Elizabeth the Great, RIP

Growing up in a family of nine and prior to a major remodel, we lived in a two-bedroom, one-bath house on Yuma Trail, in Bisbee, Arizona. It was laid out in a circular fashion, with two doors on the bathroom. Having a bathroom with two doors is not a good idea, and thankfully those have long since gone out of fashion. As for the bedrooms? My parents’ bedroom held their bed and a tiny wooden crib which was occupied by whatever baby was the most recent arrival at the time. The other bedroom, “the kids’ bedroom” was for everyone else. It had a “three-quarter” bed, a single bed, a pair of bunk beds, and a large metal crib occupied by the next youngest child. In other words. There wasn’t much privacy.

Then I met a new friend. Her name was Pat McAdams. Her family lived about three quarters of a block from our house, as long as I took the short-cut through Mr. and Mrs. Corbett’s yard. There were three bedrooms in their house and only two kids. That meant that both Pat and her brother Ted each had their own room. Come to think of it, there was a two-door bathroom between their two bedrooms, too. I’m REALLY glad those have gone out of style, but I digress.

When Pat and I were eight, the major thing happening on the world wide stage was the coronation of Queen Elizabeth. We spent hours on the carpeted floor and in the privacy of Pat’s bedroom, playing with her set of coronation paper dolls. As we did so, we tried to imagine what it must be like to be a princess or a queen. What would it be like to live in a castle? What would it be like to dress in one of those sumptuous gowns. By the way, a few years ago, Pat sent me a vintage set of those paper dolls for my birthday.

What we didn’t know at the time was that, for Elizabeth, being a queen would mean spending the next seventy years putting duty to her country above everything else. And so we watched the pomp and circumstance surrounding her coronation on the tiny screens of the black and white television sets in our homes in blissful ignorance of the reality of how Queen Elizabeth’s life would turn out. Throughout her reign she was dignified and gracious. I think her only real misstep was trying to impose her own sense of what constitutes royal duty onto her children by insisting her son marry someone considered to be suitable as opposed to allowing him to follow his heart. We all know how that turned out.

In the early eighties, as a Cub Scout den mother, I stood in a crowd of blue-capped boys, while Queen Elizabeth, decked out in a vivid blue coat and hat, spoke to us from the steps of the Pacific Science Center in Seattle. So yes, I did get to see her once in person.

In my lifetime, I’ve witnessed what I consider to be three worldwide funerals so far—JFK’s, Princess Diana’s, and Mother Theresa’s, the latter two within days of one another. Queen Elizabeth’s funeral this coming Monday will be number 4.

But this week, I’ve been thinking about the shock and horror that surrounded President Kennedy’s death. I came back to the dorm from my Friday morning classes that day to find all the girls from Pima Hall gathered in the living room around the television set. We sat there for hours and most of the afternoon all of us crying.

As an underclassman, I was required to have at least one evening class, and mine was a Monday, Wednesday, Friday Humanities class. Since there was no such thing as social media back then, there was really no way to tell students which individual classes were cancelled and which weren’t, so that night I, along with most of the rest of the students. showed up for class, and so did our professor, Dr. Ketchum. We came in and sat down while he took roll. Then he opened a book and read William Carlos William’s poem, “Let me teach you, my townspeople, how to perform a funeral.” After reading that, Dr. Ketchum told us class was over, and the next week, we all watched as our country learned how to do exactly that—perform a funeral with the widow and children walking behind a horse-drawn casket.

On Monday, I’ll be watching—along the with the rest of the world—as Elizabeth the Great is laid to rest, having cast off the burdens of duty and left them behind her. Last week I heard a commentator say that during her lifetime, Prince Philip was the only one who could make her laugh, often by telling her politically incorrect jokes.

Once my father passed away, the laughter went out of Evie’s life, and I believe the same held true for Queen Elizabeth once Prince Philip was gone.

I trust those two sets of lifetime partners are together again, and that all four of them are laughing their heads off.