King Charles III and my 1958 manhood ritual

America may be a democracy, but it has royalty, too, fake royalty: the Queen of Daytime Television, the King of Pop, Prince and The Artist Formerly Known as Prince, and The Duke, both the cowboy duke and the jazz duke.

It has fake dynasties, too: The Kennedys, of course ; but John Quincy Adams in 1824 and George W. Bush in 2000 were elected presidents as sons of a former president with the same name: John Adams and George HW Bush. That’s pretty close to a dynasty, except that votes, not royal blood, did the anointing.

One American president even has a son (and heir) named Barron, which sounds like a royal title even if it’s got too many “r”s.

America’s relationship with royalty is a touchy matter as the Revolutionary War and the Declaration of Independence make abundantly clear. Consider the intersection of democracy and royalty in the 1980s TV show “Dallas,” which kept worldwide viewers spellbound for eight months with the question “Who shot JR”

The Nov. 21, 1980, episode of “Dallas” solving the “who shot” mystery had 83 million American viewers tuning in, making it one of the most watched TV programs of all time.

Cruel irony: It was broadcast the night before the 17th anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, an assassination which prompts people to continue to ask, even in 2022, a hauntingly similar question about the city of Dallas: Who shot JFK?

Here’s the American connection to royalty with “Dallas” and it is a connection pregnant with 1776 monarchy relationship history.

When Larry Hagman, the actor playing JR Ewing on “Dallas,” was introduced to the 80-year-old queen-mother in Britain earlier in November 1980, even the queen-mother asked him “Who shot JR?” He replied politely “ I’m sorry. I can’t tell you ma’am.”

Luckily, no second revolution ensued from this polite American rebuff of British royalty. The queen-mother would have to wait like every other ordinary citizen. Television had become a democratizing instrument more powerful than Yankee muskets.

When I was a kid in the 1950s, royalty didn’t seem that distant to me. It wasn’t a fairy tale. It had reality to it. Not only the golden carriage and the jeweled crown of Queen Elizabeth’s coronation on black and white TV of 1953, but the granite and glass towers of Edgerton, a 48-room Tudor mansion owned by Frederick Foster Brewster on 20 acres of land diagonally across from the Whitney Dam between Prospect Street and Whitney Avenue on the border of Hamden and New Haven.

It was a real-life castle.

It was surrounded by a 9-foot granite wall with a gatehouse that blocked anyone from looking in. But it could be seen from the top of East Rock on the Whitney Avenue side. It had a seven-car garage with a (rumored) chauffeur -driven limousine for every day of the week, each painted in a special “Brewster green.”

One Rolls Royce limo had an electric step, which deployed so that Mrs. Brewster’s shoe would not have to touch the gutter. She visited Hamden once and my mother described the vehicle, chauffeur and electric step to me.

In short, it was easy to believe there were real castles in the world. After all, I had seen Edgerton with my own 7-year-old eye, hadn’t I ?

Twelve years later, Edgerton was torn down when Mr. Brewster died and no one could afford to maintain it even though he had willed it to New Haven as a park. But for most of my childhood it stood as a castle in my town and in my imagination.

By the time I was 13, between watching the Queen’s coronation on TV and fantasizing about Edgerton as a castle from visits to East Rock, I was behaving a bit like a prince myself, thinking I deserved to be taken care of and treated as “special .” My parents began referring to me as “his nibs,” for a guy who is too big for his britches.

My father put an exclamation point after that “his nibs” title by taking me to the hardware store in 1958 and buying me the first rotary mower in the neighborhood. It cost $88 and had to be pushed by hand. It was so primitive it didn’t ‘t have a retractable pull cord. It simply had a rope with a knot on one end and a wooden handle on the other to start the engine, like motorboats of the time.

He told me to go out and get lawns to mow at $1.50 to $3 a lawn and pay him back. I hated that work.

I used to think of Queen Elizabeth’s son, who was four years younger than me. I’d grumble under my breath: “I’ll bet that kid will never push a lawnmower in his life.” And I was probably right.

But 65 years later I realize my father was creating a manhood ritual for me. A kind of capitalistic bar mitzvah. He was forcing me to earn money, keep appointments and interact with others as a polite, reliable employee.

In 2022, I can wish Prince Charles well as King Charles III at age 73. I still push my own lawnmower at age 77 up here on my Vermont hillside. I’d recommend it to His Majesty some time. It’s a great equalizer.

Paul Keane is a retired Vermont English teacher who grew up in New Haven and Hamden.

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