Sunday, January 9, 2011

THE KING AND US



There are all sorts of little games and trivia questions going on between bloggers, and a lot of them are something like: Tell Seven Things People Don’t Know About You.

I would imagine there are umpteen things we don’t know about each other, my dear readers and members and commenters and visitors, and more than two-years-into-this-blog, in order to tell the following story, I will have to enlighten Y’all on one of those things: My age. I make no secret of it at all---in fact, I’m kinda proud of these gray hairs and what folks charitably call “smile lines.” But it will take only today’s post to guess.


Fifty-four years ago---September 26, 1956, my best friend Linnette got her Mama to drive us to the Tupelo Fair to see Elvis perform. We were not yet in High School, and like many a young’un of all eras, we got together on the phone the night before, to decide on what to wear. Sitting there in our September-night houses, with perhaps the fan going and the heat of the day subsiding, we threw all sense to the nonexistent winds and chose to wear our new black skirt-and-sweater sets, bought for the new school year---both sweaters were long-sleeved wool, pushed up to the elbow, and hers was angora. We got dressed the next morning and off we went, confident in our sophistication, the curl of our immaculate ponytails, and our stylish outfits, decades ahead of Fernando’s infamous “It’s better to look good than to feel good.”

It was HOTTTT, even early morning, even in the car. They had a BIG Oldsmobile, with the flip-forward front seats for getting into the back. It was dark green with white leather seats, and her whiny brother had to ride in the front because he got carsick---which was fine with us, because neither of us wanted to be stuck in the back seat with him, anyway.

We’d first hoped that Linnette’s Mama would go and visit with her sister, who lived there in town---but the even more fervent hope was that she wouldn’t go off and saddle US with Little Brother while we had mature lady-things to do. But he wanted to stay for the Fair, and so they both stayed. We had matinee tickets, because we had to try to get home before dark.

We carried a picnic lunch in a big carrier, and we had to take it in when we went through the gate, so we took turns carrying the thing, and baby-sitting it when the others would go on the rides. I don’t think she and I ate a bite, for the show started about 2 p.m., and we were just so nervous to go and get into a good spot. No reserved seats---no seats at all in a lot of places, and as we entered, Randy started to whimper and pull back, because of the crowd, surging and already screaming all around us, and Mrs. T. had to stay behind with him, as we went WAY forward. The stage was a big plank platform, and all these years I’ve remembered it as a flatbed truck, somehow---maybe there were wheels visible. It was all open in the sun, and I’m sure we were limp as dishrags by the time we got as far front as we could.

We were WAY early, and as we stood in that September sun, with the sweaty, nervous crowd pressing ever close and closer, I could just feel the fever in my clothes---that wooly outfit, so chic and so sophisticated, was just intolerable, and the sweat was running down our faces. We’d grabbed a few each of those awful brown NIBROC “towels” in the restroom---the ones like pinking-sheared grocery bags, and we were steadily trying to dab our foreheads and not let anyone see, as the Coty powder from our dollar compacts dissolved and our Tangee lips must have looked like teeny-bop Riddlers.

There was none of the fanfare of later years---no dramatic 2001/Zarathustra and strobing lights---they just announced him, and there he was---Elvis, beginning his first number. And we were vindicated: The King was wearing almost an exact duplicate of our own outfits (he was in pants, of course). Despite the darkness of his own clothes, he just shone, up there in the sun---his hair was closer to REAL hair at the time, hardly distinguishable from any haircut in our acquaintance, and he was SO beautiful.

His shirt looks black in the picture, but I swear it was a deep, sapphire-y blue, kind of glinting as he turned and moved, gleaming almost electric sometimes in the depths, like the changes when you blow onto a cat’s fur, with the light hitting the velvet just right. I heard later that his Mama had made that shirt, and it was no big deal at the time, but now, it’s a thing of rare grace to think of---that just-starting-out Most Enduringly Successful Show-Biz-Personality-of-All-Time, wearing a garment made by his beloved Mama on her old Singer. And he was proud to wear it.

We were two shy small-town girls, in every sense, and would never have intruded ourselves onto anything, but somehow we were RIGHT BENEATH HIS FEET, right up at the front of the stage, with fans who were screaming and crying and reaching fervently toward him, as if to Touch His Garment. Flashbulbs were popping and the music was blasting, and he was gyrating and we were literally burning to death inside those infernal wooly clothes, and it was like no other experience I can imagine.

FORTY YEARS LATER

About fifteen years ago, we stopped at a McDonald’s on the way to Chicago for the day. Chris went to the counter to order as I headed for the Ladies’ room, and as I came out, I made a little circuit of the walls to look at all the Rock ‘n’ Roll memorabilia. There were signed guitars and other instruments, and pictures---lots of pictures, mostly black-and-white.

As I approached one wide photo, I felt a little tingle of recognition, the tiny beginning of a sparkly moment of déjà vu, and then an absolute wham of I KNOW THIS, and an electrical spark of I WAS THERE!! as I scanned the picture more closely. I peered at it, getting out my glasses for a closer look---in the crowd, scanning, scanning, and THERE I WAS, just off to the side of Elvis’ outstretched hand, standing in that long-ago moment when we were both so young.

