Grief is a sacred journey

Baby David’s Hippie Baptism: A Ritual to Bless New Life

Soon after our son David was born in 1970, my husband’s mom gave me a small battered box. Inside, wrapped in crumpled tissue paper, I found a yellowed christening dress with the lace still in good shape.

“You’ll need it for the baby’s christening,” Virginia said. “Vic wore it when he was baptized.

A baptism? Vic and I hadn’t thought about that. I was brought up loosely Protestant and Vic hadn’t been a practicing Catholic for over ten years. I loved ritual then just as I do now and liked combining traditions to create what felt right to me.

I called David Connor, the Catholic chaplain at Cornell. Vic and I knew Father David because we were all active in the anti-Vietnam War and draft resistance on campus.

“I’m about to give up being chaplain,” Father David said. I’d heard he was about to leave the priesthood altogether, so that wasn’t a surprise. “But sure. I’m always happy to bless a baby.”

Vic and I asked our best friends Richard and Evelyn Platek to be godparents and invited a few other friends to join us. I baked bread and made soup. Grandma Virginia and her second husband Benny arrived from Connecticut with many bottles of wine. What’s an Italian celebration without wine?

On the big day, I wore a purple satin dress I’d made for my role as Queen Mother. Vic wore a shirt of many colors, also created by me. Squirmy Baby David tolerated his long satin dress and white tights, but by the time we got around to the ritual, he was six months old. The little satin slippers Vic had once worn were too small.

Father David arrived in blue jeans and a plaid flannel shirt.

“Where are your robes?” I asked. It was more a plea than a question.

“I don’t wear them anymore,” he said.

“But Father David, can’t you?” No one called him Father, but I wanted him to fill his priestly role. “Just for today?”

“OK,” he grinned his amiable smile. “They’re in my car in the trunk, just in case.”

Virginia on the left with back to camera

Evelyn & Richard w/ Baby David

 

 

In a few minutes, he returned wearing flowing white robes and a huge smile. A friar with a bushy red beard.  His purple sash matched my dress, although I hadn’t planned it that way.

“What about the holy water?” Virginia asked, nearing panic by now. Her hippie son and daughter-in-law were messing with her head again.

“Don’t worry,” Father David said. He turned toward Cayuga Lake, just fifty feet away from our front porch. He solemnly raised his right hand holding two fingers up in a pope-like gesture. “I bless Cayuga Lake and all her tributaries.”

Blessing our baby with the water of life

I ran outside, filled a wine goblet with lake water, and returned. I handed the water to Father David while Vic handed our baby to his godparents. Suddenly serious, we stood together in silent meditation. After poems and prayers, Father David sprinkled the baby with lake water. Then, he asked Vic and me to sprinkle and bless Baby David, too.

Virginia with David a few month’s earlier

Finally, with a tender smile, Father David turned toward Virginia and made the sign of the cross with holy water on her forehead.

***

March 7, 2017 was Vic’s 76th birthday. I love remembering him as father and dad. His excellent parenting skills were remarkable considering Vic’s father deserted when Vic was a baby. I also honor Vic’s mom Virginia who is still here at 101. She raised Vic under difficult circumstances and began a long process of forgiving me for marrying her only son when I gave birth to her first grandson. For another family story about Baby David, see Birthing and Dying: Do They Have Similarities? If you haven’t read about my healed relationship with Vic’s mom, see When Kindness Demands a Lie.

 

32 Comments
  1. Dear Elaine, What a wonderful story to share, you know there’s definitely another book waiting inside of you! To be honest you caught my full attention as soon as I read “battered box” and as for the treasured photographs that you so willingly include, well they always bring your beautiful words and family stories to life.

    From the purple robes, to your similar coloured dress and Vic’s vibrant shirt, to the goblet filled with the blessed living waters, and the friar with huge red bushy beard … I see that even as a young woman, mother and wife you acknowledged the importance of ritual and ceremony. A truly delightful read! Blessings always, Deborah.

