LESLIE CRISS: ‘Baptist Boat Incident’ ruins perfectly fine day

By Leslie Criss/NEMS Daily Journal

“Scientists have found the gene for shyness. They would have found it years ago, but it was hiding behind a couple of other genes.”
– Jonathan Katz

A few weeks ago I wrote about my niece’s dread over an upcoming piano recital.
I called her last weekend to wish her luck. I told her I understood how she felt and that I’d always sought solace in a bottle of calming pink Pepto-Bismol a few days before the recitals of my youth.
What I didn’t tell her was that for a few years, I so wanted a way out of my recitals I climbed a tree in a friend’s yard and jumped in an attempt to render a finger or wrist or arm unable to play the piano.
I didn’t think my sister would appreciate my sharing that speck of stupidity with Bailey. I was never successful anyway.
Bailey simply does not like doing anything that brings attention to herself. She gets this shyness honestly, through DNA. Her mama and I have both always been bashful.
And it’s not easy. No matter one’s age, timidity is a terrible thing.
My shyness first reared its head in what I have dubbed “The Baptist Boat Incident.”
I was 5. It was summer. And in Grenada, good boys and girls attended Vacation Bible School. At least, that was the gospel according to my Southern Baptist grandmother. So she sent me to her church for Bible school.
I didn’t want to go, but it had its good points – like graham crackers and grape juice. And the Baptist boat.
It was made of wood, painted a pale, hospital-hued green and with one person on each side, it rocked back and forth.
One morning, a friend and I beat the boys to the boat. We took our seats and commenced to rocking – slowly at first, but quickly picking up momentum.
Suddenly one of the teachers summoned us to be seated in a semi-circle. It was time to hear the day’s Bible story.
My friend, an eager-beaver Baptist, jumped from the boat in mid-rock. This Episcopal visitor tarried.
The boat flipped, pinning me underneath. I wasn’t hurt, but the boat was too heavy for a 5-year-old to lift alone. So I lay there. Silently. Too shy to call attention to my plight.
The Bible story started. One of my favorites – about Zaccheus – was being told as I lay beneath the Baptist boat.
Suddenly, the teacher noticed my empty chair.
“Where’s Leslie?” she asked. I felt my face flush red.
Finally, I answered, in a small voice, “Here I am, over here under this boat.”
All eyes turned toward me. Snickers sounded from peers and teachers alike. And I silently vowed never to let myself get into such an attention-getting position again.
Then, just as Jesus commanded Zaccheus to come down out of that sycamore tree, my teacher lifted the boat and commanded me to “come out from under there.”
I did.
Humiliated, I sat quietly for the rest of the Bible story.
I skipped Vacation Bible School the next day. And the next. In fact, I didn’t go back at all that summer.
But it was not all for naught.
I’ve never forgotten the story of Zaccheus. Up in that sycamore tree.

Contact Leslie Criss at leslie.criss@djournal.com or (662) 678-1584.