Certain things in life are bound to make you wonder how much of your destiny is due to fate and how much is the product of chance. For my family, the U.S. Army was a catalyst.

In 1943, the world was at war and my father, Walter Alden, was drafted into the army. My mother, Jo Spencer, enlisted in the Women’s Army Corps and they were both posted at Fort Stewart, Georgia. Two years after meeting at the base service station one fateful day, they married. Eleven months later, they had my brother, Mike, and five years later my sister Rosemary was born.

My dad decided on a career in the military, and in 1951 they settled in Memphis, Tennessee. Memphis was home to many great musical talents, but in the mid-1950s, Elvis Presley had begun to put our city on the map for millions around the world.

In 1955, the year my sister Terry was born, my family was living in an apartment building on Getwell Road. Unaware that Elvis lived about five blocks away, my brother was riding his bike on Stribling Street one day and recognized Elvis in a flatbed truck as he drove up beside him. Elvis smiled at Mike and slowly passed him. Mike followed him to Dunn Avenue until Elvis made a turn and he lost sight of him. My brother later told my parents, ?He probably smiled at me because I was staring at him.”

Like my brother, most Memphians felt a sense of pride that Elvis shared their home. I was born on November 13, 1956, at the naval hospital in Millington, Tennessee, and I would grow up feeling that pride even as a small child.

In 1957, my father, now ranked sergeant first class, was in public relations and recruiting for the army. He worked closely with the Memphis draft board, notifying and advising individuals that if they enlisted, they would be able to receive special opportunities. Earlier that year, the board had announced that Elvis would probably be drafted. Every branch of the military began making offers, trying to get him to enlist.

Hoping to speak with Elvis on the army’s behalf, my dad made a trip to Graceland, Elvis’s recently purchased home, only to be told that Elvis was away. Before my father could return to Graceland, he was informed that Elvis had decided not to enlist and would take his chances with the draft. At the end of the year, Elvis received his notice for induction into the U.S. Army.

On the morning of March 24, 1958, Elvis arrived with his parents, Gladys and Vernon, at the draft board office located inside the M&M Building in downtown Memphis. Elvis and the other recruits being drafted then boarded a bus for physicals at the U.S. Army and Air Force recruiting main station at Kennedy Veterans Hospital. Shortly after arriving, they entered a reception room and sat on chairs lined up in rows behind long tables.

In that room, soon-to-be Private Elvis Presley laid eyes on my father for the first time as my dad walked in and said a few words, giving the new recruits some insight as to what lay ahead. My father had finished speaking and was gathering his things to leave when Elvis approached him.

?Is there someplace inside this building where I could get change?” Elvis asked, explaining that he wanted to use one of the pay phones.

My father reached into his pocket and offered Elvis a dime. Elvis took it and thanked him. Elvis had his physical, and by that afternoon, he was sworn into the U.S. Army.

Due to Elvis’s fame, the press covered the event. Photographers took pictures of him with my dad for the newspapers, and whenever I look at those clippings, it still hits me: Here is a young Elvis, and here is my dad. They were worlds apart, yet at that moment they were connected for the first time.

My father came home that evening with two publicity photos of Elvis, one signed, ?To Mike,” and the other, ?To Rosemary.” Before going to bed, he wrote inside my sister’s small autograph book, ?Today I shook the hand of Elvis Presley, March 24, 1958.”

Elvis’s mother had become ill, and that August, the army granted Elvis an emergency leave so he could return to Memphis to see her. His mother passed away on August 14, 1958, and he was granted an extended stay for her funeral. On March 7, 1960, after twenty-four months of active duty, Elvis returned to Memphis again, this time as a civilian, with four years left in the reserves.

A few nights later, my father decided to stop by Graceland after work, hoping for some follow-up public relations tidbits for an army newsletter. He parked his army sedan near Graceland’s driveway and walked toward its closed gates, where some others were milling about. The gates had become a popular place for fans to hang out, chat, and catch a glimpse of Elvis.

My dad saw Elvis and a few others standing in the driveway, talking to a teenager with a bandaged hand. When Elvis noticed my father, still dressed in his army uniform, he yelled, ?Let him in,” to a guard near the gates.

My father learned that Elvis had assisted the teenager two nights earlier, when he’d been in a motorcycle accident near Graceland, and the teen had returned to thank him. My dad lucked out; he got to see Elvis and now had a story.

My father stopped by Graceland a few more times the following year along with a friend, a reporter for the Memphis Press-Scimitar, who was also looking for Elvis-related pieces. They became friendly with a guard at the gates named Travis Smith, who happened to be Elvis’s uncle. One evening, Travis invited my dad to bring my mom and join Elvis at a local movie theater called the Memphian, where Elvis often treated others to movie showings?it was the only way he could watch a movie out of the public eye.

As Travis had requested, my parents drove to Graceland and waited in their car by the front gates. Before long, a few other cars emerged from around back of the mansion and, as they exited the driveway, my father eased in behind them and followed.

It was well after midnight when my parents arrived at the theater, its marquee dark, showing it was closed to the public. They saw Elvis and a few others already out of their cars and talking, so they approached them. Recognizing my dad, Elvis shook his hand and my father introduced my mother.

The group soon entered the lobby and Elvis walked over to the food counter while my parents and some other guests made their way inside to get seats. Before long, Elvis came walking down the aisle with popcorn in hand. Upon noticing my father again, he tossed out jokingly, ?Hey, Sarge, I’m ready to go back into the army.”

My dad replied, ?We’ll be glad to have you back.”

