Elvis’ 85th Birthday Celebration in Memphis this past January was one of the best times I’ve ever had. All the Jerry Schilling events, meeting Priscilla for the first time, owning a piece of Elvis’ jewelry and the nightly discussions in the Guest House Lobby with my fellow Elvis friends. It was just a fantastic few days! A real sense of community!
I flew to Memphis the morning of Tuesday January 7th. Even though it takes 14 hours to drive and only 2 hours to fly, I prefer to drive but this time of year the weather is so uncertain that I flew – ugh! I arrived at the Guest House at Graceland safe and sound and was checked into my room by 11am, which was wonderful! I had my usual courtyard view room in the south tower, but this time I was on the 4th floor instead of the 3rd floor. I unpacked and organized my stuff and was enjoying a fried green tomato sandwich, sweet potato fries and sweet tea at EPs by 12:30pm. After lunch, I went to the lobby to read but was joined by Karol and Sylvain so we talked until almost 5pm. Julie stopped by after she checked in, Tom joined us, and Laurie and Nannette stopped by. I caught the 6pm shuttle to Beale Street for the Grizzlies game at 7pm. Of course as soon as I left Jerry Schilling came to the lobby and Julie talked with him – twice. I stopped by Blues City Cafe for a sausage and cheese plate to take back to the Guest House for a late dinner. I talked with Hannah and her mom on the way to my room. After shoveling in the oh so yummy sausage and cheese plate (I only eat sausage when I’m in Memphis), I went back down to the lobby and talked with Julie, Delia, Caroline and Kristy until about 11:30pm when we walked over to the Gates of Graceland for the midnight singing of “Happy Birthday” to Elvis – Karol joined us along with way. I met Angela (my facebook friend) and Nancy and caught up with Mary and Jon a little bit. This was my first time singing at the Gates at midnight on January 8th.
I had been up for over 21 hours then only got about 4 hours of sleep, but it didn’t matter how exhausted I was because this was January 8th – what would have been Elvis’ 85th Birthday and was going to be one of my VERY best days! At 8:15am, I met up with Karol and Eva in the lobby and we walked over to Graceland together to get in line for the Birthday Proclamation Ceremony at 9am. Because we weren’t at the beginning of the line, we decided to stand opposite of the stage, behind the cake. This was fine with me because we got to see all the VIPs walking up. Marian Cocke walked up through the grass in her walker, but was not part of the ceremony. She was just there to watch. What a great lady! Jack Soden spoke first then Joel then Jerry spoke for about 3 1/2 minutes. It was his first Birthday Proclamation Ceremony. Jerry then introduced his “best friend” Priscilla Presley, and she spoke for a bit telling funny stories. I have seen Priscilla many times, but I never knew she was so funny.
Leaving the ceremony, I kind of followed Jerry down the rope making his way to the car while he was greeting fans. I didn’t get a chance to talk with him then, but I did speak with his wife Cindy. I was wearing my Jerry’s Girls shirt and asked her if she was wearing hers (that we sent her last year by her request). She said she wasn’t, but she loves them! After the ceremony, we (me, Julie, Karol, Eva, Delia, Kristy and Caroline) went over to Vernon’s for free Birthday Cake then stayed for lunch and talked for a while. I had the chicken strips, mashed potatoes, mac n cheese and sweet tea in my free refills souvenir cup. We then went over to pick up our event tickets. Then because we hadn’t eaten enough, we all met up at Minnie’s for ice cream. I of course got my favorite – a double scoop of chocolate peanut butter in a cup. While eating ice cream, I kept an eye on the auction that I had been bidding online – an Elvis owned silver ring. I had my max bid in already, but just wanted to make sure I wasn’t outbid. And I wasn’t! I didn’t want to get too excited though because I hadn’t received a confirmation email, but I knew the highest bid was under my max bid. I went back to the Guest House to rest for a bit and to get ready for our meet and greet and photo with Jerry and Priscilla!
