Where I Am: My Graceland

My son and I are sitting on a stone bench situated high on a bluff in Memphis, Tennessee overlooking the Mississippi River, the mighty river that pens its meandering signature from northern Minnesota to the Gulf of Mexico. I love to come here. The river gives me an encore of a show I have seen many times. I gasp and exclaim at the beauty of its ever-moving sameness.

The early afternoon sun is bright. I raise a hand over my eyes, squinting to watch a barge heavy with cargo move slowly down-river. From my balcony seat, the water’s surface appears lazy and smooth, but the current beneath runs deep, swift, and true.

“Let’s get with it, Mom,” says my son, K.T.

He and I left work (my husband is our benevolent employer) to head down to the river for an impromptu photo shoot. I need an up-to-date picture of myself. Last year I lost my hair as a result of the chemotherapy I received for breast cancer. The swift and terrible current of the cancer did not pull me under (or should I say put me under—six feet under). I am here. I have hair.

“Mom, turn your head a little to the right,” K.T. commands. “To the right, Mom. To the right.”

The river has ruined me. I don’t know my left from my right.

“Okay. These shots are fine, and it’s hot as Hades out here,” moans my 23- year- old photographer. But, he humors me and agrees to see if we can do better on Beale Street.

We travel a short distance east of the river to stroll along the three blocks of Beale Street barricaded for foot traffic. In the evening, the street is ablaze with neon signs beckoning tourists and locals to come in and sit a spell, drink a Memphis brew, and listen to the bluesy rock and soul music.

 The crowd is light this afternoon. The street seems to be snoozing, but it is awake, bleary-eyed after hosting a fine party. The easy, soulful sound of a saxophone wafts into the street like the aroma of Memphis barbecue slow-cooking over a fire.

K.T. puts his hand on my shoulder to gently push me along. The souvenir shops are open, and I slow down when I see swivel-hipped Elvis dolls, Graceland snow globes (even though snow is a rarity in Memphis ), pot holders, lunch boxes, and gold-studded jackets shining through a window. A kingdom of Elvis kitsch.

Elvis may have “left the building” thirty-seven years ago, but in the words of singer-songwriters Over the Rhine, “The King Knows How.”  He still knows how to call his lovers to Memphis.

We walk on through a back-alley to get to our car. K.T. holds the door open for me as I slide into my seat.

“Thank you for today,” I say. “No problem,” he replies.

I take the camera and scroll through the pictures until I come to one I like. The river is my backdrop, and there I am, alive and well.

18 Thoughts.

  1. I love the way this story is grounded in a brief sliver of the present, layered with palpable detail. This kind of rich and nuanced appreciation of “now” has been a gift of my own recent cancer diagnosis. Your words took me home to my own big river, the Ohio, on whose banks I grew up a few tattered moons ago. An elderly and wise friend once told me that when you are born near one of these powerful rivers, you have its water in your veins. The thought of that dependability and strength flowing inside is comforting. Thank you for sparking my creative juices this morning with your beautiful piece.

    • Oh, my goodness, Angela, your reply is beautifully written. I would love to read your story. It pleases me beyond measure that you received comfort from my story. May your creative juices yield much fruit.
      All is Grace.

  2. Memphis born and raised, yet the pleasures of the Rolling River and Bills Blues are savored only on special occasions, today just became one, you truly brought all the sounds and sites of our great little river town flowing back, yet to capture the feeling I experience when walking in Memphis ( ok, Yes it’s a song, with a great title) that is where you shine!

    • Tricia, I am honored that you stopped by and read my story. I know that you will enjoy the writing of the other contributors to this blog, so I hope you will visit us often. I look forward to reading about your place, and the rivers that flow through your life.

  3. Lisa, what a great venture. I’m so glad you’re a part of this blog, so I won’t have to wait FUH-EVUH to read something from you! I really enjoyed your descriptions of our river; it is indeed a metaphor for life itself. “It just keeps rollin’ along.”

  4. Lisa, dearest. It’s wonderful to hear more of your fine-boned writing. I’ve never been to Memphis but you sure make me want to go, more than ever. I want to sit on that bench above the river. I want to hear the blues too. So grateful you’re alive to tell us more tales like this one. And your hair rocks!

    • Mary, thank you for reading my story. I would love to sit a spell with you down by my river and share some talk, a brew, and some barbecue. AND I have a very nice guestroom.

  5. Lovely and crisp. Thank you, Lisa. I felt like I sat down in one of those Memphis bars and drank a smooth beer that leaves a strong, pleasant aftertaste.

    • Come to Memphis and visit my family. I promise we don’t live at the “Heartbreak Hotel.” The beer and the barbecue will be on us!

  6. Lisa, I think what I love most about your descriptions is how you paint the scene and your love of it together. It’s so neat that it wasn’t enough for you to have a new photograph taken in your living room, but that you wanted one with something huge and vibrant behind you.

    P.S. Elvis lives. I know it.

    • Thank you, Stacy! One of my main goals as a writer is to paint a scene with words. All of this attention may give me a big head. Elvis once said that if your head gets too big, it will break your neck!

  7. Lisa, your descriptions of these places are so fluid yet crisp—I feel like I’m walking with you, even though I’ve never been to Memphis (yet!). You are indeed alive and well, and we are grateful for your words.

    • Thank you,Kristen. It is a dream come true to be asked to share my words with an audience other than my family and friends from the Glen. It is a blessed responsibility.

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