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Index
9 August 1997 - Saturday
Departure to Tupelo
10 August 1997 - Sunday
Arrival in Tupelo
Guided Tour in Tupelo
Elementary School - Lawon Elementary School
Birthplace
Tupelo Hardware Store
Milam Junior High School, Alabama-Mississippi Fair and Tupelo Shopping Mall
Official Welcoming
Visit to Elvis Shotgun House
The Banquet
Elvis Disco

Departure to Tupelo
 

We got inside the bus and Kathy introduced to us the young black lady who would be our driver. “Hey, everybody, I need your attention. Our driver’s name is Gladys!” When she said that, Gladys got a big applause and cheers from us. It was a great coincidence, to have a lady driver whose name was the same of Elvis’ mother. And off we went on the road. The trip took more or less one hour and a half. It was really dark and I wasn’t able to look at any of the scenery. Meanwhile, it started raining cats and dogs. I also found it strange that the road was so badly iluminated. But Lu explained to me that, as it happened in South Africa (where she was born), as the open fields are so big, they cannot have everything so well iluminated as we do have in Portugal, otherwise, they would spend a lot of electricity. Although the heat outside was unbearable, inside the bus it was too much cold for my taste. I was freezing...! And although I was very tired and I wanted to catch some sleep, I couldn’t do it. I thought I was going to catch a cold and ruin my vacation, since my feet felt like two giant ice cubes. And all because of the air-conditioning.

 

10 August 1997 - Sunday

Arrival in Tupelo

Once we arrived in Tupelo (it was beyond midnight) Kathy told us she was going to fetch our keys. In order to park the bus, Gladys did a lot of manouvers, she drove over every sidewalk, made the gears screech three times and hit the brakes hard. At that moment, I didn’t know if she was doing it on purpose to wake everybody up, or if she usually drove like that. When we were on the road I had already noticed that the gears never seemed to be the correct ones and, when she changed them, it seemed she always did it at the wrong time. Maybe it was just because I was sleepy and tired... Kathy brought us our keys (which, actually, were three plastic cards with magnetic bands) and after getting our bags, we checked-in in one of the comfortable and elegant rooms of Hampton Inn in Tupelo. As it was so dark, we couldn’t see anything around us. We just entered the room, took a quick shower and went to bed. According to my itinerary, we only had to be ready at 10 a.m. that day - to go visit all the sights of Tupelo related to Elvis, including his birth place.

Guided Tour in Tupelo
 

We woke up around 8 a.m. and took out of our bags just what we needed, since as we were going to stay there for just one day and a half, there was no need to get completely settled. We went downstairs for breakfast and found John on the way. As a coincidence, John and Trevor were our next door neighbors again. Breakfast was delicious and enormous and it was a nice surprise to find out that the price was included in the stay. There were lots of goodies and the lady who was there serving people was the type of maternal woman, always ready to help and serve, very happy and warm. She asked us where we were from and she was surprised to find out that we had come such a long way and for having traveled for two whole days in order to be there.


Legend: Our hotel, in Tupelo, the Hampton Inn.
 


After breakfast, we walked around to look at the beautiful scenery around us. The hotel looked great and the pool - although small - looked deliciously inviting. The weather was cloudy, but it was hot. Of course we took a lot of pictures of the place, before the amusing looks of many of our traveling companions. I also bumped into Jenson Bloomer (remember him? It was the same guy I have met in England in 1993 and in 1994. The same lucky guy who had performed live with Scotty and D.J. during the first time and with James Burton during the second), I said hi and he greeted me back. I didn’t know if he remembered me or if he was just being polite. Those people from England are always greeting everyone, several times per day...! Jenson splashed around a bit in the pool and I was surprised with the amount of weight he put on in just 3 years.



