Little did 3-month-old Jackson William Lewis know it, but he made family history Sunday afternoon during his baptism in St. Joseph University Parish.
Jackson, who lay sleeping in his mother’s arms until baptismal water was sprinkled upon him – and even then, only stirred slightly – became the 24th baby to be baptized in a 108-year-old lawn and lace gown worn by generations of his family.
Woven with eight rows of baby blue-colored ribbon and measuring about 3 feet in length, the gown didn’t look its age.
The Kenmore baby – born to Lindsay Felix and Steven Lewis on July 30 – wore what his mother wore on her baptismal day and what she described as a precious family heirloom. The off-white-colored gown was first worn by little Jackson’s great-great-grandmother, the former Katherine Wahl, during her baptism July 7, 1904.
Since then, new pink or blue ribbons – depending on the gender of the baby being baptized – are hand-woven through the delicate gown that repeatedly gets wrapped in tissue and stored in a cedar chest in the basement of Felix’s grandmother’s home.
“It’s in good condition. It probably has some discoloration around the collar from years of baby puke, but there are no rips or tears in it,” Felix said shortly before her son was baptized in the gown that until Sunday was last worn 18 years earlier. “It’s nice that men and women in the family share in the wearing of the gown.”
The gown’s lace, which has only been replaced once, was new in 1956, for Felix’s father’s baptism.
As the baptismal ceremony was conducted, perhaps the one who was touched the most was Felix’s 88-year-old grandmother, Mary Rita Felix, who has been storing the gown at her home since the 1950s.
Mary Rita Felix listened closely during the service, sitting quietly with her cane in hand and then walking down the main aisle of the church to observe the baptism herself. “It means the world to me,” she said. “It’s a wonderful feeling. I didn’t think I’d be here for it.”
Jackson’s christening was a true family affair.
Lindsay Felix’s aunt, Kathy Felix, whose grandmother was the first one to wear the gown in 1904, was sitting in a pew holding her 10-day-old great-niece, Micaela Milliron, whom she said will be the next baby to wear it.
That means one thing: Kathy Felix knows she’ll have another few hours of work ahead of her to remove baby Jackson’s blue ribbon from the lace to then thread pink ribbon through it for her great-niece.
She welcomes the task, though.
“It’s awesome,” she said. “It’s family tradition. All the kids and grandkids here have worn this dress.”
She said the family keeps a list of everyone who wears it.
Jackson William Lewis’ uncle, 18-year-old Sean Felix, brother of Lindsay Felix, stood in church Sunday in awe after the baptism was completed.
“I was the last one to wear it until today,” he said. “I think it’s pretty sweet, and is neat to pass the tradition along. I didn’t even know, until Jackson was born, that I’d worn it.”