Elvis Has Left the Building

Often times we mark the seasons of our lives by where we were when history happens.  I wasn’t born when JFK was shot, but daddy tells the story of walking across the lawn of Wilcox County High School and hearing the news.

Mama was at home sick on the day Reagan was shot, she called the school to let Mrs. Snyder know, who passed on the word to the Principal who passed it on to us.

I was in Mrs. Weatherly’s class when Frank D. Smith died, he was my Elementary School Principal and beloved by so many.

I stood in the living room of my friend Pam Suttle’s apartment in Statesboro, GA as we watched the Space Shuttle blow up killing all on board.  We left the television to go to an Editorial Writing class, where our instructor Ernie had us write an editorial memorializing the astronauts.  I thought the assignment was unfair at the time, not much later I realized that was the job of the journalist, a lesson I learned when I least expected it.

I was on a bus returning from a band competition when I heard about Belushi’s OD.  I was recovering from foot surgery when I heard about Versace and later Princess Diana.  Eating dinner when Michael Jackson died.

I was in the break room of Carey Limousine when the OJ verdict was announced.  I was in Centennial Park just hours before the bomb went off and on the phone with mama when the first plane hit the Twin Towers.

I was at a friends house party when news broke that Whitney Houston had passed.

These moments of our lives are ingrained and for some reason we know exactly where we were and what we were doing when we first heard the news.

During the Summer of 1977, I was 13 years old and preparing to go into 7th grade.  The sleepy days of August were about to be turned upside down by a scream from Becky Ramey, a scream that was echoed around the globe…. “ELVIS IS DEAD!”

Becky was the Rogers’ baby-sitter.  Today, Becky would be called the nanny;  back then she was the baby  sitter while Mr. and Mrs. Rogers were at work.

On that late August afternoon, Becky’s scream echoed through our quiet neighborhood creating a frenzy of activity that would continue for several days.

I didn’t realize Elvis was such a big deal, I knew he was a singer and all, but really within minutes of the announcement that he had died, grown women and some men started acting like a close relative had been lost.

Television news showed scenes of grieving fans from around the world mourning…. especially in Memphis and at Graceland, Elvis home.

Little did I know how soon that mourning would hit home.  When Becky left that afternoon she didn’t return for almost a week.  She returned after making her pilgrimage to Graceland for the Elvis funeral.

Becky’s mother was a HUGE Elvis fan and his death was especially hard for her, so that night she and some friends along with Becky took off for Memphis for the King’s funeral.

The pilgrimage continued as Gracie, our friend from south Georgia, along with her friends showed up at our house late that night.  There for a stop over, long enough to get a quick night’s sleep before moving on to Graceland.

As the days continued hundreds of thousands of people from around the World descended on Memphis.  Television cameras were trained on the action as huge lines formed to view the casket.  Television cameras carried the funeral and burial, it was all Elvis all the time.

After the funeral and burial, the throngs left the King behind, returning to their homes with a heavy heart.  We heard stories from those who went to Graceland about how moving it was.

The pillars of the fence surrounding his home was covered with written condolences, written in magic marker or chalk, fans just wanted to leave their mark on the event.

Somewhere on that fence there are notes from Rochelle and Clayton, GA, I have no idea what they say, but I can tell you they were left by women who loved their Elvis and were broken hearted when he died.

The summer of 1977, one of those moments I will always remember where I was.  The summer when Elvis left the building for good.