Then we went to fetch the video camera and off we went in our bus for the guided tour of the town. First we went to the parking lot of the Ramada Inn to join the other 21 buses, since we would depart in a sort of a “train” escorted by the police. I had always heard about that famous escort, how the officers were so nice, etc, but I couldn’t help feeling surprised. We were 22 buses in a single row, escorted by the police motorcycles of Tupelo, the officers all equiped and with uniform, lights going on and, sometimes, doing their funny noise, too. They were ahead of us, behind the last bus and beside us, along all the way. It was such a sight to see, all the buses from the Capital company in one single line and escorted by the police...! The best of it all was when the traffic lights went red and we just kept on going, since the police blocked all the traffic in order for us to go through... And what about seeing them greeting us in a sign of respect when we went by? And what about the other drivers on the road? Some looked bemused, while others also waved. This is happening for years now and it mustn’t be strange anymore for the Tupeloans to look at several buses going by with signs saying “Elvis Presley Fan Club On Tour” in every window...! Whenever we had to make a turn and the road and drove by a kind of a bridge and the other buses were still passing under it, it was really a sight to see...! People just couldn’t stop aahhing and ooohhing. I felt really special and I don’t doubt all the others were feeling the same way, too. Then we knew through Kathy that they are not paid for their service. They do this for years because they volunteer with pleasure to escort the people who come from so faraway for just admiring their most famous native son. They also do it as a sort of tribute, since it was what they did when Elvis went to Tupelo (after getting famous) and also because they want to extend that treatment to his fans. After all, Elvis lives through us. And they know that.


Legend: The police officers, getting together to escort us through town.

Legend: Our bus, which was number 12.

Elementary School - Lawon Elementary School
 

The first stop was at the elementary school where Elvis studied for the first time. It is a not very big building, with red little bricks and white windows. It is surrounded by grass and beautiful trees. Like everything else in Tupelo. I was astonished with the beauty of the city. I understood better and better why Elvis had never forgotten about his birthtown and, once in a while, he went there to visit the folks. We stayed there for a few moments taking some pictures and mingling with everybody. We took the chance to take a photo with Gladys and with Kathy. We talked a little bit with Gladys and we came to know that she lived in Memphis, just around the corner of Graceland...! She had never seen Elvis, since while he was alive she was living in Ohio. She felt really good when we asked her to take a photo with her. After all, Gladys’ way of driving was really like that - with stumblings, hitting the brakes hard and everything...!


Legend: Stop at Elvis's elementary school.


Legend:
Me, in front of the elementary school. / Lu and I, with our driver, Gladys.
 

The main conversation around was: “Can you imagine? It was here that he ran with the other children everytime he came to school and went home...!” I could imagine it so vividly it was almost eerie.


Legend: Me, with our nice guide, Kathy.

Legend: The three of us, before leaving for the next destination.

Birthplace

Off we went. This time we were going to the birthplace. I was fascinated with the little wooden houses I was seeing outside. So cute, so little, they almost looked like dolls’ houses. They also seemed very frail. Every one of them had a front porch and almost all of them had someone sitting there, relaxing, or rocking in a rocking chair... It seemed that life there had its very own pace, a slow rhythm, relaxed, laid-back... The majority of people were black and they waved when we drove by. The churches were also beautiful, with a very familiar and cosy look. The little houses stood next to each other, but always with a space around with grass and vases with flowers and also bushes. And trees, many trees... I began to understand why Gladys - Elvis’ mother - felt so apprehensive for leaving Tupelo. I also understood why she loved to live there so much. She liked to be near people and there, noone is very faraway. But it’s not like in the buildings. I never seen a single building, only those cute little houses that looked like taken from a movies’ set. And in Memphis people shouldn’t be that kind, in Gladys’ mind.



Legend: Local scenes, while we were going to the birthplace.

Legend: Sign announcing the birthplace.
 

Suddenly, we saw a sign that said “Elvis Presley’s Birthplace” and we turned left. We immediately started streching our necks and there were lots of people there. At 1 p.m. the Mayor of the town would officially welcome all the Elvis’ fans and there were already lots of people concentrated over there - neighbors, Tupeloans and fans, lots of Elvis fans. It was in the midst of all that activity, of all those colors (bright clothes, gorgeous flowers and the green grass) that I spotted the little house that I had already seen countless times in photographs. There it was, smaller than all the rest, but with its porch and suspended rocking chair. It was so small it was hard to believe. We didn’t stop and we didn’t go out, since we would continue with our visit in order to be back at 1 p.m. Even so, it was a thrill.


Legend: Our buses, arriving at the birthplace.

Legend: The first glimpse of the little house where Elvis born, driving by.


Tupelo Hardware Store


We moved on to Tupelo Hardware Store, the same place where Gladys bought Elvis’ first guitar, for his tenth birthday. He wanted a rifle or a bicycle, but she convinced him to have the guitar instead. Besides being cheaper and he could learn how to play it, it was also lots safer. Over there, the officers had to block the traffic on that road in order for the people to feel safe. After all, we were around 1.000 people...! And here was the meeting place with so many people that we had met before. For instance, we found Vera, Joyce, June, Margret and Derek. You should have seen us! It was hugs everywhere, as if we belonged to the same big family. Which we indeed do. The officers posed for pictures with everybody. Do you think that they got tired or bored, under that awful heat and among so many people...? No sir, they smiled, they waved, they hugged us and posed for photos. Those were really incredible people.


