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Reflections: Going To See The Guy Who Started It All

Enjoy our “Reflections” post — one of many vignettes and stories featuring memories of days gone by. This installment is from Chico Harris.
If you would like to contribute your own Reflections story, send it, along with photos, to hottytoddynews@gmail.com.

Elvis at the o2 … 2014 …Elvis Presley

Oxford Town #96 June 15, 1995
Twenty years ago last month, my mother came in my room and told me the time had come to go with her to see someone who had been very important in her life, someone I had heard of, and knew existed, but had never seen.
My mother had a tough upbringing. In the forties and fifties, she was growing up in a dirt-poor part of rural Mississippi called Bogue Eucaba. The summers were blistering, and the air was conditioned to hot. The winters in an old farmhouse could be a numbing cold when the aches and hurts were just like those from a day in the fields.
“Things were not absolutely terrible,” I’ve heard mother say. “I did get to go see Elvis a lot.”
She sure did that, and can even be seen, in photographs, right in front of the stage at the famous 1956 Elvis homecoming show at the Tupelo Fairgrounds. One of those hangs in Lafayette’s Bar now, and I always glance up at her whenever I pass through there.
So Elvis made a hard life a little easier for my mother, as he did for many girls then. Many would marry young, thinking it an escape to a better life. My mother got married at 20.
It was a hot day in August 1960 when my mother learned she was pregnant with me. My biological father came home from work and was told the news. He said he thought it was a wonderful thing. He left for work the next morning and has not been seen or heard from since.
That would be a hard thing to live through now, but in the 1960 world of bucolic, poverty-stricken Mississippi, it must have been exceptionally harsh. In a cruel coincidence, her favorite Elvis song, “Are You Lonesome Tonight?” was a hit then.
The day I was born, mom was alone at her older sister’s Tupelo home (which is now the bar Jefferson Place). She had moved back into her parents’ home in Bogue Eucaba, where three brothers and sisters already lived. Needless to say, after I was born it was not a typical family set up.
For one thing, I was daily showered with more love than a kid in a regular three-person household could ever hope for. Living with them, growing up in their house, I certainly developed a very special relationship with my grandfather, my fishing buddy, and my grandmother, who would cook me her special fried chicken and would tell me she loved me ten times during the meal.
As for my aunt and uncles, that was like having three older siblings for myself. I distinctly remember the day my Uncle Beau brought home Meet the Beatles and he and my mom argued about who was better, the Englishmen or Elvis. I am eternally grateful to my Uncle Dan, who was a guitar player with The Velvet Vultures, for taking me, still in the single digits of age, into roadhouses and juke joints to hear music.
I remember the night in 1965 when Dan and Beau left Bogue Eucaba for Birmingham to see The Rolling Stones and I pitched a fit, probably not so much out of wanting to hear Keith Richards play guitar, but just to go. (Ten years later, when I first went to see and hear Jerry Garcia play guitar, it was Bo who took me).
During those early sixties years, while my mom worked, it was her youngest sister Lanie who babysat me, and I put her through hell. She had to put locks at the door tops because at age four, I was on occasion found roaming the woods over a mile from the house.
It was also Lanie who babysat me those-all-too-few times in the early sixties when my mom got to go see Elvis.
Most importantly, they all taught me to read, so that when I got to first grade, I got to sit and actually read while the other kids learned how.
So, you see, it was my biological dad who was missing all the fun, which serves him right, since he was obviously a jerk.
I often wondered who he was, where he was, what his problem was. What kind of idiot would not want to be part of all this?
As “fatherless” children go, I hit the lottery. In 1966 my mom married The World’s, Greatest Guy. She was blessedly fortunate and loved him so much that when they went on their honeymoon to see Graceland, she didn’t tell him she had hitchhiked up there almost a decade before, as a teenager, and camped beside the gates.
Things got great for my mom after she remarried. More sons, a successful business, nice home bought, and so on. I realized how lucky we were. What if we had been stuck with that other guy, wherever he was, whoever he was?
I didn’t care anymore. There were a few things missing, but I still felt luckier than most.
Then came that day in 1975 when mom came in my room and said it was time to go see, even if I didn’t particularly want to, someone important in her life. It was something she wanted for her son. Today, I am forever grateful for what she did that day.
That was the day she took me to see the Elvis Presley show. 

By Chico Harris
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