Adopt an Elder

To liberals and conservatives alike, I say you cannot love (or, you are no warrior) until you have cared and fought for someone you know and owe – not a vague abstraction, but someone close by. Most of my friends and family have experienced this revelation. I am a Johnny-come-lately in this forced march, but I am willing to advocate for it as if I discovered something awesomely new.

Decline is inevitable. It is the future of us all.

Young people, love and cherish your elders before it is too late. Record and remember their sacrifices, foibles, follies, triumphs, and wisdom.

Time is relative, supposedly, but it is an unrelenting hunter. Do unto others as you would have others down the food chain do unto you. When you come to embrace the majestic, unexpected degradation of life, you will come to understand it; only then will you apply to it the full measure of your diminishing capabilities.

Some differ on the focus of their crusades for life. From my perspective, the life not present and formed can have no place of precedence if the life that is nearby is not completely honored. And the life that has given to others many times over cannot be relegated to obscurity and daily want if life to come is to thrive.

We are and have been a busy, self-regarding generation. Those after are perhaps busier. Business is our nature and our fog. Too often we are busy about nothing – nothing of significance at all. Wisdom is recognizing obligation and noting one’s hair’s-breadth remove from insignificance.

Young nieces and nephews – grand nieces and nephews – young friends and strangers, I marvel at your energy and health, your white teeth and strong voices, and your time left for mistakes and successes. But the train of old age is coming at you much faster than you know; you will only know it when it hits. Be prepared for a new near-life. Be prepared to be a model for your descendants in gracefully negotiating the years that were supposed to come so slowly. And pray like mad that your children and their children, and the great souls of your community, will mercifully adopt an elder.

Raid on Palau

Having known R. W. Hulme (Bob) forty years, I can, without reservation, attest that I believe every single word of his stories. It is a wonder that he came to write his stories and that we should hear and like them so much.

I like the excitement and cool detachment; the brevity, clarity, and detail; his determination to get it done; the humility and the humor. But most of all I like the unmistakable humanity – the “one” and the “we” working it out on the fly.

Bob was drafted into the Army on his twenty-second birthday in September, 1941. That fact is completely consistent with the tone of his stories. He was no daring-do cowboy. He moved by force of persistence, against significant odds, into flying. Once there, he took charge without bravado.

Essentially, over time, Bob did not alter, except where a house full of lovely, intelligent, honorable women helps a man adjust admirably. It is noteworthy that his telling of this story comes in 1992. After Ross Perot, Bob privately struggled, for 19 more years, to negotiate the new world order. He adapted in increments like the self-taught, well-read, hard-working, experienced gentleman that he was.

Despite what they claim in fiction and history, great things happen in increments. Bob’s stories – and life – show us that great feats happen in short steps. The context of those steps is often out of control – as are the guiding instruments – but it is how one handles the stick that substantially determines when, where, how, and if one lands.

The new world order was more ambiguous and less trustworthy for a man such as Bob. He respected learning, loyalty, common sense, and work, but he clearly objected to the way things were headed.

After seeing the television series “The Pacific,” I am heartily grateful that Bob was in the air. His is the war that we know through his stories. He and they allow us to suspend judgment about the time, and all that preceded and followed it, in the suspense of how our loved one managed to survive intact. Not just survive, but thrive as the same man we read about now and knew around the kitchen table.

As he makes abundantly clear, Bob was one of many, a leader who wanted to get the hell out and get his comrades out, too, while doing his assigned task in a way that, though not exactly by the book, gets it done and wins peace in which a new world could emerge. Big men yield. But when they succumb to age and change, they leave gaping holes.

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Stories in TennesseeSoul by Lt. Col. Robert W. Hulme, USAF (Ret.)
(ordered by date of war event)

Black Sunday
Raid on Palau
The Big One
Clark Field
The One

Painting A Way

Click here to read this story.

The piece associated with this introduction was not written as a story or article. It is a how-to letter to a friend. But I find it very interesting and share-worthy. I asked Gail if I could put it in TennesseeSoul and she relented.