Elvis screened two movies that night, and it wouldn’t be until the wee hours of the morning when everyone left the theater.

Not long afterward, Travis invited my parents for a second outing, telling them Elvis was renting the Memphis Fairgrounds Amusement Park, and friends and guests were welcome to bring their children. Travis and his wife were going along this time, and he told my dad when and where to meet them after the park closed to the public.

I was five years old when I rode with my family to the fairgrounds that night. Although I was too young to remember much, that evening became a memorable experience for my entire family. My brother and one of his friends drove separately. A security guard let us into the entrance of the amusement park, where we waited alongside other invited guests.

Travis arrived and introduced his wife, Lorraine, to my parents. Before long, a black car slowly pulled up to the entrance and the security guard waved it inside. The car came to a stop and Elvis stepped out, dressed in a dark shirt with dark pants and wearing a white captain’s hat. My most vivid memory is one of seeing Elvis shake hands with people and thinking he must be important, for his face looked just like the ones I’d seen on some record sleeves at home.

My parents greeted Elvis, and as my father introduced each one of us, Elvis shook hands with Mike and Rosemary, then patted Terry and me on our heads. When my mom mentioned that my brother was taking guitar lessons, Elvis joked, ?I’ve got one at home he can have, because I can’t play the thing.”

Everyone laughed, and then the group continued inside, following Elvis to the park’s large wooden roller coaster (a ride that would remain one of his favorites). Elvis climbed into the front car with his date, Bonnie Bunkley, and as the seats began to fill, Travis approached my mom. ?Want to ride with me?” he asked.

Never having been on a roller coaster before, she told him yes, as long as he picked a safe and not-too-scary seat. They ended up sitting in the very last car, which unbeknownst to my mom was notorious for being rough.

My father and Lorraine Smith sat in the car in front of them, while my siblings and I stood by to watch. Screams of fright and laughter echoed from the ride as it raced by us multiple times before finally coming to a halt. When everyone got out, my mother, a little rattled but smiling, told Travis, ?I think I might just have a heart attack right here.”

Elvis continued through the park with his date and some friends while my parents took my sisters and me to the kiddie section. My brother and his friend decided to wander the park alone. A concession stand was open to all of us, and we got to enjoy the rides as many times as we wanted.

Our special night was over too soon. Catching up with Travis and Elvis, my parents thanked them for our amazing evening. Mike and his friend begged my parents to let them stay longer; they didn’t return home until nearly sunrise. Later, still excited, Mike told my parents that Elvis and his friends had divided into groups and he got to drive the dodgem cars with them. Then Elvis sent someone across the street to get milkshakes at a place with two large polar bears out front called the Polar Bear Frozen Custard shop.

I didn’t know it then, but that night was just a preview of Elvis’s giving nature.


By the early 1960s, my family was living in a three-bedroom, one-bathroom house in one of the new suburbs springing up around Memphis. Our home was half a block down the road from a cotton field that a farmer and his mule plowed from time to time, a remnant from the Old South. When the postwar boom hit, part of the field was paved and a gas station was erected there as modernization swept across Memphis, eventually surrounding our home with malls and fast-food restaurants.

My parents were hardworking, everyday people. My father had retired from the army and was managing a local department store. My mother worked up the street from our home, managing a stamp store. My siblings and I were baptized, and our parents did their best to raise us with good morals and values.

During my childhood and early teens, as I was learning to read and write and discovered a love of art, Elvis’s celebrity continued to skyrocket. He made music and movies, got married, and had a child. On occasion, when relatives visited us in Memphis, they wanted to see Graceland. We accommodated them and rode along with a security guard in a striped, canopied pink jeep?renowned at the estate?up Graceland’s driveway and back. It was a small tour of the estate, usually offered when Elvis was out of town.

Tomboyish, I roller-skated, rode horses, and clambered up trees. I often climbed on my brother’s motorcycle, too, pretending to ride it. Though our parents worried, occasionally Mike would take me out for a short spin and I would be thrilled.

My big brother’s love for motorcycles quickly became my own obsession. When I was fourteen, I pestered my father to purchase a minibike for me. My parents were apprehensive, having had enough safety concerns with my brother riding motorcycles, but my father gave in and I got my minibike. I continued to love motorcycles, and years later, I would eventually get my own.

Art, however, was my biggest passion. I was constantly drawing and painting, and I revered my brother, Mike, a wonderful artist who had begun taking art classes in college. I had an inspirational art teacher in high school named Mrs. Murphy who usually dressed in purple. She wore purple eyeglasses and carried a purple cane. Even her silvery white hair seemed to have a purple hue. Art was an easy way for me to express myself, and by my teens I was thinking about how to turn my passion into a career.

I also loved to sing. Pretending my hairbrush was a microphone, I’d dress up in one of my mother’s old skirts and croon along with various records. This wasn’t surprising to anyone because music was central to our home life. My mother was a self-taught musician who could play piano, guitar, and mandolin. Her father had been the minister of a small church in Arkansas, and having been spiritually influenced by both parents, she usually played gospel hymns on our piano.

My mom enjoyed a variety of music, from classical to gospel, and when she was home you’d hear the voices of Dean Martin, Bing Crosby, Engelbert Humperdinck, Tom Jones, and yes, Elvis, resonating from the stereo in our living room. Her love of music rubbed off on us. Terry became interested in the piano and began taking lessons, practicing fervently. At thirteen, I started taking vocal lessons. I could play piano a little bit by ear and occasionally fooled around on a big red guitar I’d been given, but usually when I wanted to sing, I’d pester Terry to accompany me on the piano. Despite the fact that our parents weren’t wealthy and had four children to feed and clothe, they had generously found the money for music lessons when we expressed our interest.

