by Lonnye Sue Sims Pearson
Since I moved to North Carolina from my native state of Mississippi, two questions have popped up more frequently than any others. One: Have you ever seen the Mississippi River? And two: Did you ever see Elvis?
The first question is almost understandable. Everyone studies about the Mighty Mississippi, the Big Muddy, Old Man River, the Father of Waters in school. The expeditions into the hinterlands of this great nation are fodder for history textbook writers. How does one study the westward expansion of civilization in the United States without learning about the river? So the question seems almost natural.
It's just that having grown up less than twenty miles from the Mississippi River, I find the question rather naive. I mean, after all, Mississippi is not Texas or California or Montana or Alaska, for goodness sake! One can dangle a baited hook in the muddy water within three and one half hours from any given point in the state. Still, some folks have little geographical knowledge of Mississippi, and the question is reasonable.
I don't, however, understand the phenomenal interest in Elvis. I have tried to be polite--"No, I never had the pleasure," or "No, but my mother wrote her name on the brick fence outside his house one time." Both answers evoke shocked looks and gasps.
"You lived that close to Memphis and never saw one of his concerts?"
The first question out of Carol White's (not her real name--I need to protect myself) mouth after we had been introduced was, "Were your parents Elvis fans?"
I guess the blank stare gave me away because she informed me that one of the first movie roles The King portrayed was named Lonnie. I didn't remember.
"Where in Mississippi are you from?"
"I'm from the northwestern section known as the Delta, just south of Memphis," I politely answered.
"How close is that to Tupelo?" she queried.
"Not very, but nothing is very far in Mississippi," I explained.
"Have you ever been?"
"And did you see his home?"
Rather taken aback, I replied that my husband and I drove by there, but it wasn't much to look at from the outside.
"Didn't you go in? It is a museum, you know!"
I was almost embarrassed to admit that I didn't go inside the tiny house. These people do that to you--make you feel like a traitor for not going into a shotgun house that looks like all the other shotgun houses you've seen up and down the entire state. Maybe a little gussied up for the ultimate entertainer's fans.
"Well, have you ever been to Graceland?"
This time I really was embarrassed. I had to admit to a very nearly total stranger that I had indeed been to Graceland. Unfortunately, I added that it was the tackiest place I'd ever seen. By this time Carol is staring at me with wide eyes and open mouth.
"Tacky?" she whispered. "You thought it was tacky?"
I could feel the blush creeping across my face.
What have I done? I thought. I have to work with this woman, and I have offended her in the first three minutes of conversation.
"Oh, but many people think it is just about the grandest estate they've ever seen," I added, "and the gravesite is absolutely lovely!"
"You actually saw his grave?"
"Well, yeah. It's right there in the yard next to the garage where his mother's pink Cadillac is stored," I replied, feeling most helpless.
"I just got back night before last from Las Vegas where I experienced a spiritual epiphany at the casino stage where he held his last performance," Carol said with awe in her voice. "I placed my hand on the edge of the stage and just broke down."
She walked off with a faraway look in her eyes. Later that same day I found out she is a confirmed believer in UFOs and ETs. That explained a lot.
Write Lonnye Sue at this address.
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