It was Monday, July 6, 1959. I had graduated from college only four weeks earlier and in the weeks since then, every day had brought a new experience. I had been a bridesmaid in a friendâ€™s wedding in central Illinois. I had moved to the Chicago area and begun a job as a technical librarian in the Research Division for the company now known as Corn Products International. And I was temporarily living in one room in a western suburb. Even more important, I was getting married in ten weeks and was swamped with things to do related to the wedding and setting up housekeeping.
After coming home from work, I raced to catch a commuter train to downtown Chicago where I connected with my fiancÃ©e, who was from Chicago and was working as an engineer in an office in downtown Chicago. We planned to browse at the well-known, eight-story John M. Smyth store on Michigan Avenue. Since we didnâ€™t have an apartment yet, we intended only to look and not to buy.
While we looked at the furniture on the second floor, we heard a commotion coming from the windows, which faced Michigan Avenue and were open. We walked over to the windows and peered out. There waving to cheering bystanders as their car slowly passed were Queen Elizabeth, the Head of State in the United Kingdom, and her husband, Prince Philip.(1) They were in Chicago to celebrate the opening of the St. Lawrence Seaway and had traveled to the city on the royal yacht Britannia. The Seaway was of economic advantage to Chicago, which had Lake Michigan as its east boundary, because it provided access for transoceanic ships carrying goods to and from Chicago via the Great Lakes. Although I doubt the royals could see us, we waved back.
Even though my fiancÃ©e and I hadnâ€™t planned on buying anything, we made our first home purchase that day. We couldnâ€™t resist a bargain and bought a sturdy Pennsylvania Dutch chair for $11.
The chair wasnâ€™t especially comfortable, but it outlasted our marriage. With the exception of family photos, school textbooks, and documents such as school diplomas, itâ€™s the oldest item I own. The chair currently sits in my bedroom where I use it when I do sitting-down stretches during my daily morning exercise routine. Itâ€™s also a handy spot to place blankets and pillows while I make the bed.
The Pennsylvania Dutch chair bought at the John M. Smyth store on July 6, 1959 as Queen Elizabethâ€™s retinue proceeded north on Michigan Avenue in Chicago. I recovered the seat myself many times through the years and had the chair professionally refinished in 2005.
In my 70+ years of life, Iâ€™ve only seen one other person who was a head of state and that also was unintended. On May 4, 1968, I saw George Romney, the governor of Michigan, while watching the Blossom Parade in Southwestern Michigan. I had two children, ages 6 and 4, and our family was visiting my parents who lived in the area.
Romney, who was running for the Republican Party 1968 nomination for presidential candidate, was smiling broadly, nodding his head, waving, shaking hands, and grasping elbows as he walked the parade route. He also shook hands with some of the children who came near to get a piece of hard candy that some in his retinue were throwing to the audience. Iâ€™ve never been a pushy parent, but thinking my children might get to shake the hand of a future president, I encouraged them to go for some candy. They went and came back happy with their candy, but since Romney didn't become president, I don't remember if they shook his hand.
Famous people donâ€™t especially attract me, and Iâ€™ve never made an effort to see them. Nevertheless, because Queen Elizabeth and George Romney were famous, my unexpected encounters with them found a place in my memory.
Queen Elizabeth will be 85 on April 21, 2011. She â€œbecame Queen at the age of 25, and has reigned through more than five decades of enormous social change and development.â€ (2)
George Romney withdrew from the presidential contest, but went on to serve as Richard Nixonâ€™s Secretary of Housing and Development. He is the father of Mitt Romney, the former Massachusetts governor and prospective 2012 presidential candidate. George Romney died July 26, 1995.