The aim of TennesseeSoul, or one of the main aims, is to share the ordinary about a small community of people who try their best to survive by keeping productive and endeavoring to discover new things about their world on a daily basis. It is not intended to be showy or prissy professional in the top-drawer sense favored by snobs and academics.

When I read this letter, I wanted to paint. Gail makes it seem very doable. She makes painting a way of life.

I completely revolt against anyone telling anyone else they should not pursue a process that may make them happy, especially when that activity is harmless and more than likely will enrich the practitioner and, perhaps, an audience, no matter how small.

I want my epitaph to read: “TennesseeSoul: He tried.” Some wiseacres quip that life is eighty percent showing up. It’s not quite as easy as that; if it is, get a life. I believe life is at least half trying for even a mediocre existence in sustainable harmony with our world. And mediocre life is pretty good life indeed when you look around at many of the alternatives.

Gail’s simple letter about painting is about far more than painting. The act of painting leads a way to discovery and sustained harmony.

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Still Life

Our widowed friend paints life still:

each object vibrates color;

vessels brim with promise past,

with memories vaguely shaken.


Repeating acts for themselves,

sublime grasp of the moment,

each stroke observes one forward step,

one backward glance forsaken.


Still life is breath, no less,

when human hands and eyes behold

what minds and hearts embrace,

what sharing lives awaken.

When Letters Could Talk

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I treasure letters. I save most personal correspondence I receive. And I try to save drafts of some letters that I send. Fragments of letters encapsulate evidence of the fullness of living. It pains me to imagine chunks of history daily cast away. Still more, it awes me to consider the trillions of stories that were never part of our shared record.

Digital messaging is something we think we cannot live without. I greatly appreciate its speed and convenience. I am grateful that I continue to receive emails – occasionally even containing multiple paragraphs – that approach the detail, color, feeling, and depth of handwritten letters. But they are fewer and fewer. Though I have tried to keep personal email exchanges over for the past twenty years, emails have become more akin to business telegrams than letters. Blogs are really not like letters either, but they can be richer than emails – though less personal. When I write something for what others insist on calling my “blog,” I generally write portions as if they were letters to individuals with whom I am very familiar. Often the messages I send to them in this indirect way are urgent though quiet. Even though I have substantial experience using digital technology for communication, the first time I got a response to a “blog” story from someone I didn’t know, it creeped me out; I felt as if my personal space had been violated in some way. Maybe I am over that to some extent, but in a significant way I am not. I write to people I know. [1]

Despite having little to say most of the time, I endeavor to be both informative and entertaining in my letters. Whether I succeed in achieving either is an open question. I am not a very inventive letter writer in terms of fiction and fantasy, but I am a passable exaggerator.

Recently I found a bundle of letters written in late 1982 and early 1983. They are particularly interesting to me because they illustrate how my wife and I lived before the advent of our son. These paragraphs that you are reading are a sidewinding preface to selected parts of three of those letters.

There is an incident – not mentioned in the letters – that links the first two recipients. It happened as a close friend, my wife, and I leisurely drove back to Nashville from Boston. My wife and I were returning home after travel north to briefly visit our friend. His girlfriend’s parents lived near the water’s edge of eastern Long Island. We had only just met her days before in Boston, and she had returned to her parent’s comfortable house for an extended summer stay. She and her parents put the three of us up for a night to help relieve our drive south.

My friend had a mischievous streak and was a studied deceiver. He delighted in the discomfort of others, especially familiars. As we were driving across Long Island, he casually mentioned, as if it were a slip of his tongue, that his girlfriend’s brother had deep-rooted psychological problems and had recently been found wandering, if not stalking, the beach holding an ax. When we arrived, we met her friendly family, and while we were on the beach, we ran across her younger brother. He did indeed act peculiarly. After dinner and a beach walk, my wife and I returned to our guest accommodations in the basement of the house. The brother’s bedroom was a small side room off of the main basement room, separated only by a flimsy, hollow-core interior door. From the stairwell he had to walk across the room about ten feet from the foot of our double bed to get to his room. That night, after we got in bed, turned out the lights, and began to nod off, he returned home and walked a little too noisily to his room and shut the door. The light remained on for the entire night, and there was occasional shuffling in the room, accented by periodic human utterances. My eyes and ears were alert all that night. I had one of the most fitful sleeps ever, continually glancing at that door with the light seeping from the inch-wide crack at the bottom, listening for signs of imminent attack. We had been warned by our friend not to mention the brother’s condition; so as thoroughly polite and grateful guests, we issued not a hint, before or after our evening, about our planted suspicions, though craving all the while confirmation or denial of our friend’s darkly sketched story. The next day, our friend reluctantly and “innocently” confessed his tale, after hearing of my restless sleep and seeing my haggard eyes. His girlfriend was not amused by his trick or our long-suffering discomfort.