Legend: Stop at the hardware store where Elvis' mother bought him his first guitar.

Legend: The police officers, blocking the traffic, in order for the 950 people move around safely.

Legend: Me and Sandra, with one of the nice policemen who escorted us on that day.


Meanwhile, I was looking for someone to whom I’d really like to talk to. It was Keith Harris, the gentleman with whom I had talked with in an almost daily basis for 15 months to take care of our trip. He had always been so nice to me, always accepting all the requests I had done, with lots of patience and without charging the additional fines for each alteration made. I knew how he looked like, since before departing, I had seen all our footage done in England and I saw him there being introduced. At the time I didn’t pay much attention, but it was useful to me, because when I found him in the crowd, I went straight to him! The guides were easy to find, since they all wore the same t-shirt with the same color. The color varied from day to day. On this day it was yellow. And I saw Keith, a man in his fifties, very tall and dark, with glasses. I went to him and said:

 

- Hi there, Keith! Do you remember Celia, from Portugal?

He gave me a big smile, hugged me, kissed me on the cheek and said:

- Oh, my dear, you are even more beautiful than I had imagined!

 

He was also referring to Sandra, who was beside me and whom I introduced straightaway. Keith was so nice. He wanted to know if we were enjoying ourselves, if we were having fun. And of course I couldn’t say anything except yes. I also introduced Lu to him.

- Are you going to Hawaii? - he asked me.
- No. Why?
- Because you would look great in grass!

There was a man there with his back completely tatooed with dozens of Elvis’ faces. I swear I was very surprised. He was very nice, because he stood still for us to see and take as many photos as we wanted.

Milam Junior High School, Alabama-Mississippi Fair and Tupelo Shopping Mall

We boarded our bus again with Gladys driving and went to Milam Junior High, the school Elvis attended before moving to Memphis. It wasn’t anything special and we didn’t stay there for long.


Legend: Stop at Elvis' junior high school.


Legend: Our policemen and surrounding views.

Then we drove by the same grounds where the Mississippi-Alabama Fair took place - the same where Elvis had sang at 10 years old and won the fifth prize with the song Old Shep and where he had given his big concert on the 26th September 1956, the day that the Mayor had declared Elvis Presley Day in Tupelo, with parades on the streets and everything. Unfortunately there isn’t a single thing over there anymore. Around 5 years ago the wooden seats were still there as well as the main square, but now everything was demolished. I feel sad every time I come to know about these things.


Legend: The place where the Alabama-Mississippi Fair had taken place, now a field with nothing there.

Next stop was the Tupelo Shopping Mall, where we stopped for a bite. During all our visits we were being followed by choppers that surely belonged to TV channels that filmed the train of buses around the city. When we arrived, one of them started descending and we waved from down where we stood. We were lots of people, as I never get tired of mentioning...! Bernard Roughton, the guy from the English Fan Club who always does the filmings of every trip, that then are sold in the club, was recording everything. This time, the 3 of us went in front of his camera, with the noise of the chopper and everything and yelled: “Hello! We are three girls from Portugal!”. I am dying to see if he’s going to use this footage, since it was the first time that Portuguese fans traveled with them and, just because of that, it should be news. As I intend to buy this tape, then I’ll see!

 

Everything looked different in America: people were almost all black (but I already knew that, since in that area of the South, 95% of the population is black), but very different from the majority of the black people we are used to in Portugal. Maybe because black people here feel a discrimination, like they are not welcome here which, to some extent, is true. But blacks in America felt completely at ease, comfortable, in their environment. And they are right to feel that way. They own everything: they manage and control the hotels, restaurants, parking lots, they are officers, they do practically everything. And they mingle with the rest of the white population. They were always so nice to all of us...! We were always saying that we loved those black people. They were always kind, asking us how were we, if we were having fun and they were always ready to help. I felt like a princess. They were also very, very polite and with manners. Now I see why Elvis didn’t feel “weird” among them. In fact, he was raised and grew with them and he learned a lot from them. I only wished that people here in Portugal (black and white) had at least one third of the manners of those people...!