With our Gold Package, we were given the opportunity for a photo with Jerry and Priscilla so Julie, Delia, Caroline and I all wore our Jerry’s Girls shirts in hopes we could also get additional photo with the four of us and Jerry. We made sure we all were lined up together toward the end hoping they would allow us another photo. As each of us walked up to Jerry for our individual photo with him and Priscilla, we asked him if he would mind taking another photo with the four of us. And of course he agreed because he is such a great guy! When Delia was talking to Priscilla, Jerry looked at her with a huge smile and said, “You’re SO cute! I’m glad you’re one of my girls!” When it was my turn, I walked straight up to Priscilla as I had never formally met her before. I put my hand out to shake her hand, introduced myself, looked straight into her eyes and said, “Thank you! Thank you for Graceland!” Then I turned to Jerry, put my arms around him and said, “And you know I love you!” (what a dork I am!) Priscilla laughed and said, “Oh you were just buttering me up to get to him.” (Again, who knew she was so funny?) After we took our photo, I asked Jerry if the four of us could get another photo with him and he said, “of course!” and then said, “I’m just trying to think of where.” I told him we would wait right outside the door and come back when the regular photos were finished. I thanked them both again and waited right outside the door with Julie, Delia and Caroline. We followed the last person inside and waited. Priscilla wanted to get out of the photo, but Jerry insisted she stay. I stood next to Jerry, but he sort of turned toward Priscilla. In our individual photo, Jerry had turned toward me as I was in the middle of him and Priscilla. Rob took so many shots of us. We thanked them and started to walk away then someone dragged Priscilla away so we could take our photo with just Jerry – as we had originally intended. Priscilla was so funny as she was walking away, she said, “I’m getting kicked out of my own place.” Then she stood next to Rob while he was taking our photo and she was teasing Jerry saying, “I’ve never seen you smile this much Jerry!” She was laughing the whole time. It was so much fun! Again, Rob took many shots. We thanked Jerry again and walked out beaming incredibly happy all of our plotting and planning had finally come to fruition, exceeding our expectations. It couldn’t have went any better!
Tracy was waiting for us after our Jerry photo, so we were telling her all about it as we went over to EPM for the Birthday Bash, which started at 5pm or so we thought. Somehow Tracy and I got separated from the rest of our friends. It was about 5:05pm when we walked right through the turnstile, which we thought was strange because we were expecting a long line. We noticed a lot people were in line to go up to the mansion, as night tours were included in the Birthday Bash. We wanted to tour the mansion last, so we went inside to grab a table and save seats for everyone. The food was out, but still covered. They told us it didn’t start until 6, so we decided to go over and check out the new football exhibit. Then we we went back to where the food was to get a table and we were told we had to wait outside, even though we had been inside for the past half hour. So we sat on a bench outside and talked. It was during this time I received an email that I had in fact won the auction!!! I screamed. I was SO excited!!! My dream had been to own a piece of Elvis’ jewelry, especially one of his rings. (more on this later) Tracy and I looked up and saw Julie and Kristy inside Gladys’ and told them to come out and they said they weren’t allowed – that no one was allowed in. We had this whole conversation through the glass, including me telling them I won Elvis’ ring in the auction. It was pretty funny. Finally it was 6pm, so everyone was allowed inside. We (Tracy, Julie, Delia, Caroline, Kristy and me) immediately went and got a table and ate from the buffet. Then we went over to pick up our photos from our meet and greet with Jerry and Priscilla. Rob was so great! Not only did he print out our individual photos, but our group photo with Jerry and Priscilla and our group photo with just Jerry – and 4 copies of each so we could all have our own copy. We were so excited and appreciative! We ended our wonderful day touring Graceland. We stayed there for almost 2 hours – mostly in the living room / foyer. There is nothing better than touring Graceland at night!
After not much sleep again, I woke up around 9am not realizing that January 9th was going to be as great as January 8th – and I never even left the Guest House. First up was Conversations on Elvis with Jerry and Priscilla at 10am in the theater. It was absolutely fantastic – much better than anything during Elvis Week. I sat fifth row center next to Julie. It was almost 2 hours long with Jerry and Priscilla each speaking separately for a while, then together for a while. The highlight was Jerry and Priscilla narrating Elvis’ home movies. Jerry talked about football and the movies. Jerry’s old high school teammates were there and had given him his old football jersey, which Angie is going to put in the new football exhibit. Among other things, Priscilla talked about saying good bye to Elvis at the airport in Germany.