Letter writing and friendship are similar to that story. It’s difficult to sort what is fact from embellishment. Often we don’t really want to know the absolute truth because it would ruin the experience. If we demand only truth and facts, there might be no story – nor life – to speak of.

FOOTNOTE:

1. Since its inception, TennesseeSoul Mate has not been open to external search engines. That polite curtain of modesty is a cellophane barrier I have been unwilling to lift. Thus, though it is open to whoever stumbles upon it, the TennesseeSoul Mate portion of the TennesseeSoul network possesses an imaginary privacy. Otherwise, TennesseeSoul overall is strongly shielded by obscurity, general lack of interest, and too much other stuff to do.

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A Fractured Brotherhood

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Who wasn’t dumb when young? Blessed are they who survive to laugh about it.

The 1960s were not for the faint of heart or overly idealistic. The same caution applies to the story for which these few words feign preface. Thinking of that time brings to mind the term wasted. But the times were wasted in intriguing ways.

Those who find modern society perplexing and unruly surely did not attend a large public university in American in the 1960s. The chaos was both diffuse and acute – and unremitting. Nonetheless, there were core standards that set a pace – even under long, unkempt hair and amid bizarre street-theater antics. We were wackos then as we are now in aging. Still there were, and are, steady limits that continue to yield results and reassurance.

* * *

The recollections associated with this introduction started with a dream about a hunt for a missing person. I began getting visits and phone calls from a disparate group of individuals with little more in common than prolonged proximity to one another long ago in youth. The individuals were roughly equivalent in experience, intelligence, class, wealth, ethnic and social background, and aspirations – but different enough to make interactions among them interesting and unsettling, offering a context for the personal evolution of all involved.

A youthful initiation into the world of intoxicants figures in this account. No serious offenses or accidents derived from said experimentation worse than what I had already accomplished as a very sober, yet equally dull-witted, 16-year-old driver. My first accident occurred two weeks after getting my license. Driving with four or five friends on the way to school, I was hit from my left at an unmarked neighborhood intersection. One friend broke his collar bone. Though the other driver was charged, it was as much my fault as not. The second was about eight months later after being caught downtown at night in a fresh snow storm with a car full of church friends. Of course, no one wore a seat belt; one girl in the lap of another friend hit her tooth on the dashboard. I was not charged, due to the ice, slow speed and minor damage to the other automobile, but I knew it was my fault ultimately. The third time, maybe a year later, while double dating, my engine (in the same car) caught fire in a quiet out-of-the-way suburban neighborhood. To my father’s dismay, the car did not burn up. Still it was damaged enough in my three accidents that my father traded it (rather than me) for a green Volkswagen Karmann Ghia convertible. Finally, I had learned my lesson: there was no way I was going to scratch that beauty.

An excursion in fraternity introduced me to new ways of self-defeat – and maturity.

Memphis is sustained by social and emotional tendrils. Long after I left my college fraternity, a former brother occupied a house near campus with his best friend, who was not our fraternity brother but a party beast beyond any in that organization. When they gave up the house, my uncle and aunt and cousin moved in, and my grandparents moved next door. Within no time, my other two first cousins moved, each with a wife and child, into separate houses within a block of my aunt, uncle, and paternal grandparents. This area of Memphis became a frequent and much-appreciated resting place, especially after I moved into a duplex on the other side of the tracks, closer to the university, about six short blocks away. We all surrounded the location of my old fraternity house. In effect, it was as if over the years of significant events, I had not moved out of the realm of fraternity but rather stretched my links from it to the university and broader world beyond.

