In the midst of D.C.'s annual cherry blossom parade, you'll notice a prominent float carrying a bunch of young women wearing pink gowns, tiaras, and sashes. In 1969, my mom was one of them: a Cherry Blossom Princess.

First off, what even IS a Cherry Blossom Princess? If my mom hadn't been one, I wouldn't know! Each year, up to 55 princesses — representing a state, a U.S. territory, or D.C. — are selected on the basis of their own written applications. The applications showcase their leadership abilities, volunteer work, and passion for the places they represent. Once nominated by their State Society, they're whisked to D.C. for a week of cherry blossom festivities. The week's events end in the Cherry Blossom Grand Ball, where one woman wins the title of Cherry Blossom Queen. Get this: the last Cherry Blossom Queen spins a “wheel of fortune” type thing that has all the state and territory names. Wherever it lands will determine the year's new queen! [caption id="attachment_7885" align="aligncenter" width="571"]cherry blossom princess Courtesy[/caption] For a few minutes, her "majesty" gets to wear the Mikimoto crown (given to the U.S. back in 1957 by Japanese jewelry company Mikimoto). It’s made of two pounds of gold, 1,585 pearls, and an ermine band. (Puts new meaning to "heavy is the head that wears the crown")! The queen gets to exchange it after those first few minutes for a smaller crown that she gets to keep. She also gets a Mikimoto pearl necklace and then after the cherry blossom festivities are over, she goes on a free, 10-day trip to Japan, where she meets up with Japan’s Cherry Blossom Queen. "Not too shabby!" as my mom would say. [caption id="attachment_7887" align="aligncenter" width="518"]cherry blossom princess Courtesy[/caption]
Back in 1969, Mom represented her home state of West Virginia as a Cherry Blossom Princess. Even though she didn't get chosen as queen, she always talked about that whirlwind week as one of the best in her life. In those days, they paired the princesses up with young military escorts (matching them up by height!) to be the ladies' dates for all of the events. (Mom wasn't overly impressed with hers but said he was a "nice young man." KISS OF DEATH. Sorry, dude). [caption id="attachment_7879" align="aligncenter" width="960"]cherry blossom princess My mom and her unfortunate date looking on...[/caption] To qualify, Mom had to toot her own horn on her application. Luckily, she had lots to toot about. (That sounded gross. You know what I mean). From a newspaper article in her hometown of Charleston, West Virginia, (the state's capital):
"Third in seniority in a family of eight children of Mr. and Mrs. Robert B. McBride of Charleston, Miss McBride is a senior at West Virginia University, where she is active in sports, drama and music. Versatile and enthusiastic in her interests, as her background will indicate: a diving champion at Charleston; The Greenbrier Hotel's summer lifeguard; swimming team captain at school; American Legion oratorical contest winner; student body officer; and title role performer in Charleston Children's Theatre musical."
After being elected, Mom got this letter from the President of the West Virginia Society. It was kind of weird and full of poetry, which must have been flattering at the time, but now smacks of a little too much "lovely flower," and not enough "force to behold," which my mother was. [caption id="attachment_7880" align="aligncenter" width="720"]cherry blossom princess Sigh. Thanks for the poetry, man.[/caption] The cherry blossom "royalty," and all that comes with it is a cherished tradition for D.C., but it is in a lot of ways for my family, too. I've never once been to the Cherry Blossom Parade, and I've lived in the D.C. area for almost 20 years now. Since my mom passed away two months ago, I find myself wishing that I would have taken her to that parade and let her relive the memories of that one brief, shining week when she was a princess. I also find myself wishing I'd told her: she'll always be a princess to me.

This year's National Cherry Blossom Festival Parade is Saturday, April 14. Find out everything you need to know right here!