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By Shane Gilreath
Today, in Copenhagen, the longest reigning monarch in Europe, Margrethe II, abdicated her throne in favor of her eldest son, and, thus, the clock struck on a moment in history. I, too, am stricken by such moments. In my days of yore, one of my most memorable tourism encounters was a Dutch gentleman, giddy with excitement, whom I happened to meet on the day when The Netherlands, too, got a new king. In my life, there seems to have been so few monarchs. There are so few remaining. It’s an odd sentiment to watch the changing of the guards. As Queen Margrethe rode through the street’s of her capital, via horse drawn carriage, the scene was set by a traditional Northern European snow. That we are in the midst of such a winter warning in my hometown, it made the world – indeed, as it is – feel quite small, and served as a reminder that the United States is still a young country, and one that has yet to find a way to best preserve its own culture and story. Undoubtedly, I like continuity and tradition. You’re unlikely ever to find me chucking it in favor of modernity, shiny and off-putting. In that regard, I was good at working in historic preservation, as I believe wholeheartedly in it: old buildings, old customs, old stories. It’s something that I hope – with every sincerity – that I have passed along to the girls, even if it’s something they don’t quite realize just yet. A part of that hope is to hold tight to the customs for which the South is famed. I was given some indication that, perhaps it was working, when Jenna, the eldest, was in elementary.
Always precocious and inquisitive, I picked her up from kindergarten to find she had blossomed into Emily Post, both inquisitive and demonstrative. Specifically, about how boys should treat girls. Some of this she had long known, despite her delicate years, and we’d talk about it as I held her into the mirror. “You can do anything,” I’d tell her. Perhaps, anything but be implausibly rude, but at 5 years old, she’d have none of that. Knee high to a grasshopper, she had introduced herself to everyone she met along Concord Street and Charleston Harbor in South Carolina. Her hospitality moved us at a snail’s pace, but she was happy to do it, smiling and nodding and extending her hand to anyone who might take it. Even at a tender age, she’d heard it all before: “boys should open doors for girls. Car doors and house doors and store doors. Boys should stand up for ladies, when she sits at a table and when she gets up. Boys should be the last one to sit at a table and the last one to get in a car.” The drill was evident and, just as I was taught, we tried to live it at home.
She took in my words, as ones she had heard before, and thought about it for a minute. She was bursting with a tale, and was seasoning up the moment for the climatic reveal.
“Christopher went in front of me at lunch! “ she said, a seething indignation so full that even, now, all these years later, I change his name to protect the guilty.
“Cousin Christpher?” I asked.
“Yes,” she said. It was an “ah hah” moment for me. So, this is what inspired her line of questioning. I was glad, after all, that she had been paying attention to all the boys-meets-girl lessons over the years.
“What did you say?” I asked, expecting a nice, courteous ‘excuse me.’
“I said to him, YOU are NO gentleman!” she responded, with dramaticenough flair to make even Maria Callas jealous. I could only laugh. Later, when she re-told the story of the day’s adventure to mother, she added the last part. Christopher, according to the re-telling, responded back: you are no lady! At 5-years old, she was UTTERLY and COMPLETELY offended that anyone, especially that no gentleman Christopher should dare question her being a lady. We’re a few years down the road, but I anticipate she’s in good stead should she ever encounter Denmark’s new monarchs: she can curtsy to Frederik X and Queen Mary and deliver her sirs and ma’ams, so long as they hold up their end of the courtly bargain. If not, we’ll have to agree with Shakespeare that there’s something rotten in Denmark!
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February 20, 2024 | No Comments »