Served to the duchess on a platter

'You're wearing knee highs to meet the Duchess of York?' I calculate the damage to my potential friendship with Fergie.

"Lucy, you watch out for spiders, I'm going in." My puppy's tail thumps and she looks meaningfully at the door.

Swathed in a huge T-shirt, pantyhose, and one navy blue pump, I initiate search procedures in the uncharted territory under my bed.

The object of this dustball-enhanced mission is my second blue pump. I am preparing to meet the Duchess of York.

Actually, I am preparing to go and stand awkwardly in front of Sarah Ferguson (also known as Fergie) and stammer while she graciously autographs the monstrous platter I purchased with money earmarked for important events – such as buying groceries. But to me and 2,000 other people who will gather intimately at a local department store, this encounter is equivalent to a meeting between heads of state.

The duchess is as yet unaware of the importance of this event and the impact it's bound to have on her personal life. So if we are to become chums, I can't wear white shoes, for it's February, and the duchess might be shocked into summoning the fashion bobbies and spoiling our moment.

In the gloom under the bed, I spy my treasure lurking behind a stack of dusty record albums. As I clench my tongue between my teeth and prepare to inch forward, a cold nose contacts my body in a way that causes me to lunge forward abruptly and bump my head.

I grab the shoe, which turns out not to be a shoe but the leftover half of a petrified hot dog bun. Sighing, I retreat. I look for sympathy from the tiny puppy who is now contentedly chewing on the heel of my other blue pump. "Come on, Lucy," I mutter. Prying the shoe from spiky puppy teeth, I whisk the owner of the cold nose outside.

In a series of phone calls over the past two weeks, my sister and I have carefully coordinated our wardrobe to effect an air of casual yet well-dressed nonchalance. Our goal is to look as if it is our usual custom to browse through the breakables section of an upscale department store on a weekday afternoon clutching expensive, if not attractive, pieces of china. I arrive at the prearranged location exactly at the designated time.

"What happened to your legs?" I greet my sister.

Peering down at her legs, which appear to belong to two different outfits, she shrugs. "I planned my whole wardrobe except my stockings. When it came time to get dressed, I didn't have two knee highs that matched."

"You're wearing knee highs to meet the Duchess of York?" I mentally calculate the effect of her fashion indiscretion on my probable long-term relationship with the duchess. I sigh and scan the royal crowd-in-waiting. "Look at that woman in the polyester leopard skin. Let's sit by her and you'll look like Jackie Kennedy dressed you."

The line begins to file into the seminar area. Soon, I'm seated next to an elderly lady with hair the color of fabric softener.

"Sit down," she snorts to a large woman dressed in plaid standing directly in front of us. The woman is waving both hands to try to catch the attention of a willowy woman across the room. This action produces a startling ripple effect through the plaid, giving her the appearance of a tall ship with billowing sails.

Just then, the store manager takes his place on the makeshift stage to introduce the Duchess of York. And then, out she comes.

"We are fortunate," Sarah Ferguson begins in light British tones made slightly husky after a midnight airline flight, "to be here talking about dishes." She opens her arms wide toward the enthralled audience. "There are people all over the world without sufficient food, and we are able to talk about how we set the table."

Suddenly, each of us is aware that we are wealthy; duchesses in our own right. Her message, "Make each day special," is a subtle reminder of the good fortune of our everyday lives.

"We use this china each day at home," the duchess continues, "even if we have to change the different colored bowls around so the girls don't argue over them."

I picture two princesses tugging on either side of a china cereal bowl, flinging the royal cornflakes onto the marble floor of the palace. My thoughts turn warmly to my two boys at home who still regard Jell-O as a finger food.

After the seminar, I stand in a line that twines in and out like the part in a first-grader's hair. I rehearse my lines, a short speech designed to reveal not only my delightful Southern hospitality, but also my uncanny insight into the human condition. I have decided on "Thank you for coming," practicing it over and over until I sound like the voice on an English-language instructional tape.

I finally arrive at the duchess's table, force a tremulous smile, and mumble something that sounds like, "Ham cues are humming." She pats my hand in that knowing royal way and smiles directly into my eyes.

Later that evening at the Taco Hut, I take a big bite of burrito and look around the table at my family. Jeffrey studiously picks the onions off a bite of chicken with his finger. Ryan mops up the last of the cheese dip with his thumb. Every day is special. Even if you have to go to the Taco Hut to make it so.

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