    • Thanks for your confidence in me, Deborah. I enjoyed remembering and telling this story–and I have another new baby ritual to share with photos when I’m inspired to write it. The ritual for our second son was entirely different without the red-bearded friar, but it was also magical.

      It’s true I’ve always loved the ritual part of the sacred. I had to search for that since it wasn’t part of my protestant experience as a child. One of my favorite things about India was altars–in homes, in temples, on street corners, and on the dashboards of taxi drivers. When we took a day trip with a driver, I bought flowers for the dashboard altars. When driving in India, we needed all the protection we could get.

  2. Precious memories, perfect pictures, beautifully shared. Thank you, dear Elaine ♥

    • Thank you, Marty. I’m so glad my son David loved this piece. His friends enjoyed it, too, especially teasing him about the white tights and satin dress.

  3. Ha! Blessed the lake instead of the goblet of water! My kind of guy!

    • Another good lesson in “Don’t mess with the small stuff.” He was so wonderfully irreverent and reverent at the same time. His gesture toward Vic’s rattled mom was pure heart.

  4. Happy Birthday Vic and love to you Elaine. Another beautiful tale of your life with Vic.
    love,
    Lori

    • Thanks Lori. My oldest son David caught the family bug. He creates rituals. He and a friend built a huge outdoor altar for David and Liz’s wedding under an old oak that David calls “Vic’s Tree.” David and Liz hold rituals for Vic there frequently. When I decided to post this piece, I hadn’t thought what a sweet gift this gift would be for David on a sad day of grief. Especially that photo of Vic holding, loving, and admiring his baby son.

  5. What’s not to like about a disenchanted priest with vestments in his car trunk – just in case. And you with a purple sash to match your smashing purple dress and Vic’s shirt of many colors.

    This post glows with many points of color, Elaine, with your impulse to be inclusive. Even Grandma Virginia radiates joy, but not as much as you looking positively jubilant gazing at baby David. One of your best posts ever. Happy 76th to Vic and plaudits to you for sharing this.

    • Thank you, Marian. I wondered if this piece would come off as disrespectful or sacrilegious. I’m glad it didn’t. It was a sacred day of blessing with a comic element added by Father David’s whimsy and sweetness. Only in looking back did I understand the kindness of the blessing he gave Virginia (and the wearing of the robes for me). It made me happy to share this with my son David, knowing how much he would love it. As you know so well, there’s something about writing those old experiences into stories to be remembered and passed along.

  6. What a lovely story! Your son being baptised with the water just outside your front door: a very personal ritual, welcoming a new spirit with the water of the place he is going to grow up in. And the purple dress: how lovely you look, a representation of the mother goddess.
    My father, just like Vic, did not have a very good role model, but became a loving father too. I think it is a “spiritual” pool of energy and knowledge, that is there for the people who are ready and able, to tap into. Thanks for sharing your lovely story.

    • Thank you, Susanne, and for the story about your father, too. Vic was thrilled to have children. We lived on Cayuga Lake until we moved to the house where I live now when David was 2. We still love Cayuga Lake and now also Seneca Lake which is closer to my present home. I’ve participated in a number of water rituals to protect Seneca Lake, including two circumambulations of the lake carrying blessed water. According to the Native Americans who lived here for so long, the Finger Lakes (including Seneca and Cayuga) were made when the Great Spirit laid his hand upon the land.

  7. Happy Birthday for Vic’s birthday yesterday Elaine. This is such a delightful story and the story of David’s baptism is fitting at this time. I’ll check out your post as soon as on Birthing & Dying … may the water of life continue to flow –

    • Thank you, Susan. I wonder how things are with your friend today–and with you.

