On one of my recent trips, I called back home to check in with my bride of 30 years. She was at home dealing with the 100’s of details involved in putting a home back together after having a neighbor’s tree fall through (yes, through, not on) our house during a big storm just before Christmas.
It was clear within the first few moments that she was having an unusually challenging time. Her usual cheery, “let it happen as it happens” spirit was missing. I heard sadness, frustration, tiredness and stress in her voice. She said, “I need you to get home,” and thankfully I would be home the next evening.
When I hung up a childhood memory came rushing back. Memories of sitting in the living room watching a dose on our little black and white TV of a show, hosted by Jack Bailey, called “Queen For a Day; The Cinderella Show”. One could argue it was one of the first reality shows as well as one of the first audience participation shows (the audience ultimately voted on which of the five ladies who were highlighted on the show, would be crowned the queen for that day).
The preselected “contestants” each had a few minutes to be interviewed by Jack and asked to tell their always profoundly sad stories along with sharing one thing that they would ask for that might help their plight. The stories spoke of situations of the very real trials and tribulations of people down on their luck. Poor people. Struggling people. Folks overwhelmed by life’s circumstances, much like, it seemed to me, my family.
The contestants ranged from the hard working mother who if elected queen, wanted lumber to build beds for her children to sleep on; a mom who wanted a hospital gurney so her 15 year old son who was stricken with polio two years prior could be moved from his walled in back porch cement floor, unheated bedroom to the front porch of their house so he could see the outside world; a wife whose husband had died tragically and wanted to be able to go to beautician’s school so she could support her family.
As they told their stories, they always cried (and so did I), the audience was touched deeply and the host would often have to literally hold them up to keep them from physically collapsing. They all looked tired and beaten down and on their last legs.
Some of my tears were for the women on the show, and I would imagine that a fair number of them were for my own mom, who could have very well been one of the contestants. In fact, I secretly wished she could be. Why? Because my mom suffered from profound, lasting and deep depression (I didn’t know that word back then, I just knew she seemed perpetually sad). Her young life had been full of tragedy and loss. Living hand to mouth, lost babies, chronically sick babies, losing her mom, and physical challenges had all beaten her down pretty far.
As I remember, she seldom smiled and by that time (due to the kinds of treatment used in those days to “help” those depressed), had an all too familiar “thousand mile stare,” as if she was seeing a world that no one else could understand or could ever enter. Mom would watch the show with us and would weep. I knew, somehow it was to some degree for herself.
After each of the women told their stories, the host would go behind each woman who was sitting facing the audience, hold his hand up above her head, summarize the story, remind the audience of what the woman was asking for and ask the audience to applaud if they thought she should receive the crown. Though the TV audience could see the “applause meter” move, the contestants could not. I was sure that if an audience would be able to hear my mom’s story, she would win. And winning meant she would be happy for one day at least. The winners always were.
There were first tears of joy, shock and surprise as the host’s assistant (think Vanna White) came up from behind and placed the crown on their heads, she would stand, be given a bouquet of roses, and a royal robe and walk up and down the runway being celebrated all the while like a queen might be.
And then it all REALLY began. Not only did she get what they had asked for, but they got (on an average day) all of the following; limousine (they called it the queen’s golden chariot) services for a day, movie and play tickets, a freezer, a stove, a hot water heater, an ironer, new china, a dryer, a washer, a refrigerator, a dinette set, a new wardrobe, professional hair and makeup services, lunch with movie stars, a hotel room with heated pools, private dancing and dinner at the most exclusive restaurants.
AND there was always a special treat for the kids, like a trip to Disneyland or Knotts Berry farm, so I am guessing my motives were not entirely altruistic. I’m also guessing my brother and sister, and even my dad would wish for a day like that for my mom. Because if she were happy our days would feel better also.
I secretly wished I knew who to write to, to let them know about my mom. I felt a great sadness that I couldn't give her just one day like that, while also guiltily knowing that my very existence, in a direct and profound way due to my hemophilia and all that brought to my family, was one of the things that made her life hard. To be able to give her just one day where she could feel recognized, appreciated and loved up. I pictured myself being so proud of her walking down that runway.
Maybe that was the start of my characteristic of being able to feel great compassion for those who are struggling. I have a hunch that it helped shape my professional life. It also fueled my belief as a little kid that “stuff” can make otherwise sad and hurting people happy. It took me a LONG time to unlearn that.
After that rush of images, smells and sounds of the old days my memories gifted me with, I was left with the realization that there was, today, in my life a wife. My wife, who is also a mom. A wife who, on this day, wasn’t smiling, maybe a little depressed, lonely, embattled and frustrated. A tree fell through our house, remember? She's managing the repairs while I'm away having fun. Maybe I can surprise her. Help her feel special and appreciated when I get home tomorrow. Maybe I can make her feel like my queen for a day. (That’s how they always closed each show, “It is our wish that we could make every woman “Queen for a Day”).
I was reminded that I have an opportunity to do now, for one woman, what I so wished I could have done for my mother. When we met at the airport the next evening, I gave her a bouquet of roses, couldn’t find a crown… she beamed… She didn’t know it but I had just crowned her MY Queen for a Day. Hopefully I do so everyday, she deserves the title. Now, if I can just find a pumpkin that I can convert into a golden chariot……
Do you have a queen as deserving? Go ahead and make her day…..