The death of Queen Elizabeth hit me hard. I cried. Not wild, crazy boo-hooing, just a steady feeling of loss. The queen’s death reminded me of my mother’s death ten years ago. Losing the Queen just took me back to my own grief.

Since I was young, I’ve kept up through the decades on happenings concerning the Queen and her family. Despite that awareness, I’m not flying a Union Jack, my Facebook feed isn’t a constant stream of shared royal drama, and I haven’t crocheted a small, wooly Queen as a topper for a post in front of my house. I’m my kind of English — a young child’s version, frozen in time — but only inside my house. Outside, I suppose I’m just a boring-looking bland person, who “isn’t from around here.”

As an American, though, why do I have any concern about the head of state of another country? Is this the same thrill of vicariously living life through beauty and fortune as (I think) happens with celebrities or with Diana Spencer? For me, I don’t think so because my first memories are of England. That’s where I lived as a young child, and not too far from the Queen and her family (along with so many other Londoners). 

The London suburb house that formed my concept of Home.

My dad was stationed with the post-World War II American forces in England, but me being a (most junior) member of an overseas military force wasn’t my experience of my life. For me, the place I lived imprinted itself on me as “home:” rain, birds singing, the smell of roses in our back garden, the shoosh of tires on wet pavement. 

In addition to rain, birds, and tires (or should I type “tyres?”), there was the Queen. Although, People Who Say They Know About These Things tell me I was too young to remember the rain, birds, and tires/tyres, that opinion doesn’t stop me from doing so. The perfume of roses takes me back, every time.

Even though I lived in London during the end of his reign, I remember nothing about King George VI (Queen Elizabeth’s father). The Queen was different. For me, she wasn’t a passing event, but rather a continuing reality. The iconography of the British monarchy — such as the Queen’s Guards in their red coats — helped to cement into my universe the permanence and prominence of The Queen & Fam. Until a couple weeks ago, no matter where, no matter when, Queen Elizabeth reigned.

Me with an English friend on an outing to Windsor Castle.

As a young child I was aware of queens. In the days before Elizabeth II’s coronation, I probably heard the word “queen” repeated on the radio. “Coronation” wouldn’t have stuck in my mind, but “queen” would because I knew about queens from my nursery rhymes. Queens made tarts, had pussycats frighten little mice under their chairs, and sat in parlors eating bread and honey. Queens of some sort were part of my everyday life, unlike, say, presidents, of whom I knew nothing.

Time passed leading up to the coronation and my parents rented a television set to watch the occasion along with millions of others. I was probably in the living room to witness the history, but I don’t think the pomp and ceremony would have held my interest. Our souvenir coronation book, though, that was a different story. That interest lasted forever — I still have the book — and I treated it like one of my favorite picture books. For years, that book told me about The Queen. 

Coronation souvenir book, with faded cover from where the long-gone dust jacket was torn.

Later, when I was in the U.S. as “an American,” you’d think I’d feel at home. Evolution, though, failed to include a setting in my head for “your imprinted home imprinted is a foreign country.” It was the U.S. that seemed foreign. My imprinting told me that home was the place with soft rain, and birds, and roses, and tires/tyres. Home was not a place with violent thunderstorms that turned the sky green while dropping hail that turned the green grass white, and of shocking wintry static electricity. 

First move that I remember very distinctly. The lavatory door — on heavy springs to keep the door shut in heavy seas — slammed on my thumb. I have a memory of what “sick bay” looks like.

Of course, I became used to the new home with its storms, hail, and bright blue skies. You just do. Later, I became used to an island home with pink beaches. By high school, the homes didn’t need to be adapted to as much — they were just going to change.

“Home” was kept in books — photo albums and storybooks — on PBS which I watched with my parents, and, of course, in the souvenir coronation book. Still, once we left “home,” I never again lived there. I always lived somewhere else, and, of course, some-when else.  Even though I carried with me my image of “home,” like everyone else, England moved on through the years. If I’d visited my old house, the England I found there wouldn’t have been the one I left. Still, the Queen went with me (via the news) no matter where I was, so I did keep up with her in real time.

There is a name for my experience of “being from” somewhere other than the home of your parents or your country: “third culture kids.” A lot of explanation is wrapped up in the description, not all of which matches what I feel, but never mind. My job for me isn’t to match someone else’s evaluation of my experience.

And so, all these years later, I find myself as an American in the U.S. mourning a woman whose subject I never was.  In my heart, though, she’s there, with the rain, the birds, the tyres, and the roses. Long remember the Queen.

Yesterday was the wedding of American Meghan Markle (of the TV show, Suits) and Prince Harry (of the long-running British monarchy). It was pret.ty spectacular. When it comes to pomp, circumstance, and knock your eye out splendor, nobody tops the British royal family.

I know the status of the royal family is sometimes a hot button topic — taxes (both what they pay, and what supports them), sketchy histories (colonialism), and all that subservience (did Meghan forget to curtsy? Horrors!). From a GDP perspective, though, the tourist economy in particular, consider England as a travel destination without the royal family. Would it be as much fun? Yes, the country has all those chocolate box villages, the venues of detective novels, and, of course, tea, but what would, say, London be without visiting the Crown Jewels in the Tower? Without peering through the gates of Buckingham Palace at that balcony? Without strolling along the Long Walk in Windsor Great Park?

May, 1999 My daughters and I in front of Buckingham Palace. My husband and I and the girls took a day trip via the Chunnel from Brussels to London. The girls were acting like loud tourists to embarrass me.

What would London be without all that? Maybe financial-Frankfurt-without-Americans-needing-a-translator?  Frankfurt’s nice enough (I used to live there, as well as near London), but all of Sachsenhausen doesn’t have quite the international cachet of even 221B Baker Street.

But back to yesterday’s wedding.

While I was watching the DVRed PBS coverage of the wedding, I kept feeling this odd sense of déjà vu. My first memories are of living near London, but most of those memories are of rain, of birds singing, and the sound of tires on wet pavement. Why did watching this wedding have a similar effect?

Curious about the feeling, I looked through old photos. Sure enough, there were the images. Windsor Castle. The originals are in a family photo album from 1950 from the time when we lived in North Harrow when my dad was assigned to the American Air Force facility at Bushy Park. Or maybe West Drayton? Or Ruislip? Or maybe each in turn?


The Round Tower at Windsor.


Windsor Castle, 1950


I was far too young to remember that visit, but a few years later our family went on another outing to Windsor, this time with family friends, my “Uncle” Andy and “Auntie” Hazel and their son. The outing must have been a happy one as I remember walking around the grounds of Windsor and posing with the guards.  I don’t recall any crowds, just the buildings, stone benches, and a green vista on an overcast day. My dad’s photo that survives from that day is a slide of us gathered together before we set off, so I have a gorgeous depiction of us in vibrant Kodachrome.

All of us ready for a visit to Windsor. Mom is the blonde. The others are my “Uncle” Andy, my “Auntie” Hazel, and their son. We’re outside their house and Dad took the picture.
I’m the one being held.


Thanks to my Air Force childhood, I enjoyed Harry and Meghan’s wedding more than I expected all because of my “I was there” déjà vu.