This story explores youth and fraternity as a potent, hazardous coupling. Though the subject and the telling may seem small, the personal consequences were enormous. And they live on in countless ways.

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From Plains to Polestar

For Roberta Jane on her Ninetieth Birthday
(July 5, 2014)

When she was young, a way out West,
her family owned the dairy best;
her aunties smoked and drank and cussed,
then laughed out loud and lightly fussed.

On Okie sod she staked her claim,
then danced into a pilot’s brain.
Gettin’ hitched and movin’ East,
she planted firm where change is least.

Popping babies one and two,
a couple more, tired through and through,
Bobbie Jane, she kept ‘em thrivin’,
too many schools for daily drivin’.

‘Twas Bobbie this and Bobbie that,
fetch the hoe and get my hat,
please bake those tasty heads of cat,
feed the dogs and trim the fat.

She took to travelin’ east to west,
but always thought the beach was blessed.
She spoiled the babes and kissed their toes;
she sneaked them sweets and wiped their nose.

Then finally when she hit the chair,
an open book, a stance so fair,
her Bob and clan close arm in arm,
she gazed beyond her rich green farm.

Though far from home of younger years,
she found a hope to calm her fears,
she waited on a life held dear,
she whispered joy that’s ever near.

Epiphany at Atitlan

Patterns from a Rooftop: Chapter 6

This installment of Patterns from a Rooftop is a requiem for a journey. To be more exact, it is about the end of the beginning of multiple journeys. My lifelong companion considers it the best of this series. I tend to agree but think it finally exposes where the previous chapters have been heading all along.

I am exceedingly happy that I have taken the time to hunt through photographs and repair them and to piece together this trip from a more mature perspective – though I have allowed much of the fervor of the original notes to stand as recorded at the time. I could never have done this without the journal that I kept and sent home disguised as personal letters to family and friends back in Tennessee.

There is one more chapter in this story. It too has both its dark and humorous sides.

As you are well aware by now, my few loyal readers, expressions in these pages are of more comfort and benefit to me than to anyone else. A good friend argues, academically, that writing is not intended to be so. I beg to differ. If a journalist is not intrinsically rewarded on a continual basis, there is no writing or the writing is stone-cold dead. I am not compensated in this effort in any way but by my own discovery and evolution. Long live the evolution!

Click here to read this new chapter.

Start the full journey here for the series Patterns from a Rooftop.

Party Crashing a Mission Town
Patterns from a Rooftop: Chapter 1
Read it here.
Preface & Reader Response

Resurrecting Small
Patterns from a Rooftop: Chapter 2
Read it here.
Preface & Reader Response

Drawn to Scale
Patterns from a Rooftop: Chapter 3
Read it here.
Preface & Reader Response

On the Lip of Languor
Patterns from a Rooftop: Chapter 4
Read it here.
Preface & Reader Response

Raising Ruins
Patterns from a Rooftop: Chapter 5
Read it here.
Preface & Reader Response

Epiphany at Atitlan
Patterns from a Rooftop: Chapter 6
Read it here.
Preface & Reader Response

Wheels Up, Trujillo
Patterns from a Rooftop: Chapter 7
Read it here.
Preface & Reader Response

Fathers and Guns

Patricia Waters launched a blog this summer called Green Roots TN. It was originally aimed at a particular environmental concern: fracking on property managed by the University of Tennessee. Very soon she branched out to address a multitude of her interests in the full panoply of her persuasive powers. At the end of her first month as a blogger, she posted a copy of a letter she sent to her local newspaper editor regarding a Tea Party member’s “full editorial page rant against” a friend’s letter to the editor about gun violence. Her letter is well worth the read. Here is a link to her letter. Below the link, I have posted a response to her essay.

http://greenrootstn.wordpress.com/2013/07/30/the-western-and-gun-violence/

Continuity and conservation versus “hell no” and gunpowder – only one side seems interested in asking fundamental questions. Patricia’s letter on guns in our culture is a terrific read. The passions rooted in Tennessee, American history and popular culture, and ancient antecedents drive home the insidiousness and pathetic pettiness of Tea Party misdirection and flippancy.

