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A Very New Orleans Baptism

Everybody knew everybody, which of course wasn’t surprising in a town where a simple afternoon trip to Dorignac’s brings me into touch with my former P.E. teacher who also happens to be the mother of the ex-wife of a guy I dated in high school, and a Thursday night PTA meeting puts me back in touch with a girl I knew in junior high, my former middle school librarian and two people who know my mom. I mean, when I took Ruby to see Santa Claus this year, Santa turned out to be the father of her kindergarten teacher’s boyfriend. Imagine wrapping your 6-year-old brain around that!

 So Georgia’s baptism was no exception – everybody knew everybody in at least a few different ways. Present at the baptism were, of course, her four godparents – two of my husband’s best friends and two of mine, one of whom I have known since I was 7 (and also dated in high school) and one of whom is sitting about 6 feet away from me as I type this. Also there were two of my dad’s oldest friends, who turned out to be former neighbors of my husband’s best friends. And, of course, one of my dad’s best friends is also my ex-husband’s boss. Confused yet? Not if you’re from New Orleans. If you’re from New Orleans, this all makes perfect sense.

 My godmother and her family were there, along with my godfather’s sister, and it turned out that they were childhood friends from the same neighborhood. A high school friend of mine showed up, and she’s good friends with the childhood best friend of one of Georgia’s godparents. Performing the baptism was the Rev. Fred Devall, a childhood friend of Robert’s, who also knows a childhood friend of mine and the mother of one of Ruby’s best friends. My friend Catherine showed up, and I know her about eight different ways, and then she knew some other people there completely independent of me.

 If six degrees of separation is the norm anywhere else, here it might be about two.

 Recently, I got a text from a girl I’ve known since preschool. “I met Ruby’s Spanish teacher at a conference,” it said. When I told Ruby that Vera had met Señor Forbes, her greeny-gray eyes got huge. “Whoa,” she said. “They met each other, and they both know me!”

 “It’s New Orleans, kid,” I told her. “Get used to it.”

 It is hard to have secrets here, but that’s OK because no one really cares all that much. One Mardi Gras Day in the French Quarter, a group of high school friends and I ran into one of our teachers dressed in bondage gear with a whip between her teeth and a sign hung around her neck reading, “Spank me for a quarter.” We were all so shocked it didn’t even occur to us to hide our daiquiris. “Hey, kids,” she said, gesturing expansively to our illegal drinks and her black leather. “See y’all back in class on Thursday, and we’ll never speak of any of this again.” And we didn’t.

 But despite that sort of laissez-faire attitude toward casual scandal, I feel very lucky to be raising my daughters here. That might sound counterintuitive, but it really isn’t. As much as I expect that they’ll find their respective teenaged ways into trouble, I also feel like they’ll never be that far away from someone – a bartender, a former neighbor, a coworker, an old teacher – who knows either them or me or my mom or my dad or my husband or my ex-husband or my in-laws. Sorry, Ruby and Georgia, but we have this town wired. I might not care if they have a drink on Mardi Gras Day when they’re 17, but I’ll probably find out about it anyway.

So Georgia’s baptism into the church was, in many ways, also her baptism into the city. And all I can say, to both, is, “Welcome, my sweet love. Welcome.”

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