As you might have guessed by now, Constant Reader, I did a lot of theater in college. It’s strange – once I committed to doing this professionally (or at least semi-professionally), my family members, all of whom conveniently lived here in New York at the time, rarely bothered to come and see the shows I was in. (They weren’t always particularly good shows, so I don’t begrudge them, but still.) But when I was in college? My parents came up to see everything, my eight-year old sister incongruously in tow to see productions of Shakespeare and Shaw. Moreover, my maternal grandparents would come up as well, usually on a separate schedule from my parents. They would pack up their car and tackle the five hour drive to come and see what ever production I was in that semester.
Now the thing to understand, Constant Reader, is that I am an old man (unless you’re a casting director, in which case I’m a strapping specimen of indeterminate age). This all therefore happened several decades ago, in a time before cell phones, before email, before text messages, before GPS. Once my aged grandparents were on the road, I had no way of knowing where they were or when to expect them. I had my whole busy college schedule, so it was difficult to coordinate any sort of rendez-vous with them. Prior to curtain time, they could have been anywhere, wandering around an unfamiliar campus, with nobody to assist them.
And yet I always knew where they were, at all times, and was always reasonably sure that they were safe.
And the reason for this is that my grandmother, as was mentioned to her just about every day from 1952 onward, was the spitting image of Queen Elizabeth II.
I’ve never been entirely sure how my grandmother felt about having a royal doppelganger. I’m sure she was flattered much of the time; my grandmother cultivated a rather regal way of speaking, so I suspect she not-so-secretly encouraged the comparison. And yet, it’s not the sort of thing you can hear at random occasions – in line at the bank, or trying to get your grocery shopping done – without getting a little bit annoyed at times. And there’s a part of me that suspects she got angry at the comparison from time to time – after all, if they were almost identical in appearance, and only three years apart in age, then how was it fair that one of them got to live a life of opulence at Westminster and Balmoral, while the other was exiled to middle class Long Island? (I come from that sort of a family.)
In any event, whenever she came to visit my college, it was easy to trace my grandmother’s movements. I’d be walking from one class to another, and I’d overhear somebody say “I could have sworn I just saw Queen Elizabeth at the bookstore!” I’d be grabbing a quick bite of lunch at the coop, and someone at the next table over would exclaim “you’re not going to believe this, but Queen Elizabeth just drove by me in a golf cart on the athletic field!” (The groundskeepers had a habit of ferrying my grandparents around if they saw them on campus. Wouldn’t you, if the Queen of England asked you nicely?) Eventually, my housemates caught on to this state of affairs; they’d hear rumors of an unannounced visit to campus by the British monarch, turn to me, and ask, “your grandparents are coming to the show tonight, huh?”
I remember all this vividly. It was, however, a long time ago.
My grandmother passed away ten years ago, practically to the day. And of course, the long, tumultuous, extraordinary reign of Queen Elizabeth II – which some folks may well have thought would never end – came to its inevitable conclusion last week. Both women now live only in memory – and that whole “inexorable passage of time” thing guarantees that one day, my memories will fade along with me. And so I sit here typing out these memories, for the same reason we all write, or paint, or create in whatever way we create – in the desperate, eternal hope that we can make these memories linger for just a little while longer.