But Patricia, in her erudite, lucid, principled, and personal argument, does not tell the full story as it relates to true conservatism – what relates to our heritage, our fathers, and our real lives. I know that her story has a deep connection to her father and his love of Western fiction – and his intense patriotism as a World War II B-29 flight engineer (20th Air Force, 313 Bomb Wing, 505 Bomb Group) who served in the Pacific Theater (North Field, Tinian, in the Northern Mariana Islands). Though he had two hunting rifles and a shotgun, he did not possess a functioning handgun until late in life when he was living on his own after his wife passed away.

My father-in-law was a bomber pilot in the Pacific in World War II and had a full rack of rifles and shotguns for his entire adult life. He was a Ross Perot Republican, yet he did not possess a handgun after the war. He would have been appalled at the liberality of gun laws in Tennessee and across the country today. He thought movies were a complete waste of time. For him a real man read and worked to support his family and settled his differences with his arms and hands (not a gun) only if all reasonable alternatives had failed.

My father was a hunter in his youth and a Tennessee lawmaker who thought government very useful in building highways and schools. He never renounced guns, but they were never a visible or important part of family life. He instilled in me a love of the old movies that we shared together and the values they imparted. He modeled respect for learning and guided my initiation into retail politics and civil activism.

The ways of the Tea Party are not just an affront to our fathers and their legacy, they are an affront to conservatism. They reject the civil behavior represented by our fathers and for which they honorably struggled. Tea Party ways are intended to be a rejection of our primary legacy in a cynical ploy to gain political power for a wealthy few.

Tea Party intransigence, though considered a convenient tactic by its exponents and controllers, is not merely ignorant and clownish: it is profoundly immoral. Calculated immorality at an empowered level is intended to shatter reason and order so as to subject others – not to law but to the will of the powerful. Certainly there are large numbers of Tea Party followers who are genuine – and genuinely manipulated by bankrollers who care not a fig for their general welfare. (These same bankrollers are sponsoring advertisements urging young people not to buy health insurance.) Some undoubtedly think they are being funny, just getting a rising out of mainstream people (and many in mainstream too quickly take the bait, pursuing gab instead of effective concerted action). At worst they are the most pernicious kind of evil: the evil that seems normal but perpetrates the kind of scorched-earth policies that Patricia cited as evident in latter-day classic movies. This is perhaps an evil with global dimensions and permanent consequences for life on earth.

There is much tongue-wagging and screaming about the threat of our national government. But like Oliver Goldsmith, if there will be tyrants, I prefer my tyrants to be far away, not in my local and state government. National government has to accommodate a multitude of powers and interests under great scrutiny with significant checks and balances. Local governments are not so naturally constrained.

Do-nothings or evildoers in politics get away with it because liberals and centrists and real conservatives can’t be bothered with stopping nonsense at the polls, at the courthouse, at the legislature, at the TV set, at the checkout counter. Our elusive hope is that some hero will step forward and fix it for us, like in the Westerns, or that in time the jokers will overplay their hands and bring on their own demise. So, it’s high noon and the town’s folk have scattered for cover. But the Gary Cooper and John Wayne types are no where in sight, except for Patricia, who is packing two holsters chock full of legacy and literacy and the skill and guts to use them against lunacy masquerading as law in the clear light of day.

Two Degrees to Hound Dog

My Memphis/Elvis Story
from Harold Day

The time frame for my Elvis story was 1957-1958. I was in grade school – 3rd to 5th grade or so.

The Pack of boys in our neighborhood were out in the street (Fillmore Avenue) playing kick ball.

A motorcycle stopped at the stop sign at Fillmore and Labelle. We scattered as it gently accelerated in the direction of our game. As is passed through us at a reasonable pace, we could not help but notice it was Elvis on a white Harley-Davidson. We all looked at each other and began babbling/comparing observations. Yes, indeed it was Elvis.

One of the older girls who happened to be in the area took her handkerchief and wiped it all the way across the road to ensure she had covered the area where Elvis’s motorcycle had tread.