Whenever my mother was playing the piano, I’d wander in and stand behind her to sing. My father and sisters would occasionally join in, making those moments some of my fondest memories. When answering machines later came out, my mother, sisters, and I recorded a singing message in harmony on a whim. Friends claimed we sounded just like the Andrews Sisters.

As much as I enjoyed singing, I was too self-conscious and concerned about what others thought to sing in public. I made my family look the other way when I practiced and even asked them not to come to my recitals. I continued voice lessons through high school, then stopped, unable to overcome this great shyness. I decided it would be all right to let this particular passion of mine remain a childhood fantasy, safely tucked away.

Despite my tomboyish inclinations, my sister Terry and I used to cut out pictures of models we liked from McCall’s magazine and the Sears catalog, using them like paper dolls. As a teenager, I thought, ?Wow, being a model sounds so cool.”

At sixteen, I finally saw my first live fashion model, and caught a glimpse of the world beyond Memphis when I tagged along with Rosemary and her girlfriend to Lowenstein Department Store downtown to watch auditions for a pageant called ?Model of the Year.” The pageant was put on by Stewart Cowley, the owner of a New York modeling agency.

As I stood among the crowd gathered to view the entrants, I became fascinated by the sight of a female model seated beside Mr. Cowley, helping him interview contestants. This girl was rail thin and she’d cut her black hair very short. In my mind, she represented everything I thought a New York City model must be.

Looking about the room, Mr. Cowley stood up at one point and walked our way. He approached me and asked, ?Why aren’t you in the contest?” Offering me an entry form, he returned to his table.

I began filling out the form, but my hand was shaking. I was excited but unprepared for this. Rosemary pressed me to personally hand the form back to Mr. Cowley and said, ?Make sure you smile.” She had more confidence in me than I did. I returned the form but, upon seeing my age, Mr. Cowley asked me to come back in a few years, for eighteen was the eligible age to enter.

A few weeks later, through friends, I modeled some clothing alongside two other girls during a brief segment of the show Talent Party, which showcased bands. My interest in modeling had outweighed any fears. Someone saw me on the show, and not long afterward, I was contacted and hired to work in a hometown television commercial. I also held two part-time jobs after school, working at a restaurant on weekends and decorating the windows of a dress shop. I viewed the latter as an apprenticeship and a stepping-stone in the artistic field.

My interest in art continued throughout high school, and I began entering my paintings into local art competitions, even winning some awards. I graduated in the spring of 1974 with scholarship money to put toward a college that fall. I chose the Memphis Academy of Art, a small private college of art and design. As I started classes, I gave up my job at the restaurant but continued working part-time at the dress shop.

I was one of the younger students in my classes; between my drawing, sculpting, and pottery courses, I felt out of my depth and slightly overwhelmed. Although my teachers, friends, and family told me I had talent and I believed it on some level, the academy’s curriculum proved to be too intense for me. Wanting to slow down and figure out my future one step at a time, I decided to take a sabbatical from the art academy after my first year. I hoped to find a different path that could lead to a future art-related career.

In the spring of 1975, Terry saw an ad for the Miss Memphis pageant. Pageants were prominent events in the South, and she decided to enter, winning first runner-up. Finding it challenging and fun, by the end of that year she began encouraging me to enter the Miss Tennessee Universe pageant. I wasn’t a competitive person, but I could definitely see how competing could help me overcome my shyness. So, with nothing to lose, in the beginning of 1976 I took the plunge. The title went to the sister of the pageant’s executive director and I placed first runner-up.

In February 1976, my family moved into a larger home on a nice corner lot in east Memphis. My father still managed a local department store and my mother had been working for the Internal Revenue Service. My brother, now a firefighter, lived close by with his wife and two daughters, while my sisters and I still lived at home. Rosemary worked in sales, Terry attended Memphis State University, and I did extra work at the dress shop while tending to the store’s windows.

My parents’ relationship had not been at its best the past few years. My mother had applied for a divorce twice in 1974, but dismissed it both times, hoping to work things out. When my parents purchased our new home, my siblings and I wanted to believe it was the beginning of a brighter future for them.

In the spring, Terry entered Miss Memphis again and won. This led her to the Miss Tennessee pageant in June, and our family proudly watched as she was crowned Miss Tennessee of 1976. The pageants had been exciting, and with my sisters encouraging me, I entered a few more local ones around the same time, winning Miss Traffic Safety and Duchess in our annual Cotton Carnival Ball.

As Miss Tennessee, Terry was invited that summer to a country club in Memphis, where she got free tickets to see Elvis perform at our local Mid-South Coliseum on July 5. Due to official obligations elsewhere, she was unable to go to the concert, so she gave the tickets to my mother, Rosemary, and me. Little did my family or I know that, in the very near future, Terry’s title would open the door to Graceland, leading me straight into Elvis’s life.

When July 5 rolled around, I was thrilled to see Elvis perform for the first time. I didn’t personally own any Elvis albums, but my mother had his gospel and Christmas ones, and my brother, Mike, owned a few of Elvis’s Sun label 45s. I enjoyed a variety of music, from classical to rock ’n’ roll, and some of my favorite bands at the time were Fleetwood Mac and Led Zeppelin, and the singer Elton John.

