"Leaving in five. Sorry. Lost my crown," I texted my friend Denise a few weeks ago. I was running late for the latest sashing.
I recently got sashed myself—right before the Mint Julep Queens (which I'm now a member of) marched in a local Mardi Gras parade. My sponsor draped a green and white satin sash across my sparkly dress while I smiled for the camera. Then we queens walked for miles through the center of town, dressed in full regalia—long green gowns, sashes, tiaras and rhinestones. We waved and darted back and forth to the sidelines, draping parade-goers in multicolored throw beads. Finally, I felt back in my element.
The first time I saw a real queen was probably on the 1960s' network game show my mother watched called "Queen for a Day." Each week, housewives competed for the title with heartfelt confessions of financial and emotional hardship. Female audience members voted with applause, and the winner received her dream prize—perhaps a long-awaited honeymoon or the latest appliance—and was crowned and cloaked in a red velvet robe.
As a young girl, I harbored the dream of wearing a real-life crown, too. Out in our garage, I waddled along in my mother's high heels and fox stole, and wore a plastic dime-store tiara to boot. When I was in high school, I vied for the titles of prom, homecoming and county fair queen, as well as Junior Miss. And lost them all.
At 17, though, I was finally crowned Buddy Poppy Queen by the local VFW. I won the state contest, too, and felt proud to represent disabled veterans who made these plastic "Buddy Poppy" flowers to finance the costs of their rehabilitation and other veteran programs.
I was also indescribably giddy by the opportunity to get all dressed up in a crown, sash and long red gown, and ride in convertibles alongside good-looking military men in starched uniforms. It never occurred to me that I needed to explain or apologize for having so much fun or that being regal somehow diminished me as a liberated woman.
That didn't happen until I graduated from law school and moved to New York City to begin my career.
"I married the Buddy Poppy Queen," my then husband said, introducing me during cocktail hour at conferences where we hobnobbed with Ivy League lawyers. I was mortified by the revelation of my small-town origins.
"Cut it out," I whispered, shushing him, before turning back to change the subject and wow my colleagues with my brains.
"Where's your sense of humor?" my husband asked, after we walked away.
Problems in our marriage aside, I was unsure of myself back then and didn't know if I could compete in the male-dominated professional world of New York City. I wanted to be taken seriously.
I wouldn't have been caught dead in a crown unless I was attending a Halloween party or playing dress up with my children. Which is not to say that I didn't think about being queen for a day. I packed the playroom closet with fancy dresses, jewelry, high heels and fake crowns. I bought the game "Pretty Pretty Princess" and while I often tried to lose so that my children could win, I occasionally allowed myself to win, enjoying the denouement when the winner wears the crown.
Eventually, I stopped practicing law. The kids grew up and I got divorced. I moved to Georgia and soon after, saw a group of grown women marching in the local Christmas parade, all decked out in glitter and green, lit up like Christmas trees with lights pinned to their gowns, laughing and waving to the crowd.
"Want to join us?" two Mint Julep Queens asked.
As a matter of fact, I did. I ran over, smiled and leaned in for a photograph. About a year later, I became a queen myself.
Black, white, heavyset, skinny, young, blond, brunette: We range in age from 30 to 70-something. When asked who we are and what we do, Queen Erica, one of our founders, will say, "We don't do anything. We are." That means we just have fun, flounce about town, and spread joy wherever we go. We eat, drink, dance, pose for pictures and march in parades, celebrating the enthusiasm for playing dress up that we thankfully never outgrew.
I tore up my apartment last month searching for the new crown I'd worn to my coronation, but couldn't find it. So the day of the sashing, I opened the box where I store my Buddy Poppy Queen tiaras and placed the larger of the two on my head. I thought of the scene from "White Christmas," when retired General Waverly discovers all his suits are at the dry cleaners except his old army uniform. Secretly, his housekeeper conspired for him to wear it to the surprise reunion of the troops he once commanded, hoping it will remind him of the man he once was and still is. And, of course, it does.
That same feeling overtook me the first time I wore a crown on my head in public more than 30 years since my initial coronation. Now I wear the crown without a tinge of embarrassment, knowing deep down I'm still the girl I always was.