We boys returned to the kick ball game, our attention span and celebrity acknowledgement having rapidly reached their limits.

There is a footnote to Harold’s Elvis journal: “We visited Edison’s House/Museum a few weeks back while staying in Sanibel. We took a guided tour. Near the end, the docent said an average of x number of folks visited this residence every year, did anyone know what was the most visited residence in the nation?” “Graceland?” “Very good,” said the docent. Harold privately reflected, “30 years ago that the most visited residence in America was one that once belonged to a pop singer/entertainer would have bothered me. Now? Phssst, just as soon Elvis get the attention.”

* * *

What Is This?
A Note from Me (Jerry)

In early August, I sent some variation of the following as an email to family and friends closely associated with the Memphis that I knew:

I am collecting stories about personal connections, contacts, and near misses with Elvis. I ran into a colleague at a party Saturday night who lived in Whitehaven in the late ’50s and early ’60s. She had a load of vivid stories related to Elvis before he became over-sized. She graciously and enthusiastically typed those up for me. (She’s a bit of show-biz herself.)

I have no idea where this is going. Elvis is definitely a tie that binds old Memphians – musically and socially, comically and tragically. If you were around then, you have a unique insight into an insular, if not innocent, world on the brink of getting fat and crazy. Release your pink-Cadillac anecdotes upon a needy world — if you dare.

* * *

A number of citizens and former residents of Memphis retain lively memories of Elvis. Some were but a few degrees separated from him at one point in their lives. Somehow I might add to this story over time if I collect more of these anecdotes. For now, I want to share some of these personal remembrances in the pure voice of each contributor. I most enjoy, and I am sure that readers will too, listening to unfiltered storytelling.

* * *

Near Elvis
from Jamie Pope Petty

Elvis. Don’t need any other words for people all over the world to know of whom we speak. Most Tennesseans likely have some connection or story related to Elvis and I’m no exception. I was born in Memphis in 1957 at the time he was just coming on the music scene.

My parents both attended Whitehaven High School in Memphis and were just a year or two younger than Elvis. Although he didn’t go to the same high school, teenagers in Memphis were quite familiar with this rising singer and attended early performances. At the time they actually used the word “greaser” (probably because of his slicked back hair) and weren’t overly enthralled (of course, he wasn’t “famous” then). My mom tells of him briefly dating a friend of hers (?Vivian) and that he brought Vivian home to my grandparents’ home in Whitehaven (on Brownlee) and kissed her on their front porch (apparently Vivian’s parents opposed her dating Elvis, thus she spent the night at my mother’s – but knowing my grandparents, I imagine they wouldn’t have been thrilled either).

My dad’s father, Fred Pope, worked at a machine shop with Vernon Presley and told stories of Elvis working there at one time. My grandfather joked that he once gave Elvis a quarter and told him to go get a haircut. He said Elvis didn’t work there for long.

The next Elvis connection was when my family moved in across the street from Graceland into Oak Acres apartments (which are no longer there). My mom talked about Elvis riding his motorcycle over to the apartments with Natalie Wood on the back. I have pictures of me as a little girl in front of the gates at Graceland.

I attended a kindergarten in Memphis called Joyland that had an Elvis connection of some sort. He came to visit the kindergarten one day, but didn’t sing for us. Mrs. Thompson (hard to believe I remember her name!) just introduced him.

We moved away from Memphis when I was 7, although we frequently returned to visit family – and to drive by Graceland (although I don’t recall that was a definite agenda item). When I was 16, I started dating a boy named David Hill and we dated for two years. His father is Ed Hill, who was a gospel singer with J.D. Sumner and the Stamps Quartet. While I dated David, the Stamps sang back-up for Elvis. Mr. Hill would tell us stories of life on the road and times with Elvis. I remember one story about Elvis watching the Stamps on television when they were doing some sort of fund raiser and that Elvis called in and said he would make a sizable donation if all the Stamps would jump in the pool. It must have been filmed near a pool, memory makes me want to say in Hawaii. And all the Stamps jumped in the pool. He would also tell us about how much Elvis loved to eat – big breakfasts, peanut butter and banana sandwiches, and cheeseburgers on French bread at Rotiers Restaurant when he was in Nashville.