Our seats weren’t too close to the stage, but as Elvis entered and the cameras began flashing, I was completely spellbound. The man whose voice I’d grown up hearing all my life was suddenly right there in front of me, flesh-and-blood and very real! It was wonderful to hear him sing the songs that I’d heard before only on television and the radio.

His hair was longer and he looked a little heavier than in his earlier years, but I was captivated by the way Elvis strutted onto the stage dressed in a white jumpsuit with an Egyptian bird design, blue silk puff sleeves, and a matching belt with chains hanging from his waist.

That summer night in 1976, the crowd was a mix of middle-aged adults, teens, and children. Elvis put on a great show and at one point that night, he told the audience, ?The first record that I did here in Memphis, ya know, was ?That’s All Right (Mama),’ and so forth and they . . . had a couple of people say well you can’t do that anymore. You, by God, watch me!”

He went full force into the song then and proved them wrong. My mother, sister, and I were three out of thousands that night, captivated by a show that unfortunately would turn out to be Elvis’s last hometown performance.


In early September 1976, Terry went to Atlantic City, New Jersey, to represent the state of Tennessee in the Miss America pageant. I was able to work around my job at the dress shop and go with my family to New Jersey to support her.

Terry was an extremely gifted pianist whose many hours of disciplined practice had gotten her far. On one of the preliminary nights, she won all three honors in the swimsuit, talent, and evening gown competition. Although the Miss America crown wouldn’t be hers that year, she was always a winner in my eyes.

Before going to New Jersey, I had entered and won Miss Mid-South Fair, a huge two-week event that I looked forward to every year, when it came to Memphis at the end of September.

A little over a week after returning from New Jersey, the Mid-South Fair began and I attended it each day as the official hostess. As usual, it was a lot of fun, but before I knew it, the fair was over and so was the month of October.

A typical weekend night in Memphis usually found my sisters and me out to dinner, the movies, or socializing with friends. On the evening of Friday, November 19, 1976, however, all three of us were at home. We were sitting in the den with Larry, a young man I’d been seeing, when the phone rang. Our mother answered it in the kitchen, then entered the den to say that George Klein was calling for Terry.

My sisters and I exchanged curious looks. George was a well-known local disc jockey and television personality. Last, but certainly not least, he was also a longtime friend of Elvis Presley’s.

Terry picked up the receiver in the kitchen. Meanwhile, our mother, looking slightly stunned, reported that George had told her Elvis had been dating around and would like to meet the new Miss Tennessee. He was inviting Terry to Graceland!

It certainly wasn’t your everyday phone call. Having seen Graceland only from the outside made it all the more surreal. Rosemary and I scurried into the kitchen to unashamedly eavesdrop on Terry’s conversation.

Terry may have been Miss Tennessee, but the idea of a ?date” with Elvis was unimaginable to my sisters and me. That only happened in the movies! Terry had also been dating someone since high school, so upon hearing her accept the invitation, we knew she had done so for the same reason we would have: She was eager to meet Elvis in person and get a peek inside Graceland.

The three of us were very close, and knowing Terry would feel uneasy about going alone, Rosemary brought up the possibility of the two of us accompanying her. As exciting as it sounded, I didn’t feel comfortable with this idea because we hadn’t been invited.

Before I could protest, however, Rosemary quickly approached Terry while she was still on the phone and whispered, ?Ask George if Ginger and I can come!”

Terry paused for a second?she knew this wasn’t proper, but she was our sister, and we always looked out for each other, so she went ahead and asked. Then, lowering the receiver from her ear, she told us George had sounded a bit hesitant and put her on hold while he checked. Now we were embarrassed.

When George came back on the line, however, much to our relief, Terry nodded yes and Rosemary and I went to tell our mother and Larry. Larry wasn’t too keen about me going to Graceland, but seeing how excited we all were, he said, ?I don’t blame you for wanting to go,” and left.

When Terry finally hung up the phone and joined us back in the den, she said Elvis had wanted to send a car for us, but she’d told him she would drive. George had asked what car we would be in so he could tell the guard at the front gates to watch for us.

Our appointed time to be at Graceland was 11 P.M. We began getting ready, feeling enthusiastic but nervous. Meeting Elvis plus touring the inside of Graceland meant we were in for a double treat!

As we chatted and touched up our makeup, Terry said, ?I’m glad you and Rosemary are going.” A few moments later, she reflected on George’s hesitancy and having to check about it. ?I really hope it’s all right you’re coming with me.”

Feeling uneasy about it myself and not wanting Terry to feel worried, I walked away and stopped getting ready. Rosemary soon noticed and told me, ?George said it was fine.” Then, half-joking, she added, ?The worst Elvis can do is ask us to leave.”

She was right, so I finished getting dressed. By 10:30 we were saying good-bye to our parents and excitedly heading out the door.

Graceland was a little less than half an hour from our home. We were so keyed up, we chatted all the way over. What once had been a section of Highway 51 South was now Elvis Presley Boulevard; as we turned onto it, the three of us grew quieter. The fieldstone wall surrounding Graceland soon came into view and, as we entered the turning lane, blinker flashing, the wrought-iron gates with the image of Elvis holding a guitar slowly began to open. It was an incredible feeling, knowing this was happening just for us!

Terry gave her name at the guardhouse. The gates swung closed behind us as we started up the long driveway, eventually stopping just shy of Graceland’s lit front porch. We sat in the car for a few moments, unsure of what to do next. Would someone come out to get us? Should we park here or around back?

A security guard soon emerged from the darkness and approached the driver’s side of the car. Terry lowered her window and asked, ?What should we do?”

