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.