I had no idea who this "Elvis" was but he sang good. So the next week my Dad went back on the road and came home with another cassette. This time it was Elvis' 1973 album "Elvis" so I did the same routine, listened again and again. I really liked this tape. (to this day, it's still my favorite album and in my opinion the most underrated album Elvis ever made). I about wore that tape out and wouldn't let my Dad take it back out on the road.
It was a few weeks I guess and my Dad brought home another cassette. This one he said was Elvis' latest album "Moody Blue". So I did my usual routine, but this tape wasn't as good to me as the others. His voice sounded "different" but I still liked it.
A few weeks later I was lying on my back on the living room floor and my Mom came home from my Grandma's house across the road. She came in and said "Elvis Presley died" and I was like "what? we just met" How old was he?" We turned on the news and he was everywhere. Something just "hit" me and I started watching all the news reports, the funeral, all the memorials and tribute programs. I couldn't believe the whole world was mourning over one man. What made Elvis so special?
That year for Christmas, I got a bunch of Elvis cassettes and a tape recorder, and I did my usual routine, read every magazine and newspaper article I could. My Mom was collecting newspaper articles and magazines and books, so what I couldn't read she read to me,and I just couldn't get enough.
My Dad had taken my Mom to Graceland in his truck on a haul to Memphis in early 1978. He was even there in 1973, had a flat tire right across the street from Sun Records, and went over to the old Firestone Company where Bill Black used to work to see if they could fix it. Later in '78, they decided to take me. I was thrilled.
What made it even more cool was my Dad was a truck driver so he did most of his driving at night, and I love to travel at night and see all the lights, etc. We had to sleep that day because we were leaving at midnight, but I couldn't sleep. I still remember him coming in and picking me up. I was in a manual wheelchair then and not very big so I got carried a lot.
We finally got there and at the time there were no tours and only one or two gift shops. I have a picture of me on that trip sitting up on the wall with my Dad standing next to me and Graceland in the background. The gates were closed so we went over to the gift shops. It was "Elvis Heaven" inside, there were two people behind the counter and I was looking at everything. On the counter, they had a whole bunch of Elvis necklaces on a "spinner type thing". The lady at the counter told me to pick one, and I could have it. So I picked the coolest one "I" found, turned out to be the cheapest one they had, and my Mom thought it was ugly. It's just a boxed shaped necklace will a small little concert photo inside, you can hardly see Elvis, but I liked it. So after we paid with the other things we bought,the girl gives my Mom a book and says "Here take this over and have Vester sign it" I said "Thank you" and we left.
We went back over to the gates and a guard come out and my Mom told him what the girl said. All of sudden the gates opened up and they said "come on in" so we did. My Dad sat me down on the curb of the driveway next to the guard shack. Out comes Vester and I asked him if he would please sign my book and he did. Then someone said "Would you like to walk up to the house?" I was like "YES, now please" so we walked up the driveway until we reached the "Do not cross" yellow tape. Graceland is beautiful. I don't know who was there but a blue corvette was parked right near the tape.
To this day, I still have every picture we took, everything we bought, that book and that cheap necklace :-) I came home and told all my friends in the first grade I went to Elvis Presley's house. That was how it all started and my first trip to Graceland.
This next part is for my Dad.
When Graceland opened in '82 I just had to go see it. So, that summer we did. I had my first electric wheelchair. It could still fold so we went in my Dad's old 1976 Oldsmobile. He spot painted the car before we left and the AC would go out about every ten minutes. So my Dad, Mom, me and my best friend headed to Memphis.
Now my friend brings along a tape, "Culture Club" with Boy George. He wasn't an Elvis fan but I kept trying to convert him the whole way down. I'd have to look up the month, but it was HOT and my poor Dad had to stop every few hours and work on the AC. We finally get to Memphis, and it's hotter than I'd ever been in my life. My Dad goes to put my wheelchair together and the plastic battery box start splitting because of the weight of the batteries. He finally gets it all together and we get out.
They had no wheelchair accessible vans. This was before the shuttle buses they have now, so they called over to the guard shack and they talked to my Dad and made some kind of a deal (at the time I didn't know what). He told us we all had to get back in the car, he tore down my wheelchair and put it back in the trunk. This time my Mom sits in the back with my friend and my Dad puts me up front next to him and gives me his sunglasses and says, "here put these on" so I did. We drive like we are leaving, and I'm wondering what is going on. My Dad turns the car around and we drive back to Graceland, pulling up in font just the way Elvis would have.
All of sudden the gates open and my Dad drives our old car through "the gates of Graceland". The guards are waving just like it's Elvis coming home. I couldn't believe it! We drove up past the house and parked next to the Car Port, (at that time Elvis' cars were still there). We got out, put my wheelchair together again, and he came to get me out and I said "that was the coolest thing ever" so we did the tour and Graceland was even more beautiful inside. I couldn't believe I was inside Elvis Presley's house. I almost waited for him to come down the stairs.
After the tour, it was so hot that instead of breaking everything down again, my Mom and I decided to walk down since we were going to hit the gift shops anyway. We had a guard walk us down. My Dad and my friend was driving the car back down so my Mom and I waited on the sidewalk just beyond the gates. My Mom said "wait a minute, I'm going to get a picture of your Dad driving out the gates, well they drove back down, the guards waved goodbye and our old car drove out the gates. My Mom snapped a picture but she was out of film.
First thing, my Dad asked when we met up across the street was "Did you get a picture of that?" I thought he was going to kill her right there on the spot :-) We hit the first gift shop, much bigger and more commercial than in '78. I don't know what happened to me, I was in the middle of the gift shop, Elvis everywhere, and I told my Mom we have to go, NOW! I didn't even look at anything, she had to pay for a shirt and some post cards and we left. I said I needed to get in the car, so my Dad broke my chair down again, and we all got in the car and he asked where I wanted to go now and I said "I want to go home".
Everyone looked at me like I had three heads. YOU want to go home? and I said "yes" so we started driving and my Dad asked me if I wanted to see where Elvis was born, I said "how far away is it?" he told me and I said, "No, I just want to go home" (Now, I'd never been to Tupelo before and I turned it down) I got so sick from that heat I didn't talk again for 4 hours, just laid my head on the window. After about 4 hours I started feeling better and regretting everything I passed on earlier. That was my second trip to Graceland.
Now, my Dad liked Elvis but he was a casual fan, my Mom too. Nobody in my family ever thought I would take it this far, and my Dad would come in and say "can't you listen to something besides Elvis?" I do, but I have Elvis music, then what I call "everything else". He loved to give me a hard time about Elvis, he'd put on the scarves and sunglasses and dance in front of the mirror just to annoy me and it worked every time :-).
My Dad passed away in 2003 of Lung Cancer, he was 56 years old. He was diagnosed on his 56th birthday and gone 7 months and 5 days later. I still have all those cassettes he brought home, and every time I play Elvis I hear my Dad razzing me. I always told him it was his fault, he got me started but he would always be the first to show off my collection when somebody came over. If I had a wish for my Dad it would be that he's in Heaven with Elvis now, and he's at least gone to one concert :-) My only regret is that he never attended an Elvis Week. I think if he could have experienced it, especially the Vigil, he would have been as awed by it as I am.
His favorite song was "Imagine" by John Lennon, we played that, "Tears In Heaven" by Eric Clapton, and "How Great Thou Art" by Elvis at his funeral. May my Dad, Elvis, and John all rest in peace.
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