In Her Majesty's shadow
ALTHOUGH my mother was born on a farm in eastern Canada, she was thoroughly familiar with royalty, and during my childhood often invoked their presence. On warm summer days when I begged to run out barefooted in the rain, she would say, ``I don't care if the Queen of England dances barefooted in the rain, my daughter is going to wear her boots.'' I don't know to which particular Queen of England my mother referred. Perhaps her remarks were inspired by her own mother, my maternal grandmother, who closely resembled Queen Victoria in thought, word, and deed. In any case, the notion of either Queen Victoria or my grandmother, skirts hiked up, splashing about in rain puddles, was enough to make me pull on my boots.
It is more likely, however, that my mother's admonitions were stimulated by the then-prevailing publicity attendant upon the childhood of Princess Elizabeth and her sister, Margaret Rose. In those days the Sunday supplements and glossy magazines were replete with photographs and detailed accounts of the upbringing of the young princesses.
Sometimes I feel as if I grew up with these princesses. I suppose, in a way, I did. According to my mother, these two very young ladies were paragons of virtue and models of propriety in dress and manner, and daily I was exhorted to pattern my demeanor after theirs. I never doubted my mother's veracity but wondered at her persistence, considering the modest circumstances of my own birth, as I learned more than I really cared to know then about royalty.
When the occasion demanded, I was reminded that a Queen of England never left the house without hat and gloves, not even to visit a neighbor on Sunday; the Queen of England sipped her soup from the side of a spoon without spilling a drop; the Queen of England never lay abed but rose with the sun to do good works all day long. The Queen of England was kind to pets and shared her candies with her friends without being asked.
Of course, no one had the slightest notion then that Princess Elizabeth would some day really become the Queen of England. Like all royal children she was reared for reigning just in case that possibility ever came about. My mother was as surprised as anyone when the possibility became a certainty, and Princess Elizabeth was crowned Queen of England. ``Wasn't it a good thing she was brought up to be Queen?'' she asked. ``It pays to be prepared.''
During my childhood, however, as I saw no hope of my ever becoming Queen of England -- or any place else -- I sometimes grew weary of hearing what was proper for the Queen of England and restive under the royal educational regimen. One morning rebellion overtook me. As I was dallying with my oatmeal, my mother remarked, ``The Queen of England'' -- still Queen Mary then -- ``eats her porridge every morning and scrapes the bowl.''
``I don't believe it,'' I burst out. ``And I don't care. What has the Queen of England to do with us?''
Inevitably my mother was ready with an answer that awed me into silence. Hands on hips, she looked down at me as I sat at the table. ``For all you know,'' she said, ``she may be one of our relatives.''
I goggled, my head in a whirl. Was it possible? Would this explain her preoccupation with royal demeanor? After all, the world was a small place. England was a small island. Then my mother finished her statement, ``In this world, one way or another, we are all related.''
This was such a fascinating concept that I finished my porridge without even realizing it and scraped the bowl.
Not that the Queen of England was the only royal personage my mother invoked during my childhood. But, as the other members of European royalty in the public eye at the time were not British and had no grace and favor to confer, my mother used them as deleterious, rather than upright, examples. When she discovered me daubing my face with the rouge and powder she used only on very special occasions, she appeared in the mirror from behind me to ask: ``Well, who have we here? The Queen of Romania?''
Nor were all her comparisons confined to modern royalty. Should I laze about on the couch reading instead of helping her in the kitchen, she was sure to ask if I thought I was the Queen of Sheba. If I spent too much time in the bath, she would rap on the door and ask if I were floating down the Nile, a way of asking me if I thought I was Cleopatra. And I wondered if I was, somehow, related to these queens, too. Believe me, I knew very well that I was not Queen Marie of Romania, nor the Queen of Sheba, nor Cleopatra any more than I was the Queen of England, but I didn't dare answer back.
While this childhood familiarity with royalty may not have improved my character nor my manners as much as intended, it certainly enhanced my reading pleasure. Now I read biographies of royalty with the fondness with which one normally peruses family history. Who knows? They may be relatives. After all, as my mother told me when I was a child, we are all related to each other, one way or another.