the street and from the balconies. Because transportation was not a matter of a few hours and money was not gotten easily, most of those early arrivals had come to spend the rest of their lives in the new country, and those who returned, returned forever. How many a small grandchild, sensing that this parting would be forever, ran screaming and wailing down the street, tugging and pulling at the suitcase and carpet bag, pleading with Jidouh, Grandpapa, not to go but to stay, to stay? How many a grandfather tore the sob from his throat in that last embrace?
Often letters from the village or town brought news of an illness or death in the family and everyone would be sick with anxiety and grief, for this marked another parting and loss, the beloved face and voice to be seen and heard no more, and "here we are thousands of miles across the sea, without a last glance, without a last word."
Rite of Initiation
For the Arab Christians of the early immigrations, a baptism was not a simple ritual at the holy water font. A new life had been given to a whole people. God had smiled on the family. The baptism of the infant was a festive occasion planned with great attention. Who would be the Godfather and Godmother? Why, of course, the grandfather on the father's side, or perhaps the grandmother on the mother's side. Or an old, favored aunt. Sometimes, following a more modern idea that the godparents should be young enough to raise the child if need be, the sponsors would be the bridesmaid (from the parents' wedding of eleven months or a year before) and the best man, whose obligation it had been to help arrange the same wedding and the feast.
The godmother would provide the finest gown, soft white linen, lawn and lace, with many fine tucks on its three to four foot train, ribboned, lace-drawn, trimmed with silk rosettes; this must be the most magnificent dress that this special little boy or little girl could be given. The bonnet would be soft wool in the winter, fine linen in the summer, and it, too, would be lace- and ribbon-trimmed. The delicate wool coat would have a madeira-embroidered capelet. There would be new undergarments and stockings, and soft little booties or shoes.
These garments would be carried by the godmother to the family's house where all the relatives would be waiting. Now the child, in everyday clothes and wrapped in warm blankets would be carried by the godfather to the waiting carriage, or often the entire entourage would walk down the street to the church, godfather and baby at the head of the parade, with all the relatives and all their children hurrying happily behind.
There would first be Mass at the church, and the priest would announce that this was the occasion of the baptism of this particular family's child. His sermon would include some laudatory remarks about the virtues of the young parents, their family's respectful place in the community, and abundant good wishes for this child's future.
The Mass in the liturgy of the Eastern rite would be long -- an hour and a half or more, a long time for an infant of three to six months who waited fretfully for his baptism. The older children would stir restlessly, but ever mindful of the stern glance of father or uncle.
After Mass, most of the parishioners would remain in their places, for the baptism was a community affair, and these people would later attend the dinner and party at the parents' home.
"Now let us bring this infant before the Lord," The godfather would carry the baby to a towel-draped table near the Holy Water Font and everyone would crowd as closely as possible to this little tableau as the grandmother/godmother, imposing and proud in her added authority, would commence to undress the baby, layer by layer down to his soft, warm olive skin. Perhaps this task would be performed by the former-bridesmaid/godmother, not yet married, conscious of all eyes upon her, especially those of eligible and handsome male cousins and friends. Flushed and rosy with this special honor, her coat removed to reveal the silk shirtwaist and new plum velvet skirt, she would begin the ritual of cleansing this little creature of God.
Delicately and gracefully she would unbutton the cuffs of her silk shirtwaist, bought with great selectivity for this occasion. Then up would go the sleeves to her elbow, the young godmother not unaware that her arms were rounded and smooth, and her elbows dimpled. With strong and supple fingers, relishing the sighs of approval around her, the happy godmother would complete the undressing of the infant. Taking fresh white soap and a new cloth, she would lather the infant in the presence of the company and his tearfully happy parents, wipe him off and gently pat him dry, and then lovingly touching a kiss upon his forehead, lay him in the arms of the priest.
Now, the little babe of the Lord, was immersed in the Holy Font, cleansed from the sins of the world, annointed with oil, and given salt to taste, and the tears were gently wiped from his eyes. Holy words were spoken over him, he was wrapped in a soft warm towel, and given again to the pretty young godmother, praying over the baby for a husband and child of her own.
Baptism of Bruce Salem Bird, son of Naef (Frank) and Anne Shibley Bird -- Msgr. Malatios Mufleh officiating. March 7, 1948.
Now baptized, and in some liturgies confirmed, the child was placed by the priest into the arms of the godmother and the congregation sent up a sigh of accomplishment and gratitude.
Then he was laid upon the table, the small head dried, the wet tendrils of soft dark hair brushed smooth, and a fine cloth patted upon the pink-bloom cheek. Each new piece of clothing was placed upon him, slowly and proudly, the knit band around the belly to protect it from rupture, the undershirt, the new diaper, the long white stockings, the slip, embroidered, lace-trimmed, closed at the shoulder with tiny pearl buttons. Now the splendid dress went over all, and the ruffled bonnet, the beautiful coat, and to add in the cold winter, the cocoon silk shawl, its softness an enveloping cloud.
With each addition, a murmur would go from the assemblage. What finery. What good taste. How well this godmother had fulfilled her holy obligation. What a credit to her family. What a fine catch for someone who will deserve her. And why not my son, or my young cousin, or my brother's or sister's son?
Then the holy child, pure in his baptismal innocence was lifted up by the godmother for all the friends to admire. Ah, let him cry; that is a sign of a long and vigorous life. Let the wails pour from this cleansed but tired baby. Good luck that means. Is he quiet? Is he sleepy? Then it is the godmother's responsibility to pinch him surreptiously. "Now he cries in a loud and angry voice, everyone is satisfied, and I am happy. I have done it all properly and with honor. And yes, this is my godchild, and I will love him well and remember the Meyroun," -- an obligation between the godparent and the godchild, between the godparent and the natural parents