Al Sullivan’s journal


Baptized at last



September 27, 1995


 We went west to watch my daughter get baptized.

 She had expressed interest in religion a few months ago, surprising me in several concerns. Ruby's birth came in a rush of panic when I was still a fugitive from justice. Even birth certificate had the wrong name on it, despite what we thought clever machinations to get my real name listed as her father. For years she went around as a Hoffee instead of a Sullivan. Which may explain why we never got her baptized.

 Yet over the years -- years in which Ruby's mother cared for her -- Ruby had numerous chances. Her mother spent a great deal of time boasting of her own salvation, taking spirituality off the deep end the way many newly converted do. I thought certainly Cyrstal's indoctrination was on her agenda, since her mother had her eye on saving every soul in the world.

 Somehow, Ruby soul slipped through the gap as her mother's religious passion mellowed into something more accepting, trading St. Paul for Jesus' more subtle message of: ``live and let live.'' So when Ruby announced her desire for baptism, I was both shocked by the request and the fact she hadn't been already. I was also intrigued by the source of this new-found spirituality, since Ruby had criticized her mother's previous conversion more thoroughly than I had, mocking the constant need to pray over everything from buttering the morning toast to starting the car.

 I'm not sure Ruby thought of prayer when she requested I look into baptism for her. She seemed fearful of losing her soul. For the last few years, she'd read many books on the American Indian, some of that spirituality filtering through to her. She didn't want to face eternity alone, just another heathen in the endless void. I agreed to help her, made a few phone calls, and came back to her with several options.

 ``Oh, no,'' she told me. ``I don't want to get sprinkled on. I want to get dunked.''

 What she meant religious people call ``total emersion,'' an extremely rare procedure in a part of the country where most of the rivers are so polluted that post emersion is often accompanied with radiation or chemo therapy. When I could not find someone, she did, sending me an invitation to join her ceremony. So we went west.

 We went all the way West to Scranton -- though the original instructions would have allowed us to stop many miles east of that. With me scheduled for an early morning Dunkin Donut shift the next morning, every extra mile seemed to subtract from sleep. Sharon stared out at the scenery, I grumbled over traffic, then arrived at Ruby's house to find a note on the door, a note saying she couldn't wait. Here, we found more explicit instructions, and followed them, speeding around the sluggish Pennsylvania drivers with the air of an Indianapolis racer, finding ourselves deeper into the country, in a section commonly called ``Lord's Valley.''

 We turned off one highway, onto another, then onto smaller roads, from three lanes to two lanes to one lane, then onto a dirt road with grass growing up between where the wheels of previous vehicles had rode -- the small Mazda barely able to handle the dips and bumps without losing an important part of its anatomy. Around us, the woods grew so thick I expected a deer to leap out at us at any time, stopping in front of us, as startled by our machine's presence in its world as we were to be there.


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