5 She waved at me

“You can’t put your weight on it like that. It’s only made for holding your bike up.”

“But I want to sit on it.”

“Put it over on the grass dummy. You’re gonna break your kick-stand. Go on.”

“But I don’t want to stand here for hours.”

“It’s not hours. They’re driving straight down here in about eleven minutes. And if you don’t put your bike over there, people are going to stand in front of you. You’re little -- you can go sit on the curb.”

“But then I won’t see her.” What I meant was that she would never see me.

It seemed to happen all in that Sunday morning. I woke up and came downstairs to the kitchen. The windows were open and the doors to the back porch were propped back with chairs “to get some air moving through here”. We had arrived back after dark on Saturday night and yesterday morning’s newspaper was still on the back porch. The screen door was shut and I had to struggle with it and I was still in my pajamas, so I allowed only one foot to touch the painted floor of the porch as I grabbed the newspaper roll. I liked to read the big print and look at the front-page picture before my Dad got down to breakfast and took the front section, leaving me with a choice between business and sports. I pulled the tuck apart and flattened it out on the kitchen table.

Any thought of cornflakes and sugary milk disappeared immediately when I saw the picture of Queen Elizabeth. She was holding a bunch of flowers and waving.

“TORONTO EAGERLY AWAITS

ROYAL MOTORCADE”

I examined the next line letter by letter. “Sat. June 28, Toronto -- Thousands of eager Torontonians will line the motorcade route tomorrow afternoon as Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth and Prince Phillip make their way from Sunnybrook Hospital to City Hall. (See route map, page 2.)”

See route map! Where? I couldn’t separate the soft newsprint pages quickly enough, but there it was, a map. I bent over it looking for the cemetery, the surest nearby landmark on any map of Toronto. Immediately I realized that the heavy dotted line splitting the cemetery into east and west meant that the Queen of England would be passing less than a hundred yards from our back porch that same Sunday afternoon. I headed for the stairs and my parent’s bedroom letting the front page sheets fall across the hallway. I went straight in, noticing that they had lost their pajama tops under the sheet, but this was more important. I assumed the upright stance of an orator near the foot of their bed and read the headline.

“Well is that all true?” It was my Dad’s standard question whenever I read anything aloud from the newspaper. By his tone, I guessed that it was “newspaper talk”. He turned to look at my mother, who had pulled up the sheet. “How eager are you?”

My mother laughed and said in an English accent, “Terribly excited ... dahling.”

“Are you eager to see the Queen?” he asked me.

“She’s in a motorcade and it goes right down Mount Pleasant.”

“But that’s not what I asked. The paper says you’re eager. And you await her.”

“Well ... she’s pretty,” I said. It seemed a safe answer.

“She’s got horse’s teeth and she wears dowdy old lady’s clothes,” my Dad said.

“That’s not her fault. She’s the best looking of the lot,” my mother said.

“I like Sudbury girls.”

They seemed not to be taking the news seriously.

“Can I go?”

“Sure yes, but it’s not ‘til this afternoon is it? Let me see the paper.” As she spread it out in front of her she had some difficulty with the sheets and my Dad tugged them up to make sure that nothing caught my eight-year-old interest. “We’ll go later; it’s not going to happen until three. Finish your breakfast and brush your teeth.”

Before I returned to cornflakes, I sneaked past my sleeping brother and looked out the back bedroom window hoping for some indication that what I had read in the newspaper was real. Only four houses away, five if you counted the other side of Heath Street, at the corner of Mount Pleasant Road, right at the streetcar stop, a group of ladies were sitting on the sidewalk in kitchen chairs. I returned to the bedroom door, now closed. “Dad!” I yelled, “Mrs. Worthington and some other ladies are sitting in chairs on the sidewalk.”

“She’s an eager Torontonian too.” He called. “I can’t for the life of me understand why even some poor, dumbstruck monarchist like Mrs. Morely Worthington,” the volume dropped, “would sit in the hot sun for five hours so that she could watch a horse-toothed grand-daughter of a German princess going roaring ....” I listened through the door but nothing else followed.

Waiting for quarter to three took about a week. Even my Dad’s long lecture about who the Queen of England really was − there were a lot more countries and some generals − went by in a flash and left me gazing at the electric clock over the fridge, willing the minute hand forward. Each time I looked out toward Mount Pleasant Road there were more neighbors on more kitchen chairs. Soon there was an unbroken line of people standing, completely blocking my view of the meager traffic. The Queen could have gone by on a bus and I would never have seen it happen. “Can I go now?”

