Elvis touched our lives then and now

The drawing is titled ‘Groovin’’ and is a colored pencil and water colored marker sketch by Nelda Curtiss.

Movin’ On with Nellie

Elvis Presley has always been part of my life and my family’s life. An early song by Elvis was “Love Me Tender” on a 45 RPM record that my mom owned.

It was kept close to the beige-colored 1959 Philco turntable within the canvas-covered-speaker suitcase.

I, a 6-year-old, collected myself on the oak floor close to mama’s silky flats, and beside the record player. I was mesmerized. The record spun hypnotically, and the arm with the needle bobbed ever so slightly as Elvis crooned out “Love Me Tender” (1956) which was the same tune as "Aura Lee," a classical piece from 1861.

The flip side of the 45, “Any Way You Want Me,” was not as curious as the softer song. Come to think of it, “Love Me Tender” was also one of the first melodies that teenager I picked on my steel guitar, a Sears Catalog order. 

I remember laughter when Mama and Daddy would hold my littlest sister. They would sing along to Elvis’ “Hound Dog.” When they changed her diaper, I could hear “You ain’t nothing but a hound dog, crying all night long,” then the iconic blowing on her stomach and little sister’s squealing giggles. She was born in Germany and eventually could sing every ditty and commercial the new color tv transmitted. Without Elvis, she might not ever have had clean diapers or learned to zig-zag after her first steps.

When I was in high school, Janet would sometimes pick me up before the sun hollered too brightly in her yellow VW bug with Elvis blasting from the tinny radio, “We are caught in a trap, I can’t walk out because I love you too much baby...”

I told her that the song was apropos right now as my mama and daddy were fighting every other night. Then Elvis's “Suspicious Minds” was caught up in my thoughts. After that one and before we were whirring into the parking lot, “In the Ghetto,” fell out of the floor speakers.

Janet said, “This song is a good one, too.” And I said, “We do like songs with meaning.”

Before the new millennium rolled out, my friend and I were on a plane packed with Las Vegas travelers. She had won two tickets at her Colorado Springs telemarketing job. We were flying out for the day. Leaving before dawn, we were pumped with a few dollars, not a hundred.

Approaching the MGM on the strip, we laughed as Elvis’ song “Viva Las Vegas” was pummeling the foot traffic even as the heat seared through our light garb. We played the slot machines side by side and sipped our non-alcoholic drinks. The whole time that I am yanking the one-armed bandit’s lever, I could hear Elvis resounding in my head, “Viva Las Vegas.” I won $10 repeatedly that day but left for home with only $5. My friend was luckier and picked up $50. 

“Elvis,” the recent release starring Austin Butler and Tom Hanks, brought out memories. I have heard how iconic stars are sometimes managed by unscrupulous clowns. Details in the movie show Colonel Tom Parker was fatal to Elvis’s life and career. Dead at 42, Elvis had only been a carny commodity to the circus magician.

Elvis’s story is one of “What might have been.” When Butler revives “Trouble” at the outdoor venue, I could hear Elvis talking back to the colonel and record label execs. I could also hear myself talking back to the 1960s establishment as we all did in 1969. 

The power of Elvis and his singing moved me and impacted my life. The notion “follow your dreams” was inherent in his life’s work evident in so many songs including “Follow That Dream” from 1962.

Nelda Curtiss is a retired college educator and long-time local columnist. Reach her at columnsbynellie.com or email her at [email protected].