When John and I planned a trip to our ‘mother country’ last month, I told myself it was because our very culture is embedded in England — our history, language, literature, entertainment… I soon realized my agenda had been pre-programmed.
As a child, I heard so much about the British royal family, I thought we were related. Why else would Grandma speak of them with such affection, or become so agitated at the mention of Edward, Prince of Wales? I never questioned her fascination. Our ancestors were English and Irish after all; she had told me many times.
Born during the reign of Queen Victoria, my grandmother lived through five monarchies. She could recite them all, with dates! That this humble little woman in a fishing village in the Northern Neck of Virginia would develop a passion for kings and queens a world away, is probably not remarkable.
Grandma Daisy had spent her days like most other wives in Fleeton — caring for six children, a modest frame house without plumbing, a large vegetable garden and a flock of Rhode Island Reds. English royalty lived in castles and palaces with servants. Glittering crowns, ornate thrones… It was the stuff of dreams. Yet, despite a lifestyle of privilege, they were real people — often heroic, sometimes flawed, and occasionally embroiled in scandal…
Grandma devoured newspapers and magazines, delighting in the pageantry of Elizabeth’s wedding and coronation, and rejoicing with the arrival of television. She spoke of princes and dukes, princesses and the queen mother, while shelling butter beans on the back porch swing, or watching for my grandfather’s fish boat to round the bend in the river by the lighthouse.
I felt Daisy’s presence as I exclaimed over the crown jewels in the Tower of London, marveled at the golden carriage that had carried Queen Elizabeth II to her coronation, and the open carriage used in the weddings of Charles and Diana as well as William and Kate.
Grandma, with her cherubic face encircled with long gray braids, did not accompany us everywhere, fortunately. She’d have been shocked at the prices in Fortnum & Mason, and Harrods. And she might not have understood John’s banter at the ‘speaker’s corner’ in Hyde Park. She certainly would not have seen the humorous side to the drunken sports fans on the Tube late one night.
At no place did I feel my grandmother’s presence more strongly than at Windsor Palace for the pomp and circumstance of the ‘changing of the guard’ ceremony. Later she was probably as overwhelmed as her granddaughter when the queen’s red-clad guards mounted on black horses passed in front of Buckingham Palace, near the memorial to Queen Victoria.
In the tea rooms, I was reminded of a dark green teapot all those years ago, and endless cups of tea (with plenty of cream and sugar,) served with cookies from a colorful biscuit tin with Prince Philip’s picture…
Happy Mother’s Day, Grandma Daisy. Next year we’re taking you to Ireland with us. Hold onto your braids; John is driving. On the left side of the street…