The Queen of My Self

By Sharon Mesmer

First, there was the buying of the white dress, white fake fur jacket and white shoes. I recall my mother and me marching up and down Ashland Avenue, the main shopping street in our South Side Chicago neighborhood, in search of something that I would actually deign to wear. It couldn’t be too ornate, according to Sister Eleanor, the principal of St. John of God grammar school, but according to me it had to be really, really pretty. (Twelve years ago I actually found the dress as I was cleaning out my mom’s house, and it really was pretty: sateen with sheer puffy sleeves and seed pearls all over the bodice.) As we shopped around, we’d run into other girls and their mothers doing the same thing. Seeing them and comparing notes — “Goldblatts ain’t got nothin’ good no more,” “I heard they’re gougin’ everybody over by 63rd” — heightened the feeling of the ritual’s importance.

The ceremony, on a May morning in 1968, bordered on the pagan: All 60 kids marched slowly, piously, in a procession toward the church, led by the pastor and assistant priests, with altar boys shouldering a large statue of the Virgin Mary on a wooden pallet, her head wreathed in white roses. The streets were packed with our parents, grandparents, godparents, siblings, cousins, aunts, uncles and neighbors, all snapping photos from behind police barricades. We were told by the nuns not to talk to, or even look at, anyone — just keep our eyes focused on the kid directly in front of us, our hands folded in prayer. And yet at almost every step someone was yelling my name — “It’s Uncle Bob, honey! I wanna take your picture!” “Sharon! Look at your mother!”

As we turned a corner, I could, for the first time, hear the booming sounds of the church organ and the choir. I remember thinking that that was a magical moment: all of us walking toward the thunderous organ playing just for us while the choir of adults sang us in to the tune of a hymn called “This Is My Body.”

A group of teenage boys stood with their arms folded, watching us; a young mother crouched, put her arm around her little boy, and pointed; an old man doffed his cap. As we walked up the steps of the church, the nuns, like security at a rock concert, waved back the mothers with flowers and dads with cameras. It felt like we were the Beatles.

Now I wonder: Why is it that we’re lauded and celebrated when we’ve only just embarked on the journey? Why do we stop marking, ritually, the accomplishments along the way? The hurdles that we overcome?

I think all of us women who are going through menopause should gather together and then two-by-two make a pious procession through streets clogged with our living loved ones and long-dead parents and grandparents (resurrected just for us and calling our names). Whoever we are, whether svelte and wafting Chanel or pouchy with pendulous breasts, I want us to be made much of, cheered, recognized. I want our procession to be led by a bunch of men our age with beer guts pushing their shirt buttons apart, shouldering a statue of whoever our appropriate goddess is — possibly Coatlicue, an Aztec Earth Goddess, or maybe Hillary Clinton.

I want us to be sung to by a choir as we march into a secular temple, possibly some combination of the old Fillmore and the Society for Ethical Culture. Once inside, we gather in a circle around a huge ring of fire and, at an appropriate moment, accompanied by chanting, we reach into our purses and toss into the flames that unused old tampon that we’ve been carrying around for five years. As we do, the fire changes from red to pure white, tongues of it leap into our hearts, and we receive the ability to heal and bring blessings to our community.

And then there’s a party afterward that lasts four days, with enough ice-cold drinks, Ativan and L’Occitane Verbena Refreshing Towelettes (chilling in hundreds of tiny personal refrigerators) for us all.

Of course the ritual she is seeking is a Queen Crowning Ceremony!

  • Queen Mama Donna

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Donna Henes is the author of The Queen of My Self: Stepping into Sovereignty in Midlife. She offers counseling and upbeat, practical and ceremonial guidance for individual women and groups who want to enjoy the fruits of an enriching, influential, purposeful, passionate, and powerful maturity. Consult the MIDLIFE MIDWIFE™

The Queen welcomes questions concerning all issues of interest to women in their mature years. Send your inquiries to

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