Helen Chappell - June 2009


The Book Discussion Group


Helen Chappell

   “So, we all read Tiara Princess: Memoirs of a Recovering Debutante this month. Anyone want to start the discussion? And pass the pitcher of cosmos over here, Grace.”
   “Yes, I learned something from this book that I didn’t know before. It’s bad etiquette to wear a tiara in a hotel,” Jeanne observed.
    Several people snickered.
   “Maybe Queen Elizabeth can wear her tiara in a hotel. I mean, she pretty much has to wear a tiara, doesn’t she?” Grace asked, smoothing the cover of her copy of Tiara Princess with her nails, which were long, red and probably phony, if you listened to what some of the others said.
   “If the queen wears her tiara, does that mean Miss Soft Clam can wear hers?” Roger, the only man in the group, asked. He was feeling snarky since his longtime companion had left him in order to “find himself” in South Beach.
   “Does being caught out at that motel on Route 50 with Willie Thompson count? I bet Lu Thompson scratched that rhinestone thing right off her head!” Marilee said as she sipped her cosmo, trying not to look innocent of malice.
   “I don’t think she took that thing off since the day she was crowned,” Beth observed. “You’d think no one ever became a beauty queen before, the way she carried on. Anyway, don’t all those beauty queens have to wear their tiaras everywhere?”
   “I bet all those real beauty pageant girls know enough not to get caught in a motel with Willie Thompson,” Jeanne frowned. “Do you remember when his mother made her debut at the Tidewater Inn, back in the ‘60s? She wore a tiara, but I think it was real diamonds. Her grandmother’s tiara, no less. Old Miss Evangeline would have had a fit if she’d lived to see Renata Thompson passed out on the golf course at the country club, smoking dope with the caddies.”
   “Good times, good times,” Marilee recalled. “If you can remember the ’60s, you probably weren’t there.” She nudged Grace. “Right?”
    Grace straightened her shoulders. “I don’t remember that,” she said primly, then ruined it by snorting with laughter.
   “You know what I always wondered?” Roger asked of no one in particular. “What does Queen Elizabeth carry in that purse of hers? And she always carries a handbag. I mean, she doesn’t carry money, she has ladies-in-waiting to heft her handkerchiefs and make-up and comb. So what’s she carrying?”
   “Heat,” Marilee said flatly. “I decided a long time ago, the Queen carries a little gun in that purse, so if anyone bothers her, she can whip it out and wing ‘em before they can get to her.”
   “Well, in World War Two, she learned how to change a tire in twelve seconds, and I bet she got some firearms training too. Maybe she carries one of those little Ladysmith .22s.”
   “She does hunt, so it’s not like she’s afraid of guns,” Roger observed. He was the resident expert on all things royal, from Poultry Princesses to Queen Marie of Romania. All you had to do was ask him.
   “I wonder if Renata Thompson had a little gun in her pocketbook when she went out to that motel to find Willie and that tiara girl,” Jane piped up. She was shy, and rarely spoke at Book Discussion Group.
   “I wouldn’t be a bit surprised. Didn’t her first husband die in a tragic duck blind accident back in the ’80s? It was all hushed up at the time, but the Old Girl’s Club wouldn’t renew her membership. Everyone liked Skipper. Renata, not so much.”
   “Speaking of winging people, I look at these kids with these tattoo sleeves, and then I look at my Ethel Mermans, which I’ve spent five years trying to tighten up at the gym, and they’re still hangin’ under my arms like bat wings, and I think wait’ll you’re my age, kids. Those tattoos will look like a wrinkled, crepey bed!”
   “I was thinking of having actual bat wings tattooed on my Ethels,” Marilee snorted. “Wouldn’t that be a sight to behold? You can’t get rid of them, so you may as well decorate them.”
   “Let’s get back to Tiara Princess.” Jeanne raised her voice slightly to be heard over the buzz, buzz, buzz of side conversations. “Anyone have any thoughts?”
   “Did anyone else actually read the book?” Roger asked.
   “I did,” Beth said. She always read the books. “I thought it was a portrait of tragedy. She was a poor little rich girl who was doomed from the start. Her mother practically forced her to marry that sleazy Polish count because she wanted a title in the family. And she signed away practically all of the poor girl’s inheritance from the tool-and-die fortune to that man.”
   “That’s what people did, back in the day. Your father made a fortune, you were expected to use the money to buy yourself a nice title and some moldy old castle somewhere.”
   “Well, at least the Polish count had the grace to throw himself off one of the parapets in Monaco when he was caught cheating at cards. That must have been a relief to the poor thing.”
   “At least she got some of her money back. And she still had the title. Why do we always end up reading books about titled rich women?”
   “Because they’re glamorous and fascinating, of course,” Roger replied. He rose to mix a second pitcher of cosmopolitans, a little unsteady on his feet after the first one.
   “But these women are nearly always royals, and they nearly always end up being beheaded. Mary, Queen of Scots, Marie Antoinette, Anne Boleyn, even that poor little ninny Katherine Howard ... Why don’t we ever read the books other book groups read? The Glass Castle, Eat, Pray Love, Two Cups of Tea, Reading Lolita in Tehran, that sort of thing?” Beth asked.
    The others looked at her as if she had popped a rhinestone crown on her head. She flushed and dropped her eyes.
   “Because we’re not like other book groups,” Lily reminded her. “We’re, well, we’re more interested in reading about, well, women we might have invited to our little group.”
   “Besides, the problems of ordinary people are just so dreary,” Roger added. “No crown jewels, no jostling for power, no grand palaces...”
That subject was dropped like a ticket to a heavy metal concert.
   “Well, I read most of Traumatic Tiara, and I thought it was quite a story. I had a lot of things to do, with this being the arts season, so I skipped ahead to the end, where she went into rehab with Princess Thrum und Taxis, Princess Michael of Kent and Grand Duke Michael Romanov and met Husband #4. It was so touching, the way they all supported each other through the ordeal of being not quite royal. Really, our celebrities could take a lesson from them in poise and grace under pressure.” Grace took a cookie from the plate and bit into it with sharp white teeth.
   “I understand they’re developing a reality show based on that place,” Marilee purred. “I can’t wait.”
   “Oh. I will watch that!” Lily exclaimed. “Anyone else have any thoughts before we move on to selecting our next book? No? Good. I so enjoy these little get-togethers. You just learn so much!”