Reflections on Ironing a Christening Dress
By Maureen Ursenbach Beecher
Originally published in the Winter 1976 issue of Exponent II
Careful not to catch the iron in the lace. Hand knit lace, three wide panels of it, making the organdy dress a yard long. And another wide edging here at the hem. Made by Grandma Barker, Mom said, for the first grandson. And now, three generations later, for the first son of the first son of the first son. Sounds like a succession of kings.
It almost seemed that way, the day of Daniel’s blessing. Surely a mother can be forgiven the sin of pride in the presentation of such a little prince of a fellow. For such he seemed that morning. And I the honored retainer, performing the offices of his levee.
The bath first, in the big blue plastic mixing bowl—he’s much too tiny for the baby tub—seemed a holy washing, a ritual of preparation. And then the administration of oil to the tiny head—to prevent cradle cap, the nurse had suggested—which seemed a sacred anointing. But how, when no priest was present, but only a mother?
The undergarments, in prescribed order, ritual established through no long tradition, but only the inexperience of the three weeks of his life so far. And then this dress, now so hard to press. Ah. Another crease in the sleeve. So short, the little sleeves. And even at that, the hands barely showed beneath them,
Mom had arrived in time to assist with the gowning, and we two, handmaids to the prince, wriggled his unwilling little person into the ruffles and tucks of the ceremonial dress.
There was no coach and four waiting to carry the young ruler to his coronation. Only a stroller, and two proud grandparents pushing, and two thoughtful parents following, the way to the ward house.
Organ music, a far removal from the grandeur of the Abbey’s majestic pipes, intoned a quiet welcome. A hush, almost, and then the order of service. At last, the moment for Daniel. A weighty circle of priesthood surrounded the infant softness. No mitered archbishop intoning ponderous ceremonies, but a young and humble layman. “Our Father,” he began in preamble, “we thank thee for this little boy.” And then followed the prescribed office: the invocation of the priesthood, the giving of the name, and the pronouncement of the blessing.
The circle parted, and the child, held aloft, received the quietly breathed approval of the congregation. The coronation was ended. Long live the king!
Foolish imaginings, this seeing of royalty in the very ordinary, very plebian little boy. One should not dress people beyond their station. He’s a very ordinary person, born to live a very ordinary life into…immortality. Immortal soul. That undignified little body houses a soul of divine origin. A son begotten in spirit before he was conceived in body. A prince in a succession worlds above the crowned heads of this world. A son of God.
And I, his mother. No royalty I feel, but servitude to the royalty in him. Yet mother to a prince? Mother to a prince must be a queen. Must be for her son that which will show him who he is. God, help me.
Such imaginings. Thank goodness the christening dress is finished. Hang it in the closet, back beside the brocade wedding gown. On with the rest of the ironing. Perhaps work shirts and aprons will produce more useful meditations.
I love how Maureen talks about ironing the christening gown, bathing and dressing her son as holy rituals. What have you done/will you do to celebrate your daughters’/sons’ blessings?