Ruth: I was just sitting in our living room, reading and eating pistachios to combat my usual midafternoon hunger pangs. Naturally, this made me think of the Duke and Duchess of Windsor.
You may know the story. Once, the Duke was caught shelling a whole bushel of pistachios. He finally volunteered that he was doing it for the Duchess. After all, he said, the Duchess just loved pistachios. But she couldn’t shell them herself because of her manicure.
Now, there’s a story that arouses many questions. Such as: What kind of loser has the time to sit around shelling bushels of pistachios? And, what kind of woman is too dumb to manage to shell pistachios while sparing her manicure? And, for the love of God, what kind of conversations did these two have when they were alone?
If they talked at all, it must have been in English. Even though they spent decades exiled in Paris, the two Nazi sympathizers never bothered to learn French. Also, the two of them were pretty busy, what with the Duchess taking a couple of naps every day on a bed whose linens had to be changed after every time it was used. And the Duke always spiraling into a tiny-fisted frenzy because no one but him referred to the Duchess as “her majesty.”
I know all of this, of course, because — speaking of wasted time far more egregious than shelling pistachios — I once read a biography of the Duchess. Worse, someone I worked with at the time asked me what I was currently reading and, for some reason, I told the truth. I want to die, just recalling the way she cringed. Why couldn’t I have said I was re-reading War and Peace? (Notice how people are incapable of announcing they are reading a classic work of literature; they are always re-reading it. Similarly, television arouses the same kind of pseudointellectual unanimity: “Oh, I never watch television!”)
At any rate, no matter how many zillions of pounds the British taxpayers ponied up to keep the Duke and Duchess in Paris instead of Buckingham Palace, it was worth it. One shudders to imagine the joint leadership they would have provided the Free World during World War II (one should always refer to oneself as “one” when speaking of the British Empire, even if one is the kind of slapdash American slob who, on the whole, prefers the second person).
Yesterday, as predicted, my annual checkup went smoothly and I was left to wonder why on earth I become such a raging basketcase this time of year. Why do I become such a mess, even after all these years?
“Cut it out,” my husband told me. “You’re being human. Stop being so hard on yourself.”
He was, I noticed, being hard on me for being too hard on myself. It must be love, even if he never shelled one damned pistachio for me, ever, and has never taken up the cause of calling me “her majesty” with the rest of our family. Even so, it makes one happy.
(Copyright 2007 by Ruth Pennebaker)