In 2006 I went on one of the last vacations I would take with both of my parents. I had always wanted to go to Graceland and the Grand Ole Opry. So we worked up an itinerary that included several days to visit my sister and her family in Oklahoma as well as Mom’s side of the family. We loaded up my 2005 Chevy Malibu and drove to Oklahoma first. My oldest niece Brynleigh was two and a half. My sister Gaylyna was keeping a baby in her home, so she couldn’t get out during the day, but Dad, Mom, and I took Brynleigh to a few places. One of the places we visited was the Will Rogers Museum in Claremore; we also visited his birthplace in nearby Oolagah.
We left Skiatook, OK on what was a Thursday if my memory serves me correctly and drove to Memphis. On Friday Morning we visited Graceland. It was something I had wanted to do for a long time and a big treat for an Elvis fan like me. Back then they had audio headsets (in August of 2014 they changed to iPads with headphones), I remember riding across the street from the tour staging area to the mansion in the shuttle bus through the gates and Elvis’ version of Welcome To My World” started playing. It was really cool, and they had a clip of Elvis saying something about how much he liked his home.
The day we went was not very crowded; it was the end of February. So we were able to take some time in each room. I had a really cheap digital camera and they do not allow flash photography inside the mansions or exhibits, so most of my pics are blurry. When I went last year with my sister Gaylyna, I had a better camera, but the place was so crowded, it was hard to get decent pictures.
The jungle room, from what I recall from the tour. Elvis did not name this room “The Jungle Room”, it was just the den. Fans started referring to it as the jungle room when the Graceland tours started.
You walk in the front door, the living room is on the right, and the dining room is on the left. In front of you is a stair case that leads up to Elvis’s bedroom. No one is allowed up there. Down on the right of the stair case is his parents’ bedroom. From there you go through the kitchen (the route had changed somewhat from 2006 to 2014), then you down some stairs to a den in the basement, where Elvis had the famous three TV’s setup so he could watch every network.
Mom was using a walker for support and was having difficulty navigating the stairs. She was arguing with Dad about the best way for her to get down the stairs while in the staircase. I just remember thinking “I’m in Elvis Presley’s house and Mom and Dad are arguing in the staircase”. It was a very surreal moment! Let me clear, it was one of those married people arguments that are over in 30 seconds. I don’t want to paint a bad light on the situation, I thought it was funny, not that Mom was having difficulty with the stairs, just the overall scenario.
Out in the raquetball building. He played this piano for a few friends and Lisa Marie the day he passed. Graceland still receives thousands of flowers each year from fans and they place them through out the grounds
The monument Elvis and Vernon had made for Gladys. She and Elvis were originally buried at Forest Lawn in Memphis. However, Vernon received permission from the city to have them moved to Graceland after someone tried to steal Elvis’ body.
We visited all of the exhibits across the street from the mansion too. Dad and I went through Elvis’ jets, the Lisa Marie and Houng Dog II. In my things I have a Graceland souvenir cup that Mom bought at a concession stand there. It’s surprising what a plastic cup conjures in way of nostalgia and bittersweet memories.
Dad and Mom at Sun
I’ve shared this pic a lot, but it’s probably the most favorite pic I’ve ever taken and it was a total fluke.
My camera was dead, so i don’t have many pictures from that first trip to Sun. It was my first digital camera and it wasn’t a very good one at that, so I took Mom camera to try and get a few pictures, her batteries were almost dead too, but this one made it onto the memory card.
There was a guy working the counter that can be seen in the movie Elizabethtown. It’s towards the end of the movie when Orlando Bloom’s character is on a road trip west, he stops in Memphis and footage in the film shows the guy in these pictures with the big lamb chop sideburns playing a guitar in front of Sun Studio.
I am writing this close to ten years after the fact, but I believe after Sun Studio we headed for Nashville.
That was my first visit to Nashville and it quickly became one of my favorite cities. There is a lot to see and do there, from live music, to museums, to historical sights. We stayed not too far from the Grand Ole Opry House.
On Saturday morning, we went on a hop on hop off trolley tour. After the tour, Dad and Mom took my car and drove around sightseeing. I walked up and down Broadway, stopping to take in live performances in several of the small shops. I also bought a few things at the Ernest Tubb Record Store.
The Ryman Auditorium
In the afternoon I met up with my parents, and we took a tour of the Ryman Auditorium. We were able to go backstage and see dressing rooms used by all of the Opry stars past and present. The tour guide told stories about Marty Robbins driving straight from an auto race to make his performance at the Opry, then he would play way past the broadcast show, then sign autographs until the wee hours of the morning to any fan that waited long enough to get it. The Everly Brothers were discovered hanging out on the steps on the backside of the Ryman. The tour along was great, but I would like to go back someday and see a live show there.
The Grand Ole Opry
That night we had tickets to the Grand Ole Opry. They move to the Ryman during the winter, and then to the new Opry house during the spring and summer months. The night we were there was their first night back from the Ryman for the season.
We saw Little Jimmy Dickens, Bill Anderson, Porter Wagoner, Connie Smith, Trent Tomlinson (who had a big hit out at the time “Drunker than Me”), T. Graham Brown, Mel McDaniel (who dad had spotted earlier giving some friends a tour of the Ryman), a few other new acts, and Vince Gill.
Most of our pics during the show were rubbish, but here are a few:
Vince Gill said his voice was bothering him, but he still sounded great. Payne Stewart’s widow was in the audience that night and he sang “Hey God” a song he had written in tribute to his friend Payne Stewart who was killed in a plane crash in 1999. It was just Vince and an acoustic guitar. It was really good!
On Sunday morning we started heading back towards Texas. We drove south down to Tupelo, Mississippi and visited Elvis’ birthplace. We also drove by the Tupelo Children’s Mansion, an orphanage that is sponsored by Dad’s ministerial organization. From there we spent several hours on the Natchez Trace; eventually we found a highway again and were able to go faster than 50 miles per hour.
We ended up staying in Ruston, LA that night before driving the rest of the way back on Monday.
That wasn’t the last road trip I took with Dad and Mom, we made several trips to Oklahoma, and went to Branson once in 2010. It was the most memorable trip as I was able to visit some new places with them. With Mom being gone now, I treasure those times, and am glad they indulged an Elvis fan a trip to Graceland.