      This memory showed up in response to a prompt in a writing class. As I polished it and added photos, I knew my son David would like it, but didn’t tell him about it until his dad’s birthday. David loved it and shared it with his friends who got to tease David about the satin dress and also share his grief. It’s nice to remember the sweet times and let them bring up the tears. Yes, may the water of life flow…

  8. THinking of your family today, dear Elaine. And when I saw Vic’s picture, I thought I was seeing both your boys of today. How amazingly they carry on the wonderful looks and family character. Thanks for letting us all participate in your family rituals. Love to you, Peggy

    • Thank you for reading and commenting, Peggy. Vic had just turned 31 in that photo. David and Anthony look like him and inherited his dark curls. David inherited Vic’s love of elephants, too. I hope you’re enjoying life on the other side of the big ocean.

  9. Thank you for such a lovely story, Elaine. Father David sounds like a wonderful man and someone I would have really liked!

  10. Elaine, this makes me smile. You all look so happy in these wonderful pictures. Thank you for sharing such a joyous story. Memories like this are gold. Oh, and wow, you can really sew! I love your dress and the shirt you made for Vic.

    • I was happy, Mary. Those years of meeting Vic, marrying him, and having our first child were the happiest times of my life. Life got more complicated later, but the hippie life was fun while it lasted. I became a good seamstress because my mother wouldn’t buy the clothes I liked when I was young. I had learned a little about sewing in a required home economics classes in junior high. My mom was willing to buy a sewing machine and any material I wanted. Our went her favorite brown plaids and in came intense red and black. I sewed when my kids were young, too, but haven’t touched the old portable Singer for many years. If I need a new zipper, I take it to a tailor.

  11. A wonderful story and tribute to Vic, Elaine. I loved the ‘sort of’ hippie christening, and the holy lake water to appease Virginia. You made it work as you always seemed to do with Virginia. 🙂

  12. What a great story! I loved every word, and your pictures are wonderful. I’m glad you have such clear and precious memories of this. Lucky you, lucky David, lucky Vic (and Virginia!)

    • Thanks for taking time to read and comment, Linda. The photos helped me remember the details, although I didn’t need help remembering Father David’s beard, his priestly robes in the car trunk, the blessing of the lake, and his blessing of my mother-in-law. I wish I could remember the readings. I didn’t look in the baby book I kept for David and may have written them there. I need to do a little memoir detective work. Our readings didn’t make an impression like the priestly robes and holy water.

  13. I love this story, Elaine. We make our own family rituals, for certain. What a memorable day you turned this into for Vic’s mom. Sweet daughter-in-law. These small gifts count so much. I did laugh at blessing the lake. My family is quite Catholic and I completely get these symbolic rituals. And I love your purple dress! xoDori

    • Thank you, Dori. My mother-in-law was just beginning a slow thaw toward me since no one, including Princess Di, would have been good enough for her son. When I gave birth to her grandchild, I couldn’t be all that bad. Father David’s blessing of the lake stuck with me, but his blessing of my frazzled mother-in-law was the most loving part of the day. I usually help people create grief rituals, but it’s important to bless the coming into body, too. Actually, important to bless everything we can in this wild life.

  14. Elaine, this is so beautiful. To combine baptism with your own ritual touches is a great way to involve everybody. What an event that must have been. Loved seeing Virginia in her prime. And best – Cayuga Lake water for the holy water. Sigh. What crazy amazing times we had welcoming our little ones to the world. Cheers!

    • I drove down Taughannock Blvd. yesterday afternoon to get a glimpse of the lake and remember those three years when the lake was in our front yard and we backpacked everything in and out in the winter, including the baby, including the diapers and laundry and food. A youthful adventure. Vic was sure we could do it and we did for three years. Virginia was horrified by our cottage, but it wasn’t half as bad as the run-down house we bought next (and where I still live). Virginia couldn’t see the potential. That’s all Vic saw. I saw lots of hard work ahead.

  15. Thank you for sharing this story, Elaine. I’m smiling here, after reading it. The smile on your face, holding David while you wear your purple satin dress – the joy is contagious. I love it.

    • Thank you, Caroline. Those were some of the happiest days of my life. It showed. I had fun writing the story and David loved reading and sharing it. He’d seen the photos and been told about it as a child, but now in his forties, he appreciated every detail.

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