Sometimes it can be interesting to time travel to the past in your thoughts and imagination. What if the Earth had shifted ever so slightly and something now so ingrained in life’s landscape had not come to be?
Outlandish thoughts come to mind at times when I experience close calls – an auto accident just slightly avoided, arriving a little late to reserve an event, a missed phone call or flight, or placing second in a competition (also known as first loser). Think how that one small diversion could affect and change the forever outcome, either positively or negatively?
Several years ago, fifteen at least, I was fetching my father from the airport. Cars parked by the curb to load and unload passengers and there was a lot of traffic congestion. A monstrously large pick up truck wedged in just a few feet behind me, engine running and roaring. I remember it was gold and shiny. I caught up with my Dad, hugged him and put his suitcases in the back of my car. As I walked behind my vehicle to get in the driver’s seat, the truck suddenly took off very quickly, narrowly missing me. I know for a fact he never saw me. I literally swiveled my hip out of the way. Another few seconds or inches difference, I would have been crushed between the two vehicles, horribly injured at best. How life would have changed in an instant.
In early 1957, with a $100,000 budget, Vernon and Gladys were given the task of finding a new home for the Presley’s. What if the realtor had mentioned to them a 13 acre property eight miles from the downtown area and they had decided the distance was too far out in the country – which it was all countryside at the time, way out highway 51. What if Gladys or Vernon had not liked the property? What if Elvis the actor had decided he must make Hollywood his home in order to be available to the the bright lights of the movie career that beckoned him? Would there be a property similar to Graceland in the Hollywood hills we could pilgrimage to today? Doubtful.
What if, after the untimely death of Elvis, Vernon had made the decision to liquidate, sell beloved Graceland, and live out his days far away from the painful reminder of all he had lost? Surely Elvis was in every room, in every building, and in every memory. It’s emotionally punishing at times to remain in a home after someone you love dearly has left, especially under heartbreaking, sudden circumstances. Selling is not an uncommon practice as the haunting memories and reminders can permeate every crevice and corner. Perhaps Vernon would have sold had he not died so soon after his son, had he been able.
Research for yourself, executors, trustees, attorneys, guardians ad litem, judges, all with joint interests and the events that led to the aligned details from 1977 until today. I’m not discussing the how, just the what. We have beautifully preserved Graceland to tour and cherish and remember and reflect. It was dear to our man Elvis, a place of fun and respite, solace and grounding, when the demands of his world weighed heavily upon him. The purpose of whether all that is built up around is necessary, is up for grabs. Graceland isn’t.
The very first sighting I had of Graceland was in the summer of 1976 on an extremely hot, sticky July day. After finally arriving in Memphis from Texas, we set out for Graceland the next morning. I was beyond excited, hardly able to sleep the night before. My father and I had to stop twice to ask for directions on where to find the stately mansion. This alone cracks me up. For those that have been there in recent times, it’s unimaginable, like having to ask where Disney World is in Orlando or Times Square in New York City or the Opera House in Sydney.
Riding in the passenger seat, I can still recall that very exact moment the Alabama fieldstone wall came into view. Instantly recognized, I squealed when I saw the real life image of something I’d only seen in photos. It was a moment never to be erased.
I’ve had similar experiences with other places you can identify easily from photos. When you see them before you, it’s the same but in a slightly shadowy surreal way. The landmarks in New York City and Central Park, so instantly recognizable, were inspiring to see in person. Same was especially true for Niagara Falls. Photos cannot do it justice. Spots in Hollywood and Palm Springs and San Fransisco, places in Las Vegas, Beverly Hills – images stored in your mind are suddenly converted to 3D. None of it will ever compare to that first glimpse of Graceland for an avid Elvis fan. It’s the tight connection you knew existed as surely as the place itself.
There has been many transformations of the property area, some major, in recent years. Change may not always be for the better by every opinion. Expenses rise and concepts and visions dictate revamping. Sometimes redesign is just not a good idea and “improvements” become impediments, some failing because of poor visionary decisions. Some call it evolving and progress. Some don’t. It’s a matter of rightful personal opinion. Fans will let their dollars speak for them. Money does indeed talk. And you-know-what walks.
As creatures of habit, we miss the old way, the old guard, that which was safe and familiar. It’s said if you don’t have a dog in a fight, stay out of it, not your call. The difference with Elvis, those of us who love him do have a stake in it. It’s where we spend our money and our time. We are the ones he connected. He placed that stake there. It’s our lifeline to the past and to him, holding a piece of our hearts that we gave to him and he joyfully and graciously returned. It becomes a very personal journey of appropriate reciprocal respect. He’s our boy and for those whom we genuinely love, it’s natural to seek the very best.
If Graceland is on your bucket list, please make it happen, sooner rather than later. Regardless of the re-order of design, your heart should be in that mansion at least once if possible. There is a need to be in his surroundings, among his things, feeling his spirit. There’s nothing else like it. I’ve not heard anyone say they regretted the trip. Although I’ve visited the Whitehaven mansion several more times since that July day 43 years ago, every single time I have that initial peek, the feeling of his home immediately returns and I have to catch my breath.
Much like the southern hospitality of my grandparents, the Presley family was the same. It’s at Graceland, it was on Audubon Drive and I would venture to say it was at Lauderdale Courts and in that humble shotgun house in Tupelo. It wasn’t something that accompanied wealth. It’s the way of the South, wanting company to feel valued and comfortable and at home.
The place was important to him, so it’s important to me. It always will reflect the story. Whatever else is surrounding, the heart of the manor displays the heart of the man. Graceland is forever Elvis. That can never be changed no matter what is rearranged. Sometimes you must step back and realign with the intent and purpose, and put aside the external. You have to look further within, past museums and exhibits, however circus like it might feel. I prefer to think of the rest as only neighborhood decoration. The emotional attachment is in that columned brick colonial house guarded by the complimentary white lions.
Regardless of any other hoopla, I am grateful that Graceland was. While I can’t control the outside midway, I can keep hold of my inside focus and know the stars aligned exactly right back in 1957.