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Graceland -- a different South

Author Note: this post is best understood by having read my previous post on Kansas.


I headed south and east towards Memphis, TN. I have never been to The Volunteer State before. I always wanted to go because it is the land of sweet-home BBQ, Grand Ole Opera, the Goo-Goo, and fun names like Chattanooga. (Of course many of these names are a nod to the Native American roots so ingloriously transplanted through the Trail of Tears, and more, that landed Cherokee and other tribes on reservations in Colorado, now referred to as domestic dependent nations.)


What I found was, depending on where you grew up, we learn different histories. The history down-south is primarily focused on battlefields and civil rights. The history in Colorado has shifted from frontier-settlers to indigenous atrocities. I am not saying any are wrong or right. I am saying history should be studied and scrutinized in order to understand human nature.


I picked up my flock at the Memphis airport and we checked into our hotel for the night. It was an IHG Hotel -- a brand I usually trust as clean and appropriately priced. I also shied away from the Guest House at Graceland, fearing a "Las Vegas" vibe. (I've been through Las Vegas, and that stretch of I-15, about as many times as I-70 and I hate LV.) The hotel was rough, the neighborhood was rough, and Graceland was rough.


My 18-yo son had forgotten to shave and his momma wanted him not to look like a hung-over porcupine, so I insisted he get a new razor. There was a CVS next to the hotel. We went in and just about every human necessity was locked behind a clear acrylic box. It was not just electric razors and larger ticket items -- diapers, deodorant, and OTC drugs, and much more. I wasn't in Kansas anymore. (Sorry, had to be said.) I live a much different life.


My daughter has been to Morocco in northern Africa. She commented about Memphis that she felt she had never been in such a high density of black people. (Northern Africans tend towards lighter skin tones. Also, she has been to Bermuda and Belize -- also influenced by slavery and Colonialism.) She said this not out of fear or prejudice but out of a sense of other. (She is also in college as a history major and more observant of life.) This is what I want for my children -- to see outside their boundaries.


During my solo road trip, I listened to "The Yellow Wife," by Sadeqa Johnson (5-star read) and one theme in this story is the gradient of color and the privilege that comes with light skin. Noticing the color of skin tone is not unique to being the other (in my case, white and privileged). I also learned that there is a paper bag test. (I think that explains itself.) It is important to understand skin tone is a part of BIPOC identity. It's not black and white.


When I was with my cousin in St. Louis, she showed me my uncle's 23-and-me, and how absolutely central European he is. This we knew, since we still have distant cousins (good people category) in Germany. I think it fascinating that we are now able to find our genetic regions -- as we are all descended through immigration (unless you're from the aforementioned tribes). I say that acknowledging some immigration was by force (specifically: slavery). And much immigration was/is not by choice, be it because of life-threatening, religious, or indentured reasons. I reflect on the border crisis and the new privilege of being American -- whatever color you may be.


I feel there is a different South that I don't know. I feel Memphis is the tip of a deep south that extends down to the Louisiana Coast, New Orleans (where I have been.) I don't know if I will ever have a reason to explore Mississippi, Kentucky, or Alabama (some of our poorest states in the Union) but I am certainly open to becoming a better person through travel. And I am more sympathetic to the need for better healthcare and access to basic human health necessities -- including preventative birth control solutions.


Graceland, itself, was a pilgrimage for me. Elvis was born the same year as my dad. I grew up listening to his music. This was, however, my son's choice for our trip. His appreciation of music runs deep. And, maybe, pictures of Elvis look a lot like pictures of my dad -- a man my son has only vague memories of. While the estate of Graceland is maintained, and his hall of records impressive, it's not quite a museum -- yet. It's a snapshot of 1970's state-of-the-art homeownership. In fact, the house we renovated in Ouray was of the same vintage. It was, also, representative of my childhood home. The saving grace of Graceland goes under appreciated, hidden behind the graffiti scrawled on the famous gates -- the amount of jobs it brings to an otherwise disadvantaged area. It would be nice if those with his DNA would take care of the vehicles sitting on flattened rims; if the estate would be more charitable towards the area Elvis felt most at home.


Let's put Elvis' accomplishments in perspective. By the same age, a modern female music icon (who sells-out stadium after stadium), has achieved approximately half what he'd accomplished, and he had two years interrupted by military service. The man is a legend. The GOAT. However, I wonder if he would have been quite so famous if he still lived? He'd be 89.


It is not allowed to take photos of Graceland and use them for profit. So here is a photo of a crepe myrtle. (And I paid for the rights for a digital family photo.) Since this is a blog on a page I hope will increase book sales (once I get my book published), I won't be sharing indoor photos. All good, fairly certain you can find some online. Or, go yourself and keep the economy moving -- just like all the transport trucks that clogged our way to Nashville.



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