Elvis is everywhere. But where two or more fans are gathered, devoted to his memory, weird manifestations are possible.
Some years ago I bought a pair of black leather pants in an after-Christmas sale, even though the fit was suspect. I found one dry cleaner in Roanoke, Virginia, where the seamstress willingly altered leather. As I stood balancing on the stool with the small woman at my seams, I heard her mumble something through pins that sounded like it contained the word “Elvis.” As everyone knows, this word, along with “Jesus” and “Coke,” is one of the best known English words in the world.
“What did you say?” I asked, without taking a breath. I did not want to disturb the line of pins taking shape from my hips to my ankles. In fact, I was probably obliged to hold my breath to achieve the desired effect. The black pants had to look poured on or they would prove a bad investment.
“I said I do all of the Elvis Lady’s pants.”
“Kim Epperly. The Elvis Lady. I thought you’d know her, with the leather and all that.”
Believing me ripe for the pilgrimage, the seamstress gave me directions to a local shrine called Miniature Graceland. Built by Kim and her husband, Don Epperly, who suffers from MS yet still manages to construct detailed models, the exhibit now includes Elvis’s childhood home, his father’s home, the church he attended as a child, Heartbreak Hotel and Restaurant, Presley’s Automobile Museum, as well as the Roanoke Civic Center, and, of course, Graceland.
A trip around the Epperlys’ side yard, with Elvis singing in the background, begins at the Graceland model. Sometimes Elvis waves from the front steps, dressed in seasonal attire. On summer days, perhaps he wears a cleaned and pressed white coat over a fancy, ruffled shirt, blue slacks, and bow tie. But on my last visit, August 15, the 16th anniversary of his death, Elvis was not greeting the visitors, who brought candles by which to see their way.
Up the sloping yard, inside the Civic Center, Elvis perpetually sings to an audience of decked-out Barbie dolls. A television screen inside the car museum has played cosmic static every time I’ve toured, yet each time I find myself gravitating toward the screen’s light show. I peer into the rolling disturbance of “snow” where anything or anyone might materialize. Even though his face would only be a projection, an illusion of presence, isn’t this what it’s all about? Over the whole of the Epperlys’ creation, suspended on very noticeable wires, cruises Elvis’s Lear jet. I know better, yet the jet creates an aura of anticipation.
You’ll want to go there. Even former President Carter and Rosalynn have. No wonder. The Epperlys’ construction project somehow overlaps with the Carters’ inspired work on behalf of Habitat for Humanity. Miniature Graceland reminds us not so much of Elvis as of the human capacity for devotion, of how that devotion can materialize intent. I am convinced that if even one family poured as much energy into prayer for world peace, we’d probably have it. In the meantime, we can ponder the impact of Elvis.