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  • Writer's pictureHelen Dalton


A very long essay.

It was 45 years ago today that I was awoken from my sleep. The date was August 16th, 1977. Mum was perched on the side of my bed looking distraught - Elvis had died. I was led down the stairs and put in front of the TV where I sat alongside my mum absorbing everything Elvis. Do I have any recollection of him before this date?? As a 10-year-old, I have no idea.? I knew my mum was obsessed with him - to the point that my dad took her to see an Elvis movie while they were on their honeymoon. Mum was a woman that never made too many connections with people throughout her life but from that day on - I had the ‘special’ Elvis connection with her. I do recall that I did have an incredible sense of grief for a man I did not know but would become a constant in my life going forward. After his death, Elvis was everywhere and I know, not having been close to my grandparents that Elvis was the first person I ever truly grieved to the point that I was sick to my stomach.

That Christmas I asked for a cassette player - mum and dad not being too well off - invested in a second-hand cassette player - they were not sure if I would use it :( They had both gone out and each bought me a tape to listen to - both of them returned and gifted me an Elvis tape.

Throughout my teens, I went on to follow different bands as the ’80s began - a great decade for music - loved Prince, Duran Duran and all the new romantic style bands plus some rock over the years. As I got older - I still shared Elvis with mum - or she still shared him with me.

In 1992 after a short career in design I moved to the States for a year. Mum and dad were planning to visit. I lived in McLean, VA and was an au pair for an amazing family - 1992 - was one of the best years of my life.

Mum and dad did come to visit and without hesitation, we would make the road trip from New York to Niagara Falls and back down to Memphis, Tennessee. Never in my wildest dreams would I have thought that this dream would come true and I would be bringing mum closer to her hero. We did all the Elvis stuff - his childhood home, Beale Street, SUN recording studio and Graceland. I remember my dad saying that, to be honest, he was never a big Elvis fan but the whole tour and the story of his life - everything was just phenomenal and my dad and all of us were thoroughly impressed. My mum was in her element, like a teenager. I do remember my only regret was that we never initialled or wrote a message on the walls near Graceland like so many people had done before us, wanting to show that they had come and paid tribute to such a great man. There was such a sense of greatness being brought up through the gates of Graceland. Seeing where he lived and so sad to look over his gravesite, I was glad that I was able to do that for my mum.

Over the years I continued following Elvis - even going to see Elvis’s band live in Toronto. I would send mum Elvis Christmas ornaments - books and videos. I was an avid Lisa Marie Presley fan - driving 4 hours to see her perform at a local casino - buying her CD’s sending them to my mum. I made a memory book for my mum and dad one year - pics of them growing up - dad the nurse and the teddy boy. Their life story, their wedding, raising a family, holidays, and anniversaries. In the introduction of the book were the lyrics from the song Memories by Elvis. Oh, and I still have my Elvis clock, which was a Christmas gift from mum and dad.

The year that my mum passed away started with a trip to London O2 Arena to see the Elvis exhibit. I flew from Canada to specifically take my mum and dad to see the exhibit. It was fascinating. I felt like I was reliving my childhood being surrounded by everything Elvis - his story, his clothes and his jewelry. My mum was so deep into her dementia journey that I felt like I was dragging my two children around London - navigating the Tube, my mum on one side of me and my dad on the other, both gripping worriedly onto my hands, holding them so tight so that we wouldn’t lose one another in the crowds. Looking back my mum did not have a clue where she was or what she was doing. It was so very sad to see that she no longer knew this amazing entertainer. It was heartbreaking as she kept tugging on my coat cuffs urging me to go to the next exhibit room. My dad asking me to read the exhibit notes to her as she didn’t understand the wonders before her. Looking back I don’t think I read everything as I was too heartbroken myself to see this lost soul in front of me - like a child exploring her surroundings and trying to figure out what we were doing. It was so sad to see mum losing her connection, not only to Elvis, but to life itself. At the end of the tour dad being dad, purchased official photos and magnets of that day - his line that he had used since we were children - ‘go and pick out what we wanted to take home as a souvenir.’ That was my last official trip with my mum, she passed away later that year. It was a slow death - the doctors said she was too weak to perform any surgery on her and there was nothing they could do for her. Towards the very end - my sister said it was haunting and the morning she passed away my sister stood over her and told her to go and dance with Elvis - Elvis was playing in the background and my mum took her last breath. We all hope Elvis was there to welcome her home. I couldn’t even look or listen to my Elvis records for a number of years after my mum passed away.

For my 50th birthday, my dad and I travelled to Brugge - it was a wonderful trip and before we left he gifted me a beautiful Elvis purse and handbag - it must have cost a fortune but I could tell that it gave him so much joy when he gifted it to me. I told him the trip was enough but he went above and beyond with that gift. I have used the purse ever since as it reminds me of my mum and dad. The images of Elvis are fading now and so are the memories - that’s why, I’m finding it important to write these essays as gifts to myself - so that one day I will go back and read and remember.

One of my mum and dad’s traditions throughout the years was to buy a ‘pop star’ calendar for Christmas - my sister always received a Robbie Williams or Take That calendar, my aunt a Cliff Richard and myself, no matter whom I was listening to, was always Elvis. In my dad’s later years he would always acknowledge the upcoming Christmas season with the fact that he had yet to purchase my calendar. I also think that after my mum’s passing it was still a comfort to him that I was still ‘everything Elvis’. I remember the Christmas just before he died - he had fallen and had been hospitalized - it was also the time of Covid so getting around was harder. When he came out of hospital we had the Elvis calendar conversation and I told him not to worry and I look forward to receiving it, as always, whenever he could send it. My dad passed away on February 8th 2021. I never did receive my calendar for that year and the space on my wall has been empty ever since. I wish I had saved the very last one he ever sent to me but all I have are the memories. My wall seems so empty as a reminder to me that my parents are no longer around.

With the recent showing of the ‘new’ Elvis movie - I was intrigued and thought I would watch it in my own time but I got caught up in the publicity and interviews and like every other Elvis fan became obsessed. I went alone for the opening night at our local theatre. I wanted to watch it alone and see if I could feel my mum’s spirit as I sat there in awe. It was one of the most amazing movies I have ever watched and it not only reconnected me with ‘The King’ but also with my past which is what I cherish. It is like I am watching Elvis on stage, Austin Butler is AMAZING and I know my mum would have loved it. My sister took my niece and I think it is great that a new generation can appreciate everything Elvis. As all Elvis fans say - there will never be another one. Of course, I sobbed my heart out at the end as not only do I miss him greatly but also the two people that introduced me to him all those years ago. They are all greatly loved, missed so much and forever cherished.

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