The passing of Queen Elizabeth has reminded me that you can take the girl out of England, but you can never take the English out of the girl, no matter where life’s path takes her.
As a child growing up in London, I had never heard of Arkansas, and when I finally did see the name written somewhere, I mispronounced it for several decades. It was years before it became my home.
English school children in the 1960s wore uniforms with the royal crest embroidered on the pocket. We sang “God Save the Queen” every day. Her image was on all official documents, as well as every coin, pound note, or stamp that we handled. All children in London had been to Buckingham Palace to watch the changing of the guard. I distinctly remember the sound of the boots and the horses hooves clicking on the brown gravel in front of the palace. The list goes on. Queen Elizabeth s presence was everywhere and the royal family was much loved by many Brits.
It occurs to me that no other world leader I know of, royal or otherwise, has ever been in their position for 70 years while remaining loved and admired the entire time. Not all approve of monarchies, but everyone respected HRH Elizabeth.
As a child, I secretly wondered if my grandmother was related to the Queen. Her perfect use of the English language and her accent always sounded royal to me, so in my mind she must have been a relative. Her wardrobe was immaculate. Everything was perfectly coordinated, and much like the Queen she usually wore a brooch which also matched the outfit. She lived in New York City for many years. When I visited her there, and later in her retirement years in New Mexico, we always had afternoon tea. To this day I think of her when I open a tin of Earl Grey to make a pot of tea. The aroma is unique and instantly wafts me back to my younger years. She believed that teabags were an abomination, and drinking one’s tea over ice was a curious American tradition that she could not adopt. I confess that I cannot drink it cold either. I hope not to be banished from the state for admitting to this sin.
Both my grandmother and the Queen were products of a generation that guarded its privacy and placed a high value on decorum. One simply did not over-share. Ever. “Keep calm and carry on” is not just a social media meme, it was a way of life. When members of the royal family misbehaved and created a public spectacle of themselves, Her Majesty maintained that notorious stiff upper lip. She dealt with her own wayward children and grandchildren privately. There is a lot to be said for her ability not to air the family’s dirty laundry, although some of them do not seem to have a problem doing so. Most families have “those” members who can’t seem to stop acting out, so it is not unique to the royals. It’s just that their lives are extremely visible, so every sordid detail becomes a news story. I must admit that I cannot stand public scrutiny of private details of someone’s life. I inwardly and outwardly cringe when I hear a media personality say that we will hear from (insert famous person s name here) as they open up and break their silence about a deeply personal experience they have had. That is a sentiment probably shared by many Americans and not just an English trait.
My grandmother, God rest her soul, would be horrified if she could see the disastrous effects of over-shared details, and the social media phenomenon that has elevated these things to headline status. I can hear her voice in my head sometimes, perfectly composed but horrified as she says “Shelley DAHling, what on earth is a tweet? And why would anyone want the world to know their most personal business?” No, she was not a snob. She simply kept calm and carried on.
There is much to be learned from stoic women like the Queen and my grandma. They both had a strong sense of duty and were committed to making the world a better place. In 1947, then-Princess Elizabeth stated “I declare before you all that my whole life, whether it be long or short, shall be devoted to your service.”
We could all use more of this philosophy in our lives.
Shelley Smith is a retired public school teacher living her best life in rural Stone County. Write to her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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