August 16, 1977, brings back so many memories. I recall all the extraordinary details of a day that started out so typically and ended so tragically.
Returning home from early morning journalism class at Southwest Texas State (now Texas State University) in San Marcos, Texas, the phone was ringing.
It was a friend, Jerry Farris, calling from San Antonio.
“Jack, are you all right?”
“Yes. Is something the matter?”
“You haven’t heard the news yet, have you?”
To this day, I don’t know how I suddenly knew.
“It’s Elvis. Oh my God Jerry, Elvis is dead, isn’t he?”
“Yes, turn on the TV. It’s all over the news.”
I did…and I’ll never forget that day.
In June, Dodie and I visited Graceland again and relived some precious and meaningful times. Some of our stops in Memphis included Sun Studio, his teenage home in Lauderdale Courts, his first owned house on Audobon Drive and Humes High School.
I recalled the story of when Elvis was in eighth grade. Some of the rougher boys in Elvis’ class grabbed his guitar and cut the strings.
Can you imagine?
Your family’s dirt poor. One of the few things you have going for you is a cheap guitar and your music. Then, a few bullies break your prized possession. Not good.
But it didn’t last long.
Elvis’ classmates banded together, collected their spare change and bought him new strings.
Whose idea was it to pass the hat for their broken-hearted classmate that day?
Whoever it was, we owe a great deal of gratitude. He or she saw an injustice and led the charge to address it. The Presleys carried this same ethos into their own lives.
“There were times we had nothing to eat but corn bread and water,” recalled Vernon, “but we always had compassion for people. Poor we were, I’ll never deny that. But trash we weren’t…We never had any prejudice. We never put anybody down. Neither did Elvis.”
It’s been 43 years since Jerry called and while the pain isn’t raw, the scar is still tender. Most fans feel the same. They can tell you when and where they heard the unimaginable and how they felt.
The collective grief and universal sadness weighed heavily on millions of shoulders. We remember the pandemonium at the Graceland gates and wall, the funeral processional of white Cadillacs and it all floods back – hard.
The heart never forgets losing someone held so dearly. Whether we actually met in the flesh is immaterial in the case of Elvis. Those of us who were fortunate enough to meet him, shake his hand or even see him in concert know. It’s part of the unexplainable, the solid binding component of the Presley connection.
Elvis, you are always missed and forever loved. Rest in peace.