I was tramping about outside our house in Tipperary with Bord Na Mona briquettes attached to my feet (my version of platform shoes) playing Angry Mammies with my friend Jackie. Angry Mammies was when you told off your imaginary children (dolls, stones, younger kids) and behaved like the exasperated mothers we saw around our housing estate. I remember my mother interrupting me while in I was in a particularly vitriolic tirade against “Jessica” my Crolly doll, for whining about sweets. My mother leaned over the azalea bush in our garden and said, “Elvis is dead.” I was stunned, too young to fully absorb the full import of what she was saying, and in a way strangely unaffected. But in time I came to understand that the King was no longer with us.
From the first time I’d seen Elvis in a movie and heard his voice I was smitten. If it was possible to have hot flashes at 5 years of age, then I had them. Embarrassed by my delight and joy at hearing that one of his movies was going to be on the television, my cheeks became scarlet. I collected as much Elvis memorabilia as was possible to collect in rural Ireland. My bedroom was festooned with pictures, postcards, newspaper clippings. I had books, magazines, tapes of his music, which I played incessantly on an old oblong-shaped tape player. In my childlike fantasies, I never believed that I wasn’t going to grow up and marry him (his being already married posed no problem in my mind) or at the very least, get one of his sweat-soaked scarves at a concert. I tried to imitate his voice, sing and talk with a leery lip. I think my love affair with the American accent began around the same time since it embodied Elvis and thus all things great and charming about the U.S. I even found a really old notebook at home a couple of years ago in which I had scribbled when I was about 5: “Dear Evils (I couldn’t spell his name properly), I love you.” And I did. It was only much later, in the quiet of my bedroom, having watched the TV coverage of his funeral that I let out the silent tears for my hero. I kept a scrapbook of all the cuttings surrounding his death. Not the negative ones, the ones that described him bloated and full of drugs. I chose not to believe that. But the press that said how much he was loved, what a great icon he had been and the pictures of him in his hot leather suit, with jet black hair and smoldering eyes.
For months after his death, I would lie in bed at night, waiting and praying under the blue grotto bulb in my bedroom for his apparition. It seemed to me that no one could love him as much as I did so that if he was going to make an appearance anywhere in the world, it would be in my bedroom, proving that my adoration had not gone unrequited. He’d wipe away my tears, sing me a song and evaporate leaving a scarf for me to treasure forever.
I have moved beyond the age of romantic obsessions, for the most part. But my love affair with Elvis will never die. Twenty-six years after his death, I still marvel at the legacy he left behind, how his music still sounds as fresh and sexy as it did when I first heard it. I’ve never been to Graceland. Perhaps some day I’ll get to visit, but it doesn’t matter if I don’t. Nor do I have a sweaty scarf, but I don’t need one now. Elvis gave me a better gift, something that will last longer than tours and accessories. I will always have his great smile and seductive singing.
“Are you lonesome tonight?” — on Aug. 16, the answer is yes.