Smiling, the guard replied, ?Try knocking on the front door.”

My sisters and I climbed out of the car, laughing at ourselves and the guard’s comment as our nerves got the better of us. Passing between two huge lion statues, we jokingly chanted, ?Lions and tigers and bears, oh my!” in an effort to relax.

We walked up the stone steps to the front porch where Rosemary, always the bravest among us, pressed the doorbell beside the green wrought-iron front door. Expecting Elvis to appear at any moment, my earlier concerns about showing up uninvited resurfaced. I grew increasingly anxious, wondering, ?What if Elvis really doesn’t want Rosemary and me here?”

I hung back, letting Rosemary and Terry wait at the door. When it opened, George Klein greeted us, which surprised me. Naive as this may seem, because this was Elvis’s house, I expected him to answer the door.

George was the same age as Elvis, forty-one, and a friendly guy with black hair. It had been his Talent Party show that I once briefly modeled on. I didn’t say anything about this, because I didn’t think he would remember.

He introduced himself and then beckoned for us to follow him. Feeling like Alice stepping through the looking glass, I took a deep breath and entered Graceland for the first time.

My feet sank into thick, red shag carpet, which extended into the foyer and up a staircase with a gold-and-white banister and railings. George invited us into the dining room. Passing beneath an enormous, ornate crystal chandelier, I glanced to the right and saw a room decorated all in red with French provincial furniture. Peacock stained-glass windows were on either side of the entrance to a music room dominated by a black baby grand piano. Many people have referred to this red décor as gaudy and it would eventually be changed. But, gaudy or not, it impressed me at the time, and it’s still one of my most lasting memories of Graceland.

To my left, I heard voices. I turned and saw some people seated in red, silver-studded, high-backed chairs around a mirrored dining table. Cigar smoke curled into the air as we approached. Staring at the chair at the end of the table, its back facing us, I excitedly thought,This has to be Elvis! and slowed my steps, almost holding my breath.

I was wrong. George introduced the chair’s occupant as GeeGee Gambill. His wife, Elvis’s cousin Patsy Presley, was there, too, along with another cousin, Billy Smith, and Billy’s wife, Jo. They were playing cards, the men smoking cigars, all of them casually dressed in jeans and T-shirts or blouses.

Everyone greeted us cordially. I couldn’t tell by their reaction whether they had been expecting us or knew who we were, but I did get the sense that they were sizing us up as they gave us quick, up-and-down appraising looks. The three of us had dressed nicely to meet Elvis, but hadn’t put a lot of thought into overly trying to impress anyone.

George then led us through the kitchen. Its floor was covered in wall-to-wall carpet in a multicolor patchwork design. I had never seen carpeting in a kitchen, but this was Elvis’s home, so I figured there would be much I had never seen before. The room looked warm, with dark brown cabinets and stained-glass lamps hanging from the ceiling. The kitchen had a breakfast nook and opened into a den.

?This is the Jungle Room,” George announced, gesturing around the den as he paused to answer a green phone buzzing on a nearby table. As I watched George listen to someone on the phone, I heard laughter echoing from the dining room and it struck me how comfortable everyone was in Elvis’s home.

I began to relax a little and gazed around the room. The Jungle Room was far from your typical den. I noticed water trickling down the face of a stone-covered back wall, and the furniture featured carved animal heads and engravings.

George hung up the phone. ?Can you please wait right here?” he asked. ?Elvis isn’t ready yet. He’s practicing karate.” Then he walked away, leaving the three of us alone in the room.

It seemed a little odd that Elvis would invite us here at a certain time and not be ready. Still, I wasn’t complaining. I was excited just to be seeing inside Graceland.

I sat on a faux-fur chair with wooden arms carved to look like Asian dragon heads. Rosemary and Terry chose a matching couch. In front of it was a huge coffee table made of lacquered wood. Statues of jungle animals were placed randomly about the room; a large mirror framed with feathers was hanging on a side wall; and the green carpet was, surprisingly, on parts of the ceiling as well as the floor.

After a few minutes, a maid entered and offered us a drink. We asked for sodas and, when she left, eased our tension by taking our mirrored compacts out from our purses, opening them, and jokingly pretending to primp.

Suddenly, I noticed cameras mounted on the walls near the ceiling. The cameras seemed to be aimed our way! I quickly closed my compact and pointed them out to my sisters. Mortified, I wondered if we were being watched.

The maid returned with our drinks and we sat quietly, now cautious of every move we made.

Considering the late hour, I was surprised that Graceland was so active. Phones periodically buzzed (they did not ring) and various people came and went. At one point, a young man in his twenties, with long blond hair, stepped into the Jungle Room and casually introduced himself as Elvis’s brother, Ricky Stanley.

Brother? I was puzzled. I didn’t know Elvis had any siblings. Later, I learned that Ricky was Elvis’s stepbrother; his mother, Dee, had married Elvis’s father, Vernon, after Gladys Presley died. We introduced ourselves and found out that Ricky worked as an aide to Elvis.

Not long afterward, a short, dark-haired man in his forties appeared and introduced himself as Charlie Hodge. With a drink in one hand and a cigarette in the other, he began telling off-color jokes, all the while leaning as if balancing on the deck of a heeling ship. If Elvis was considered the King of Rock and Roll, I thought Charlie would certainly qualify as his court jester. I wondered if he’d been sent expressly to entertain us. As I discovered after I started seeing Elvis, Charlie sang harmony with Elvis and assisted him onstage during his shows.

