Looking back on 80 years of life is sobering. For some time now, I have been trying to organize my files, label things and throw out things no one cares about. In the process I have found amazing items I thought were lost forever. I have found things that hurt my heart to see or read about. Then there are the things that bring such joy and fulfillment that it is thick in the air around me. But it can be disturbing emotionally to delve so deep into my own life, even the parts better left buried. It tires me out. So it is something that is spaced out during the week, not even every day, but in increments of time when ever I feel strong or curious enough to do battle with those memories.
However, the treasure that has been uncovered makes up for the pain. The longing for lost things and the nostalgia of looking at photos of my children when they were young is mitigated by the discovery of loving letters from those now adult children. Reading their letters is heartrending and heartwarming. Shall I keep all this paper? Of course there is a box labeled “things to give the children”. But it is not very full. It just isn’t time yet to let go of my past life. Making the effort is useful, productive and instructive. It is basically fun. Now that there is some order to it all, it is clear that there is enough material to write some interesting memoir pieces about various times in my life.
One marvelous discovery is the itinerary of the trip my family took in 1953 to visit London for the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II. This document helps me fill in the blanks in my memory. After all, at 11 years old, my attention was on more youthful thoughts. No one would expect me to keep those details in my head all these years. Seeing that itinerary makes it all fact rather than just a memory. There is a lot to tell about besides the British part. After being in England for 9 days we continued to travel on through Europe for a total of nearly 3 months. Many of these stops were memorable and full of details that are interesting these days because of their historic value. No one travels in that way anymore and Europe was a very different place in 1953, just a few years after the war. Now I know exactly where we went and which hotels we stayed in and some of our scenic views and sites we visited. I have a few photos and may be able to find more. Writing about this may take some time. So much material to gather, and so many gaps in my memory to fill.
The best place to begin is at the beginning. Some documents came to light describing my fathers preparations for making this historic trip. In a folder with some old clippings I found one that describes how my father purchased tickets for seats to watch the royal parade a year in advance. He managed to arrange for us to cross the Atlantic on the HMS Queen Elizabeth on May 20th. The most sought after date for sailing to this major event, because it got us there in time, but not too far ahead of time. That trip on the ship deserves it’s own “chapter” which will come later. Because the Coronation of a new Queen was such a momentous occasion, thousands and thousands of people came from all over the globe to be there for it. Normally my parents stayed at Claridges Hotel when they were in London, but it was impossible to book enough rooms for our group. We stayed instead at the Park Lane Hotel. Along with all the other hotels it was draped in bunting and decorated with Initials of the Queen. The entire city of London was decorated and swept clean. The many bombed out buildings were camouflaged or boarded up, beautified in some way. The excitement in the city was palpable and electric enough that even children like my brother age 7, my sister age 9 and I noticed it. We felt that at any moment some knight in shining armor might burst out of a side street. And in fact there were many sightings of mounted soldiers dressed in their best finery. We went to see the changing of the guards and we walked in the parks and saw the sights with our parents and our nurse Renie. We also discovered the wonderful childrens mystery stories written by Enid Blighton. Our nurse read some to us every evening after dinner. (Remember, there was no television, at that time.)
I have a small red leather book embossed with gold. The Initials E R II are embossed on the front along with the words Coronation Notebook. Inside the booklet is a map of the route the coronation parade took on that day. It is so interesting to see the map now, when I have been to London so many times since that first time. I have a working knowledge of that part of the city of London because of having been there often. Age brings a perspective that simply does not exist when we are in the midst of things. Reliving this time in my life is a great adventure. Seeing both printed articles and finding letters, photographs and itinerary along with some record of purchases makes it vividly real.
My best friend at that time was a girl named Marcia McCardle and we rode horses together all the time, including most days after school. Her mother was Dorothy McCardle who wrote a column for the Washington Post newspaper. My parents were good friends with the McCardles and Dorothy asked me to write to her about my experience watching to parade with all the royals and the new Queen in her coronation coach. I said I would. Well, with all the excitement of the actual event and all the reading of mystery stories at night, I found it hard to get around to writing my account of things. My parents asked me every day if I had done it yet. Finally, tired of the pressure of their questions and wanting to get it over with, I wrote 4 pages of description in pencil (so I could erase if necessary) and we sent it off to Dorothy McCardle. She liked it and she published it. So my first published article was in the Washington Post when I was eleven years old. It was thrilling. Recently I came across an original clipping of that article. Even after all these years, it all comes back to me when reading the words that were written 69 years ago describing the events as I saw them. The rain, the crowds, the fascinating “people watching” while we waited to see the Queens golden coach, and the feeling of satisfaction at the climax of this day of watching.
It turned out that our seats which were less expensive and exclusive than those of our parents, were spectacular for actually looking into the vehicles of the parade. We were elevated about 4 rows up in wooden bleachers very near the road taken by the parade. There was a sidewalk in front of us but we were high enough to see over the heads of bystanders. We had a perfect view of those passing by in their carriages and on horseback. The Coronation coach which was extremely elaborate and pulled by pale grey horses, passed into our view slowly. We were at the perfect angel to see into the coach. The Queen was on our side waving with one hand and the other was holding hands with the Duke of Edinborough, her handsome husband, just like people in a fairy tale.
This is a memory I have kept intact all these years. What an experience! Thank you, Daddy!
Copyright©. 2022 Bonnie B. Matheson