I’m not sure how many cold-water Baptists are still around. Elizabeth Dunaway, Mary Joyce Dunaway, and my mother, Margaret Joiner, are in the most senior group. They were baptized in childhood at Mock Springs, each of them having made professions of faith at Bethlehem Baptist Church.
When I was a child in the 1950s, Mock Springs had long been the main place to beat the summer heat in the Pulaski County area. Somebody told me the water temperature stays around 68 degrees. To me it felt much closer to the freezing mark. It’s possible they used a faulty thermometer.
The boil, as it was commonly called, spewed thousands of gallons of water. The cold water filled the big swimming area then overflowed through a large metal pipe. The overflow poured out forcefully, dropping several feet to ground level where it formed a crystal-clear stream.
The push of water coming out of the boil was strong enough to keep children from getting past the opening. Tan colored electric eels also served as guards. I’ve heard that two young men with scuba gear swam nearly a mile in the underground stream. I don’t know if that’s true or not. I never considered trying to go past the electric eels. Daddy taught us to avoid mixing electricity with water, a lesson I still find helpful today.
When you went from 98 on the sand to 68 in the water, it would take your breath away. There were only two somewhat sane choices for entry. You could run in and do a shallow dive or you could go off the springboard. The board was my preference. Once you committed, there was no turning back.
Gradually wading into the chilling water never made sense to me. It worked okay for some people, mostly teenage boys who were trying to impress girls. I figured if that’s what it took to impress them, that I might stay single. As Clint Eastwood said, “A man has got to know his limitations.”
We’d go there on Sunday afternoons after church, and occasionally would have a Sunday School dinner on the outdoor picnic tables. Dinner was followed by a predictable lesson in patience. In the 1950s our parents had a strict rule: No swimming until 30 minutes after eating. We would take turns asking if it had been long enough, optimistically searching for an adult with a lenient watch.
Our parents were convinced that rule protected us from cramps and likely drownings. We couldn’t even wade in the edge. The children knew that knee deep water was safe. Our parents, however, knew that temptation often starts in the shallow end.
Bethlehem Baptist Church was originally near Elizabeth’s childhood home. The back half of the building served as Junior High School. It was only one room that included the first through fifth grades. Elizabeth and Mama both attended there. They don’t know why it was named Junior High. Maybe it started out with more grades, or maybe someone planned to add some later.
Bethlehem built a new church in the early 1940s on Mock Springs Road. The ladies from my grandmother’s generation helped nail the interior boards that were sawed from local poplar trees. By the late 1950s the church had dwindled to a few members, most of them having a lot more years behind them than ahead. On a Sunday afternoon in the summer of 1958, Reverend Britt baptized Elaine Calhoun at Mock Springs. She was nine years old and perhaps the last person to join Bethlehem. Elaine still remembers the minnows being attracted to the white socks she wore. I was a five-year-old spectator. I mostly remember hoping it wouldn’t take too long. All swimming had been suspended.
Bethlehem closed the doors in the early 1960s. Elizabeth, Mary Joyce, and Mama had already married, moved their church memberships to Harmony Baptist and started families. Elaine’s family moved to Double Branch Freewill Baptist. She later married Covie Langford, a cold-water Baptist from a different stream. Covie was baptized in the spring fed waters of Double Branch.
Those four ladies from Bethlehem have faithfully worked, witnessed, prayed, and loved their neighbors. That kind of commitment seems harder to find lately. It makes me wonder if we’ve made the water too comfortable. Maybe we need more cold-water Baptists. Maybe it’s time to go back to Mock Springs.