George finally returned. ?Elvis is still practicing karate,” he said. ?Would you like to see downstairs?”

Thinking we were downstairs, I was surprised to follow him down a staircase at the back of the den. We entered a colorful room with vibrantly patterned fabric in blue, red, and yellow lining its walls and ceiling. Pieces of furniture were upholstered in matching material. An electric organ stood against one wall, and a billiard table sat in the middle of the room beneath two large Tiffany-style lamps suspended from the ceiling.

George then took us into another room he called the TV Room. I felt immediately disoriented as we entered this room, because it was filled with mirrors: Mirrors covered the ceiling, framed the fireplace, and covered a square coffee table. What looked to be small mirrors were shining in the embroidered fabric of yellow-and-white pillows scattered across a large navy sectional sofa. Yellow leather stools were pulled up to the bar, and three television sets had been built into a side wall.

A huge white lightning bolt inside navy and yellow clouds had been painted above the couch. George explained that Elvis had a motto, TCB, which stood for taking care of business. The lightning bolt was a symbol for taking care of business lightning fast.

A phone began to buzz in the room. George answered it, listened, then hung up, saying we were going upstairs next, to Elvis’s daughter’s room.

Upstairs? I couldn’t believe it! Our tour had helped me calm down, but now my nerves began to hum again. I knew Elvis had to be on the top floor because we’d pretty much covered the entire downstairs. The time had come, I thought: We were finally going to meet him!

? ? ?

Elvis’s relatives were still playing cards in the dining room as we passed by them again, this time headed for the foyer. When George started up the staircase, my heart began to beat even faster. At the top, we followed him down a hall and into Lisa’s bedroom.

This room was decorated mainly in yellow and white. A black leather sofa was against the wall to the right, and the center of the room was dominated by a large round bed blanketed in white faux fur with matching canopy. My sisters and I sat on the couch and George turned on a nearby television set.

George leaned back against Lisa’s bed and continued visiting with us. Ricky and Billy Smith both entered, leaning against the bed and joining the conversation.

I hadn’t paid any attention to the time and glanced at my watch. It was now approaching 1 A.M.

Two hours had passed since our arrival. Although it hadn’t really felt like that much time had gone by, the more Ricky, George, and Billy continued to talk, the more I began to wonder whether they were covering for Elvis. Had he changed his mind about meeting us? Now that we’d been entertained with a tour, would we be asked to leave without meeting him?

Another man’s figure appeared in the doorway of Lisa’s room. I turned to look, prepared to greet another relative or friend, but it was Elvis entering the room. I was caught off guard. I had halfway been expecting to hear trumpets sound at his entrance.

Elvis’s jet-black hair was casually styled. There was no pompadour or glitzy outfit, just Elvis, dressed in a dark blue karate top, black pants, and black boots. I was immediately attracted to him. His hair looked soft and shiny; his skin was clean-shaven and smooth. Thinking he was gorgeous, my shyness flew right out the window.

?Hi, Elvis!” I blurted, as if I’d known him for years.

?Hi,” Elvis said and shook our hands, correctly acknowledging my sisters and me by name, one by one. Someone had obviously informed him who was who.

Then, crossing the room in front of us, Elvis sat in a large dark chair to our right and put a cigar to his lips. Billy quickly leaned over and lit it for him. Elvis settled farther back in the chair and apologized for keeping us waiting.

Billy then left the room while Elvis proceeded to ask Terry about herself. She talked about her music and the various titles she had won.

?How about you?” Elvis asked me. ?Have you won any titles?”

I told him a little about myself. When Elvis got to Rosemary, she mentioned she had never entered any pageants outside of high school. He smiled and said, ?Well, you should have, but for now you’ll just have to be Miss . . . Miss . . . Miss . . . Understood.”

We all laughed. The more Elvis joked around with us, the more I noticed how similar his humor was to ours. I’d had this feeling of a powerful presence and energy the minute Elvis entered the room, and he continued to hold my focus completely throughout the night. At the same time, I was taken by how down-to-earth he was, and by his sexy smile and laugh.

We continued to talk, with Ricky and George chiming in periodically. Elvis told us what an honor it was to have the street name changed to Elvis Presley Boulevard and mentioned he sometimes joked, ?Get off my street!” to other motorists while driving down it. He talked about karate, too, letting us know he was a ninth-degree black belt.

?It’s a beautiful art form,” I told him, adding that I’d wanted to take lessons when I was sixteen, but my parents thought I was too young.

Elvis disagreed, saying it was never too young to start. Terry talked about the classical piano music she enjoyed. I brought up my love for art, but didn’t dare mention my singing. Rosemary, the most comical of the three of us, often had him laughing.

Elvis was polite and easy to talk with, which was putting me at ease until he tilted his head to one side, looked toward the floor and said, ?Ginger, you’re burning a hole right through me.” His intense blue eyes slowly drifted back up to my face.

?Who, me?” I asked.

?Yes, you,” he replied.

I didn’t know what he meant, as I didn’t feel I’d been staring at him. We were just talking. I was embarrassed and felt a flash of heat warm my face.

We talked a little more, then Elvis asked, ?Would you like to see the rest of the upstairs?”

Thrilled, we said, ?Sure!”

Along with Ricky and George, we followed Elvis out into the hall. I was still holding my unfinished glass of soda. Elvis reached for it, took a sip, and handed it back to me. This distracted me so much that I made a wrong turn and headed toward the front stairs. I then felt Elvis’s hands on my shoulders, gently turning me and guiding me back through a set of double doors.