Official Welcoming
 

Well, with the excitment and hurry, we didn’t have lunch. We went immediately to the ceremony of the official welcoming by the Mayor of the City of Tupelo. We arrived 10 minutes late and it had already started. At the moment of our arrival, the Mayor was asking people to have a moment of silence while the hymn of America was sang. And right there, alongside the wooden shack where Elvis was born 62 years ago, the American flag was raised to the sound of the hymn, with military men paying their tributes. Then, a black lady sang Amazing Grace without instruments. It was really beautiful. Elvis sang How Great Thou Art. Nothing more was heard except his beautiful voice singing one of his favorite songs and the sound of the birds and insects. It was hard to breathe with the awful heat, although there were clouds in the sky. Then it was Mrs. Janelle McComb turn to speak. She was a great friend of both families - the Smiths and the Presleys - even before Elvis was born and she was also the Mayor of Tupelo during some years. The Mayor of Tupelo decreeted that she would be Mayor for a day and called her to go and make a speech. She went to the stage and said, “I don’t know whatelse to do except chat!” People laughed. Basically she welcomed us all, she expressed her gratitude for the constant visit by the fans to her birthtown and said that her life was made richer for all the people she had the chance to meet through Elvis - while he was alive and long after he was gone.


Legend: At the birthplace, for the festivities. The heat was unberable.

Legend: He rising of the flag, with the national anthem / The Smith and Presley friend, Mrs. Janelle McComb.

I began to move along the crowd, since I really liked to talk to Mrs. McComb. She said that, in order to mark that day, they were going to offer each one of us a sheet of commemorative Elvis stamps and she started to hand out some. I was closer and, eventually, reached her. I had always read of how nice she was, how warm she was with people, I had footage of and photos of her. And, of course, she is very famous for having written that poem (The Priceless Gift) that Elvis asked her to write to offer Lisa Marie on her fourth birthday and he signed it and smeared it with a tear. When I finnally reached her, I said, “Mrs. McComb, you can’t imagine the joy I’m feeling for meeting you.” She shook my hand, thanking me, but with her attention completely focused on other things. I wasn’t even finished and she was already talking to a friend that she spotted among the crowd. I didn’t insist, I backed away, but, I must say, very disappointed. Of course that that type of situation must be common place for her.


Legend: Jerry Craft, the president of the Elvis Jackson fan club. / Janelle McComb with Keith Harris.

Legend: Jerry Craft sang very well.

Then she introduced us to a man, named Jerry Craft, who was the president of the Elvis Fan Club of Jackson, Mississippi. He was dressed with a complete suit, with tie and everything (an Elvis tie) and I just remember having thought, “Dear God... I would die!” He started singing and... wow, what a voice! We could tell he was a real Elvis fan, since he knew all the words and comments Elvis said and did between the lines of the songs. And he has a good voice by his own merit, he never tried to impersonate Elvis. The heat was becoming really unbearable. Meanwhile, I had already found John and Trevor amongst all those people. And I had also found a few Brazilian people who were there, too. They had traveled on their own, they were around 30 people. Incidently, Sandra had already belonged to one of the Brazilian fan clubs represented there. I took the chance to ask John if, by chance, they had any electricity adaptor in order for us to be able to recharge the video battery of Lu’s camera, which was getting really weak. I had always thought that Lu had brought an adaptor with her, but she didn’t. John said that Trevor had two adaptors and he offered to lent us one as soon as we were back at the hotel. Great.

Visit to Elvis Shotgun House

Meanwhile, a miracle happened - it started to rain! It was just a little rain, but it was enough to cool things a bit and I thanked in silence for those drops. While the concert was going on, we went to Elvis’ shotgun house (which was just nearby, so we could listen to the music just the same). We sat on the front steps, in the rocking chair and took many photos. We also wanted to get in. We didn’t have to pay to get inside, but it was compulsory to do a donation, the minimum was 1 dollar. We have to understand that this house is now the property of two ladies who keep it and these donations are spent on maintaing the house. The house is really very small... we hadn’t gotten inside yet... and we were already out! When we get inside, it’s the main bedroom, Elvis’ parents bedroom, although I doubt those are the original items. When the Presleys moved to Memphis, they took the majority of their belongings, they must have only left behind what they couldn’t take or sell. Next to the bedroom is the kitchen. The stove and the respective firing-place look like being the sole original items. And so there, the shack was visited! I don’t have the slightest idea how come four people lived in there - Vernon, Gladys, Minnie Mae and Elvis.