I got to go to a concert in Murfreesboro in probably 1975 to see Elvis and the Stamps perform. We had front row seats and Elvis was giving out either boas or scarves – I jumped up to have him put one around my neck (and maybe get a kiss) as I got caught up in the evening and David pulled me back down in to my seat embarrassed, so I didn’t get a boa. We thought we were too-cool for Elvis at that age and acted bored, although I remember his show was pretty lively and amazing and I secretly loved it. I remember his white jumpsuit and some of the low-light solos. We got to go back stage and Mr. Hill introduced me to Elvis and we shook hands – he had already met David.

Not two years later, I remember being in the tub (yes) and one of my roommates at the time (I was living in a duplex during college) came and told me that Elvis had died. I immediately called David (we were no longer dating at that time) and he said his dad was on his way to Memphis to be with Elvis’s family – which extended beyond his biological family to all the musicians and crew and managers that traveled and performed with him. I still recall the heavy, disbelieving feeling of his premature death and the outpouring of grief from the public. Now my 18 year old has pictures of a young Elvis in her room.

Note: Ed Hill is second from left in this photo: http://i5.photobucket.com/albums/y180/imleaving/Stamps.jpg .

* * *

Memphis Mafia at the Movies
from David Ellis
via Harold Day

(Harold and David served Mass together a lot as altar boys at St. Johns in Memphis.)

I was about 10 years old. My mom and sister worked at the old Strand Theater on Main St. Elvis used to come in often during weekday matinees so as to avoid crowds. I had come down on a city bus after school that day and was sitting in the empty theater watching a movie starring Guy Madison about a dinosaur that had been unearthed by some construction explosions in the area. I got up to get some popcorn and saw Elvis and a couple of the Memphis Mafia coming in to see the movie. He had already been kidding around with my mom and sister for a few minutes, as I found out a little later. Anyway I went back into the movie and Elvis and the others were sitting in the center of the middle section. I was star-struck. I sat down in the aisle seat of the row just in front of him and kept looking over at him. He knew I was distracted by his presence as he and his friends talked outloud and laughed at the otherwise silly movie. I guess they soon became bored with the film and got up to leave. They headed toward the aisle on which I was sitting and as they passed behind me, Elvis patted me on the head and said, “Hi, sonny.”

Keep in mind that the theater was empty all this time. I got up and followed them out to the lobby. The outer doors of the Strand were glass from floor to ceiling and a multitude of girls and young women had gathered outside, but the management would not allow them in and had locked all the doors to protect Elvis from them. There was quite a bit of pushing and shoving and shouting so Elvis and the others then left by an emergency exit.

* * *

Bitten Blue Blue Blue
from Gail Nicholson

My friend, Jane, when we were about six, built a trampoline in her back yard with planks and an old bed spring. For a nickel, she would let me and the other kids in the neighborhood jump on it while she played a 45-rpm of “Hound Dog.”

My Mother was very big on taking the family out to look at Christmas lights every year. We would always go to Elvis’s house because it would be lit solid blue “Blue Christmas.” One year we took my friend, Linda, with us and she ventured up to the guitar gate and was promptly bitten by Elvis’s dog. She wore the teeth marks proudly for several years thereafter.

Years later while I was in college, I worked at a local department store, Parks Belk. Linda Thompson, Miss Tennessee (a prerequisite for an Elvis girl), had once worked there, too. Linda would come in wearing a full-length white fur coat and chat about her life at Graceland with Elvis. My thought was always how lonely she must be to fill her time in such a fashion. She graduated from Elvis’s girl to a star on “Hee Haw.”

* * *

Vampires and Elvis
from Jerry Murley

I don’t know if your memory is like mine or not, but mine is easily stimulated by a single word or incident, after which it takes off and gallops in unpredictable directions and goes on ruminating for days. Facts are okay, I suppose, but memories are something with greater drive and possibility. In the end, it all is about number one for us; if you haven’t realized that yet, you haven’t been to the mountaintop.

