I saw Queen Elizabeth II. I got really close to her. Almost saw up her nose.
My parents were visiting. Now that I’m in my 30’s and they in their sixties, we’ve reached a rarefied moment when our childish fights and foibles no longer impede our relationship. Perhaps due to the massive ocean between us – them living in the Midwest and me in London. Or perhaps because life is short and we’ll soon see the back of it.
Whatever the reason, we put up with each other, overlook our differences, get along. It works best in short, small intervals we call their “Annual Visit.”
It was during Annual Visit this year when we went to Windsor Castle and saw Queen Elizabeth.
It was a beautiful blue-skied day, classic summer.
We took a train from Paddington Station. I love Paddington. I always want to buy little Paddington Bears and leave them around the station for kids to take home.
Then I imagined:
Paddington Station closed after suspicious devices planted by someone Police are now calling a “terrorist.”
No bears. Instead we bought tickets to Windsor. At this point I found it necessary to enact a “separate but equal” policy: my parents and all British people were to be kept separate (but equal) at all times, lest my parents announce once more, “We don’t understand this British stuff, we’re American” to anybody in their line of sight and at three times acceptable British volume.
While I’m corralling them, Dad informed us that Winnie the Pooh was a bear given to the London Zoo by Winnipeg, Canada. And the London Zoo is the oldest in the world. I nod and thanked him for this insight. Dad is full of insights.
Mom corrected him: Winnie the Pooh liked honey and Paddington liked marmalade. Mom is full of corrections.
We take the train through Slough (rhymes with ow), which my parents kept calling Sluff — “Are we at Sluff yet? Is this the train to Sluff?” I corrected them.
We get to Windsor. My husband points to the Thames flooding, a serious problem in the UK. Dad rebutts with; “That’s nothing. They should come to Western Michigan in a few weeks. We’ll have ducks swimming in our yard.”
My family is often competitive.
We entered the Castle. It’s lovely. If you seek a fresh design, consider weaponry. Mom was reminded of how cute my brother was with all his toy guns. Mom is often reminded of how cute my brother was.
My Dad informed us that he and Prince Charles are the same age. Dad always tells everyone this fact. I wouldn’t be surprised if this news had gotten around to Prince Charles himself.
Dad, an armchair historian, can identify most of the portraits in the Castle. “Charles the II, Charles the II. Is that Erasmus? Yup, Erasmus. Ellen — that’s Erasmus!” Dad is often right about these things.
Except. . . we have audio guides. And since Dad can’t hear himself, he figures we might also not hear him so he shouts: “Ellen, I thought it was Pope Pius, and I was RIGHT. Pope Pius!”
My family often shouts.
I pretend to not know either my Dad or Pope Pius. Until the opportunity came up to recognize James II. Which I did, loudly.
My husband, wanting to play too, mistakes Nelson for Wellington and we all pretend not to know him. I felt slight guilt for marrying someone who doesn’t know the difference between Nelson and Wellington.
We finish the Castle in triumph and since none of us are big day-drinkers, seek out a tea room.
My parents can’t get over the fact that it’s run by Italians. She knows this, because she asked them after hearing their accents. “A nice Italian couple. Running a tea room, in the middle of Windsor! That’s just like America!”
My family loves knowing where people are from.
It can appear borderline offensive to sensitive types, but really, it’s just because we love talking about where we’re from – so we assume others will too. And it’s so American to live somewhere you’re not from.
We head over to The Long Walk. Or, as we call it: The Queen’s Driveway.
At this point, a police guard appears and the Castle Gate opens.
“A car is coming. Let’s keep walking, we don’t need to wait.” (Dad).
“No, just wait here. It’ll pass soon.” (Mom).
Dad likes to move, Mom is enjoying the break. Because, unlike Dad, she is carrying a bag of clothes, snacks, beverages, and hand wipes that all mothers have at all times. Even when her only child is her husband.
It’s a station wagon, dark blue. Someone who looks Grandma is driving. Curled white hair, “10 & 2” on the wheel, a foot shorter than the top of the seat.
It doesn’t faze us until Mom shouts: “Ohmygoodness… It’s the Queen!” She always did have good eyesight. “And Prince Philip, her consort!” shouts my consort. Who also has good eyesight. (My husband. No idea about Prince Philip.)
We were five feet from the Monarch. From Queen Elizabeth!
They went through the gate. It was over.
“Why didn’t you take a photo!” “Did you see her? Did you see Queen Elizabeth?” “I can’t believe you wanted to leave!” “Did you see the Duke of Edinburgh?” – were just a few of the phrases my parents and I hurled at each other in excitement. Things calm down when it’s established that all of us — even Dad — saw the Queen.
I don’t remember the rest. I briefly flirted with the idea of pushing my husband in front of the car, reasoning if your husband is maimed by Queen Elizabeth it’s worth an OBE, if not some Scottish property. She wouldn’t admit it, but I know Mom had a similar idea.
Most of all, we all pondered just where were they going?
“They went out to get milk.” (Dad).
“They went out for their Sunday drive, like we used to.” (Mom).
“She used to drive during the war. She was trained as a driver.” (Dad).
“She probably hates navigating. They are probably just like us.” Mom hates navigating and always drives.
Sure Mom. Sure. We’re all just that similar. Us and Queen Elizabeth.
That night, my husband and I were brushing our teeth.
I observe “My parents are ridiculous. Awesome, but ridiculous. How am I not more like them?” He spits and looks at me in the mirror.
“You’re kidding me. Ellen, you’re EXACTLY like them.”
“I’m NOT. Like, I knew that painting was Erasmus, but I didn’t shout it across the room. Dad always has to be right.”
“Uh, you did.” He reminds me of the frequency with which I told British people I was American, despite wanting to be seen as British. How loud I talk. How I (slightly offensively) ask everyone where they are from, correct everyone etc. etc. “It’s cute.” He goes to set the alarm next to the bed. Because the technology of it eludes me, like it does my dad.
I spit out toothpaste and shout back “Not true.”
“Yes it is. And – like your parents – you think everyone – even the Queen – is fundamentally the same. No one is better than anyone else. That she probably goes on a Sunday drive with her husband because that is what you guys and your parents used to do.”
There were much worse people to be like than my parents and/or Queen Elizabeth. Who, clearly, I am a lot a like. Almost identical. One of the privileges of adult life is to recognize that, and a accept it. Nay, embrace it.
“Fine. Remind me to tell them in the morning. They’ll get a kick out of it. And seriously, can you believe we saw Queen Elizabeth. She literally looked like Grandma.”
The next day, Mom bought us a Paddington Bear. Said our house could use him. She wasn’t wrong.
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