It is my pleasure to present to you the second of two 4th place winners from the July 2018 Word Weaver Writing Contest, Sharon Cathcart’s “GHOSTS OF TUPELO.”
Sharon wrote an engaging piece that I truly enjoyed. I think you will, too.
Have a good time reading this story. I’ll give you my reasons for why I liked it at the bottom of the post.
FOURTH PLACE WINNER
“GHOSTS OF TUPELO”
The Elvis Presley Birthplace Center didn’t look too impressive, to be honest. Still, my dad knows how much I love old music and thought it would be fun if we took a trip to see some historical places related to it. Dad parked the car in the lot just behind a tiny, white clapboard house. Rain was pouring down in buckets as we shifted in our seats and undid our safety belts.
“You go ahead into the main building,” he said. “Your mother and I will be along directly.”
I dashed across to the awning over the sidewalk, rain matting my hair in the process. Dad helped Mom down from the front seat, pulling the hood of her raincoat up over her dark brown hair as he kissed her cheek. He handed over her cane and gave her his arm so that she was supported both sides while they made their slower way around to the ramp. His black hair was plastered to his head, but he was more concerned about Mom’s comfort.
I get tired of explaining to people that my mom is sick. I wish things were different, but I’m old enough to know that’s never going to happen. I used to get really mad about her illness, but I don’t anymore. I’m almost fifteen years old, practically grown up, and I know better now than I did when I was a kid. Besides, she hates it more than anyone, you know? I love my mom and dad, and I know they’re doing the best they can with what they’ve been given.
Anyway, while I waited for them I watched a family loading things into the old green car parked under a gazebo-type thing near the museum. The man was tall and handsome, with wavy brown hair. The wife was pretty but careworn, her black hair pulled back in a bun that just touched the collar of her faded, calico dress. The third member of the party was a boy in denim overalls, the legs cuffed up. He had heavy brown shoes on his feet and his brown-blonde head was covered by a cloth cap. He was handsome, which might have been easy to miss in that old-fashioned attire. The affection among the group was apparent, and I couldn’t help wondering whether the actors were a real-life family.
I turned to ask my dad what he thought of the little reenactment I was watching, but he was focused on helping Mom get under the tiny awning. After making sure she was settled, he pulled a handkerchief out of his pocket and swiped at his face and hair, focused solely on drying off a little before we went inside.
“Mom, did you notice the reenactors over by the car? I think that’s kind of neat.”
“I’m sorry, Evie. I was concentrating on not slipping in the rain. Where did you see them again?”
When I turned to show her, the people and their things were gone. The car was alone on display … and completely empty.
“I guess they went inside to get out of the rain,” I said.
“We should do the same,” Mom replied.
We went into the dark brown building and my dad paid for our tickets. We would see a little museum, a church presentation (of all things; I didn’t think this was going to be a religious visit), and the tiny, two-room house in which Elvis Presley was born.
“Before we go into any of these places,” he said, “I want to talk about why I think this trip is important. I know you love this music, Evie, but we need to remember that the legendary people whose records you listen to came from nothing. We’re really fortunate with all we have, and sometimes it’s worth a pause to remember. With that, let’s look at this museum and then go over for the church program.”
The Elvis mementos and memorabilia, all part of a private collection, were fascinating. No photos were allowed, but it was neat to see the clothes, books, and other things that had belonged to the man who really was the first rock star. I was still distracted by what I’d seen outside by the antique car that had belonged to Vernon and Gladys Presley. The reenactors surely did look like the Presleys; their photos were in the museum and I studied them for a long time.
After a few minutes of wandering around the gift shop and picking out souvenirs, Dad gathered us together to walk over for the church program. The little one-room building had been the Presley’s family church, the docent explained, as people in both modern-day and period clothing filed in. I sat down on one of the rear-most pews while the guide explained the multi-media presentation that would simulate a Pentecostal service for the visitors.
Just as both the screens and the lights were lowered, the blonde boy I saw earlier slipped in and sat beside me, his cap in his hand.
“Sure is somethin’, ain’t it?” he whispered. “Course, that fella up on the screen ain’t quite as inspiring as Brother Frank Smith was when he got to going, but he does tolerably well.”
“We shouldn’t be talking,” I whispered back.
Dad turned around and gave me a puzzled look.
“Nah, it’s not really church. ‘Sides, we used to really make a joyful noise during services.” He gave a little lopsided smile that lit up his hooded blue eyes.
“You’re really into this role; I admire you for it. I’m a performer myself,” I whispered.
The boy gave me that same smile. “I’m not a performer. Leastwise, not yet. I got dreams, though, and I aim to make ‘em come true.”
“Okay,” I replied, and turned my attention back to the presentation. As the screens and lights came back up, I realized my companion was gone. I figured he’d moved on to his next reenactment.
Mom asked that everyone visit the meditation chapel next door to wait out the rain for a while, so we made their short way there. Along the sidewalk, we passed an outhouse that had been shared not only by the churchgoers but by the families along what was formerly known as Old Saltillo Road. I couldn’t imagine walking half a block to use the restroom. It must have been awful, especially if you had to go in the middle of the night.
“I thought it was neat that they had so many people in costume at the church,” I ventured as I closed the chapel door behind us.
