … Yes, that’s right. I’ll send them over. I’m very sorry this has happened.”
I could feel my heart pounding up into my throat as Dad called me and Ellen over.
“You knew it was wrong to take those apples, didn’t you?” he said, as we stared at the floor.
“Grandma told us to–” Ellen said, but he cut her off.
“But you knew better, didn’t you?”
We both nodded.
He reached into the pocket of his work pants and pulled out a dime. “Brother Ashton reckons you took about 10 cents’ worth of apples, so you are going to go on over there and pay him for what you took.”
“Yes, sir,” I said, feeling my face redden with shame.
“I ought to give you a whipping for this, but you go apologize for what you’ve done, and that will be sufficient.”
We walked slowly down the street, the dime in my hand and a terrible sense of doom gathering around us. By the time I knocked on Brother Ashton’s door, my heart was pounding again.
“Ah, the little hoodlums,” he said, laughing as he opened the screen door. “What do you have to say for yourselves?”
“We’re sorry for taking your apples, sir.” We muttered, as I held out the dime. Ellen was close to tears. I was too, truth be told.
“Well, now let that be a lesson to you,” he said. “And never forget that your father is an honest man.”
“You’re not going to do anything like that again, are you?” he said, looking me squarely in the face.
“No, sir,” we both answered quietly.
“See that you don’t,” he said, closing the door. “And I hope you enjoy the pie.”
We ran home, both of us terribly ashamed, but relieved that the worst of it was over.
That night I poured out my sinful heart in prayer, begging to be forgiven for such a terrible sin. But I felt nothing. I cried myself to sleep, sure that, for whatever reason, I hadn’t been forgiven.
The next day at church, I was called up in front of the congregation so they could raise their hands in fellowship to welcome me into the household of God. Everyone looked so pleased, yet I heard over and over in my head, Thief! Thief! Thief!
After church, Grandma made some lemonade, and we sat out on the front porch.
“How do you know when you’re forgiven?” I asked her.
“What do you have to be forgiven for?” She looked surprised.
“I stole those apples yesterday,” I said, once again feeling the shame rise into my face.
“Oh, that,” she said. “If anyone has to repent for that, it’s me. I’m the one who told you to do it.”
“But I knew it was wrong, and I did it anyway.”
“Did you ask Heavenly Father to forgive you?” she asked.
“Well, there you are. There’s nothing more to it.”
“But I don’t feel forgiven,” I pressed on. “Doesn’t God tell us when He forgives us? Doesn’t He give us some kind of sign?”
“If He does, I’ve never noticed it,” she smiled, taking a sip of her lemonade. “Our job is to do our duty, and when we do wrong, we’re to repent. Do you feel like you’ve sincerely repented?”
“Then you have. Don’t waste your time waiting for signs and miracles. Just do what you’re supposed to do, and things will work out.”
That was pretty much what the bishop had said, so I knew she must be right. Maybe someday a sign would come, but I wasn’t going to worry about it anymore.