That's All Right, Mama

I don't remember exactly when it first started, but one day in my early teens, I accidentally caught a replay of Elvis's 1968 comeback special on TV - the one with the tight black leather - and I remember being absolutely fascinated by the acoustic circle at the start of the show.  I watched the next hour in awe of the man.  His voice.  His grin.  Those hips.  My god, he could sing and dance.  

Keep in mind, when I was in high school, Top 40 consisted mainly of people scowling at MTV.  So to have this beautiful hunk of slicked-back hair unabashedly grinning at the ladies and gyrating onstage and singing his heart out - well, it was like a siren song.  And it worked.

My family occasionally packed up the car for a 13-hour drive to see our grandparents.  I used to beg my parents for a quick stop in Memphis to see Graceland.  They NEVER said yes.  Mom always claimed Elvis Presley was ultra cheesy, and she was never a fan.  Dad pretty much nodded in agreement with her.  I was only 5 years old when he died.  Ultimately it felt like I was really missing out on something big.

Fast forward to meeting Brian, and after several months of dating, we planned a vacation together.  We were going to drive 12 hours to meet his parents, and along the way, spur of the moment, I suggested we stop to see Graceland.  He said, "Sure, I'd love to."  I think that was the beginning of something beautiful for us, that moment.  Or maybe it was me.  Yeah, probably just me.

Fifteen years and $25 later, I finally confirmed that my parents deliberately deprived me of one of life's most memorable tourist experiences.

This is my picture at the gates of Graceland.  I don't have any from inside the house - photography is strictly forbidden.  So I'll try to describe it in a nutshell for those who haven't been.  Elvis died in 1977, shortly after much of the house had been updated, and it is permanently preserved as he left it.  Which means, take the avocado green refrigerator and the harvest gold oven/stove you found in every home in America in 1977, and then match the counters and wallpaper and carpet with the wildest colors you can imagine, complete with the 1970's wood paneling, AND THAT'S JUST THE KITCHEN, Y'ALL.  

Elvis's parents both lived with him at Graceland.  Driving up to the front door, you can't help but think, "Wow.  He was like the biggest music star on the planet, and he lived in this tiny little house with his parents?"  It looks just like an average home from the front yard.  But it's like going through that tiny door in Willy Wonka's Chocolate Factory - it's enormous on the inside.  He expanded at the back of the house, and finished the basement, and built a huge playroom in the backyard, so you can't see it all from the front.  

When you enter the house, the living room is on the right, and dining room is on the left, and the stairwell is right in front of you.  The living room has a large grand piano in it.  Keep going down the hall, and his parents' bedroom is behind the living room on the right.  I cannot imagine the racket they heard regularly at all hours, with Elvis entertaining the entourage on the piano.  Beyond their bedroom on the left is the kitchen, and it was standing in the kitchen, listening to the audio tour on a pair of headphones, when I glanced over at one of the cabinets and promptly had a heart attack.

My grandmother had passed away about two years prior to my vacation at Graceland, and cleaning out her apartment, my mom asked if I would take her dishes.  They were classic grandma dishes, a set called Franciscanware, a pattern with apples on it that everyone remembers.  Since all I owned were some cheap Pier 1 dishes, and I was already a huge sucker for the sentiment of handed-down dishes, I said "Sure!" and took it all home.  Nana had most of the serving pieces for this set.  I am pretty sure I was the only 29-year old girl on the planet who had never married, but had a full china service with a matching butter dish, coffee pot, sugar and creamer, plus the gravy boat and turkey platter.  

Anyway, two years later I was standing in Elvis's kitchen, with my hands fluttering and my heart pounding, and I managed to squeak out to Brian, who was standing behind me, "I ... have ... Elvis's ... dishes!"

Not Nana's dishes.  ELVIS PRESLEY'S DISHES.  That glass-front cabinet housed those same apple plates and cups, and I remember seeing a teapot, too.  I could have reached over and opened the cabinet and taken that teapot, and possibly even one or two steps before security would have had me pinned to the floor. 

Folks, every time I look at that picture of me standing at the gate to his house, I picture Elvis eating his famous peanut butter and banana sandwiches on the same plates that I use to serve my family's dinner.  I knew I liked that guy.  I knew I needed to tour his house.  I knew my purchase of his CD of #1 hits would not be a waste of money.  And someday, my girls will know all the words to "That's All Right, Mama."  Even better, one day, the three of them will be arguing over who gets to take Elvis's dishes.


Has it been 9 years? Really?

I tweeted about this idea earlier this week, but I've had an opportunity over the past few months to dig into my old scrapbooks, and I'm reminded that some of these pictures have some great stories behind them.  A few of these pictures are old, but some are recent.  I am going to spend some time blogging these stories so I don't forget them.  I hope you enjoy this series. 

Nine years ago in September, my sister called me from Guatemala.  She had spent the year tying up loose ends with her life in the US - leaving her job, selling her home, putting some of her stuff in storage - to go work in an orphanage.  She had traveled there several times with her church for missions work, and one day she announced to her family that she felt called to work with these kids.  Her job would be working in a dorm with pre-teen girls.  She spent most of the summer fundraising for living expenses for her first year away from home.  I threw her a going away party with her family and friends, and went to the airport to say goodbye.  She left right after 9/11, so we all said goodbye near the McDonalds by the security gate.  I vowed to get a passport so I could visit.

About two weeks later, one Sunday afternoon when I was just hanging around the apartment, she called me from Guatemala.  I knew these calls would be rare so I was surprised to get one so soon.  "Jennie," she said, "I'm engaged."  I remember my response was, "To WHO?"  Seriously, I had spent months working with her to get everything taken care of so she could move, and not once had she mentioned a boyfriend.  For the life of me I could not figure out what guy in her life could have possibly proposed.

But apparently, she had met a guy on some of those missions trips.  His name was Steve, and he had moved to Guatemala from Ohio, and was taking care of a dorm full of toddler boys.  They had become close friends over the summer - apparently they talked a lot as she was preparing to move - and he had proposed shortly after she moved down there.  Hmm.

The next thing she said was that the wedding was going to be in 2 months, at the beginning of November, and they would not be able to handle planning from so far away, and since I was in town, would I please take care of arranging everything?  

I'll blog more about this in future entries, but at the age of 30, this WAS my wheelhouse.  Not weddings, mind you, I'd never done that before - but throwing together a shindig for a couple hundred people - including my sister and a future brother-in-law that I don't know - I'm all over it.  Sure.  No pressure, I've got this.

I'm pretty sure I was making lists about 5 minutes after the call, but wow.  It was a whirlwind of spending my parents' money and a billion phone calls.  Thank god I had an understanding co-worker and boss who let me work on this.  

This picture was taken at the rehearsal dinner.  I called the future-brother-in-law's mom, who lived in Ohio and also needed on-the-ground assistance with party planning (of course), and we ended up at the local Copeland's in a banquet room.  Taking the whole French Quarter-New Orleans-Mardi Gras theme to the logical conclusion, I put masks and beads on the tables, and I had gold, green and purple balloons everywhere.  Guests were encouraged to have a great time.  There was a toast, and I think I remember a few of the hurricanes.  It was an amazing weekend, one that I felt proud to pull off in such a short time.   To commemorate my time spent planning their special day, my sister gave me a clock, which I still have on my mantel today.

Happy anniversary to both of you this weekend.  As you celebrate in New Orleans this weekend, here's to many, many more years together.