A royal surprise from Elizabeth R

Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth, is called the "second" by her subjects, but when she goes to relax at her Scottish castle, she drops off one point. Queen Elizabeth of the Elizabethan Age, you understand, was never queen of the Scots, so Queen Elizabeth II of England, etc., remains merely Queen Elizabeth up there among the bonny, bonny heather, my Scotch Bluebell.

I am perhaps fortunate among us Colonials in knowing the queen fairly well, as I have done business with her twice, and Elizabeth Regina was pleasantly kind. I have mentioned several times here that my mother was born a Canadian, which means that she was a subject of The Empire until she married my father-to-be and became a citizen of the Boston States.

And it so happens that when anybody connected with that empire achieves 100 years of age, the reigning monarch sends a palace cablegram of congratulations, which, you betcha, is highly esteemed by the pot-wallopers and all concerned.

My mother had a sister who graciously lived to be 102, and a few years later my mother hit a century on her way to 103. I took it upon myself to inform the queen about Aunt Mary, the younger sister. This was not a simple matter for a bloomin' Yank to approach, and I was, probably like any other of my foreign ilk, uninformed in the protocol of writing to such a prestigious address. How does one presume to speak to the queen of England?

I had heard the story that President Woodrow Wilson cast decency aside the time he met the pope and simply stuck out his hand to shake and said, "Good morning!" I also knew that Bill Nye, having fun, wrote a book and then asked Queen Victoria what she did about royalties. I believe Victoria R was not amused.

But I found there are correct ways to write to the palace. And, following the rules, I wrote from my modest home in Maine that my Aunt Mary, in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island, Canada, was approaching her 100th birthday. I addressed my letter simply to Her Majesty, Elizabeth R, England. I assumed that would suffice.

About two weeks went by before I was sure. I received my reply from Buckin'num P. It was perfunctory and just what I deserved. It merely said that if I had something I wished to bring to the notice of The Queen, I should proceed through channels.

So I did just that, in my absurdly distant Colonial way, and I telephoned a cousin on Prince Edward Island and alerted her to the emergency. She, in stately turn, was neighbor to Justice Tweedy, who grew up next farm to Mother's, and as chief justice of the Provincial Judicial Court, he had instant access to the correct channels. And he told the prime minister, or the premier, or head guy that Aunt Mary was about to be 100 years old.

Thus he learned that the matter was already known to the authorities, and on her birthday Aunt Mary was honored by a form cable of congratulations from her queen. I had no further dealings with Her Majesty until it was my mother's turn.

This time I did things right and turned loose all the channels from here to Calais, and there was no need to squelch me again. I got in touch with Senator Smith, who told our State Department, which told the British ambassador, who put a memo on a cleft stick in the next diplomatic pouch. In this way, my mother's centennial was brought to the notice of Her Majesty at whichever of the several royal residences she was in at the moment. And on the right day, Mother received the expected congratulatory cable from Elizabeth, I or II.

My mother's 100th was somewhat more exciting than her sister's, which was on The Island and filled with Canadian dignity. When asked if there might be some special gift that could be provided on her birthday anniversary, Mother said, "Yes. I've never ridden on a fire engine. I'd like to ride on a fire engine."

That was easy. She was living then with my sister in West Caldwell, N.J., and a telephone call to the fire chief of that happy city took care of everything. The chief himself said he would be delighted to oblige, and on the stated day he arrived with his best and newest machine. He was supported by various city officials and a corsage of flaming carnations, which was pinned on by his honor himself. We stood in awed respect as Mother, in the chief's helmet, roared away with the siren wide open and Mom yanking the bell rope as if she couldn't be more than 15 and was the queen of England.

Her cable from Her Majesty in London arrived early that afternoon. The fire, or fires, had been extinguished and the bell and siren silenced. When the telephone rang, somebody said, "That's got to be Her Majesty!" It was. That is, it was a Western Union voice in New York City asking for Mom, and saying there was a telegram.

My brother was ready with a felt pen and brown-paper bag to write the message down. He said, "All right, send a confirmation and let her go!" The message was exactly the same as that to Aunt Mary several years earlier. And then the Western Union voice came to the signature. This is where brother Frank went into gales of laughter and we had to pound him on the back.

The voice said in professional, read-aloud enunciation, and I am quoting exactly, "Message is signed 'Elizabeth R,' " last name not spelled out."

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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