My face is small as my pinky-nail, down and to the right of the camera-flash and looking as if a phantom hand is plucking a hair out of my hairline. And why I’m not looking adoringly at HIM is a mystery past my solving---perhaps I was reflecting on my sins of attire, or about to faint, one.


Who the person of the Vulcan ears and brows right behind me was, I have no idea. But an even greater mystery, lost in the literal heat of the moment, is what on EARTH Linnette was standing on---she has the sorta ruffled-up bang, right between finger and thumb of that big hand, and she looks to be eight feet tall.

There had been none of that later dramatic buildup to the program, nor was there the memorable “Elvis has left the building”---too early in Time, and it would have been moot, anyway---left the platform just doesn’t have the same ring to it.

We DID run by to see Linnette's Aunt Dot after, and she gave us lots of ice water, cool bathrags, and two of her husband’s old cotton T-shirts to wear home, God Bless Her.

At school next day, we were the talk of the town---having played hooky (though we had NOTES from HOME) AND having been In The Presence. And whatever the discomfort, whatever the painful ordeal---they’re both lost in the mists of the past.

I saw him perform again, about 1975, I think, inside the Memphis Coliseum, with all the pomp and circumstance---jeweled jumpsuit, scarves, fanfare and all, but what could ever equal that Hell-hot afternoon, standing right there, not three feet away, as That Legend began the climb that neither he nor we could have imagined.





8 comments:

mustard seeds said...

Though I never saw him perform, my aunt and I did wait in line for 8 hours to see his body after his death. There were thousands at Graceland that day...hundred degree temps in August, but we finally did get in. We were allowed to file in the front door, two children were on the stairs behind his casket-one of them a little girl...perhaps Lisa Marie? We filed right past the casket and back out again in probably about 5 seconds, but we were so proud we had made it in. There was no where to use restrooms or sit down...shoulder to shoulder...hot, sweaty...people fainting everywhere. But we saw him , nonetheless. A cousin of mine wrote her tell all about her relationship with Elvis in the Globe several years ago, but that is entirely another story. We will just leave it at that.
Sheila

Kat said...

Oh, you lucky lucky girl! I would have loved to see him in person. 10 of us went to lunch together after church this morning and the major topic of discussion was Elvis, believe it or not. Two of the couples moved here from Memphis. We all love Elvis. I have such fond memories of buying his "records" and going to his movies with my girlfriend where both of us drooled through out the whole movie. Great memories.

Hugs,
Kat

Marjorie (Molly) Smith said...

lol, you and I are from the same generation, but for some strang reason, I think I was the only young girl in our school who didn't swoon over him. I could not stand him..strange, but I can't remember why. I now do enjoy his music, not much of a fan of his movies though.,Momma always said I didn't like him cause everbody else did..and I had to be different...lol..I was more of a Paul Anka and Fabin fan...
Your story telling is supurb, I could actually feel the heat from those old wool sweater sets.
Molly

Southern Lady said...

I envy you having such an "up close and personal" encounter with THE KING ... told as only you could tell it, Rachel. He was truly one of a kind, and I will always be sorry I didn't see him perform in person. Thank you for taking us back to that flatbed truck in 1956 ... in my humble opinion, he was never better than he was then.

Kim Shook said...

Elvis love was multi-general in my family - Bomo, Momma and I all loved him. The funny thing is that while I (the youngest) loved the pre-army Elvis the best, they loved the white jumpsuit one better!

How wonderful to have such a memory, but I could FEEL those sweaters!

Tonja said...

My friend, I just LOVED this story! Just to think that you were there...seeing him up close and personal. And, I just laughed out loud when I think of you burning up in those clothes! Just thinking of those hot summer evenings where nary a breeze is blowing...and how that mohair must have mixed with the swet running down your back . Oh, my. Were you wearing Evening in Paris perfume? And, you Tangee lipstick...was it a most unusual shade of orange? Nowadays, you could go around the corner and find a million t-shirts to change into! Oh, those brown towels...UGH! They get even more nasty when wet! I just loved this and I just love that you saw him and I just love that you ran up on the picture!

Jeanne said...

Oh Rachel this story is awesome. When I was 15 Elvis came to Miami but I didn't get to see him. He was a singing sensation by then. I pretended I didn't care but I DID. We must be close to the same age because the popular outfit of the day was a skirt and a sweater set. Smile. I was born in 1939. Fess up girl!!! HA! I had to study the photo to see if I could identify a teen with sweat running down her arms. Nope, couldn't do it at all. By the way, Randy is my younger brother's name. I honestly do not remember having to take care of him. I would have hated it...but I would have done it anyway. smile. We were taught to love each other and that was an order from headquarters. We always listened when our mother spoke to us. One thing we always knew...she loved each of us dearly. We just were not allowed to shame her with unkind or bad behavior. We never did!

Thank you so much for the pure entertainment of going to see Elvis. I felt like I was there at last. smile.
It is snowing again like crazy. We have not seen this much snow here in NC.
Stay warm, hugs, Jeanne

Keetha said...

Oh! I swanne, this story gave me cold chills. Thanks for that!

My Aunt Imogene met him at the Tupelo Fair. He was performing and tossed her a teddy bear from the stage.