Legend: Me, standing next the sign outside the little house where Elvis was born.

Legend: Sitting int he front steps of the house.


Legend: The first room, the bedroom.

Legend: The fireplace in the bedroom and view of the second room the house, the kitchen.


Legend: The back door of the little house and where we got out, after visiting the kitchen.

While all this was going on, me and Sandra lost Lu! Sandra figured that maybe she had gone to the hotel or maybe to the mall to eat (we had just taken breakfast), but I thought that she might be either at the Times And Things To Remember Museum or at the souvenir shop buying Elvis’ stuff. We asked several people if they had seen her, but they hadn't. We went to the restrooms, then we went to drink something (there was a trailer giving soft drinks away, an offer by the city) and we stood in line to enter in the souvenir shop, since it was shorter than the line for the museum, which we also wanted to visit. And it was then that we spotted Lu - already loaded with Elvis’ stuff! Who is hungry at a time like this?


Legend: The three of us, sitting in the rocking chair, on the little house porch.

We also talked with an English lady who told us a funny story: Around Christmas time in 1960, she received a letter from Elvis (handwritten envelope and letter) wishing her a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. She told us that she got the letter in the morning and she was still wearing her night gown. She left the house running after the postman, screaming, before opening the letter, asking where that envelope was coming from, since she couldn’t believe it. He told her that it was from America and she even didn’t recall that she was standing in the cold and in the middle of the street. The postman just stood staring at her...! She says that she has that letter in a safe in the bank. I figure it must be really valuable. When I asked how come a thing like that happened, she told me that Elvis took her address (just by random) from a book that Albert Hand (the original founder of the English fan club and honorary president) had given him during the shooting of Kid Galahad, and which contained many addresses of several English fans. Elvis decided to write to some of them, picked randomly. Lady Luck knocked on this lady’s door...! Jeane told me once that her brother, David, also signed this book for Elvis and, in one of her visits to Graceland, she saw that book over there, precisely opened on the page where David had signed his name...! She said it had been a real thrill.

 

We visited the shop, where I bought just a few things, although there was a lot to see and buy. But I was determined not to get trapped by the American in alluring me to spend all my money in the first shop I visited. Sandra got upset at me a little, since when she said, “Celia, come and look at this!”, I always said, “Ah, it doesn’t matter” and I even didn’t look that way. Outside I told her that I was even afraid to look! And when I say it doesn’t matter, it’s things like posters, portraits, postcards, that type of thing that we can easily lose our minds, but we really don’t know what to do with them next, since, in reality, they are kind of useless. What’s the point of having many portraits and posters if we possibly can’t have them all exposed...? We left, went to drink some more water and went to the mall of Tupelo to eat something before going home. I ate my first American hamburger and I must say I didn’t find it any different from our own burgers back home. Meanwhile Lu said we should take a photo inside, as a souvenir. But it would be good for us to be the same photo. Sandra asked an elder lady who was cleaning the tables of the place if she could take us a photo. She said no, that she didn’t know how to operate the camera, but she would fix for someone to come and help us out. She went to fetch a partner, whose name was Janet. You can’t even imagine how happy this lady was for helping us. I almost can venture to say that she felt proud for doing it. We were posing for the photo and she said, before pressing the button, “Mary Lou, get out of the picture!” Mary Lou was her friend. After having taken it, she said, “I think Mary Lou was on the picture.” We laughed it off and said it was okay. Some minutes later she came to us and asked us where were we from. She asked if she could give us her address in order for us to send her that photo. We couldn’t even believe our ears. Of course we didn’t mind! Janet had lived all her life in Tupelo and was born there, but, even so, she managed to marry a German man, to have a son in Italy, which, in turn, married an English woman and her granny was from Checoslovakia, oh well... if it wasn’t exactly this, it was similar! We were really astonished. While she spoke, Janet wrote her address in a kleenex to give it to us.


Legend: The photo that Janet took of us, at the Tupelo Shopping Mall.

Legend: Waiting for our bus, in order to go to the hotel.

We hurried, since we had to be ready to leave at 7 p.m., to be in the convention room of the Ramada Inn in Tupelo, for the banquet that the Mayor was going to offer the fans. Sandra didn’t want to take the cameras (they’re heavy and it’s really uncomfortable to carry them around...), but I “begged” Lu to take, at least, the video camera, to film the speeches or whatever might happen. Once we got at the hotel, we had the visit of our friend John, who came with the adaptor we had borrowed from him.

