May 12, 2013
By Sharon Randall
Ever since Elvis died in 1977 and his private estate in Memphis, Tenn., got turned into a public shrine, my sister has wanted to go to Graceland.
She wanted me to go, too. She talked about it constantly. When she wasn't talking about it, she was thinking about it. Sisters can read each other's minds. Her mind was set on Graceland. My mind was set on avoiding it.
Bobbie was a teenager in crinoline slips five long years before I put on a miniskirt and shook a tail feather, so to speak, to the music of B.B. King.
Elvis Presley was her music idol, not mine. Besides, I've never seen much point in paying a visit to somebody when the chances are pretty good he won't be home. It's the same reason I'm not keen on visiting cemeteries.
But she kept talking about it. And I kept changing the subject.
"Sissy," she'd say, rolling her eyes to heaven, "I sure would love to go to Graceland."
"I know," I'd say. "I sure would love to lose 10 pounds."
Finally, on her last birthday, I promised we'd go to Graceland.
"When?" she asked.
"Before we need walkers."
"Well," she said, looking at her feet, "we'd better do it quick."
So last week, I flew from my home in Las Vegas of all places to my home state of North Carolina. I rented a car, spoke at two lovely events in Winston-Salem, and drove to my sister's house in South Carolina.
She hugged me and fed me and let me sleep a while. Then Monday morning, we packed up the car, picked up our cousins (Sandy and Sara, who along with my sister, like to call themselves "The Dixie Hicks") and hit the road to Graceland -- a round-trip adventure of 1,200 miles, four days, three nights, several hundred pit stops and a whole bunch of Cracker Barrels.
I drove. They talked. We laughed. God smiled.
Growing up, Bobbie and Sandy were members of the Bobbie and Sandy Club. They never let me join. Said I was "just a baby." And Sara was only an infant.
But we were all in the same club on this trip. Our mothers were two of nine sisters in a big, rowdy family that had more stories than a King James Bible.
We've spent our whole lives collecting those stories. Every time we get together, we take turns retelling this tale or that one, adding color and detail and embellishments galore, stitching them all together in a beautiful mess that defines and warms and covers our family like a tattered, patchwork quilt.
In Nashville, we took pictures of the Grand Ole Opry House and debated our chances (slim to none) of getting inside to attend George Jones' funeral.
In Memphis, we walked along Beale Street, ate barbecue at B.B. King's and listened to the King Beez play the blues.
At the Heartbreak Hotel (yes, it's down at the end of Lonely Street), we watched Elvis videos on a big-screen TV.
Finally, on a fine spring day, we walked through the halls of Graceland from the living room to the Jungle Room to the grave where Elvis is buried -- but we did not see the King.
I thought I caught a glimpse of him once. He was leaning over my sister as she stood transfixed staring at an exhibit of the suit he wore the day he married Priscilla. Do you think I saw him? I'm not sure. It might've been a reflection on the glass.
My sister was happy to see Graceland. My cousins and I were happy to see her see it.
But the best part of the trip for me, and for all of us, I suspect, was the chance to spend 16 hours in a car together working on the family story quilt.
I wish you could've heard us.
"Sissy," said my sister, back home in her recliner, "I sure would love to go to New York."