I sat with anticipation staring out the window as we thundered toward metropolitan Memphis. We passed old stone and brick houses that I desperately wished could talk and tell me their amazing history.
At long last we turned into the ornate grounds of the Pink Palace. The enormous home and thousands of pink field stones stood tall among the winter bare branched trees. Its lavish décor makes it every bit the coveted location as when it was built in the 1920’s.
After memorializing it with snapshots from every side, wwee wound our way through surface streets, past the airport where hundreds of FedEx jets sat on the tarmac. The tails towered over the small row houses nearby. The old. The new. The historical. The technological, all dwelling together on a street in Memphis.
We turned onto US 51 and parked in what appeared to be a strip mall. It turned out to be the mecca for The King. People from near and far flock here to see and purchase all things Elvis. One of my friends went to the café to buy Elvis’ favorite sandwich—peanut butter and banana—while I inspected his bell bottomed sequined costumes and autographed guitars.
As I stood in the shops completely surrounded by Elvis, his music and his fans screaming on the video loop playing on large screen TV’s, I pondered how difficult it had to have been for him to live a normal life. Though he clearly loved entertaining audiences, he had to come to a point when he just wanted to be normal… perhaps even anonymous.
After getting all shook up by the memorabilia, we drove another block and found the place where Elvis lived… and died. I couldn’t help but wonder what he thought about when he walked the grounds after flying home from a concert in Lisa Marie, one of two private jets he owned. She sat on display across the street from the home.
Graceland stands as a shrine in Memphis, the only thing in the neighborhood that remained untouched by time. People walk the nearby streets, weighted down by the burdens of life, while streets, curbs and buildings are worn down by years of hard labor. Yet the home of Elvis, like the King himself, lives on seemingly unscathed and unforgotten.
I still had questions for Graceland but they would have to wait. It wasn’t talking and I had other places to see. A short drive to downtown and THE River brought us right to the entrance of St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital.
Unlike Graceland, the patients who come here are very much alive. And the professionals here are using every ounce of their energy, skill and knowledge to keep them that way. Just miles away from where people make the pilgrimage to honor and remember someone who died four decades before, people here make a different sort of trip. No private jet. No fans or fanfare. Just a quiet arrival with hope against hope that a cure will be found and they will grow up, go to the prom, have their first kiss, graduate high school, get married, have a family and live happily ever after. Some of them would settle for living just another day.
We wound our way past the tall buildings down to The River… the Mighty Mississippi. How I desperately longed for it to talk. To tell me its stories that wrote history in our great nation. The streets were as old as the buildings, each one luring me into their moments of old. None of them telling the stories.
Memphis is a magical place where history and modern times walk arm in arm. The soul of the city runs deep in the hearts of those who live here. She sings the blues and people listen with open hearts that change moment by moment as the music of the city permeates their being.
I never thought my life would change by a city I avoided for decades but I now understand what the songwriter meant when he wrote:
Walking in Memphis
I was walking with my feet ten feet off of Beale (Street)
Walking in Memphis
But do I really feel the way I feel?
I’ve been asking myself that same question since Saturday. Memphis, you’ve changed me. Lured me into your embrace. Accepted me as one of your own. My heart beats with a different song, one I haven’t quite named yet. The melody is still evolving. The harmony is yet to be heard. One day it will be set to music and I will have my own song… one that was written upon the tables of my heart while walking in Memphis.