 

He asked if, by chance, I could hand sew. I said yes and he asked if I'd be so kind to sew two stripes in his army shirt that he intended to dress for the banquet. I couldn’t say no, it would be a pleasure. I just had lack of time...! I had to shower, put on some make-up, get dressed and sew the stripes in less than an hour. Lu was a great help, since she kept working while I was in the shower and then I finished the job while she was getting dressed. John came to fetch the shirt just in time. Well, he was the last to enter the bus, still fixing his collar and everything...! But everything went okay.
 

The Banquet

O
ff we went, again with Gladys at the wheel. What a woman... she never missed a single sidewalk! I had already gotten used to her driving and I wasn’t the only one. Gladys’ driving was a motive of a few good moments and laughs. She didn’t seem to mind a bit. The weather was funny, cloudy, and it looked like it was going to rain, in spite of the ever present heat. We entered the convention room and waited for a while to go to our table. I heard Trevor saying, “Look how it rains!” It was raining cats and dogs again. It was the second time it rained and I wasn’t there for two days yet. Well, I wasn’t the bit worried about that either. Trevor and John went inside first and they saved some seats for us with the napkins over the chairs. We saw Keith who was passing by and who told us, “Ah, how you girls look pretty tonight!” We sat and were informed that we were going to be told when we could go and fetch our dinner - it was self-service. As we were more than 1.000 people in the same room, it had to be something with method, otherwise, we would never see the end of it.

 

While we waited, Sandra started commenting on a boy who was sitting in a table in front of us. She said that his stare was really upsetting. I had already noticed it too and I had even removed my glasses and everything so I could not see if he was looking at me or not! It’s funny, but Sandra hadn’t realized yet that that strange creature was part of our group/bus. As we didn’t know his name - and we would never know - we nicknamed him of “Ranhoso”. Meanwhile, we went to fetch our food. There were several things where to choose from. American food isn’t funny, although it’s different and we could tell what it was. I liked it, and I couldn’t say the same about the English food, though. I chose roasted chicken with corn, potatoes, salad and a delicious sauce.There were a lot of different drinks on the tables (non alcoholic drinks, since it was Sunday and on Sundays, in Tupelo, no alcoholic drinks can be found for sale anywhere. On the day of our Lord, noone is supposed to drink alcohol) and desserts. After finishing my meal, I’ve decided to try some of the mousses displayed there. John was sitting beside me. When I was trying my first mousse, everybody at the table started to laugh and I didn’t know why. When I asked, of course nobody told me, not even Trevor wanted to tell me. But then Sandra said that while I was putting the spoon in my mouth, John, beside me, who was really close (I even didn’t noticed that, I swear!), had his mouth wide open...! Me, of course, put the spoon inside my mouth and not his. But then I offered to give him some mousse, but he said he didn’t want it. Trevor laughed like crazy, that naughty bugger! It was also at this moment that I confessed to John that, I didn’t understand exactly why, but I understood Trevor much better than I did understand him - John’s accent was really different. And Trevor said, “But that is logical - that’s because he isn’t English at all!” And he started to make fun of him. But of course John was English, too.

 