“That presentation was impressive, all right,” Mom settled into one of the pews; unlike the dark wood of the old church, these were golden and bright. “Having screens on the sides to help you feel like it was really happening was a clever way to bring the experience home.”
“I wasn’t talking about the screens, Mom. I was talking about the people. The couple I saw earlier putting things in that green car outside were there, and the fellow playing their son.”
Mom and Dad both looked at me like I’d grown another head.
“Amos,” Mom said, “why don’t you play something on the piano?”
“I don’t know, Diana. It doesn’t seem right.”
“Well, I don’t see any signs saying we can’t, and I’d like to hear one of Elvis’ hymns if you don’t mind.”
Dad compromised and sang two verses and a chorus from “Peace in the Valley” a cappella. He used to be a professional singer back in the day, and Mom says she fell in love with him while he was singing an old Cajun song.
I closed my eyes and focused on Dad’s voice. In my ear, though, I heard a second voice: the whisper of the boy who’d sat next to me in church.
“Tell your daddy thank you.”
I’d always thought that the whole “hair raising on the back of your neck” thing was an old wives’ tale, or something that only happened in scary books. But it happened to me right then.
When I opened my eyes, there was no one sitting next to me. However, the sun had come out and was peeping through the stained-glass windows to make colorful swirls on the carpet.
“Let’s go over to the house,” Mom gamely picked up her cane.
“You guys go ahead,” I said. “I want to spend a few more minutes here. I promise I won’t be too long.”
“All right,” Dad said, and helped Mom up and out the door.
After they left, I closed my eyes and spoke aloud.
“I don’t know exactly what’s going on here, but I’m hoping you’ll help me understand.”
I opened my eyes, and that same boy was sitting next to me in the pew.
“I reckon your folks can’t see me,” he said. “They seem real nice, though. And I like that your daddy sang for a bit.”
“Who are you?” I asked.
“You don’t know yet? Well, you walk out that door down the pathway to the house and you’ll see. Go on now.”
I was puzzled, but I went out and followed the pathway.
About halfway between the chapel and the little white house was a circle of park benches and trees. In the middle of the circle was a statue of an overall-clad boy clutching a guitar around the neck. At the base was a plaque reading “Elvis at 13.”
My jaw dropped open.
“It’s an okay likeness, ain’t it?”
The blonde boy materialized next to me, and I got the picture at last.
“But you were grown up when …”
“When I passed? I surely was. But I left here when I was thirteen. That’s why I look this way near the house. Man, I remember what a treat it used to be to sit on the porch and play some new song Brother Smith taught me, or maybe share a Coke and a funny book with one of the fellas. Not that I had so many friends, mind. I was kind of a timid kid. I surely loved Captain Marvel, Junior; he had black hair and wore a jumpsuit with a cape; I thought that was how a hero should look, boy.”
Elvis went on to tell me about how no one had much, because all of their fathers were sharecroppers. So, if somebody got a funny book, they all passed it around “real careful-like”, and how they would even share a bottle of soda pop.
“Oh, hey,” he continued, “when you go into that house where I was born, it won’t look like much. Hell, it ain’t but two rooms, with no ‘lectric or running water. They’ve got it lookin’ like it did when we lived there for the most part. At least it’s got real wallpaper now,’stead of newspapers put up with flour and water paste. My mama and daddy worked real hard, and I loved them. We sure didn’t have much to speak of, though, like I said. That’s why I was so proud to buy my folks a house in Memphis when I got some money.
“Reckon it’s time for you to catch up with your folks now, Miss Evie. Thank you for talking with me; sometimes I get lonely for a pretty girl’s smile.”
“How’d you know my name?”
“Heard your daddy say it, of course. And you knew my name before you got here.” He gave me that same lopsided grin. “One more thing. I know what it is to lose my mama, and I know you’re worried. Your mama’s going to be okay, hear? It’s just gonna take some time.”
“Thank you, Elvis,” I whispered, the tears I’d tried to contain rolling down my cheek. He leaned forward and kissed me where the tears fell; it felt like a gentle breeze against my skin.
I turned toward the tiny shotgun house and walked away from the little park where, if someone were to look closely, they might have thought there were two statues in the circle before deciding it was a trick of the light.
The author wishes to thank the staff of the Elvis Presley Birthplace Center, particularly hostess/docent Nina Kaye, and the staff of Tupelo Hardware, both in Tupelo, Miss.
What did I like about this story?
What spoke to me?
DAN ALATORRE: This was very touching story, and although it’s obviously not scary, it’s definitely a ghost story of sorts. I enjoyed it a lot. I think the voice of the young child is very well done. The dialects are good without bringing in any kind of fancy spelling to irritate the reader. You totally get the flavor of the phrasing, which is hard to do well and easy to overdo. It moves along well and it’s got a lot of heartfelt emotional passages in it. I was very taken by.
This was a terrific story, as I’m sure you agree.
Join us tomorrow for more profiles
- we will continue on with our winning stories and profiles until we run them all. Which we may have done, or are pretty close.
and much more!
Right now, please join me in congratulating our second of two 4th place winners, Sharon Cathcart!
See you tomorrow!