Like many I embarked on a road trip over the Labor Day Weekend. Our trip took us about three hours outside of Memphis, to a friend’s beautiful lakeside property in Alabama. Following a fun weekend with two boys who love like brothers (and thus sometimes bicker like brothers!) we headed west on U.S. Route 78, slightly exhausted and excited to go home. Because as beautiful as the scenery was, as well as we were treated, as unforgettable the memories we made, there really is no place like home.
My childhood home was a pink, three bedroom cement cinder block house in the Bahamas. In this home we had one television and at that time we had one television station: ZNS. Whatever was being shown on ZNS was what I had to watch: on most weekday evenings it was the British sitcom “Are You Being Served?” and on many weekends it was a marathon of movies starring Elvis Presley. I became an Elvis Presley fan partly because I had no choice and remain a fan partly because what I learned of his life (through books and documentaries) fascinated me, his stage/film presence captivated me and anything Elvis-related evokes feelings of nostalgia, taking me back to those weekends I spent with my grandmother watching ZNS.
As an Elvis fan, stopping in Tupelo, Mississippi to visit his childhood home had been on my bucket list since I discovered it was conveniently located on the route I often drive to visit my best friend in Atlanta. Yet every time I approached the exit on U.S. Route 78 I kept driving, until this past weekend. Though I initially talked myself out of taking Exit 87 (to Elvis’ birthplace), at the next exit I made a U-Turn. As a serial procrastinator I decided that for today, “procrastination is something best put off until tomorrow.”
My visit in Tupelo was short. Elvis’ birthplace is a two-room shotgun house warranting a tour of about twenty minutes- that includes fifteen minutes sitting on the porch swing soaking in the importance and relevance this place forever has in American music history. But my reflection on what happened when Elvis and his parents left Tupelo was much longer; it lasted the entirety of my drive west on 78 towards Memphis. I imagined that, just as I’ve experienced many times, the only things occupying Elvis between Tupelo and Memphis during this road trip were his thoughts. Endless thoughts about what he was leaving behind and what was waiting for him at the other end of uncertainty. The guitar he’d been given two years prior for his 11th birthday remained with him as he rode west with no idea of how this relocation was going to change his world. And ours. There were dreams on which he could reflect, seeds of talent planted within him that he wanted to see blossom but was perhaps unsure of exactly what food to feed the soil. He wanted to change lives for the better beginning with his parents, promising them as a child that he would one day buy them both Cadillacs. He did, in Memphis.
It was in Memphis where the seeds already planted within him were nurtured until they took root and began to blossom. He was inspired and educated here, frequenting Beale Street and listening to radio station WDIA-AM. He recorded his first songs at Sun Studios here in Memphis and after achieving worldwide success as an entertainer built his home here, where he lived until his death in 1977. His dreams were realized in this city and it was in this city where, as promised, he changed lives for the better through his philanthropy.
When I moved to Memphis uncertainty was a heavy presence in my life. But it is here where others have taken me under their wings and nurtured the soil in which the seeds of my dreams are planted. It is here in Memphis where I have learned that inspiration is all around me and those who have been here long before I came don’t mind educating me, don’t mind embracing a transplant. It is because of them I want to do what Elvis did: make my home here and give back to a city that so generously and unselfishly has given so much to me.
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