I have not been invited to the Coronation. Not yet.
It must have been a mistake, a simple clerical overlook. You see, I have a connection to the Royals. The link is through a past generation, but it’s there. So, I’m sure that really cool envelope with that beautiful invitation letter is waiting for me somewhere. You’ve seen it, right? The invite? Royal crests and birds, flowers swirling, a stunning ask to be present at Westminster Abbey for the ceremony.
My great, great grandfather, John Damp was a coachman in Ryde, UK, the biggest city on the Isle of Wight, the location of the former Royal home of Queen Victoria, Osbourne House. It is said that he was in the service of the Queen, running the coaches and caring for horses in the stables at Osbourne. He met my great, great grandmother, Alice, in the kitchen of the Royal home. She was a cook. And the rest is history.
It’s fascinating for many of us to be “connected,” even in a small way to something grander, bigger, categorically historic, or culturally significant than our singular lives. It can be something simple—sharing the date of your birthday with Abraham Lincoln, catching the ball that Ernie Banks hit into the stands at Wrigley Field and then displaying it on a shelf in your basement, getting an autograph from Bruce Springsteen, a chance meeting with a sports icon like Michael Jordan at his restaurant, owning a first edition of Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own. Many of these “connections” are physical evidence of a moment in time, a souvenir of a memory. Or they are simple links to lineage, generations, even fate. It doesn’t define us, but it does reveal a bit of who we are.
My “link” to Royalty is fun to talk about. What I know for certain is minimal, but enough to tell a decent story. My great, great grandfather and grandmother had more than 20 single births while working for the Queen on the Isle of Wight. That’s not a typo. Twenty-six children in all. When they came to America at later stages in their lives, a wedding anniversary was held in a local park outside Pittsburgh. There were too many family members—grandchildren and the like—to hold it anywhere but outdoors. It was so big and unusual that the local papers covered it. I know my great, great grandfather was a bit of a disciplinarian, not usual for that era. And I know my great, great grandmother made an incredible potato soup because that recipe remains, handed down for generations.
I wonder if there is still some version of that soup in a recipe box somewhere at Buckingham Palace?
What matters to me is not this association with Royalty, necessarily, but the link to heritage and all of its connective tissue. Somewhere in me is that Royal coachman, that kitchen worker for the Queen. It may be a tiny nucleotide in the DNA, one red blood cell, one neuron in the brain, but it’s there and it has shaped me, I’m certain, even in some very small way. That linkage is what matters, and our connection to something bigger is simply a way to continually be given more context to our lives, something we can hold onto to help define us, to help us understand ourselves beyond ourselves.
This summer my wife and I will be on the Isle of Wight and plan to visit the Osbourne House, to stand on its vast lawns and think about John Damp brushing and feeding the horses, about Alice Damp stirring a pot of soup. I look forward to that simple moment.
No matter how you might feel about the Royals, the Monarchy, King Charles, British imperialism, or colonialism, it is hard to ignore what might be the UK’s, even Europe’s most significant ceremony in the last 75 years. And as for the Royals, it’s impossible to ignore their unique weirdness, hard not to be taken in by what Australian punk musician, Nick Cave called the “stupefyingly spectacular and awe-inspiring” nature of the Coronation. (Cave was invited to the Coronation, by the way, and he’s going, even though attending appears to the antithesis of his nature.) Cave says he’s not a royalist, but he says he could never say no to an invitation to an event that is both incredibly bizarre and magnificent at the same time.
Again, a connection to something bigger than the self.
Meantime, I’m heading out to the mailbox to see if my invitation has arrived yet. I’m okay with it being a little late.
Royal Photo: Roméo
Safe travels to this summer. Sounds like a wonderful trip! May you find many discovered connections and perhaps a misguided royal invitation.
Let us know if it shows up---and what you'll be wearing.