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.”
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.”
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.
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.