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Nostalgia July 2015

Elvis and Me

By Deborah Camp

As teenage girls elbowed and pushed their way closer to their idol, Peggy Jo and I wriggled our skinny 10-year-old selves right up to the front of the throng. I was eye to eye with Elvis's black riding boots, and was much more impressed with Elvis's beautiful horse than with his ability to sing and wiggle his hips.

Is there anyone who grew up in Memphis during the 50s who doesn't have an Elvis story? I wasn't a girlfriend (too young) or a co-star (no talent) and he never gave me a car, or anything else for that matter. But he certainly left me with a memory I've enjoyed all my life.

Memphis in the 50s was a slow-paced southern town perched on the bluff of the Mississippi River. Its major claims to fame included the title of being the world's largest hardwood lumber market and its boast of brokering more cotton than all other American cities combined. This was long before Memphis became known for FedEx, St. Jude and of course, Graceland.

My mom was a huge Elvis fan. The emerging artist made an impression upon her and I remember us jitterbugging in the living room, sliding around the hardwood floor in bobby socks as a lavender plastic transistor radio blasted out the sounds of "Don't Be Cruel" and "Jailhouse Rock."

One hot Sunday afternoon my dad, who was not particularly fond of Elvis but who was fond of minimizing the nagging of my mother, drove us to Graceland to see if Elvis was anywhere to be seen. The handsome rock 'n roller had been honorably discharged from the military and disk jockey Dewey Phillips teased listeners with unconfirmed reports he was back home in Memphis. As it turned out, the wide iron gates were open and Elvis was sitting atop his horse on the grassy front lawn of the stately colonial style mansion smiling and signing autographs for a gaggle of young women surrounding him.

Dad cautiously drove the blue Chevrolet halfway up the driveway. "Oh, my goodness, he's really here," Mom whispered. She quickly rummaged through her pocketbook and then thrust a pencil and a postcard into my hands. And then with firm instructions to get his autograph my best friend Peggy Jo and I scrambled from the car and raced up the driveway toward Elvis and his horse, while my parents, younger sister and baby brother watched from inside the unairconditioned car.

As teenage girls elbowed and pushed their way closer to their idol, Peggy Jo and I wriggled our skinny 10-year-old selves right up to the front of the throng. I was eye to eye with Elvis's black riding boots, and was much more impressed with Elvis's beautiful horse than with his ability to sing and wiggle his hips. Suddenly I heard the panicked voice of my friend. "Agggh! Help! His horse is stepping on my foot," she shrieked. I looked down and sure enough, Elvis's horse was resting his gigantic hoof on top of Peggy Jo's white Keds tennis shoe. I stared in horror as she squealed, "He's squashing me! Make him stop!"

Suddenly I was filled with defensive anger. I was normally a polite and shy sort of kid but my best friend was in trouble and bold measures were clearly required. I reached my spindly arms as high as I could and grabbed Elvis's pant leg. When that didn't get his immediate attention I swatted at him as hard as I could. From the car mom and dad would have only seen the outer layer of the swirling throng of giggling girls, as we had disappeared into its vortex. They might have noticed when Elvis suddenly jerked his head downward and then slightly pulled back the horse's reins.

He looked down at me with that famous smile and asked, "What's the matter, little lady?"  My face turned beet red as the older girls around us snickered and glared. "My friend," I croaked. Then more forcefully and with the sternest frown I could muster. "Get your horse off my friend's foot!" Elvis gently raised the reins and his horse eased back.  "Sorry 'bout that, little lady."

The crowd parted and Peggy Jo and I sprinted back to the car. Behind us one of the girls called out, "You dummies!" We spilled into the back seat and breathlessly related our disastrous encounter. As our story unfolded mom's eyebrows began to knit and twist as she stared at my empty hands. The only thing my mom was interested in was whether we got his autograph. "No," I barked incredulously. "Why would I want his lousy autograph after what he did to Peggy  Jo!" Mom looked like she was going to cry and my dad only laughed and pulled another cigarette out of his Lucky Strike pack. "Ah, come on, Dot. That boy ain't ever gonna be that famous."

 

Deborah Camp is a writer and columnist from Memphis, Tennessee. She can be contacted at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

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