Everyone followed Elvis and me as we cut through an office and then another set of double doors into his master bedroom. The first thing that struck me was that the matching couch and chairs looked identical to the furniture we had in our den at home. What were the odds of that?

Otherwise, the room décor here was very different from anything I’d ever seen before. A shiny, black, Naugahyde headboard crowned the massive bed, which Elvis proudly told us was nine feet by nine feet. Reading lamps were attached to the wall on either side of it. The same red shag carpet covered the floor, with black and gold wallpaper lining one wall and padding on the other. The bedroom doors and ceiling were also padded and, much to my surprise, there were two television sets embedded in the ceiling. Elvis explained the padding by saying he didn’t care for outside noise when he slept.

Ricky left as my sisters and I followed Elvis, along with George, into his office. It was decorated in masculine tans and browns. On my left was a glass case filled with rifles and handguns; in the center of the room, two couches faced each other, a coffee table between them. Near the back of the room was a large desk with a chair, and behind it, two bookcases stood against the wall.

Elvis walked over to an electric organ near a closed accordion-style door and sat down on the bench. I stood behind him with George and my sisters gathered around. Something about this felt comfortably familiar because I’d so often stood and sung behind my mom while she played piano.

Placing his fingers on the keyboard, Elvis began to sing ?You’ll Never Walk Alone.” If I’d ever felt like I was dreaming, it was now!

At various times during the song, Elvis looked up from the organ, smiling at Rosemary and Terry or glancing over his shoulder to smile at me. At one point, I looked into the mirror above the organ and noticed George yawning. That made me wonder whether he’d seen Elvis do this sort of thing many times before or if he was just tired because it was so late.

Elvis finished and we applauded. Standing up, he said, ?I’d like to show you my dressing area.”

I was surprised by this; I’d always thought of people’s closets as personal. On the other hand, seeing Elvis’s dressing room would be an added bonus because I was enjoying being with him and thrilled by the idea of seeing one of his inner sanctums.

We followed Elvis back through his bedroom and into his bathroom, which was carpeted in the same royal red shag carpet. On my left stood a black commode with a telephone attached to the wall nearby. A black vanity was covered with toiletries on the right. Above it, the mirrored wall was outlined with makeup lights.

Beyond an enormous, curved shower with multicolored tiles, we entered Elvis’s dressing area. It was filled with racks of clothing surrounding a bed covered in a faux fur similar to the one in Lisa’s room. A bust of the Greek god Apollo sat on a pedestal beside an open doorway leading out to the hall. (Later, Elvis would tell me he thought the bust resembled him. I thought it did, too.)

Pointing out a few stage jumpsuits, Elvis said he was proud of the workmanship that went into making them. He told us they were made of material that didn’t let any air in or out. Then he began showing us his boots and casual clothes.

?Casual” for Elvis appeared to be coats with fur collars; brightly colored, high-collared satin shirts; flared pants; and hats that looked like they could have been worn on the set of the movie Shaft.

I could understand Elvis wanting to show us his costumes, but again I was surprised that he’d be willing to show us his more personal clothes. Was this an extension of his persona? Was this something he felt he needed to do with us?

When Elvis was finished giving us a tour of his dressing area, he excused himself and, as he walked toward the front of the bathroom, called out for George to follow him.

My sisters and I now found ourselves in the extraordinary position of standing alone in Elvis Presley’s closet, trying to process what had started out as an innocent evening at home. Elvis had been captivating, entertaining, funny, and gracious. We talked quietly, assuming the show was over and we’d be asked to leave when George reappeared.

To my surprise, George came back and said, ?Ginger, Elvis would like to see you for a minute.”

What did Elvis want with me? I glanced uncertainly at Terry and Rosemary.

?He’s waiting for you,” George urged, motioning me toward the front of the bathroom.

Taking a few steps forward, I turned back to see George guiding my sisters out through the door by the dressing area. My anxiety roared back. My sisters and I had acted as a safety net for each other, but now I was on my own.

When I stepped past the doorway of his bathroom, I saw Elvis seated on the side of his bed. He smiled and patted the red bedspread, motioning me to sit down next to him. Unsure of what he wanted, I nervously walked in and complied.

?Did you notice I was paying more attention to you than to your sisters?” he asked with a faint smile.

I briefly looked away.

My heart began to pound. Was Elvis actually hitting on me? It went far beyond my wildest imaginings that he would single me out. I felt he had treated the three of us fairly equally, but when I thought back, I remembered his comment about me ?burning a hole” through him, how he’d taken a sip from my glass of soda, and the way he’d placed his hands on my shoulders in the hallway. Was that what he meant?

Not quite sure, I looked up at him and answered, ?Yes.”

He nodded. ?When I like someone, I really like them a lot,” he said. ?It’s not just a fling. I don’t like one-night stands.”

?I don’t like one-night stands, either,” I replied, wanting him to be sure I wasn’t that kind of woman.

Elvis regarded me silently for a moment, then gestured toward the window. ?I’m not that street out there,” he said. ?If you cut me, I bleed.”

I couldn’t believe that Elvis, a charismatic, handsome superstar, was talking to me in this intimate way. The only thing I could think to say was, ?I understand.”

?Good,” he replied. He leaned over then and picked up a book lying with some others on the floor beside his bed. It was the Book of Numbers by Cheiro, the world-famous seer.

?When’s your birthday?” Elvis asked, opening the book.

?November thirteenth,” I replied.

