I have in sincerity pledged myself to your service,
as so many of you are pledged to mine.
Throughout all my life and with all my heart
I shall strive to be worthy of your trust.
~ Queen Elizabeth II
It was the beginning of summer vacation in 1953. I had just finished first grade. There would be no more duck and cover air raid drills for a few months. I was six-going-on-seven – and sadly, not unlike today – there were several threats of death and destruction circulating continuously. In addition to the bomb, major among them was childhood polio.
“Until 1955, when the Salk vaccine was introduced, polio was considered the most frightening public health problem of the post-war United States. Annual epidemics were increasingly devastating. The 1952 epidemic was the worst outbreak in the nation’s history. Of nearly 58,000 cases reported that year, 3,145 people died and 21,269 were left with mild to disabling paralysis with most of the victims being children.” [Wikipedia]
My mother was terrified that my younger sister and I would contract polio and 1) die, 2) have to live life in an iron lung, or 3) be crippled. It seems that summertime was the prime season for outbreaks. Thus, during every summer afternoon, we were forced to stay inside. We were made to rest quietly in our uncomfortably hot shaded bedroom of the WWII barracks where we lived while Dad attended university of the GI Bill. Torture! And we were never ever allowed into the local wading pool. It was our mother’s way of doing her best to prevent us from getting polio. During all other seasons we could go out to play anywhere we wanted almost any time we wanted as long as we stayed within hearing range of my mother’s communication device: a cowbell.
On June 2, 1953, a princess was crowned queen. I never met her personally, of course. but nonetheless, she and her coronation had a huge impact on my young life. Until then, I had only known princesses and queens in fairy tales. According to the Disney horror films like Sleeping Beauty and Alice in Wonderland, princesses were pure and good. Queens were evil and bad. Though on one level I knew the queens in fairy tales and movies were imaginary, such stereotypes of the feminine archetypes can have a huge impact on a young mind.
Now, here was a real human good princess becoming a good queen. I watched the coronation on black and white TV. It was beyond anything I had ever imagined. It gave me hope. It meant that, in my own way, perhaps I could become a good queen like Queen Elizabeth II. So I developed a fantasy about being a queen myself. I knew she lived in a palace so I imagined that my school – the biggest building I knew – was transformed into a palace. The spacious hallways seemed regal to me. I had a throne and a long velvet train on my robe with an ermine collar. And so on.
Imagining myself as a queen was especially important and helpful on those summer afternoons of mandatory rest times for fear of polio. It was a benign, useful, and comforting coping mechanism. It was also useful when I was stuck under my desk for duck and cover in second grade. Then, when I was in third grade my whole family got vaccinated with the Salk vaccine. Life in the summertime got a lot better. And, somewhere along the way, the duck and cover air raid drills ended as well.
Queen Elizabeth’s was a life well lived,
a promise with destiny kept.
~ King Charles III