This may come as a huge shock, but as a gay man I’ve always loved royalty. I stayed up the entire night when I learned of Princess Diana’s death. The next morning I drove and put a bouquet of roses at the gates of the British Embassy. My boyfriend at the time was aghast. Maybe that was a little too gay for him. Later, I found out a guy I had crush on in college who is straight had done the same thing.
Look, for a kid who spent a lot of time alone, I had plenty of dreams, usually acted out in a semi-conscious state when I was doing chores. Some of the best praise I ever received from my parents was for successful weeding ventures where I spent hours imagining myself on far-away tennis courts or in castles. I loved thoughts of being high in the mountains, traversing towers, gliding through the inner and outer wards. I sometimes wanted to be a prince or a servant helping the castle run. It seemed like great fun.
Later, when I lived in Austria and worked for an embassy, I attended a few events that were held in castles. I met a few earls, barons, even a duke once. Guess what? I was not speechless! Nobility, many of whom are nowadays technically former nobility, often do their own weeding. If they live in grand homes, they have to find ways to maintain them, usually at a steep price. To my great surprise, a few folks with titles who became friends had to prove themselves in jobs to pay the rent, just like commoner me!
I come from a family of Bavarian farmers who settled in remote mountain country in Pennsylvania that is an astonishing match for the rolling hills their forefathers knew so well in Upper Franconia (Oberfranken). My grandfather had 15 siblings. His eldest daughter, my mother, has 5. In my beloved grandfather’s last years I promised him I would keep the German language going in my family. He smiled. I’ve kept my promise. He and my grandmother were my heroes. So are their kids and the kids of my aunts and uncles.
This past weekend I missed the Herzing family reunion. Hawaii is a bit far away, and I’m lobbying hard for the next reunion to be held in Honolulu. I don’t think it will happen. It will be held close to where my mother grew up, in a hamlet you found after miles of dirt roads, on a mountain that was heaven for me as a kid.
Once I started dreaming about the world beyond Swissmont, I was like a sponge in learning about trivia related to tennis and royalty. I was a huge fan of Her Serene Highness Princess Gina of Liechtenstein. I did not know her, but I read everything I could about her family and her work, imagined her life in her castle in Vaduz, Liechtenstein. To me, she bore a striking resemblance to my own mother whom I guess you could call a princess of Swissmont. My Mutti commands respect. She was the first person — man or woman — from her vast family who went to college. She taught for decades. I even had her as a teacher when I was in school. To my mind, she has a regal bearing: perfect posture and grammar, a life of discipline but also kindness. I’m glad she has been part of the life of her granddaughter, Ellen, who will always be my princess. I hope some day she will make it to Hawaii, a former kingdom, and see the glorious mountains from our lanai.