It is Friday, Dec. 24, and my wife and I are driving on I-40 just west of Knoxville, Tenn. It’s Christmas Eve, and we’re doing the last leg of a meandering, opportunistic, “let’s pull over and buy some of those antique hub caps” kind of road trip.
A trip that has taken us to Selma, Ala., and to Gulf Port, Miss., and yesterday to Tupelo, Miss. We were in Tupelo because I wanted to see Elvis Presley’s boyhood home.
For reasons I can’t explain I’ve never been interested in Graceland — the columned, caricatured mansion where Elvis hung out and partied between concerts. But, if the truth be told, I was mostly interested in seeing the gift shop in Tupelo.
Some of you who read this column know that I have cut my transactional teeth at gift shops from South of the Border to Myrtle Beach to Gatlinburg. I have spent hours dawdling over snow globes in the Gay Dolphin; acquired inspirational (refrigerator) magnets at Pedro’s Mexico Shop East; and assembled an impressive collection of alligator-themed ashtrays at The Alligator Farm just outside St. Augustine, Fla.
We arrived a little early and so we looked over the Presley house which is considerably smaller than a Brigadier brand mobile home. Actually its about one third the size of a single-wide. The house is surrounding by a ring of marble stones that bear witness to a difficult childhood.
“Elvis born but his twin brother dies.”
“Vernon Presley goes to Prison.”
“Family reports annual income of $1,200.”
“Elvis gets his first guitar — $7.75,” and so on.
There is also a 1929 Plymouth that the family (probably) used when it finally departed Tupelo for a (hopefully) better life in Memphis.
There is also a small church — it’s the actual church where Elvis worshipped and first sang “Ol Shep.” Finally, after a half hour of wandering the grounds, an attendant unlocked the doors to the gift shop itself.
The shop does not disappoint — offering baseball caps, T-shirts, magnets, key-chains, bottle-openers and bumper stickers. But I will admit that I had a goal — I wanted a lamp, but not just any lamp.
My dream was to get of a miniature Elvis (done up in his famous Aloha Concert costume) that would be worked-into into a functioning table lamp that could be used in my law office library. I hoped this lamp might also have some of his music — “Are You Lonely Tonight” — built into the base.
Let me explain.
I’ve known for some time now that the decor in my office offends certain people. I have, for example, several sober-looking busts of dead white men — FDR and Voltaire. I also have two (baby) monkey skulls and a full-sized spinal column. I also have a half dozen Mayan heads and a couple of autopsy jars filled-up with political buttons. On more than one occasion clients have said, “Scott could you put those monkey skulls in the other room.”
I don’t want to suggest that my office projects the look (and smell) of a taxidermist’s work shop. That said, I have seen visiting attorneys look around the room and then shake their balding heads in disbelief.
So as we cruised the back roads of lower Alabama and made our way up the Natchez Trace I thought what I needed was a little whimsey. And what about a dollop of much-needed humor? And what about filling-up the dark, uninspired room with “I’ll Have a Blue Christmas?” God knows I do need some of Presley’s stylings in the late afternoon.
I didn’t spot any lamps on my first pass through the shop. In fact, there were no labor-saving appliances — toasters, blenders or coffee makers — of any kind. I did find some figurines of Elvis that could be used to trim one’s Christmas tree. But when I looked closely, the faces on these figurines looked more like Tex Ritter or Conway Twitty. Eventually I realized that no figurine was going to convey the man’s musical magic.
Although his voice has been diminished over the years, there will never be another, “I’ll have a Blue, Blue, Blue Christmas Without You” sung in the manner that only Elvis could deliver.
And so Susan and I left the gift shop and went back to our Honda Fit, where we dialed-up YouTube and listened to his famous Christmas Collection as we drove up the remainder of the Trace en route to Nashville.
Scott Graber is a lawyer, novelist, veteran columnist and longtime resident of Port Royal. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.