Normally when you see my name attached to an article, it’s probably about video games or the gaming world. Today, I would like to detour from the usual, if I may.
Often times, when I talk about video games, I am captivated by the worlds concocted by the game creators, from the gritty streets of 1940’s Hollywood in L.A. Noire, to the vast expanses of Hyrule in the various Zelda games, full of fantasy and magic. But today, I would not like to talk about a make-believe world; today I would like to talk about a real one. Our world. And while Hyrule may have had a princess, our world had a queen. A real-life, beautiful queen.
I would like to share with you, my readers, this beautiful queen.
Raylene holding me. I don’t know exactly when this picture was taken. It had to be in the early ’80s because that’s our old house in Pacoima, CA. As you can see, good genes run in the family. :)
Raylene Robinson would grace our world with her presence beginning several years ago on this day, the 17th of December. Some would say many years ago; some would say a mere handful. In the larger perspective of the cosmos, it was a mere sliver of time anyway. I hesitate to say just how old she was, because I full well know that if I do, someone may be able to deduce how old my mom is, and I would never ever hear the end of it.
Born to the Booths, she later married into the Evans family. Raylene was a young mom, as was her mother before her, as was her mother before her, as was my mother after all of them. In fact, while it certainly ranks low on the notable scale, my mother still has a photo clipped from the local paper of me as a fifth-generation baby – held by my mother, with my grandmother, great-grandmother, and great-great-grandmother looking on. Raylene would have two children, my mother and my uncle, who would go on to have five grandchildren, of which I was the oldest. She eventually would divorce from my grandfather, but later in life would be blessed to find a new prince in Troy Robinson, her smiling partner until the day she died. The two were inseparable.
This queen, Mrs. Robinson, never touted herself as royalty. She went out amongst the public all the time to support my sister’s softball, my cousins’ various sports, and my theatrical works. (Guess who was the odd child out in my family.) This carried over to the children in the extended Robinson family as well. If someone had an event, it wasn’t a matter of if she would be there to support them, it was simply when she would arrive.
Raylene with my uncle at his wedding, which I peg sometime in the mid-1970’s?
Raylene’s magic was equal to Princess Nadia’s in Chrono Trigger, but she never cast spells. She cast hugs and kisses, the lightest of which was guaranteed to make happy kids happier, make pouting kids calm, and make boo-boos disappear. She cast cookies and cakes, bound to replenish any child’s (or adult’s) HP to max, though we didn’t know that’s what was going on inside our bodies, for we knew little of science. She cast kindness, love, warmth, and wisdom, all of which sit with me today.
Queen Raylene was much slower to wrath than Princess Kitana of the Mortal Kombat series (and there were markedly fewer deaths than Kitana… like 0 versus 893,000 – approximately). She knew that you could catch more flies with honey than vinegar, and we all turned to her when our respective parents were angry with us. But she also wouldn’t take any guff; she had been in our parents’ positions before, and spoke to us with a tongue that emit so much love, we would never realize we were being scolded or disciplined.
In fact, her eternally-optimistic outlook on life wasn’t confined to just her family. You’d be hard-pressed to find anyone who met Raylene who would have anything bad to say. She had a kind word for everyone she met, and didn’t believe in letting the world get her down. Even after three heart attacks, and a long wait for a heart transplant, she never let her smile fade on her face or anyone else’s. “I’m not scared,” she would say. “We’ll get through this.”
Queen Raylene did get through it, and her new heart was more powerful than any Heart Container Princess Zelda could produce. Just one blessed her, and us, and the world, with ten more years of healthy, vibrant life. It was a zest reborn, nothing brand-new, and it was tangible. Raylene loved being outdoors and working in her yard with Troy, loved visiting my family when we camped on the shores of Ventura County, and simply loved. She loved and she loved and she loved.
And this queen was always much easier to find than Princess Peach. One of my favorite stories to tell about her involves this time of the year: Christmas time. In my family, Christmas is a three-day event – Christmas Eve, back then, was spent at my Uncle John’s house celebrating with my dad’s side of the family; Christmas Day was spent at my great-grandmother’s house on my mom’s side, and we would visit with my grandfather, my mom’s dad, the day after. As we made the drive back from the city of Orange in California to our house, my mom would always try to find a red light atop a skyscraper or antenna or something and say, “Look, Ryan, Santa’s making his rounds!” I was always so excited to hurry home and wake up the next day to see what Santa Claus had left me.
When we walked in the door on Christmas Eve, every year, there would be Raylene, lying on our couch, wrapped in a blanket, and she would wake up when she heard us come in. And she would look at me and say “Surprise!”
“Grandma, what are you doing here?” I would excitedly say.
“Santa dropped me off!” she would reply. “I hitched a ride on his sleigh!”
I was really little when this tradition started; of course I bought every ounce of it. And my Christmas Eve present was a big hug and kiss from her. And it’s something I cherish still to this day.
My grandma, Raylene, has only been gone from this mortal plane a little over five years. They say that time heals all wounds, but this isn’t so much of a wound as it is just a gap. I have memories and feelings and emotions that work the best they can to fill the gap, but nothing can close it permanently. When I go home to visit my parents every year for Christmas, I look at the tree on Christmas Eve. It sits in our living room, and in that living room is a couch and a loveseat. And every year I look at that couch and I pray that just one more time I’ll look and she’ll be wrapped there, in a blanket, open her eyes and go “Surprise!”
And I, at the curmudgeonly-old age of 32, will look over and exclaim, “Grandma! What are you doing here?” And she’ll look at me with her warm, loving eyes and say to me, “Santa dropped me off! I hitched a ride on his sleigh!” And I will believe every word of it. And my Christmas Eve present will be feeling her hug me and kiss me once more.
It’s a joy, a blessing, an experience I wish, I pray, more people could have had.
I miss you, Grandma. You will always be my queen in a world full of mere princesses. Thank you for raising my mom to be a queen herself, for constantly giving us grandchildren the royal treatment, and thank you for loving me then, and loving me from afar now. Your love is a blessing no game studio could ever recreate.