ROOTS & WINGS
By: Ronda Marson
“…Walk a mile in my shoes…walk a mile in my shoes…before you abuse, criticize and accuse, just walk a mile in my shoes…”
Millions of tourists and Elvis fans alike will flock to Memphis this August commemorating the 26th anniversary of Elvis’ passing. Many go to seek what it is that still attracts so many.
Some may find answers - but to understand who Elvis really was, and what moved his soul, you must venture a little further south - to Tupelo, MS.
Understandably Tupelo has changed considerably since that early morning on January 8th, 1935 when Gladys Love Presley held a tiny babe in her arms - a boy who would grow up to change
the music industry like no one before or since. However, even with these inevitable changes Elvis’ roots can still be found.
Exploring Tupelo is an adventure - one that filled me with awe and wonderment the first time I was there.
With a visit to the Priceville Cemetery one can sense and feel Elvis’ loneliness each time he visited his twin brother Jesse Garon. No one knows for sure the exact spot where he was buried, but it
doesn’t seem to matter. Just knowing that Elvis would return here time and again, sadly until his fame would no longer allow him that privilege, is enough to make it an important stop in exploring who Elvis was.
Another landmark on what was formerly known as Old Statillo Road holds the most famous “shot-gun” shack in the world. Built by Vernon Presley’s bare hands in preparation for his impending family,
it’s hard to imagine there being much room for a baby to crawl or take his first steps - but we know it was always filled with love - and that’s what really mattered to Elvis.
I was excited to see the Tupelo Garment Factory where Gladys had worked so hard was still visible in a far off field, although it’s cracked windows and decrepit appearance indicates it probably
won’t be standing much longer. I was shocked at the distance in it’s location from the Presleys home. I imagined and felt the pain of Gladys tired, aching feet walking that distance every day, and part of that time was while she was
pregnant with twins! During our visit I sensed what a determined, strong yet gentle and loving woman Gladys was. It excited me to hear stories from those who knew her personally and to learn what she was like - because to me Gladys
had always been a sweet mystery.
Venturing further down Main Street the renowned Tupelo Hardware Store can’t be missed! More visions come to mind upon entering the store that thankfully hasn’t changed inside too much since the
40’s. A pouting, crying Elvis trying to reason with his Mama that he didn’t really want a Guitar for his birthday. Thank Goodness persistence was one of Gladys’ strongest virtues!
Another tell-tale spot to learning where Elvis’ roots emanated from - as well as his “wings” - is a section in town once known as “Shake rag”. A historical plaque marks the spot near Green St.
where Mayhorn Grocery once stood. It is no longer there, but the spot still holds sweet significance. While sitting on the store’s porch Elvis would listen to his first taste of ‘the blues’. Across the street ironically stands a
church - a church where the heavenly sounds of soulful Black Gospel Music that permeated Elvis’ very being drifted across, and called his name. Later he would become braver and sneak across the street, where he would climb and prop
himself up to peek in the windows. I can just imagine his eyes wide with wonderment - just soaking up the music that would always touch his heart.
And there are still so many more wonderful places to explore in Tupelo that were significant in shaping the kind, loving, charismatic person that Elvis would become. It’s worth taking a few days
just to absorb it all!
Perhaps the sweetest and most poignant structure in all of Tupelo is the one that came to be simply because Elvis requested it. When asked what he would like to have done one day in his memory his
answer came fast and confident: “I would like a Chapel built so my fans have a place to come to find peace, and to pray and meditate.” After his death in 1977, what has become known as the Elvis Presley Memorial Chapel was built on
the property surrounding his birthplace through donations from fans around the world, and from those who were closest to him. It stands as a reminder that Elvis never forgot his childhood values that were instilled in him in this
very town. Often times during the 60’s and early 70’s Elvis would bring new friends and acquaintances to Tupelo to show them his humble beginnings. It’s a lesson we can all benefit from -that no matter where we may be in our life
journey at this very moment- it all stems back to where we came from. And where our roots are grounded is also where the growth of our wings started - wings that often take us places we could never have imagined being.