Once upon a time — well, just a few weeks ago — I was a princess.
That may sound hard to believe, but I have five tiaras and a pink
sash to prove it.
||The author as royalty
The first week of April, I assumed the throne as a National Cherry
Blossom Princess. I shared my title with about 60 others, each
representing a different state, U.S. territory or foreign country.
At 27, I was the oldest princess; most had yet to graduate from
college. Also unlike them, I actually come from royal cherry blossom
blood. I'm a distant first cousin of First Lady Helen Herron Taft,
who planted the initial cherry trees along the Tidal Basin in 1912 — today,
more than 3,600 of these trees line the waterfront.
Before coronation, the princesses needed to meet a few requirements:
We each had to buy skirt suits the color of Easter eggs, ball gowns
that looked bridal and heels that didn't cripple our feet. With
all the jeans and t-shirts in my wardrobe, I felt like Cinderella
on a shopping spree. We also attended a princess etiquette class,
where we learned the royal way to sit, stand and wave.
Our reign would last just one week, beginning with the lighting
of a 300-year-old stone lantern from Japan and ending with the
annual parade where we march with cadets carrying flags. Instead
of nametags, we wore sashes that displayed the names of the locations
we represented. These places became our nicknames — and those of
our associates. When Michigan saw an older woman with Guam, she
asked, "Are you Mrs. Guam?"
I was Illinois. Although I've never lived in the state, I was
more than qualified to wear its sash, according to the Illinois
State Society. My parents grew up outside of Chicago, I had passed
through O'Hare airport and I knew a popular member of the board.
Other princesses shared a similar history, including Sweden, whose
last name is Fernandez.
Like most royalty, we traveled in a motorcade escorted by police — the
same cops who shield President Bush on his rides through the city.
Most drivers didn't realize our royal status and cut us off after
the first set of sirens passed by. Others, though, waved or stopped
to have their pictures taken in front of our parked bus, which
carried a big sign reading "Cherry Blossom Princesses." We regretted
the day when we once again would have to sit in traffic.
Our daily schedules were packed, mine often flanked by hour-long
rides on the Metro. Around 7:30 each morning, we met at our Georgetown
palace (the Fairmont Hotel) for sash pick-up and wardrobe inspection.
An hour later, we were on our way to tour national landmarks like
the Kennedy Center, Ben's Chili Bowl, the State Department, the
FBI and the White House. We didn't spot the President or his wife,
but we did have the chance to pet their dog Miss Beazley.
We also made the rounds at schools, where we donated books and
read to children. At the Kendall Demonstration Elementary School,
which teaches students who are deaf or hard of hearing, we learned
to sign our names and ask "How are you?" To sign "queen," trace
the line of a sash across your chest.
|Here, Illinois has a photo opportunity
with the Ambassador of Japan.
Between our history lessons and community service, our carriage
took us around the world. We traveled to the embassies of Armenia,
Greece, Slovakia, Thailand, Sweden and Japan. Here, we tasted new
foods, spoke new languages and discovered new places to visit (Slovakia
is next on my list). Often, the international princess sponsored
by the embassy offered a rundown on her country.
In Japan, it's customary to give small gifts to new friends and
hosts. And because the Cherry Blossom Festival celebrates the rich
histories shared by the United States and Japan, we were lavished
with presents. The first day, we spent an hour opening gifts from
all the other princesses. They ranged from seashell necklaces to
The crowning event happened the night before the parade, when
we donned our white dresses and long satin gloves to attend the
grand ball. After enjoying sushi and sake, the princesses lined
up on a stage to find out who would be queen — and receive a gold
crown, pearls and an all-expense paid trip to Japan. Our chances
didn't depend on looks, smarts or attitude. It all came down to
the spin of a wheel marked with U.S. states or territories (international
princesses were ineligible).
I've never been very lucky.
By noon the next day, my life was back to pumpkins, so to speak.
I packed away my sash, took my suits to the cleaners and made the
last update on my web log, www.illinoisprincess.blogsource.com.
I may no longer be a princess, but I'll always remember my fairy
tale week happily ever after.