Tomorrow, August 16, will be the 37th anniversary of Elvis’s death. If you are in your late forties or older, you most likely remember hearing the news. It’s odd, but most people, even those who weren’t Elvis fans, remember that day well. I certainly do. I was sixteen and working at A & W in Moore, Oklahoma. I was one of the only few female employees, and the guys I worked with gave me a hard time about many things, particularly my love for Elvis. That afternoon, Rob, one of the carhops who was off work, came in the restaurant and said, “Hey, Elvis died.” I said, “Shut up, Rob.” He had this big grin on his face and said, “No, really, I’m serious. I just heard it.” I rolled my eyes and said, “Whatever.” Then, my boss, Harold, came out of the office with a strange look on his face and told me that my mom called and said I needed to go home. My body went weak and I was just starting to process that maybe Rob was telling the truth, when I looked out through our big glass window and saw my sister, Janis pulling in. She was crying. And then, I knew for sure. Elvis was gone. I found out later that my mother called my boss and told him that when I learned the news of Elvis’ passing, I would need to leave. He scoffed and told her he didn’t think that would be necessary, and she said, “No, trust me. She’ll need to leave.” So, he reluctantly agreed. Once he saw my reaction in those few moments before I actually left, he understood. My sisters and I grieved for weeks. (I think we’re still grieving some). My parents were amazing through that time. My dad had always teased us about Elvis, but after he passed, he apologized and said he would never say another bad word against him. 🙂 They allowed us to hang black ribbons on our porch columns and Elvis posters on the outside of our house and on the door. I remember a car stopped and the woman driving offered to pay, I think it was fifteen dollars, for the poster hanging on the door, which belonged to me. I said no, thank you.
For weeks we cried and wore black arm bands and listened to tributes and mourned. It might seem odd that we grieved so deeply for someone we’d never met, but Elvis was a very special part of our lives. My sisters and I had shared years of lying on the living room floor watching him in movies, dreaming that we were the lucky girls he was kissing. We covered our walls with his posters and played his music incessantly. Watching him made us happy, lifted our spirits, and now, the man who’d brought us nothing but joy had caused us the deepest sadness we’d known in our young lives. We truly loved him and would miss him. My sister Ruth and I had been to three of his concerts (1975, 1976, and 1977), and we fully intended to go see him again, and again, and again… My older sisters, Janis and Sheri, had been to a concert in 1970 that Ruth and I weren’t allowed to attend, because we were too young. Ugh…we were NOT happy. She was 7 and I was 9. Too young for an Elvis concert? Puh-lease! I still haven’t fully forgiven my parents for that one. 🙂 (Even though she was just a toddler at the time, I can’t leave out my baby sister, Christi, mainly because I’ll never hear the end of it. But, she loved Elvis too, and this Sunday, she, my sister Sheri and my friend Kelly and I are all going to Tinseltown to see the re-mastered version of Elvis’ That’s the Way It Is…can’t wait!)
I remember an incident the winter following his death. I was in the tenth grade, and we had one of the worst blizzards ever that year. My school chums and I were outside in the freezing cold (we were slightly off campus in partially built homes next to the school, smoking cigarettes. I was a bit of a ‘hood,’ although I was a really, really good kid in most ways, I promise! :)). Something was said about Elvis and one of the guys, Charles, said, “It’s about time the son of a bitch kicked the bucket.” I was drinking a coke, and without even thinking, I flung it in his face. Everyone was annoyed with me, even my best friend, Paige. But, I swear, it was just an automatic reaction. That’s not something I would have normally done. I was thinking about that this week and I decided to look him up on Facebook. I friend requested him, but oddly, he hasn’t accepted my request yet. Hmmm…. Anyway, I also requested Tommy, another guy I went to school with who I found on Charles’ page, and he did accept my request. (In all fairness, I didn’t douse him with Coca-Cola in a blizzard). It was fun catching up with Tommy. I requested him under my pen name, and he FB messaged me and said, “I found an Alice Robertson Clary on your friends list and I went to school with a girl by that name who I remember loved Elvis Presley.” I told him that it was me, and that I still loved him. He also said he seemed to recall me writing in a notebook that I’d covered with Elvis pics. He asked if I was honing my writing skills. 🙂 It’s so funny that he remembered those things about me. I like that someone from my past remembers me for Elvis and writing, two of my main passions.
I have never been to Graceland for Elvis week, but someday I would like to. I would imagine it is quite an event. Fans from all over the world travel to Elvis’ home to participate in Elvis week and pay respects to their idol. Another testament to his overwhelming popularity and the impact his life—and his death—had on the world. I know it had a huge impact on me, and on my sisters. Elvis definitely left his mark on this world, and on our hearts.
I don’t want to dwell on the circumstances of Elvis’ death, the timeline and all of that. I’d rather pay respects to the life he lived than his death. I do wonder sometimes if he had a premonition. His rendition of Frank Sinatra’s ‘My Way’ was almost like a farewell ode. And he sang it with a great deal of emotion. In one version, his voice cracks slightly, and it just sounds so sad. Also, in a 1977 concert, the last tour he was to do, he said, “Til we meet again, may God bless you. Adios.” There was just something so sad and haunting about his last year on Earth. Although, his hairdresser, Larry Geller, who was also Elvis’ friend and mentor, said that in those last few months, Elvis talked about changing his life, about getting healthier and pursuing a serious movie career. That would have been spectacular, but whether or not he’d have actually followed through, we’ll never know.
I’ve rambled on enough, so I’ll leave you with this. An earlier performance of “My Way” during the Aloha from Hawaii concert: