Queen Chickens Out On A Real-Life Story

AS part of her official visit to Washington, D.C., Queen Elizabeth II dropped in at the home of Alice Frazier, who invited her to stay for a lunch of Southern fried chicken and potato salad.

Her majesty declined. Lunch with Mrs. Frazier wasn't the purpose of the visit. It was what we call a photo opportunity: The Queen of England is shown visiting an elderly black lady who lives in a very neat, government-subsidized house.

That helps give the impression that there's more to her trip than putting on gowns and dining with other swells at the White House.

So the queen unsuccessfully attempted to dodge a hug from Mrs. Frazier (hugging a queen is an official no-no) and went off to a very posh luncheon with a flock of suitable celebrities. Angela Lansbury was there. So was Jane Fonda and her boyfriend, Ted Turner, the CNN owner. That sort of crowd.

Well, I once talked to Jane Fonda. Although she appeals to the eye, without a script in her hand, she's not the liveliest of conversationalists.

Ah, but Mrs. Frazier is another story. If the queen wanted to jaw about something besides the benefits of aerobics, she should have taken Mrs. Frazier up on lunch.

We phoned Mrs. Frazier after the royal visit and asked her what she would have chatted about if the queen had stayed.

"Hmmm. I think maybe I would've asked her how she likes being queen. And I would've asked her, `How did you come to be queen?' "

A question worthy of Eliza Doolittle. And then what would Mrs. Frazier have said?

"I guess I'd have told her my life story, if she wanted to know."

So tell me.

"I grew up the hard way. I was born in North Carolina, but my mama died when I was 9. My daddy worked in a mill. I was the oldest girl so I had to help take care of my sisters and brothers.

"And I did odd jobs in people's home. The white folks, you know, they hired me. I'd feed the chickens, clean the house and that kind of thing.

"In those days, they wasn't paying too much. I started working for 50 cents a week. Then after a while, I moved up to $1.50 a week.

"I did that in the morning real early before school. And after school, I'd go back and finish the work. Then I'd go home and help make dinner for my daddy and my sisters and brothers.

"I stopped school after the ninth grade and went to work in a hospital, helping the nurses. I did just a little bit of everything. Oh, my goodness, cleaning up the babies when they're born, helping out with the patients, bringing 'em food, making 'em feel better.

"And after people died, I'd help clean them up. I didn't like that part of the hospital job. The dead people. It was no good feeling.

"Then I got married when I was 20. I was still in North Carolina. Had four children. But one is dead. He got to be an alcoholic. He drank instead of eating, and when you do that, everything goes bad. It went bad for him. And one of my daughters, she's paralyzed. It was kind of an accident. A gun went off.

"We moved to Washington about 30 years ago, after my daddy died. My husband and I came here to look for better work than there was in North Carolina.

"I got a job in a drugstore, working in the cafeteria. I worked there until I retired. My husband, he worked there, too, on the loading dock. He worked there until he died about 20 years ago.

"Now I don't do much. I watch some of the stories on TV. And I see my children and grandchildren. And I have great-grandchildren, too. One of them was born before the queen got here.

"That's why I cooked all that chicken, you know? My family told me I should fix something for her and offer it to her, in case she was hungry, but I didn't think she'd want to stay. But if she stayed, I guess we could have made girl-to-girl talk."

(Yes, the queen might have been fascinated by the feeding of chickens and the cleaning up of stiffs in the hospital. They don't have that kind of lively banter at old Buckingham.)

"And I would have liked to know how she come to be queen. Do you know?"

It's just a matter of being in the right place at the right time, I guess.

"That's it? Well, that's nice."

(Copyright 1991, by the Chicago Tribune; distributed by Tribune Media Services, Inc.)