When we finished eating, the Mayor of Tupelo started talking on the stage that had been put in the center of the room. Once again, we welcomed us and then began to introduce all the personalities, politians and dignataries present in the room - at the first table, in front of the stage. They stood up when they were introduced. Even the manager of the Ramada Inn was called to go on stage who, very shyly, waved at us and said just a few words. Apparently it was the first time he ever did it. At last, the Mayor introduced Mrs.Janelle McComb, always present in all events related to Elvis, and reminded everyone that she was the Mayor on that day, decreeted by himself near the birthplace. “And do you know what she told me when I said that today she was the one taking all the decisions for being Mayor? She looked at me and said, ‘Okay, you’re fired!’” Everybody laughed. Mrs. McComb was always known for her good sense of humor. The Mayor called Keith to the stage and he did one of the most beautiful speeches on Elvis that I’ve ever heard. I was really moved and happy for us having captured some of those moments in video. Keith began by comparing what existed 20 years ago and doesn’t exist today anymore. Only each sentence would end with the words: “But there was Elvis.” And it’s really true. He gave us the example of those big video cameras that, in order to be carried around, 3 people were required. They’re no longer here, but there was always Elvis. He mentioned several performers whose names appeared and were around for a year or two, but then fell in obscurity (so obscure that I even don’t recall any of them!), but there was Elvis. He was also funny when he said that “The majority of us 20 years ago had much more hair and a fewer pounds”. People laughed. “Right, Bob?” he added, addressing Bob Bacon, who is already bald and very fat (this is the same man who got us the plug in England during our first visit over there). Bob answered with a “I’ll get you for this.” “But there was always Elvis,” Keith went on. And he still is. Our lives change, develop, new things appear and vanish, but Elvis is always there. Have you realized that? When he started out, there were just vinyl records. Now there are CD’s, CD-Rom’s, CD-Videos, digital televisions, celular phones, mobile phones, whatever... Elvis himself would have never believed it, that 20 years after, his music and his movies would still be sold in more and more sophisticated medias. All this proves that he is going to always be there. The silence in the room, while the only sound heard was Keith’s strong voice recalling all these differences, proved that each one of us was delving in its own very personal memories about what his words were evoking. I was. And I don’t have as many memories as that, since I belong to the second generation and not to Elvis’ generation, so to speak. There were people there in their 10’s, 20’s, 30’s, 40’s and 50’s, but also in their 60’s, 70’s and even 80’s. Just imagine the list of differences all these people can make...! We mustn’t forget that Elvis would be 62 himself if he were still among us.

 

Then Keith changed his speech. He went on by saying that our group was the biggest group of fans that the English Fan Club had brought to the United States, ever. Not even when Elvis was alive such a big group had come to visit Tupelo and Memphis. We were 950 fans, from several countries around the world. For a long time I was wondering on the number of countries that we represented. As if he was reading my mind, Keith said that we represented 22 countries. I just remember having thought: “WOOW...!” “Look at you, guys...,” he said, “you fill this room up and you are such a sight to see. Give yourself a big round of applause...!” And we did. We deserved it. It was my first time there, but many of the present people in there had been there before. And I clapped for all of us, for our loyalty for Elvis, for our love for him, a love that will never end. And then, the biggest surprise of the night came. Keith said, “The Mayor would like to honor you with something very special. We are going to start calling a few names of people present in the room. Don’t feel surprised if you hear your name being called out. Just come to the stage, please.” After this, there was a fuss around the tables and I started to hear something which I will never forget as long as I live. They started to call one person of each country present in the room. My heart was beating like crazy. It was like: “So and so from Australia, so and so from France... from Italy, New Zeland... Sri Lanka...” and I just thought, “Oh, my God...!” And that’s when I heard, “Celia Carvalho, from Portugal”. I could hardly believe it. I got up, surrounded by the ovation of my friends and all the people present in the room. All the lucky chosen ones - precisely 22 people who represented the 22 countries present in the room - stood in line near the stage and the Mayor of Tupelo and Janelle McComb. There was a lady in front of me, she was Norwegian, who was crying and who kept saying, “I can’t believe this...!” She almost sounded like me, since I am always saying that myself. She was also pointing at her casual and simple clothes, since she wasn’t counting that the banquet was going to be such an important event. I was moved, but I wasn’t worried about how I looked, because I had more or less gotten ready for the occasion. And then the Mayor started to do something that nobody was expecting. He called the people, one by one to the stage and offered each and every one of them, the Key of the City of Tupelo...! When my turn came, I passed by Keith, who told me, “Oh, darling, you look so pretty tonight...!” My eyes were already very moist by this time. Then the Mayor asked my name and where I was from, he introduced himself, shook my hand and said, at the same time handing me the Key of The Town, “Celia, this key represents the key to our hearts and to our town. I want you to take it to your country, to show it to all your friends and to tell them that the city of Tupelo is always open to welcome you all whenever you wish to visit us.” I thanked him, really moved, was kissed on the cheek by Mrs. Janelle McComb and left the stage, completely shaken. I felt the weight of the key in my hand - a golden and beautiful key, which read “Special Custom” on the outside and which was big and lying in a red velvet box. The key said: “Welcome to Tupelo, Mississippi.” While I was going through the tables to return to my seat, all the polititians and dignataries were greeting me and applauding me, all the fans were cheering me and smiling, some called me by my name and asked me to take a photo of me with the key, others asked me to see the key up close. I couldn’t believe it...! I just regretted not having taken the cameras to capture this moment, but as I was photographed by so many people, I am still hoping that I will have a photo of that night. Meanwhile, I must have been captured crying or with my eyes filled with tears in all the pictures, since I was so emotional... There are no words to describe it.

