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Million Roses For A Queen

A journey of 3000 miles begins with a flight delay as someone probably once said, along with the Death of Her Majesty, as Agatha Christie probably once wrote.

There are worse place to be marooned for a few hours than a big airport full of bars, restaurants and TV sports, even if a pint of beer costs six times more than a gallon of gasoline, the food has cheese sauce over it and the only games on TV are soccer.

Been in London near a week, our trip shadowed by the loss of Queen Mum. 

And a loss it is; unanimous from every angle.

We walked a few blocks to Buckingham Palace the second night in town and a strolling crowd swept us to a grassy garden where wife Trophy told me lots of cards and flowers had been left for the Queen. So we’re walking a quarter mile to see a bunch of cards and flowers? Well, okay.

We came to the area I thought a lot of flowers would be strewn about, but I was wrong because I was completely unprepared for a knee-deep swath of roses, pictures, posies, petunias, poems, wreaths, Paddington Bears, letters, cards, mementos and bouquets of every kind.

I came, I saw, I shook my head in disbelief. Countless flowery tributes were spread out stretching a hundred feet in every direction and another 30 feet wide. (NOTE : In England the measuring is done in meters, liters, cubits and kilometers; excuse me an inch would you?)

Marvel I did. A thousand flowery aromas mingled to a single gardenia-like fragrance of the corsage your girlfriend wore to the senior prom: Heaven scent.

I bent and read notes penciled by semi-literate grade schoolers with sweetly misspelled greetings and words, often accompanied by stick-figure drawings, always of a woman wearing a triangle for a dress and a hat of stars and ribbons two feet high. And a small dog. And sometimes the kid inserted herself into the drawing to make it more personal, and it always fit just right.

Moderately overwhelmed by this outpouring of love tinged with grief, I walked a bit further and spotted another spread of flowers. A big spread, twice the size of the one I’d departed, and straight across a narrow pathway was another.

And then, past a few trees, lay three or four more massive gatherings of flowers brought by mourners. And another and another, and many many others. I realized the mound I’d let (moderately) overwhelm me was perhaps one percent of the total.

Collected, the flowers, tributes and contributions might not cover Ukiah from city limits to city limits, but would surely over-fill the cemetery on Low Gap Road many times and layers over.

This outpouring of affection, made real by English citizens taking time to write personal cards expressing deep feelings for their beloved Monarch, often came attached to what could only have been expensive (or home-grown) bouquets. Such tributes are as genuine as we can reasonably imagine in the 21st century.

I could still be up there among seemingly endless rolling cushions of grassy gardens, covered deeply and completely with only narrow paths between, in vast memorials to the dear Queen Elizabeth II. There were family photos, black-and-white, snapped at parades 50 or 75 years ago that had been saved, some peeled from scrapbooks with yellowed cellophane tape still visible at the corners, and an explanation of how the picture came to be taken and saved. And how much the picture and memories had meant to today’s donor.

Then a card wishing Blessings, signed “The Jamesen Family, Dallas Texas.”

Paddington Bears were well represented in that perfectly natural bond between the fuzzy little fellow and his Queen. One water color painting tacked to a tree trunk showed the pair, paw in gloved hand, walking off to her next, and final, destination. I’m sure the ever-helpful stuffed bear brought her comfort.

Any attempt to estimate the number of flowers brought to honor the Queen would be fruitless. The amount of roses, whether counted or weighed or measured in pounds sterling (think dimes, quarters, pesos, rubles) spent in their purchase falls pointlessly short of the true measure of their value. And that’s just the roses.

We know that lots of little kids, assisted by parents, left behind stuffed Paddingtons, and pieces of their hearts, when they departed the garden. There were thousands of such gifts.

A chap named Oscar wrote “I allways loVe the Queen and I hOp your fine.” Next to the card was another message (“if you Wan this yOurs.”) A little red plastic truck was parked atop.

Then Trophy and I and hundreds of others went quietly off into the deepening English dusk, heading home following our near-spiritual experience.

A mile (think liters, meters, hectares and kilograms) or so later we settled into Albert’s Pub where we shared steak and ale pie, chips, cole slaw, and a fine pint of English Lager.

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