Elvis, Millie, and Me
Forty-four years ago, Elvis Presley passed away on August 16th. Those who have read Escape could easily surmise that I’m an Elvis fan, and they would be correct. But I’m not nearly the fan that my friend Millie was. Millie died nine years ago. Yeah, I know. What a way to begin an article, right? But bear with me.
My aunt passed away, and I was asked to speak at her funeral. She was my favorite aunt, and I was her favorite niece. She died young, and that made the situation all the harder. So, me being me, I decided to bring a flare of humor into my speech. I gave a heartfelt farewell that had people in tears and then ended with “ … and because I know you can hear me from Heaven, I just want you to know that I am SO jealous that you got to meet Elvis first!” Half of the congregation laughed; the other half were horrified. Some people have no sense of humor. Mores the pity. After the service, a man approached me, patting me on the back, and told me a story that changed my life.
“I take it you’re an Elvis fan?” he asked.
He laughed. “You need to meet my aunt Millie. She knew Elvis and his family. Her entire house is dedicated to his memory. I promise you’ve never seen anything like it.”
“Should we take my car or yours?” I asked as the casket was being loaded into the hearse.
He said that they were having a family reunion in a few weeks. Yeah, you guessed it. I crashed that reunion. I have no scruples.
I walked up to the petite older woman with the gray, loose curly hair and friendly smile and nearly fainted into her arms when I saw her gold TCB necklace that Elvis had given her. I was tongue-tied and fidgety. You would have thought I was meeting Elvis himself. I should have been embarrassed over my behavior. Nah. Not me. Luckily, Millie thought I was adorable. We were instant friends. It didn’t matter that she was old enough to be my grandmother. We sat there surrounded by her family that flashed nothing but scowls our way. They were completely ignored, and a stranger was getting all of Millie’s attention.
Millie’s home was indeed plastered wall to wall with Elvis memorabilia. Books, personal photos, plates with his face on them, potholders, cross stitches. You name it; she had it. I felt like Charlie in the Willy Wonka Chocolate Factory. She played me personal recordings of Elvis singing and shared stories of her time with him and his family. It was A-MAZING. But what was more impressive was the friendship that blossomed. Once I’d heard all of her Elvis stories, one would think that she and I would be out of things to share. But, that was not the case. We were long-lost soul sisters. We endlessly shared everything about ourselves. We laughed, cried, debated, disagreed, and on occasion sang. None of you will be getting a demonstration, so you can put that out of your mind right now. Some people would have seen Millie and thought she was a crazed Elvis fan. She wasn’t. She was someone who sorely missed her friend, and having him all through her house was her way of keeping him near. There’s nothing crazy about loving your friends.
The Summer before Millie died, she and I took a trip to Memphis. I felt lucky to be the one she chose to make that trip with her. I won’t meet Elvis in this life, but I came as close as one can get.
Every year Millie would write a tribute poem to Elvis commemorating his death, and she would mail it to a group of people she had met over the years. They were lovely poems. I kept each one she sent me along with all her letters and cards. Then, the Christmas before she passed away, I gave her a journal, with Elvis on the cover, of course. She was gone only weeks later. But she left me that journal. She wrote a heartfelt letter to me on the very first page that made me weep. But it’s what was on the second page that broke me. It was the beginning of her story.
Inside the pages of that journal, she wrote down all her most treasured memories of her time with Elvis. Most people have never heard even one of her stories. But she gave them all to me freely. She went to a painstaking effort to make sure I never forget them. She also included a treasured memento that will stay with me until the day I die.
Elvis Presley was a great entertainer. He wasn’t perfect; we all know that. But his legacy isn’t just his music. It’s the people he left behind. I would never have met my most loved friend if it weren’t for him. The day Millie died, I was scrubbing my bathroom sink when I heard her giggle in my ear. I dropped my sponge and dialed her. She, of course, didn’t answer. I knew she was gone. My heart broke. There was no consoling me. My Millie was gone, and with her a piece of my soul.
I’m still invited to her family reunion every year. One would think they would be jealous of the bond Millie and I had, but no, they are grateful she and I found one another and that I’m left to carry on her torch. Her family has asked me to turn her stories into a book. This is as close as I have come. I don’t know if I will ever be able to write that book. I can still hear her cute voice in my ear, and my heart breaks all over again, just as it did the day she died. To say that I miss her is an understatement. One doesn’t miss their right arm. They are lost and are reluctantly forced to find a way through life without it. My house isn’t wall to wall Elvis. But my office sports a few things. Millie’s journal is kept in a safe place like the treasure that it is. The only thing I do not keep up is a photograph of Millie. It hurts too much to see her sweet face. Someday ...
So, today, I pay tribute not only to my favorite singer of all time but my cherished friend. My life has been enriched through them both, and I will be forever grateful.