My parents married back in ’77 and with most new marriages, they were broke as church mice. Mom joining with Dad was a great thing, but they both now had a 7 year old (myself) and a 3 year old (my – then – despised sister) to entertain on a less that shoestring budget.
Let me quickly sketch a family outline. We were living on the grounds of Dorothea Dix Hospital, a sprawling state institution in North Carolina for the mentally ill. The hospital had housing for employees and both their families, but the campus ran much like its own entity. Any given day I could be riding my bike past a working farm, a power plant or even prisoners behind barbed wire and guarded towers. Didn’t faze me one bit.
But, to the story at hand. Mom and Dad were pinching pennies and had to find some crafty ways of keeping a young seven year old son a bit more occupied. Dad brought into the marriage a massive stereo system – J.C. Penney branded no less, with speakers nearly half as tall as I was. He also toted along an album collection that would have rivaled most DJ’s at the time. I wasn’t much of a music kid at the time, but boy did that change fast.
My parents rotated first through third shifts and were not often on the same schedule. The days that Dad was home were a real treat. Early on, after he moved in, he would take some of those days to spin vinyl on the system and smoke Kool Filter Kings. The house would fill with the sweet menthol and then the tunes ranging from Fleetwood Mac to Chicago to Crosby , Stills, Nash and Young. But there was one artist that struck me hard and fast, and Dad saw a way to teach a lesson.
"Love Me Tender" "Hound Dog" "Return to Sender" We all know who this is. Elvis Presley. Dad would load one of the 33 1/3 or 45’s and I would instantly know who it was. In a matter of mere weeks I was imitating Elvis, singing his songs and asking more and more about him. Certain songs would elicit certain emotions and actions. “Jailhouse Rock” would bring a goofy dance, “Hound Dog” would cause all sorts of singing and squawking, but Dad taught his best with one song.
Just after the first week of August of ’77 I heard “Memories” for the first time. I’m still not sure how I missed it as it was released in 1968, but as some of you may recall, it would be mere days before Elvis’ death. The first time I heard this tune, Dad had played it and I became uncharacteristically still and quiet. Dad observed me for a few minutes and asked me what was I thinking of. I talked with him about my biological father and my Grandmother being sick and making her a big get well banner to hang in her hospital room and then friends and so on…Rambling as kids that age do. But, I then started to cry. Dad, being the great father he was, hugged me and saw me through it, and I then started to ask about why I felt happy and sad and mad all at the same time. “It’s just like Elvis sang about son. It’s Memories. You will always have these feelings and some days you will laugh and some days you will cry. But it’s what you do with those memories, that is most important of all.” “What do I do with them?” was my natural response. “It’s tough to tell you now son, but as you get older you will know. I promise.”
Two weeks later on August 16 of 1977, tragically Elvis died at the age of 42. That evening dad took out as many Elvis records as he could and played them most of the night. Again, I was much too quiet and Mom asked if I was okay. “I am working Mom. Dad showed me today how to make memories of my own. Like the Elvis song. “
To this very day music, not just Presley, does that for me. New and old gives me an old thought, and I appreciate the years of musical variety my Dad gave me. He’s now in his seventies, I am now 42 – the very same age Elvis was at his death, and my Dad and I share that same love of music. Although his mind and body are shattered some days, we can still load his wheelchair in the van and drive for miles, singing our souls out. Still making memories.
Joel Kilgore June 2012
Although not central to Joel's story, there was a mention of C,S,N&Y and this seemed to sum it all up for me. Here is to all of your memories you and your Father can make Joel...and all of you reading as well. Much Love.