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How NOT to Behave Before Royalty

November 13, 1955, is a date that, for me, will forever live in infamy. It was the day when I had my first (and, to date, only) encounter with royalty. I did not comport myself according to he accepted protocol for the occasion.

My grandfather's dairy farm, a test-demonstration farm in the Tennessee Valley Authority's agricultural progress program, regularly received visitors from all over the world. The guest list that November day included none other than Prince Albert of Belgium.

Everyone seemed relaxed and jovial in the official photo of the occasion. [Left to right: Blaine Peterson, my grandfather; an unnamed interpreter; the Prince of Leige (Belgium); Omega Peterson, my grandmother; Mildred Peterson, my aunt; and Milba Arnold, a cousin.]

After touring the dairy farm, the prince asked to see our house, which was situated across the pasture from the farm. He wanted to see how the "average American farm worker" lived, especially after he learned that my father worked on the farm and had built the house himself.

One doesn't deny a prince when he says he wants something. What the prince asked for, he got. So over to our house he and his entourage came. We were not prepared for his unexpected and unplanned visit.

Inside the house, he marveled at the modern appliances, few of which his war-ravaged and still-recovering countrymen enjoyed. As he posed for newspaper photographers in our living room, he didn't seem to mind that my father was dressed to do the afternoon milking. And he seemed simply to ignore my bad manners as I nonchalantly sucked my thumb.

The scene was a bit more stiff and formal (except our attire and my behavior) in this photo. [Left to right: Prince Albert; Hazel Peterson, my mother; Ralph Peterson, my father; and Dale Peterson, my brother. Front and center: bright-eyed, bushy-tailed, and sucking my thumb, me!]

You can read more about my encounter with royalty in my book Look Unto the Hills: Stories of Growing Up in Rural East Tennessee (

A more detailed account of the incident and the TVA test-demonstration farm program is available in my article in Blue Ridge Country magazine (

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