Monday, October 03, 2005


I've been over on Ron Kane's site, digging through the archives. On one of his posts he shows a picture of himself at age six holding up a Harry Belafonte record. This put me in a nostalgic mood.

About a year before Elvis (America's only King) died there was some sort of giant movie extravaganza on Channel 30. My sister and I loved Elvis movies, and we were huge fans of Ann-Margeret (especially THE SWINGER, where she was a writer! Check it out folks!). So, the prospect of seeing VIVA LAS VEGAS, JAILHOUSE ROCK, GIRL CRAZY and CHANGE OF HABIT ("Elvis is such an awesome actor, ohmigod, he didn't even sing at all! Ohmigod was that Mary Tyler Moore, can you believe her??!!!") ensured that my sister and I weren't going anywhere that Saturday afternoon.

I think that we might have watched the line-up twice, as Channel 30 (a uhf station) was not below showing the same movies over and over all weekend. (We never minded when it was Elvis, Ann-Margeret, or stuff like MAD MONSTER PARTY or scary Hammer Horror films.) Since we HAD to learn all the songs and dances, we probably ate in the living room watching the tiny black and white television set, and went to the bathroom during commercials on a relay system. ("Yell if it comes back on while I'm in there!!")

At some point we decided to buy an Elvis GREATEST HITS record that they kept advertising. I think this was just before The King's fortieth birthday, which would have made me about 8 and my sister 6, or maybe that was 9 and 7, but basically young. Also, we had no money growing up. My father never paid child support and we lived with my mother's mother, whom we called Nonny. (Nonny lived in a really nice neighbourhood, and that's a whole other blog, being poor in a rich neighbourhood, but anyhow, it was the kind of neighbourhood where everyone knew each other. Including the postman.)

The (double!) album was $9.99 plus shipping and handling! We had no idea what "shipping and handling" was. But ten dollars was a HUGE sum of money and a MAJOR investment that we had committed to. Between our saved pennies- and our mother's obliging and unguarded purse-- we were able to come up with all of it. Just barely. And all in small change. Which I promptly put into the first small, white, paper envelope without any written explanation. I don't think we even put a return address on it. In fact, I think we tried to address the first envelope AFTER we'd put the money in it. Hence envelope number two.

The next morning early, before church, I took it up to the mailbox and dropped it in. I hesitated momentarily at the shattering PLINGS! I heard in the otherwise empty mailbox. Huh? What was that? I ran back home to begin waiting for the record. ("Is it here yet? Is it here yet?" )

About a week later my grandmother inexplicably brought home an ELVIS SINGS GOSPEL record. The mailman had done his own investigation of the torn envelope and ten dollars worth of change in the bottom of the mailbox and told Nonny what had happened. She claims that was the album we'd ordered, or at least, that was the one she'd seen advertised on the television. But she'd gone to a chain store to purchase it.

As I've mentioned, my mom is seriously mentally ill. So if she wasn't in the mental hospital she was mostly sleeping when we were kids. Years later, when I told mom this story she laughed and said that Nonny's story was b.s. My mom said that Nonny hated Elvis and had bought that record because it was the only one Nonny would have liked and wanted us listening to. Which we never did, not after the first time we heard it. (Sorry Mr. Presley, your highness, sir.)

After Nonny died I found the record in her collection. I noticed that it had several songs that Mahalia Jackson does as well. Nonny was a big Mahalia Jackson fan... Hmmm... Nonny always was sneaky and devious...

Anyhow, I always laugh when I think about myself, living in my own little world even as a child, dropping all those pennies, nickels and dimes into the mailbox. I'd blame my sister too, but she was already pretty brain damaged from all the coffee made of mud water that my friends and I not only made her drink, but made her pay for... Yeah, she blames me for most of her eating disorders and food allergies...



Ron Kane said...

This is a wonderful story, Toodler. I always love to read about childhood memories of phonograph records...thanx for the plug of my blog. In the past I have written about my young life, I should re-post some of it (as my archives erased, when I changed my blog about a year ago).

digitalcowgirl said...

Great, great story!

Ron Kane said...

Toodler, you should mention your other childhood memory 'records'!

Swifty said...

I love Elvis too, but it's his early stuff I'm interested in. I think he became too mainstream as his career developed, with the concern about dollars more than artistic development - I blame the 'Colonel'. Fucking money-grabber!

Anway, my earliest memory of Elvis was Jailhouse Rock. At a guess I reckon I was around 8 or 9 years old when it hit the British charts and soldered itself into my cerebellum. This is probably why I see it as the definitive rock-and-roll record - quite a statement when you consider what's on offer. Even today, when I listen to it (I have it now on my little mp3 player alongside Don't Be Cruel - a close second in the great rock-and-roll record list) it's as fresh and exciting as ever. My greatest rock fantasy is becoming the young Elvis and doing the 'moves' in front of an adoring crowd.

I can't go without mentioning your writing. I loved the detailed explanation of the change and the envelopes. Marvellous.

Turtlellini said...

That IS a sweet story and it made me feel nostalgic too! I could see you droppin that money in and not thinkin much about it. Kids are so damn cute. Makes me fight back the tears thinkin about what my boy is gonna be doin pretty soon.

I'm a little miffed that Nonny took it upon herself to buy something ELSE w/your money--but whatever. You were living under her roof--maybe that's how she justified it.

And Elvis? Man. My grandfather GAVE US his greatest hits album, (my brother and I) and we listened to that thing so much, we knew all the words and we would lip sync duets together. To this day I cannot see the words "RETURN TO SENDER" without singin it ala Elvis to my brother. Good times.

Chairborne Stranger said...

Hey, great writing, I enjoyed the story. Thanks for stopping by my blog, Toodler.