Daddy Elvis Cleans the Swimming Pool


It was 1963, an era when each and every summer all self-respecting American families were obliged to climb into the battleship Caddy, mom and dad in the front, kids in the back, and to spend two interminable weeks together on vacation. My dad always drove.

My mom sat with some map or another on her lap. Why she did this was a mystery. She couldn’t read maps and so we often found ourselves where we didn’t want to be. And we all know about men and asking for directions. Daddy seem to develop a hearing problem when he was behind the wheel and requests for a pit stop often went unheeded. I remember it fondly now.

My brother and I sat in the back, drawing an imaginary lines across the mid-point of the seat and daring one another to cross over I had my baby blue Samsonite beauty case next to me and, if my brother dared to enter my space, I would jab him with a bobby pin or spritz him with hairspray.

One year, we did Disneyland in California. The next, we tackled Texas. At some point we hit Washington D.C. and toured the White House. In each and every State, I bought a State charm for my silver charm bracelet and my mother bought post cards, cookbooks and more useless maps. The cookbooks almost always were full of recipes that involved pouring some variety of Campbell’s soup over tinned vegetables.

This particular year we were touring our native South. My brother and I had not so stoically endured a tour of the Alabama State Capitol and some equally boring caverns. And then daddy headed the Caddy towards Tennessee. My mother kept singing “Chattanooga Choo Choo.” My brother and I, temporarily united by the embarrassment our parents represented, rolled our eyes at one another.

At the time, Elvis Presley was somewhere in between playing state fairs and being an international mega-star. I was already hopelessly in love with him. Pictures of him covered much of the wall space in my room. I had seen “Jailhouse Rock” at least ten times. So, we just had to go to Memphis and I had to, had to, had to see Elvis’s Memphis home, Graceland.

It is hard to believe, but dad drove the Cadillac through the open gates of Graceland and we got out and walked around. The place appeared to be deserted. We saw Elvis’s burgeoning collection of cars and walked through Southern gothic landscaping and around to the back of the house. And there was Elvis’s daddy, Vernon. He was cleaning the swimming pool.

He waved and shouted, “Hi.” And came over and shook my father’s hand. I think I got a pat on the head. He was only around forty years old, but he seemed ancient to me. I remember his ears. He had enormous ears and brown hair that was poofed up and swept back in Jerry Lee Lewis style. He was not a handsome man, but you could see something of Elvis’s face in his. And like my daddy, he was a decent, hardworking country boy from Mississippi who had come to the city and made good.

No, Elvis wasn’t around. But Vernon was happy to give us the cook’s tour of the grounds. And later I got a picture of me and him standing by the pool and another one of me standing on the steps of Graceland. He took down my name and address and for years I got Graceland Christmas cards. One year Vernon scribbled a note about needing help cleaning the pool and how I should drop by.

“Ha. Ha,” he wrote. “LOL” hadn’t been invented yet.

“A fine man,” my father opined as we piled back into the Caddy. My mother agreed and picked up a map.

Indeed. But he wasn’t Elvis.