There was not even a tiny hint of doubt. With that initial glimpse came excited shrieks and gleeful yelps escaping by their own power with no warning or hesitation. Immediate recognition elicited a strong immediate response.
On a soggy, stifling 90 degree morning, the heavy humidity was extra steamy, hitting you in the face like a chunk of drippy thick air, a sauna with no walls. The cicadas were likely sleeping in since their nightly concert kept Presley hours. The Monday morning traffic was packed with those heading to begin their productive and prosperous work week – hopefully. I will bet that no other person in that metro gridlock was as joyous and happy as the teenage girl sitting next to her father. We were on a divine mission.
The day prior had brought us 568 miles, past flatland and refineries through east Texas piney woods and tiny towns along busy interstates. As the crow flies it’s not bad, but sitting in the back seat of a car from Houston to Memphis seemed as far away as leaving one planet and landing on another. In 1976, that almost new two tone brown Chevy kept the inside cool and the outside quickly rolling on by. The back was my domain, as my parents ruled the front along with the radio. I think I had a portable cassette player and headphones if I recall. I was so excited the entire trip that music only fueled my passion for arrival at my Heaven’s gate, as we continued to travel north.
The truth was our final destination was the hills and hollers of eastern Tennessee to visit relatives, but my loving and over indulgent father spoiled me and agreed to spend an extra day and night in Memphis along the way, rather than taking the more eastern and shorter route to Knoxville. My mother was none too pleased. Heartless and callous, but I didn’t care.
Arriving late Sunday evening, grabbing dinner and checking into our hotel, the night was a sleepless one. All I could think of was those musical note adorned gates, the stately mansion on the hill, and the beautiful master of the manor.
The next morning, as early as I could push for, my dad and I headed out – to where we weren’t quite certain. My mother stayed back at the hotel – unfathomable to me but to each their own. When I travel to Memphis now, and get anywhere close to Graceland, I always chuckle a bit. Dad and I had to stop at three different gas stations and convenience stores to ask for directions. It would be like being in Orlando and not knowing how to get to Disney World. Obviously back in the day there were no road signs directing a visitor to 3764 Elvis Presley Blvd, never mind GPS – which, by the way, I think is one of the best ever inventions of mankind.
Rolling down Highway 51 south, we were finally on the right road, but Highway 51 South was a long road too. He was driving and watching on the left, my eagle eyes were pinned on the right looking for clues, a sign, a spotlight, a bright shining star, anything.
Without warning, the Alabama fieldstone suddenly appeared feet from my passenger window. I recognized it before I saw the gates or the house – and I screamed, likely scaring my poor dear father half to death. He didn’t even have time to slow down, that’s how quickly we were upon it. He turned around and doubled back and we parked beside the wall near the gate.
I couldn’t get out the car fast enough, Elvis was surely waiting for me. Yeah right, at 9 am on a Monday morning. I had loved and adored and idolized this man since I was five, so certainly he must know. I had seen him in concert the year before in 75, and in 74 and in 70. This was June of 76 and I had tickets to see him again in August.
I should have written to him so knew I was coming. Darn Elvis was away on tour according to Uncle Vestor. Walking around inside those opened gates, drinking in every sweet detail I could of majestic Graceland and the famous gates and the lush grounds was a dream realized. My friendly father had Vestor load us into a jeep and take us up to the house. I saw his cars, I saw his bedroom window, I touched his marble lions, I stood on his front porch – heaven for this awestruck little girl. I think I was in happy trance the remainder of this vacation, blissfully thrilled to have seen in real life a place I dearly loved, because every fan knew how dearly he loved it. It was a feeling of home and peace and serenity that is impossible to describe, but those connected to Elvis understand completely.
Even though he wasn’t there, I’m eternally grateful I visited Graceland when it was still Elvis’ private home, before the intense commercialization, before the tours, before the hawking of plastic bobbleheads and tea towels and snow globes. Yes, it’s possible there were souvenirs in the area, but I wasn’t there for any of that nor do I remember it. I received the experience I was there for and the one I’ll always treasure.
Fast forward to August a few weeks later, front row, scarf, brief fan conversation and a kiss, and I was over the moon for all that had happened that delightful summer of 76. Standing feet from him, close enough to touch, gazing at that face and soaking in the voice and mannerisms was the thrill of a lifetime never to be equaled. I was very fortunate for many reasons.
Had my vivid imagination somehow become reality and somehow Elvis had been home that morning and somehow Elvis had made his way to the gates and somehow I was standing close to him and somehow he had spoken to me, I know I would have either been unable to speak or I would have passed out. I was incredibly shy, still am, but much improved in certain situations.
In this life things usually do work out the way they should, even when you may not realize it in the moment. I truly have no reserved sadness that he wasn’t home that day. My very first visit to Graceland turned out to be a perfect lead in to more exciting experiences to come.
I am grateful to own beautiful, wonderful, loving thoughts associated with Memphis Tennessee. My personal memories are ones that can never be duplicated, misplaced, or forgotten. The remembrances are solely mine, although others worldwide understand.
Despite everything, I know I truly wouldn’t have missed it for the world.