Being a not very experienced aging man, I depend on the remembrances of others to feed my memory and imagination. I have known older people in denial about aging who thrive to excess on the fresh energy, smooth complexion, and muscle tone of younger people. Like vampires they drain young fruit dry in ways that are not sustainable and are unhealthy for all parties. Others, like me, derive nourishment from the memory and stories of others; without them we wither in a spiral of diminishing me-ness. There is definitely a healthy balance somewhere in there, but I suspect that few of us ever attain that level of self-sufficiency and interdependence.

Here is what a dinner-party encounter with my friend Jamie stimulated in me:

Elvis was a source of pride, amusement, bewilderment, and, sometimes, slight embarrassment in my neck of the woods in Memphis. I can’t claim or deny any association with him – not even a single sighting in the wilds of Memphis. I certainly am no musicologist, so I cannot comment with any authority as to whether he was a genre blender or bridger or not. I do know that his success and model was a boon to young men in need of a niche who wanted to explore active participation in music making and the music scene. As with much of rock and roll, rhythm and blues, blues, gospel, country, and pop, a deluded neophyte could halfway convince himself that he could perform if those other people could get away with it.

I attended one live Elvis concert at the Memphis Coliseum during the last years of Elvis’s life. As Rick Dees asserted every morning on the local radio station, Elvis had by that time consumed one too many jelly donuts.

But as you might suspect, if you know him, my father met Elvis and one of Elvis’s girl friends in the 1950s or early 1960s. My father was with a small gathering of Memphis Junior Chamber of Commerce members (Jaycees) as part of the dedication of a new structure at the Memphis Fairgrounds. He crossed paths again with Elvis in 1971, again at the Memphis Fairgrounds. It was a U.S. Jaycees’ event honoring Elvis as one of the ten most outstanding young men in America. For the most part, Elvis frequented the Memphis Fairgrounds for the rides in the 1950s and 1960s — and last performed at the Coliseum in 1976.

Elvis was often pictured in the Memphis newspapers giving someone in the hospital a check or a new Cadillac. I think this practice influenced my personal armchair solution for redoing the Vietnam War circa 1970. I hypothesized that it would have been cheaper, if not more ethical and effective, if the U.S. had dropped Cadillacs on the North instead of draftees and munitions.

It is surprising how many young men in and around West and Middle Tennessee resemble Elvis: the sleepy eyes, the mischievous smile, the soft vulnerability concealing Southern cunning. There is Mississippi blood running through the veins of a lot of folks. (I swear that one of my nephews could have passed for Elvis in his early twenties.)

Since the 1970s, I have regarded Memphis as the capital of north Mississippi as much as an engaged component of Tennessee. The mental and cultural compass of Memphis points south rather than east. Tunica is more relevant than Nashville, Knoxville, or Chattanooga. That observation is surely not novel, nor is it a criticism, it is an assessment of essential character that would be very difficult to refute. For much of the rest of Tennessee, Memphis is the attractive bad boy who plays a mean guitar or wails a tortured song. Few Tennesseans, other than the most warped, see Memphis as anything less than a fun getaway – a journey into the wilderness back to the raw power of funky beat, dancing feet, racial competition, big farms, big manufacturing, and a big forbidding river.

One my college friends in the early to mid-1970s was called Elvis by another of my old friends. This was not just because his parents’ home backed up to Graceland. He sort of looked like Elvis, with his shy, winning smile, sweet disposition, sly wit, and twinkling eyes. In essence, he was more Elvis than we thought, because his unfinished life ended near to when Elvis’s did and was even sadder. Such derailings were a large part of the Memphis story around the 1970s.

I remember when Elvis died, mostly because my wife and I were hosting a young house guest from England at the time. The three of us were at a blues nightclub in Downtown Memphis at the time of the news. It was stunning. For Memphians past a certain age, it was as if time had stopped and whatever innocence remained of the past in Memphis had disappeared at the same time. It took almost ten years from King to Elvis, but the end of old Memphis was final, except for a handful of historical relics and old Memphis friends who seemed to never really change.