Elena loved Elvis.
Not the real Elvis Presley. As far as we know, she never met the real one. She loved the Elvis impersonators that she’d see at various events. The cheesier the better. When Elvis would wrap up for the afternoon, Elena would turn to us and say – in the worst Elvis impression you ever heard –
“Thank you. Thank you very much.”
Fake Elvises never shook Elena’s faith that there was a real Elvis somewhere. These proxies for Elvis didn’t look the same, sound the same, or move the same. Still Elena believed in Elvis.
I guess this is the explanation I was looking for months ago about Santa. Elena delighted in identifying the person playing Santa. She knew this Santa was really her grandfather because of the glasses he wore. She knew that another Santa was really the old man who had gotten a little to close to her at the Christmas party when they talked earlier because he smelled of cigarettes and beer. These were just proxies for the real Santa who was obviously way too busy to hang out at malls or end-of-the-year Christmas parties.
Santa was real. Elvis was real.
It’s another link that makes me smile whenever I see an Elvis impersonator. As with Elena, the cheesier the better. I think of Elena dancing along to the version of Hound Dog that she had on CD.
We saw a tall, thin Elvis at the Anchor club clambake a few weeks back. While we were inside eating our bakes, Elvis was outside performing for a handful of people. When we were outside picking up our trays we’d asked Maggie if she’d wanted to see Elvis.
She tipped her head and listened for a minute and then shrugged, “nahhhhh”.
So we headed back inside as we’d done since before the girls were born. In fact, Kim’s mom said that Kim’s been coming to this annual clambake since she was nine years old. I’ve been making this trek to the county fairgrounds for fourteen years.
Kim’s dad gave her the tickets every year as her birthday present. She didn’t feel much like celebrating her birthday this year, but the clambake was a tradition she couldn’t really miss.
We took our trays to the table that Kim’s mom had reserved and set them down. She had some mini table top umbrellas that she put over the food to keep the flies away. Behind us, Kim’s dad worked the raffle wheel. I went and got cups of clam broth while Kim got the drinks.
A man who I only know from these events put his arm on my shoulder and asked me how I was doing.
“Fine,” I said, not really sure who he was and what he was asking.
“It’s the first time since…?” he asked, leaving the end of the sentence unsaid.
I nodded. He glanced at my father-in-law. The empathy flowed through the fingertips resting on my shoulders.
“How’s Tom doing?” he asked.
“It’s tough,” I said. “Elena and Maggie always snuck under the table and helped him with the raffle.”
“Yeah,” he said. He slapped me on the back. Gripped my shoulder and moved on.
Most of the people under the tent were families of police officers or fire fighters. So many had known my in-laws for decades. They’d watched Kim grow up. They knew.
Maggie gave her grandfather a dollar to play. He spun the wheel and someone else’s number came up. He spun again and it was a woman across the way. Maggie won on the third spin. She looked at the available prizes and chose a New York Yankee item to give to Jack.
Elvis finished up and ducked into a room to change back into his street clothes. There were rumors that Elvis didn’t die. That he just needed to escape from all of the attention. Back when I worked in radio I came out of a saxophone version of “Blue Christmas” musing that somewhere in a small town in Michigan, there’s an old man working the slushy machine at a 7-11 smiling at the memories that that song brings.
I wonder if it is comforting or disturbing to Elvis’ family and friends to see the industry of impersonators.
Elvis left the building. Kim and I got another round of clam broth and drinks for everyone and then she and Maggie went back to the raffle.
It was the last set of tickets so the guys would keep spinning the wheel until all the prizes were gone. With each spin the group at the far end of our table would loudly ask if they’d won.
“My ticket is a seven,” one man loudly complained as the same woman as before claimed her prize. He was entertaining the rest of his table and wasn’t really agitated.
“But,” explained my father-in-law, “we called ‘seventy. Seven. Zero.'”
“I suppose,” said the man. And then the same woman won yet again.
“Hey,” he shouted, “what’s this?”
The woman had nearly twenty tickets in front of her. She would win again before all the prizes were gone.
Three prizes left and a different woman won. She didn’t want any of the prizes particularly but she chose a liquid soap dispenser. On the next spin the boisterous man won. All that was left were two stuffed animals. He claimed one of them like it was a state of the art wide screen television set.
Maggie won the last prize and broke into tears. She had wanted the soap dispenser. I think it was because she had used her first pick to choose a gift for someone else that Kim stepped in. She went over to the woman and asked if she would trade. I never would have done it – but it was absolutely the right thing to do. The woman didn’t care what gift she had.
Maggie wiped her eyes and traded prizes with the woman.
“Thank you,” she said. “Thank you very much.”