Dixie Peach: I'm Going To Graceland

Cooler than the other side of the pillow.

Monday, January 08, 2007

I'm Going To Graceland

Actually those are four words that I hope to never say again.

This being Elvis Presley's birthday reminded me of the first time I ever visited Graceland. I've been there - I forget how many times since. Three times more? Four times? The visits there tend to run together for me except for the first one and the last one.

My hometown in northeast Mississippi isn't terribly far from Memphis. I lived in Memphis as a small child. I have aunts and cousins that live in Memphis and the surrounding suburbs. I've seen Graceland all my life. I can't remember the time when I didn't know the stone wall and famous iron gates surrounding it and the big house up the driveway. When I was a child and Elvis was still living there Graceland seemed weirdly out of place in the neighborhood. There it was, the famous mansion where a very famous man lived and across the street were ordinary things like dry cleaners and gas stations. It's still that way except now Graceland has become a sort of Elvis oasis plunked in the middle of a busy street. If one drove down Elvis Presley Boulevard from one end to the other one would see on the trip things like this: strip malls, fast food places, mini-marts, ELVIS LAND, check cashing places, liquor stores. An island of Elvisness in a sea of boring concrete commerce.

I was living in Virginia in 1985 the first time I ever went to Graceland. I took a week from work and went to visit my sister in Mississippi. Since I was flying into Memphis we stayed there overnight at the Peabody Hotel (and how I loved it) and made the trip to see Elvis' home. Graceland had been open to the public for less than two years. The only things to see were the house itself and his airplane, the Lisa Marie. There were no restaurants or souvenir shops or any of the other Elvis related businesses on what I now think of as the grand Elvis Complex. At that time you bought a ticket, rode in a little van across the street and were taken on a tour of the house and grounds and walked through the Lisa Marie if you wanted to plunk down another $7. Now when you visit Graceland you get a recorded tour that you listen to through headphones but back in 1985 we had real live tour guide and were assured that all Graceland tour guides were specially trained to assist you should you become emotionally overwhelmed during the tour.

That was the wrong thing to say to my sister and me. All I'm going to say about that is they were right. Back then they did know how to take care of the emotionally overwhelmed. I guess now the emotionally overwhelmed are on their own because when I was at Graceland in 2004 there seemed to be fewer employees around and what ones I did see seemed more interested in protecting the lawn than aiding those who were a crying, hysterical mess.

Some other things about that first visit to Graceland stick out in my mind:
  • Touring the mansion is only half of the fun of visiting Graceland. The people there taking the tour is the other half and provide endless entertainment.
  • We smelled food the minute we got pass viewing the livingroom and walked more towards the back part of the first floor that was then off limits to the public. Elvis' aunt still lived at Graceland in that part and we could smell her lunch cooking.
  • Upon entering the TV room downstairs the guide informed us that the only Grammy awards Elvis ever received were for gospel music and upon hearing that a man behind us gave a resounding and thundering "AMEN!!". I had to pinch my sister very hard to get her to stop giggling at this man's enthusiastic approval.
  • As we entered what is known as the Jungle Room the guide told us that Elvis had picked out the furniture himself in one afternoon at a local Memphis furniture store. We looked around at the outlandish furnishings and having ourselves grown up with furniture purchased from local Memphis furniture stores my sister and I looked at one another and said at the same time "Oh no shit!".
  • Clothing from Elvis ranging from his and Priscilla's wedding clothes to the sparkling jumpsuits he made famous were on display in one room - one you reached by passing through a hallway lined with Elvis' gold records. The gold records were fascinating to my sister and me but the rest of our terrycloth jogging suit clad tour-mates were dying to see the Elvis fashions and practically ran us over to get to them. There was much oohing and aahing from the group and our favorite was one beehive hairdo sporting lady who, with honest to goodness tears in her eyes, said to her companion as they stared at one of the glittering jumpsuits "Oh I wish I could touch that!". Actually it came out more like "Oh aaah wish aaah cud tuuuch thay-it!". It was my turn then to be pinched to stifle my snickers.
  • The Meditation Garden where Elvis is buried actually is a peaceful place - until someone becomes emotionally overcome, that is. Those were some quick and efficient tour guides!
I visited Graceland a few more times over the years with friends and family but while the tour changed a little, it didn't have the same allure to me as the first visit did. Even my last visit there a couple years ago was only really memorable to me because I was with a group of dear, dear friends who were all seeing it for their first time. No, I believe my days of touring Graceland are over for good. That is until they get something else in there as good as the round, fake fur covered bed. I may never be able to scratch that sight from my mind's eye.

I do goof on Elvis an awful lot but regardless of how much I make fun of his image, I still recognize his musical greatness and am still in awe of it. Hell, I even love Elvis movies. Even nearly thirty years after his death the world still recognizes his name and he's still inspiring musicians. Elvis did what he was born to do - make music and entertain us all and for that I honor him.



Anonymous kara said...

I can't believe you glossed over that "emotionally overcome" part. In fact, I'm quite sure I never heard your version - I heard about it secondhand. :)

They still had the tour guides when I was there the first time in '94, but they were gone by the time I went back in '03. I miss the tour guides.

The man was something, even with all the insanity that has come about after his death.

12:00 AM  
Blogger Mr. Fabulous said...

I think we were there in 1993.

I have always been a big Elvis fan. Not the obsessed kind, but I have always liked his music and I have always been facinated with the way he led his life. He has always been a tragic hero to me.

12:29 AM  
Blogger KlasMommy said...

AWWWWWWW Sweet sweet Elvis, awww the memories of Graceland! I had a blast when I went with you. Man, that was forever ago! When was that we went? That was also the same trip of shadguts and nightcrawlers!! And slaying the bird with the car grill because he had a kamikaze mission and went up in a poof of feather smoke and the CF of goats!!

2:02 AM  
Blogger traveller one said...

Awww... now that's a great Elvis tribute! Did you know that the name ELVIS is quite common here in Albania and I do a double take every time I hear someone use it.

8:36 AM  
Blogger The Lone Beader said...

I have never been to Graceland. Would love to go, though.... =:)

8:56 PM  
Anonymous Robin said...

Witnessing your reenactment of your Graceland Breakdown over cake and tea/coffee at the Peabody six years ago is by far my favorite memory of you.

People, if you ever have the opportunity to witness that spectacle, I assure you, Dixie doesn't disappoint.

5:20 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Home