Sunday, February 10, 2002
You don't see many knights in shining armor anymore. Perhaps that's because damsels in distress are in such short supply.
However, on a recent occasion when three damsels of my acquaintance were being publicly and unfairly attacked verbally, nary a brave knight rode to their rescue. The half-dozen or so men who should have performed their knightly duties rested instead on their, um, saddles. I was greatly disappointed because I realize that knights are still essential because the world, even now, contains an occasional dragon that requires slaying.
From childhood, I have steeped myself in Camelot lore ï¿½ not the American Camelot of relatively recent history but the English Camelot of Lancelot, The Lady of Shalott and Elaine, the lily maid of Astolot. (It occurs to me that there are a whole lot of "lots" in that sentence.)
Growing up, I had a passion for reading Alfred Lord Tennyson. I even memorized several of his poems because I wanted to, not because I had to, and I'm frank to say that his writing helped to make me a hopeless romantic.
Even my love of history didn't curb my romantic streak. My knowledge of historical periods is peopled with devoted couples like Cleopatra and Marc Anthony, Priscilla and John Alden, and the Duke of Windsor and his beloved Duchess, the woman for whose love he gave up a kingdom. And the only thing I remember about Sir Walter Raleigh ï¿½ besides the fact that he brought tobacco back to Europe ï¿½ was that he swept off his cloak and chivalrously laid it over a puddle so that a lady could cross without getting her feet wet.
Compare Sir Walter's behavior with that of my friend Gunnard, a pillar of his community whom I thought was clad in shining armor until he told me of an incident in high school when he finally got a date with the girl of his dreams. One thing led to another and the teen-agers found themselves parked in his Chevy on an unpaved country road in a driving rain. At least they were parked until they tried to leave. Then they were stuck. Gunnard sighed, removed his shoes, rolled up his pant legs and started to walk for help through ankle-deep mud.
Then he heard a plaintive cry from the girl: "Come back here!"
"Because you're supposed to carry me."
"Hey," Gunnard replied, "you've got legs. You can walk or wait."
She took off her shoes and walked ï¿½ and continued walking right out of his life.
Gunnard ï¿½ a big, athletic guy ï¿½ refused to carry his date. But history tells the story of women in a surrendered fort who were told by the victorious army that they were free to leave with their children and anything they could carry on their backs. So they piggybacked their men to safety.
Does that make them brave? You bet! Does that make them knights?
I wouldn't want to put husband Ray to the test of carrying me through ankle-deep mud in a rainstorm, but he once raced through a cloudburst to our car parked a block away and drove it back to a restaurant where I waited nice and dry. And I'm not the only beneficiary of his gallant gestures. Ray will not sit while a lady stands, so I'm pretty sure that Rosa Parks wouldn't have had any trouble had he been on her bus. And that is the reason Tennyson's quote, "the greater the man, the greater the courtesy," has always reminded me of Ray.
But my husband really proved he was my knight in shining armor when I had surgery a couple of years ago. I am admittedly the patient from hell, but not even Florence Nightingale could have been a better nurse than Ray was.
However, after taking care of me for a week, I'm confident he believed that dragon slaying was by far the easiest duty of a knight's job description.
In addition to the current lack of brave knights, there's also a serious scarcity of sweet princes. Where are they all hiding? I once saw a bumper sticker that read: "You have to kiss a lot of frogs before you find a prince." Well, we certainly seem to have no shortage of frogs.
This Valentine's Day, if you are fortunate to have a sweet prince of your own, tell him so and give him a big smooch on the lips. That's what I plan to do with mine. With any luck, he won't turn into a frog.
ï¿½ Marsha Henry Goff is a free-lance writer in Lawrence.