?You’re a number four,” he said, and began explaining that he reached the number by adding the one and three together. Picking up a pair of glasses from his night table, he put them on and began reading to me about the number four. He told me that fours are sensitive and had their feelings hurt easily. Fours were likely to feel lonely and isolated, with few real friends, but to the few friends they did have, they are very loyal.

Elvis had my attention. I didn’t feel lonely, but I was shy, sensitive, and loyal to my friends. Elvis obviously was passionate about the subject of numerology and I found myself being drawn into it. Telling me January 8 was his birthday, which made him a number eight, he read on regarding that number. He said these people were often misunderstood and for this reason felt lonely. They usually ?play some important role on life’s stage, but usually one which is fatalistic, or as the instrument of Fate for others.” He also said that eight people are either very successful or complete failures. They feel different from others and ?seldom reap the reward for the good they may do while they are living.” It is only after their death that they are praised and honored.

My first thought was, Wow! Some of the characteristics really seemed to fit him, but Elvis lonely? That was difficult for me to believe, given the number of people gathered downstairs on this night.

Elvis stayed on the topic of numerology for a while, then lifted another, larger book off the floor and began leafing through it. ?This is supposed to be an illustration of God,” he said, stopping on a certain page and showing it to me.

It was a drawing of a man with a long white beard seated on a throne with symbols of fire, ice, rain, and wind at his sides. The book reminded me of a large illustrated Bible my mother had that she often read to my siblings and me when we were younger. Still holding the big book in his hands, Elvis settled farther back on the bed and motioned me up beside him.

By now, I was feeling more comfortable and decided it was a harmless enough request; Elvis seemed absorbed by the book. I scooted up to sit right next to him with my back against a pillow. He then surprised me again by handing me the book and asking me to read aloud. I did, feeling shy about it. I didn’t want to make a mistake because I could feel him watching me closely.

The subject matter in this book was different. I was again drawn into it while Elvis observed, periodically sipping ice water from a large glass jar sitting on his night table. Cool air was blowing from an air conditioner unit situated inside the bedroom’s front window. I was chilled, but Elvis seemed fine and I didn’t feel right asking him to turn it down.

We took turns reading and talking into the early morning. At one point, Elvis went into the bathroom, leaving me to think that it had been an unforgettable night. I was going to have quite a story to tell my friends.

Having been up almost twenty-four hours by now, however, I was starting to feel overwhelmed by fatigue. I hated it but could tell that I wasn’t going to be able to concentrate well anymore. Now that Elvis was out of the room, I also became aware that a lot of time had gone by and our parents still hadn’t heard from us. I was worried, too, about Terry and Rosemary having to wait for me.

When Elvis returned from the bathroom, I politely said, ?Elvis, I should find my sisters and probably leave. It’s really late.”

He sat back down on the bed. ?They’ve already gone,” he said casually. ?Your sisters went home earlier.”

I was stunned. They’d already left? I’d been at Graceland all this time without them? Puzzled, I wondered how he knew. Had Elvis arranged all this earlier with George?

?Someone will take you home when you’re ready,” Elvis added, watching the confused expressions flit across my face.

I decided that Elvis was probably tired, too. Thinking it was proper for me to go, I thanked him on behalf of my sisters and myself for the night. He moved to the edge of the bed and I inched my way beside him as he picked up a telephone receiver from his night table and asked someone to give me a ride home.

To my shock, he added, ?Please be sure and get her number,” before hanging up. Then he turned to me and said, ?You should always politely ask someone to do something for you. Never tell a person what to do.”

As I nodded, still dumbstruck, Elvis took a pen and a matchbook from the night table drawer, opened the matchbook, and asked, ?What’s your phone number?”

This can’t be happening! My thoughts suddenly flashed on Larry, who hadn’t wanted me to come to Graceland tonight. Despite feeling conflicted, I gave Elvis my number. He wrote it down.

As I looked at him, Elvis suddenly leaned in toward me, catching me totally off guard. He kept his hands on the bed and gave me a quick, light kiss on the lips. It was so quick I barely had time to register what had just happened, but I was stunned and excited.

Afterward, I walked out of Graceland in a trance. As I rode home with an employee named Steve Smith, I went over the kiss again in my mind. I certainly didn’t want Elvis to get the wrong impression of me. I wasn’t a seasoned pro when it came to sex or relationships. On the other hand, I hoped he had liked kissing me.

Even though it was nearly sunrise, the lights were on inside my house when we pulled up to the curb. Before getting out, Steve asked me for my phone number. Giving it a second time, I quickly ran inside.

My mother and sisters were sitting on the couch in our den. I figured my father must be in bed because he sometimes worked on weekends. Our parents had been excited when we were invited to Graceland, but my mother admitted now that they’d started worrying when so much time went by without any word from us.

?I felt bad about leaving you there,” Terry said, explaining that George had taken them outside to a racquetball court behind the house, where Charlie and Ricky joined them for a tour of the court.

George then told Terry and Rosemary that Elvis wanted to spend more time with me, and that they were welcome to wait if they wanted or, as it was so late, to leave. He had assured them that Elvis would see I got home safely.

Exhausted, but still running on nerves, I filled them in on what had happened, leaving out the kiss. We weren’t a kiss-and-tell sort of family. Some things were personal, and we were private with each other when it came to that sort of thing.

Now that I was home, the whole night seemed unreal. Elvis was different from anyone I’d ever met. Here was this rock-’n’-roll superstar singing to my sisters and me, showing us his closet, and then inviting me to join him on his bed, where he’d been a gentleman. He’d read religious books with me and shared his thoughts and feelings.