 



Legend: The golden key, which the mayor the city of Tupelo gave us at the banquet for the fans.


After everybody was introduced, the Mayor said, “I am so sorry for not having given you 950 keys, but we really couldn’t do it. I hope you understand these are very special and expensive keys. If you notice the box, it says these are special, and they really are. And now I would like to give Keith something really special, too, and which is the door to the city of Tupelo.” You won’t believe this, but the Mayor really had a wooden door there, with a golden lock, to give Keith...! And the symbolism was so beautiful, dear God... because all our keys opened that door. And it’s really true that Keith was the one who opened the door for the Elvis’ world, everything always had to involve him. In the end, they also gave him a key. It was a very, very beautiful occasion... The ceremony ended with the offer of a birthday cake very high - also an offer by the city of Tupelo - to all the fans present in the room. They sang happy birthday to us and everything, since it was 25 years since the English Fan Club takes Elvis fans to America. We weren’t expecting this either.


Elvis Disco

After all the emotion of the evening, they began putting some tables aside to prepare the floor for the night disco. I was dying to see Lu and Sandra’s reactions when they would see everybody dancing with those funny choreographies that I had learned in England in 1993 and 1994. Sandra had already seen some footage that I had shown her, but Lu had never seen anything like it. I also knew it was going to be difficult to convince them to dance that night, since in England I needed several days to get used to the idea. But the second time I went there, it was revenge time...! And I was right. Lu, amazed as she was, wanted to film the choreographies. John went dancing and how good he is, too...! He’s great. He looked like a G.I. who had just finished his service and was celebrating the event with all his might. Sandra didn’t want to dance and I made her company. However, when I Can Help started, I went dancing along with everybody. Meanwhile, when I was returning to my seat, there was a girl sitting in John’s place speaking with Trevor. Lu just wanted to film her beautiful Elvis tattoo in her back. I had never seen such a beautiful Elvis tattoo. Personally, I could never do a tattoo in my body, but that one was so discreet, so smooth... it looked like a dream. And the funny thing was that Elvis’ face had a freckle, since the freckle belonged to the owner of the back! And Elvis looks quite good with a freckle on his face! In the meantime, I recognized the girl with the tattoo. She was Julie Mundy, the new secretary of the English Fan Club, who replaced Todd Slaughter since he abandoned the post after the heart transplant in 1994. I had written to her several times before, sending her articles written by me to be printed in Elvis Monthly and, up until then, she had printed them all. I always felt kind of close to her, mainly because we have exactly the same age - 27 years old. As Lu wasn’t being able to film the tattoo accordingly, I started a conversation with her. I said, “You are Julie Mundy, aren’t you?” She said yes. And I said, “I am Celia, from Portugal.” She smiled and said, “Hey, I know you! I read your articles!” I was surprised because she remembered. I took the chance to ask her how and when did she do that gorgeous tattoo and if we could film it. She said, “Sure!” and pushed her hair aside. Lu just took care of business.

 

Then, with all the music going on at the disco, they played an Elvis song that Lu had never heard before - For The Heart. I was really surprised when she said it wasn’t Elvis singing. She was certain it wasn’t him singing. She dared me to go and ask Jenson, who was on the stage more or less controlling the songs. I went to him, with Sandra and said, “Who is singing?” He just looked at me as if I was crazy. I asked again. He returned the same look. And only then I explained: “I have a friend who says that it isn’t Elvis singing.” “Oh, but of course it’s Elvis!” he answered. On that night, they had already played two or three songs by a country singer who wasn’t Elvis. Lu was still doubtful. And when Promised Land began, she said it wasn’t Elvis either. When I am certain about something, I am very persistent and, sometimes, I admit, I also must be very annoying. After all, the other person is also thinking she’s/he’s right and it’s always a stupid fight. But, in the end, the next day and inside the bus, when someone put a cassette and it was For The Heart again, Lu said she was sorry, but she really thought it wasn’t Elvis. She didn’t need to say she was sorry, though...!

 

Around 1.30 a.m., we decided to go home. The disco wasn’t over yet, but we had other plans for the next morning - i.e., for that day! - and it was best to catch some sleep. Of course once we got home, we would never went to sleep straightaway. We always watched some TV or read the Elvis magazine we had bought or, still, took some photos. We really liked our hotel bedroom. We only hoped the hotel in Memphis would be this good.

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