After Conversations, I literally ran down the hall to the auction room to pay and get my ring! As I mentioned before, this was a dream of mine – to own a piece of Elvis’ jewelry. Thanks to the Graceland Auction, I now own a silver ring with a malachite (green) stone that came from Elvis’ jewelry box he had in his room that Patsy Presley Gambill had. Patsy sold the jewelry box and its contents, including my ring, to Tom Salva in 1988 and Tom sold a few items in this year’s auction. My ring came with a notarized description from Tom, a hand written letter from Patsy Presley Gambill on Vermon’s TCB stationary and a letter of authenticity from Graceland. I messaged Tom as I am friends with him on facebook, and he had this to say about my ring, “Deena, Patsy told me that Elvis really liked green stones Jewelry. He felt that green was a healing color. Patsy told me that most of the things in the jewelry box were gifts from Family and Friends. When Elvis passed Patsy and her Uncle Vernon went up into Elvis’ bedroom and removed a lot of things that were out in the open before the State of Tennessee came in and did an audit. They put everything in boxes and Vernon said bring the boxes home don’t leave them in the Office, someone might take them. After a year she asked, “Uncle Vernon what do you want me to do with the boxes? Vernon replied, “Patsy just keep them as a memory of your Cousin.” It is more important to me to have a ring that was actually Elvis’ rather than one he gave to someone. Even if he received it as a gift and tried it on just one time and put it in his jewelry box for the rest of his days. But who knows, maybe he did wear it for a while? The green Malachite stone in my ring is known as the “stone of transformation” and is believed to be a stone of balance “used for deep energy cleaning, bringing healing and positive transformation to the wearer.”
Gleefully wearing Elvis’ ring, I grabbed a quick snack from the fake Starbucks and sat down with my friends Julie, Delia, Tracy and Kristy while they ate at EPs before heading over to the theater for the free Archives event with Angie Marchese and Tom Brown. We sat 4th row center for the discussion about Elvis’ cancelled checks. It started out really interesting, but after about 45 minutes it got to be a little monotonous. But I was both physically and emotionally exhausted and it was free, so I was just fine sitting in a nice dark theater for a bit. After, Julie, Tracy and I made it all the way to those comfy chairs in the back lobby (literally just a few steps from the theater) and talked for hours. We literally didn’t move for the next 3 hours. Just talking everything about Elvis. It was exactly what I needed after two emotionally exhilarating and exhausting days! At 5pm, we decided we should go eat and have a proper meal so we went to Delta’s for dinner. I had my favorite Campanelle Pasta, which is creamy, cheesy, garlicy goodness! And every meal at Delta’s is accompanied with their delicious warm cheese biscuits – the best biscuits I’ve ever tasted! I love eating at Delta’s as it is calm and relaxed. After dinner, Julie and Tracy did the evening walk up to the Meditation Garden and apparently had the best time ever. I was grumpy tired and did not want to move let alone go outside and walk down the street even if it was to Graceland. I was even contemplating not going to the Sun Studio Concert, but I went and was so glad I did as I had such a fun time!
I went to the theater for the Sun Studio Concert at 7:30pm, in the same seat I had for Conversations that morning. Karol was behind me, and Caroline was behind her. John Paul Keith opened the show playing Elvis songs then moved on to other Sun artists such as Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins and Billy Lee Riley. He was joined on stage by Chuck Mead, Jerry Phillips and my favorite JM Van Eaton, who is the legendary Sun session drummer who played on all of Jerry Lee’s records. Also, Sally Wilburn, who worked with Sam Phillips from the beginning, made a stage appearance giving a little speech. VERY cool to hear from her! Right after the concert started, Jerry Schilling took his seat in the audience and left right before it ended – just like Elvis used to do. It was fun seeing Jerry getting into the songs and enjoying himself. Julie and Tracy joined us about halfway through. After, Julie, Tracy, Caroline, Delia and I went back to those comfy seats in the back lobby to hang out and talk. Jerry Phillips came by and we talked to him. Then JM Van Eaton came by, so I ran up to him to meet him and get my photo with him. I told him about my love for drums and my ‘It’s All About Drums’ shirt, which brought a big smile to his face. He and his wife were so nice. After a while, we moved over to the main lobby and stayed there until after midnight. It seems I had caught a second wind.
