Growing Up With Elvis

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By Pookie

He’s been dead longer than I’ve been alive, but I grew up with Elvis. Not through his music, but through bathrooms.

As a way of honoring the King, my parents hung a picture of Elvis above every toilet in our home: an ironic gesture that I like to think he would have appreciated. My brother and I never questioned it growing up, we thought of Elvis as the patron saint of bathrooms, until we learned where the music legend died. We still find it funny.

No bathroom has the same totem. One has a Russell Stover’s Chocolate box graced with his iconic visage while another has a black and white Andy Warhol print of Elvis singing. But the master bathroom is a special shrine to the King. Above that toilet is a picture from December 21, 1970: Elvis shaking hands with President Richard Nixon in the Oval Office.

Apparently, Elvis set up the meeting with the President in hopes of getting a badge from the Federal Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs. Although he didn’t get the “free drugs” badge, as he saw it, he did get to schedule a meeting with the head of the free world on his own terms, in the famous office, and gift him a Colt .45 from his personal collection while saying “I’m on your side”.

The photo that doesn’t look like it should exist has evolved into a somehow factual myth. There is now even a movie due out this year based on this coming together of 1970s super powers. Elvis and Nixon will star Michael Shannon playing Elvis and Kevin Spacy adding onto his presidential acting resume as President Nixon.

Looking at this picture, I can’t think of anyone who wouldn’t want to be Elvis. Starting as a poor kid from Tupelo, Mississippi and growing into such an influential person that he could arrange meetings with the most important people in the world and have them actually play along, even while wearing a purple velvet suit, cape, and obnoxiously large belt.

Long Live The King.

Pookie is a poet and proud Ole Miss Alum who is currently pursuing a Master of Fine Arts degree.

The Old Man: Marrying Stuff

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When the Old Man was much younger, he took a beautiful bride who had many old things. Some of these things were antiques she and her parents had collected and some were heirlooms of previous ancestors.

In most cases these things were odd (five wooden wall clocks from 1900, commemorating the Spanish American War) or cumbersome (an ornately carved pump organ). Other family members had already furnished their homes in particular styles, so these things became our things.

I think many young people are reluctant to accumulate antiques and heirlooms because they fear their ability to choose things for their own idiom might be compromised. Or perhaps they wisely anticipate the burden of a 250 pound pump organ.

We, however, had little to place in our first homes and we were possessed of a romantic – or perhaps simply unrealistic – nature. So the organ first joined us in Winchester, Virginia, and we then took it with us to suburban Chicago, back to Florida, then to Washington, D.C. and finally back to Florida again. Never once, have I been able to play an entire song on it. But great grandchildren of the man – my late father-in-law – who replaced the fabric on the wood treadles half a century ago merrily coaxed low moans from it just the other day.

Some of the other pieces that have been with us our entire lives together include:

•A Victrola that stands four feet tall in a conspicuous place in our living room, and still spins nonagenarian records at 78 RPM whenever the spirit moves us and we want to know what 1924 sounded like.

•Clocks and more clocks, in addition to the aforementioned timepieces from the Spanish American war. These include a small, ornate German clock that used to chime the hours and tick the moments in between for us in our cold and cramped first apartment, an English basement on Capitol Hill.

•A cherry china cabinet with glass shelves and a bowed glass door that my wife helped her father refinish, using Q-tips to reach into the narrow, carved grooves. As young parents we feared a toddler would crash into the glass, and for years positioned furniture defensively around it.

•A maple gate-leg table from the Depression that could tuck into a small space against the wall when we didn’t need it, or be made to expand by means of an ingenious folding leaf into a surface large enough for six and a Thanksgiving turkey.

Call them antiques, heirlooms or hand-me-downs, I think we always felt that these things were a trust, over which we would enjoy stewardship for a time, and then it will be someone else’s turn to live with them. We have added considerably to the collection over the years with many odd and cumbersome pieces of our own. What makes them special is the knowledge that they meant so much to someone long before us, and they have continued to play prominent roles in the accumulated memories of our family for the past three decades.

I hope our kids have big houses.

The Old Man can be found teaching vocabulary to his gun dog in the back yard of the Old House and occasionally typing his ridiculous and profane thoughts on an old Underwood typewriter.

The Old Man’s Books: Look for these five collections when you are book hunting

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Our fine old dining table is groaning under the weight of our latest book buying debauchery. Looking at the stacks of literature, biographies and references has my head spinning. It is the aftermath of a local estate sale that included a magnificent library of thousands of volumes.

Book dealers swooped in early to look for first editions and the things they can turn profits on. But later, when we arrived there were still great finds. We came home with nearly 100 volumes of what a book seller friend of mine calls “book books.”

These are not the collector’s pieces you find on the back of the New York Times Book Review, these are books you can actually read. And many are bound handsomely enough that you would be proud to display them. We must find room to eat, so these will be going into our bookcases – but not before spending time with me in my study.

At this sale and others, I have noticed a lot of sets of books and series that were published in the late 1800s and early 1900s that you can find for ridiculously low prices, but which would make handsome additions to anyone’s libraries.

Here are five favorites that I have found recently and that you may want to keep an eye out for:

1. The Harvard Classics, published by F. Collier and Son in 1909. This is probably my favorite. The president of Harvard University had often said that the average American could obtain a good liberal education by reading 15 minutes a day from a collection of books that could fit on a five foot book shelf. They include the Meditations of Marcus Aurelius, The Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith and The Origin of Species by Charles Darwin.

2. The Colonial Press. Around 1900 this London and New York publisher began printing sets and series of books. I found a 16 volume set printed in 1901 that includes everything from The Federalist Papers and John Stewart Mills’ Political Economy to Turkish verse.

3. The Works of Washington Irving: A number of publishers produced sets of his work. We found two recently, from the late 1800s. I have been captivated by his Alhambra describing a journey he took in the early 1800s “among the Moors and Spaniards.”

4. The Complete Works of Ralph Waldo Emerson. This set published by Houghton Mifflin in 1904 includes his lectures and essays.

5. Encyclopedia Britannica. When I was a child, I desperately wanted a set of encyclopedias, and I thought Britannica was the best. With the advent of the Internet and the fact that half a century of discoveries and reconsiderations of facts has occurred since these were printed, they are nearly worthless to many people. But I stubbornly bought a set I found recently. And I make a point of using it still.

The Old Man can be found teaching vocabulary to his gun dog in the back yard of the Old House and occasionally typing his ridiculous and profane thoughts on an old Underwood typewriter.

Repurposing

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I just knew I was the first person to ever think of this!

Due to the thousands of productive hours I have spent flipping through Instagram, Pinterest and Southern home and garden decorating magazines, I believe that I have a pretty good grasp on what can accomplished in a dining room.

But I had never seen an orchid in a cut glass punch bowl.

And since I have an abundance of punch bowls already in my dining room, I thought I had finally latched on to a signature style—as opposed to my current style of crazy-punch-bowl-hoarder-lady.

So off I went to see my friend who conveniently owns a terrific garden shop specializing in orchids. Well, you can probably see how this went:

Me: “I have this amazing idea.”
Him: “Oh, I do that for people all of the time.”

So there you go. Not an original idea but still a really good one.

Basically take orchid moss (found at any garden shop) and line the bottom of your punch bowl. Then place as many orchids or bromeliads as comfortably fit inside the bowl. I leave them in the plastic containers. Best (and easiest) dining room table centerpiece ever.

Just remember, you heard it here first!