“It’s only two o’clock. You’ll fry by the time she shows up.”

“Mrs. Turnbull?” It was Noel calling to my mother through the screen door on the back porch. He was older than I by several years. “Can I take the boys up to the corner to see Queen Elizabeth?” Even I knew that this would have been his mother, Mrs. Cooper’s idea. Noel was on his way for the priesthood, but he wasn’t a sissy. My mother nodded to my glance and I rushed out.

“I’m taking my bike.”

“It’s just up to the corner.”

“I need my bike.”

“Wait for your brother.”

“I’m getting my bike,” I yelled at my mother.

“You’re only going to the corner.” But I was hoisting the garage door and backing my blue CCM past the Rambler. I got it turned around as Noel and Donald came down the porch steps. My brother was just tagging along, I thought. He doesn’t know anything about the Queen and she’s not even going to notice him.

By now the eager Torontonians were three deep. We “scuse me’d” our way to the front rank and shuffled in between the kitchen chairs; I snapped my kickstand open and climbed onto the saddle. I concentrated on the street. This was where it was going to happen.

The streetcar tracks with their cobbled roadbed glimmered in the sun. I followed them yard by yard northward, past Moore Avenue, past the cemetery drive ways and all the way the arched railway bridge that defined our horizon. The heat shimmers wiggled the cemetery maples. There were no cars at all. Two blocks south, a group of policemen stood in the middle of the intersection. Across the street I picked out Geraldine Taylor and waved. But her eyes were fixed on the northern horizon. Next to her was a family with three brothers and a sister whom I hadn’t seen since the skating rink. The boys were dressed in blue blazers and ties with diagonal stripes. The sister was in a white Sunday school dress. As if reading my thoughts, Mrs. McKeon, sitting next to me asked, “Did you enjoy church this morning?” I smiled falsely. “And how was Sunday school?” I nodded, “Fine,” and pretended that my attention was suddenly needed elsewhere.

Mr. Gillespie, in low and deliberate voice said, “There they are.” It wasn’t the Queen or her motorcade, but five police motorcycles that had popped up over the arch of the bridge half a mile north and were already passing the cemetery driveways. Then we heard them and they flashed by, blinking their red lights and slowing to a stop two blocks south at St. Clair. “All Harleys,” said Noel. The other policemen disbursed at a run, two of them trotting all the way back to our corner and taking up facing positions on either side of Mount Pleasant. People who had arranged themselves right in the middle of Heath Street knowing that there would be no traffic at all that day shifted into new positions to maintain their view.

Then nothing happened. And more nothing. People chattered, but it made no impression on me. Noel warned me about breaking my kickstand but I was not there, not in the crowd. I was waiting for Queen Elizabeth the Second.

People patted their foreheads. Then an “Oh” swept down the street. A police car with a chrome siren on the roof drove right down the middle of Mount Pleasant, its white-walled tires straddling the middle rails of the streetcar tracks. There were six men inside. “Ford Meteor ‘56,” I said to Noel.

“’58.Last year’s. Look at the taillights.”

They were gone. I placed my right hand on Noel’s shoulder and my left hand on the handle bars, I pulled my runners up under me and set them on the cross bar. And stood up. I was taller than Mr. Gillespie’s summer hat, almost as high as the No Parking sign. Noel shifted and looked up at me. “Stand still,” I said, and turned northward. The sun flashed off something chrome and a black car rose gently over the arch of the bridge. It paused a moment when the sky showed through between its wheels then floated downward and aimed itself toward me. It was a Lincoln Continental, convertible and black with a bat’s ears grille. It was already closing in on Moore Avenue and would pass in seconds. Two men in police hats were in the front and as the angle opened up, a Queen in a white hat, her pale left hand in the air, appeared behind them. The Continental didn’t slow at all, but rolled over the streetcar cobbles with a rubbery rumble. She was almost beside me and looking left toward the Sunday Best family. Around my bicycle, people were out of their chairs, but none stood taller than I. And then she turned her gaze to my corner and our hands waved to each other and she passed, now just a white hat and shoulders beside a man in a suit in the back seat of a black car. The brake lights flashed as it approached St. Clair then sunk below the hill on the way to City Hall.

Mr. Gillespie said to me, “You’ll remember this until your dying day.”

Mrs. Gillespie picked up her chair and turned, looking up at me. I noticed the wrinkles around her red lips, her watery eyes under the brim of her summer hat and the pearls that hung down over her white blouse. “Well Mr. Man,” she said to me, “I think the Queen waved at you know who.”