I finally had a good night’s sleep and did not have to be anywhere at a particular time, so I started off January 10th leisurely getting ready for a relaxing day. Around 10:45am, I took a Lyft over to the Holiday Inn for Jon Daly’s Birthday Bash (aka Elvis Pawn Shop’s Elvis Con). With my big Elvis ring purchase, I was only able to buy a few books this time. I talked with Angela, Nancy and Mary for a while and just hung out in the lobby for a bit. Then I took a Lyft back to the Guest House to drop off my books and have lunch at EPs. I had the yummy Delta Cheeseburger (in Julie’s honor since she had to leave early due to a snowstorm cancelling her flight), fries and sweet tea. I took the shuttle over to EPM to visit my favorite Elvis the Entertainer Career Museum where I spent a good bit of time in my favorite exhibits: The Movies, Elvis on Tour, Elvis in Vegas That’s The Way It Is and the Jaycees Award. I ran into Delia, so we sat in the fun booths in the Vegas exhibit watching Elvis That’s the Way It Is and talking. I bought a bookmark in the gift shop and went over to Vernon’s for some banana pudding and some free sweet tea in my souvenir cup. Tracy joined me and we talked for a while, then headed over to the Jungle Room Bar in the Exhibition Center.
We arrived quite early at the Jungle Room Bar for the Reception with Jerry and Priscilla at 6pm, but it was nice to just relax and talk. We were soon joined by Tom then Caroline then Delia then everyone. As soon as the door opened to the room where the reception was being held, we took off for a front table near the ‘stage,’ which was just a platform next to the kitchen door. Thank goodness for Tracy who ran and got us the best table right up front. We had our appetizers, which were surprisingly good and filling. Tom Brown introduced Jerry at 6:26pm and Jerry spoke for 1 minute then they left to go film an episode of The Gates of Graceland. About 20 minutes later, Priscilla came through the Jungle Room Bar into the room where the reception was being held and everyone rushed the ‘stage’ making our front table irrelevant. Priscilla spoke for just over 2 minutes.
After the reception, we walked over to the Sound Stage for the Elvis Pops Concert with Terry Mike Jeffrey and the Memphis Symphony Orchestra. I had a great view in my 3rd row center seat, but was feeling a little cramped in the middle with all of my stuff I had with me. I left at intermission.
I walked back to the Guest House, posted photos and called to talk with my parents for a bit. I got a message that Jerry was at the concert in the audience. Surprised I didn’t see him when I left as he was seated right near the exit. I went down to the lobby after the concert ended and hung out with everyone: Delia, Caroline, Tracy, Angela, Nancy and Angie. We were there until about 1am.
For the second day in a row, I was able to sleep in because I had nothing scheduled in the morning of January 11th. But I was really excited, because this was the day I had been looking forward to … Jerry Schilling’s bus tour of Memphis!!! Even though, it did not start until 1pm, I went down to the theater at 12pm. We were to meet in the theater first for a little discussion before boarding the bus. I secured my front row center seat and waited. Tom, Angie and Jerry took the stage just after 1pm and spoke for about 11 minutes. During which time, Jerry gave me a little shout out, which I was lucky enough to capture on video. I caught Jerry looking at me, noticing my Jerry’s Girls shirt. He was waiting for a break in the conversation then with a big smile on his face, he pointed at me and said, “Jerry’s Girls are here!” We boarded the bus, and I was seated directly behind Jerry. I was so close it took all of my will power not reach out and touch his hair because it looked SO soft. Angie and Tom sat across from Jerry. Angie mentioned something about taking a group photo on the staircase at the Guest House when we got back. I said, “Oh just like The Brady Bunch.” With that, they all turned around and looked at me. Jerry said, “The Brady Bunch. I’m good friends with the creator’s son. I said, “Oh Sherwood Schwartz” (meaning the creator). He said, “Yes.” I asked Jerry if he had seen the renovation show (where they renovated the inside of house they used for outside shots to look just like the Brady house on the inside.) Jerry said he hadn’t seen it. I said, “Sherwood’s kids were on it.” Jerry said, “Oh yeah they were. I’ll have to check it out.” Meanwhile, they were trying to get Jerry’s attention to have him turn around for a photo but he was so engrossed in our conversation. Finally he turned around and we started our tour of Jerry Schilling’s Memphis.
