Of all the challenges I realized I’d be facing when I found out I was pregnant – I never thought I’d be in the market for a maternity wedding dress, for one, and also blended families are not quite as easy as the Brewer-Thomases of The Baby-Sitters Club led me to believe – one thing I knew I would not have to worry about was baptism. Robert and I are both Episcopalians and content with our religion, even if we’re sort of lackadaisical about actually attending church, and so there was no question of if or how our daughter would be baptized.
That was not the case for Ruby (her dad’s family is all St. Louis Catholic) or for me (my dad is a staunch atheist). In fact, one of my mom’s first acts of freedom upon divorcing my dad was taking me to be baptized, at age 11, at the Episcopalian Chapel of the Holy Spirit at Broadway and Zimple.
The good thing about being baptized at age 11 was that I got to pick my own godparents – my next-door neighbor, the late and awesome Gary Hirstius, and my mom’s best friend, the fabulous Maureen Brennan McConnell (aka Mrs. Spud).
I picked Mo to be my godmother in the aftermath of a silly sixth grade prank. At a sleepover, my two best friends had made vaguely obscene phone calls to a dating service answering machine at about 1 a.m. After they were done, they dialed the number again and handed the phone to me. Flustered, I blurted into the phone, in a terrible Southern drawl: “This is Betty Sue. I just want a man who will respect me!” So of course on Monday morning, the dating service called my friend’s mother, who had hosted the sleepover, and played the recordings for her. My friends were grounded, and so my mom told me I had to pretend to be grounded, too. “I think what you said was actually pretty cool,” my mom said. “It’s important to be respected. But you shouldn’t have made prank calls, and I know you know that. Anyway, I’m not really mad at you, but I have to tell the other moms you’re grounded so they don’t think I’m a bad mom.” With my two friends stuck at home, though, I found myself with no plans the following weekend, so my mom and I drove over to Mo’s house and explained the whole mess to her. She laughed her huge hysterical laugh and put on Aretha Franklin, and she and my mom and I danced around the living room to "Respect" turned up as loud as it would go. I thought they were the two coolest women in the world – I still do – and I was delighted when I asked Mo to be my godmother and she said sure.
Gary was an easy choice, too. He was the most exciting next-door neighbor ever, with the constant stream of hip friends and pretty women; live music always floating out of his open window and into mine; and invitations to go see him play at Tipitina’s (I have no idea how my mom and Gary convinced them to let me in, but watching him play live shows at Tip’s was definitely a highlight of my young life). But when I asked him, he said no. “Ah, thanks, kid, but I’d be struck by lightning if I even walked into a church. I am not the church-going type these days.” He said no the next few times I asked him, too. But I sensed that he really wanted to say yes, and I kept after him until he did. I won’t swear to it, but I am pretty sure he cried as he promised to always support me on that Easter Sunday in 1992.
And he did. He was not, I must say, the best Christian role model in the world, perhaps, but he definitely supported me, staying in touch over the years, calling me at college, holding Ruby when she was just weeks old.
Then suddenly, all too suddenly, he was gone. I was a day past my due date with Georgia when I got the news that he had died in his sleep, and I was in the hospital for the funeral. I don’t think I fully addressed his death, being as I was in my hormonal cocoon of baby love, nor did I really think much about it in the sleepless fugue-state days that followed.
Now, though, as I send out invitations for Georgia’s baptism this weekend, I am feeling his loss with an acute ache. I wish he could be there, risking another lightning strike to watch Georgia be welcomed into the church.
Instead, even though by his own admission he wasn’t exactly a shoo-in for heaven, I have to believe he is up there, watching her just the same – and always, even still, supporting me no matter what.