Saturday, August 15, 2009

3764 Elvis Presley Boulevard, Memphis, Tennessee

I flew out of Orlando, Florida, on a Monday morning, destination: Memphis, Tennessee.

Ostensibly, I was headed to do some research on starting a new church in our area. Actually, I was going for more than that.

I was heading to Graceland.

Flying into the Memphis airport, the most obvious thing I noticed from the air was the FedEx hub, white/purple/orange planes as far as you can see. Once in the airport, the most obvious thing was a larger-than-life mural of Graceland with the caption "Welcome to Memphis, Home of Elvis Presley's Graceland."

I was already there.

My buddy and I got in our rental car, hit I-55 South, and exited on old Highway 51, "the Blues Highway," and were met by a forty-foot long wall shouting "ELVIS PRESLEY BOULEVARD."

I was surprised that Graceland was not out in the country, as I learned later it once was, but rather in a rather run-down part of Memphis. This has changed in later years since the owners of Graceland have purchased property up and down the road.

Wilson Inn (now Heartbreak Hotel) was on the right just past where we turned off the exit, and just past that was an airplane, the Lisa Marie. On its tail was a lightning bolt with the initials "TCB". That was Elvis' jet, Taking Care of Business in a flash.

Graceland Plaza was on the right as well, with a pink Cadillac out front, and directly across from it were those famous gates with the music notes and a wrought-iron pair of young Elvises. Up the hill, in all its glory, was Graceland Mansion.

We bought our tickets to the house, got in the bus, and rode up the driveway. The Christmas decorations were still up in January, and the house was decorated as well. As we entered the house I looked up and saw a small window directly above the front door.

When I walked into Graceland, I knew exactly where everything in the house was located. Jungle Room? Behind the kitchen. TV Room? Down the steps on the other side of the kitchen wall. The bathroom? THE Bathroom? Upstairs directly above the front door (the little window above the front door is in that bathroom).

Out back was the office, where Vernon did all the business for his son. The original furniture was still there, along with Vernon's handwritten sign making sure everyone knew this office was for "business only".

I saw the old handball court where Elvis spent his last night. The piano where he played his last song, "Blue Eyes Cryin' in the Rain." A Stutz Bearhawk, the car he drove home from the dentist the night before he died.

I wondered what he must have thought when he felt the first inkling that something was wrong. Did he think of his mama, who had died at the same age? Did he think about what people would think when they heard how he died? Did he pray to the God he first knew in that little Assembly of God church in Tupelo? Did he even know what was happening, or did it hit him all at once?

I'd like to think that his passing was quick and easy. Having seen him at various times during the last years of his life, to me it was obvious that he was slowly dying and couldn't--or wouldn't--stop it.

Elvis Presley accepted the Jaycees' Outstanding Young Man in America award in 1971. At that ceremony we probably got more insight into his personality than any other time in his life. He said in his acceptance speech,

“When I was a child, ladies and gentlemen, I was a dreamer. I read comic books, and I was the hero of the comic book. I saw movies, and I was the hero in the movie. So every dream I ever dreamed has come true a hundred times...I learned very early in life that: ‘Without a song, the day would never end; without a song, a man ain’t got a friend; without a song, the road would never bend - without a song.' So I keep singing a song...”

My daughter asked me when she was a little girl if I thought Elvis was in heaven.

God's grace is sufficient to save and strong enough to preserve. Do I think Elvis is in heaven? Absolutely. Is he in the choir? Nope. He's the lead singer in the band.

Thank you. Thank you very much.