We toured Memphis for almost 2 hours, and it was glorious! I think I actually enjoyed this tour of Memphis with Jerry more than last year’s tour of Graceland with Jerry, mostly because this tour was longer and more intimate and I heard new stories. (In other words, being THAT close to Jerry for THAT long made it a favorite!) Besides the Jerry factor, the tour was really well done. Angie did a fantastic job putting it all together with the photos and videos along with Jerry’s stories. Even though it was raining and we didn’t get off the bus, it was a great, great time! Jerry talked about Elvis giving out speeding tickets, eating at Coletta’s, times at McKellar Lake, Elvis reciting MLK’s “I Have a Dream” speech, the Jaycees 10 Outstanding Young Men Awards, Dewey Phillips and shows at the Chisca Hotel, the Peabody Hotel, the music notes on Beale Street (including his own), Jerry’s emerald ring Elvis gave him, Madison Cadillac and Schilling cars, Sun Studio, Lauderdale Courts, St. Joseph Hospital (where Jerry was born and where Gladys worked), St. Jude’s, Humes High School, Jerry’s house and high school, playing football at Guthrie Park, Jerry working at Sears Crosstown, the Crosstown Theater, introducing Elvis to Eric Clapton, the Tennessee Karate Studio, Overton Park Shell being like the Hollywood Bowl, the Memphian Theater, the Liberty Bowl, MidSouth Coliseum, the Fairgrounds, eating at Chenault’s Restaurant, New Year’s Eve at the Manhattan Club, Elvis taking Jerry to his mother’s grave at Forest Lawn Cemetery, talking about Jerry washing and filling up Elvis’ cars with gas (Jerry still has the credit card), talking about Howard Johnson’s and the Guest House and Elvis meeting the Beatles (how Lisa calls him a name dropper).
After our group photo on the Guest House staircase, I went up to my room and tried to calm down a bit. I went down to the lobby and hung out until dinner at Delta’s with Delia, Tracy and Caroline. I hadn’t eaten all day (no breakfast, no lunch) so besides the complimentary delicious warm cheese biscuits, I ordered the fried green tomatoes appetizer and the salmon and asparagus dinner. (Apparently, Priscilla had ordered the same meal the night before.) After dinner, we went over to the Sound Stage for Elvis Live in Concert with Jerry, Priscilla, the TCB Band (Ronnie Tutt, James Burton, Glen D Hardin), Terry Blackwood and apparently Andy Childs who was not advertised. And it is fine that Andy’s band played because I know the TCB band can’t play the entire set. And it is fine that Andy sang a few songs, but why did he have to sing the only 3 songs that the TCB Band played, especially POLK SALAD ANNIE?!? I mean we want to see Elvis jam out to “Polk Salad Annie,” not Andy Childs! Half the fun of these concerts is watching Elvis on screen while seeing the TCB Band play live in front of us, but sadly we were robbed of that thrill this time. Priscilla opened the show at 7:35pm and the concert went until 9:40pm. I had my 3rd row center seat, so I had a great view. Jerry came out about halfway through to introduce the TCB Band and talk a little. Terry Blackwood seemed to be having a great time, especially when singing the high parts meant for the Sweet Inspirations – so funny. The show ended with everyone back on stage singing “Can’t Help Falling in Love,” which was a beautiful moment! On my way out, I stopped and stood at the end of the stage and shook Jerry’s and Priscilla’s hands as they exited. Then I bolted to get on the first shuttle back to the Guest House.
We all met up in the Lobby and stayed until after 1:30am talking. But this night we were joined by Terry Blackwood and his family, so we talked with him for a while, and then later James Burton, who gave each of us a hug and a kiss. Luckily, I had an afternoon flight home the next day, so I could sleep in. I hung out in the lobby while waiting for my airport shuttle and got a chance to talk with Delia and Nannette before I left. On the flight home I reflected back on the wonderful time I had, a time that went exactly as I had planned, a time exceeding all my expectations: got my Elvis ring, got our Jerry’s Girls photo with Jerry, met Priscilla, Jerry’s terrific tour of Memphis, hanging out with my Elvis friends every night and watching many Elvis movies.