“Already the signs along the Midways of America say Christmas. Walking through town this morning, I saw the first Santa Claus of the year – a mechanical Kris Kringle bobbing up and down in a sunlit department store window – and I thought, gosh is it here already?
It seems that each year Christmas begins a little earlier, and for me that means certain beautiful and tragic memories, certain feelings begin to rise up inside my heart. These feelings have to do with my mother, for somehow I see her, remember her most clearly at Christmas time.
I remember last Christmas I was back from the army and home again and I went upstairs into the attic where Mama had stored the tree away. No one could know the feeling that came over me.
There stood the tree that had made her so happy, just as she had left it. I stood looking at it for some time realizing that she had been the last one to touch it.
Then carefully, I picked it up and took it down stairs and put it where Mama had placed it. I could hear her saying, ‘If we are careful, we can use it every Christmas, it is so beautiful.’
The lights on the tree went on, and it began to slowly turn on its pivot playing the familiar Christmas melodies. When it came to Silent Night, something rose up inside of me – all of the heartbreak and longing and loneliness for her coming back as strong and fresh as ever. It was too much.
I could see her sitting there so happy with her inexpressible love and gentleness, looking at the tree. For everything was the same, the room, the furniture, the tree – except she was gone forever.
I sat there looking at the lights dancing, and listening to the Christmas chimes playing, and the tree went round and round, and I cried inside – why, why couldn’t she be here now?
And I began remembering all of the Christmas trees we had had before this one, the tiny ones and the bigger ones. And I knew that those golden years and Christmases full of laughs and love, trouble, and hard times were the best I’d ever have. And now they were gone.
I couldn’t sit and look at the tree. I had to disconnect it and carry it back up to the attic where it still remains.
I don’t know when the time will come that I can bring it down again. We got another tree, and this year we will also get another tree, while Mama’s Christmas tree stays up there with its beautiful memories.
How the memories flow back to me now! That first Christmas in the Army in Germany, my father and I just sat and cried and cried. . . . We weren’t ashamed of our tears for our loss was so great.
The next Christmas was better – for time, as they say, is a great healer, and we had made some friends over there. We had a Christmas tree and celebrated the holiday with our friends.
And we tried not to think of what Christmas had always been before. But there were moments when we couldn’t keep the tears back in remembering.
I am not the only boy to lose his mother, and I am well aware that there are so many others, but I can never show the grief I feel inside. And Christmas which meant so much to us, because Mama made it such a wonderful big happy occasion – brings that grief back.
I’ve begun to dream of her again. In fact just 3 days ago I had this dream of her. It seemed I had just returned home from making a picture here, and I was running up the steps at Graceland. And Mama was standing in the door, her arms stretched out to welcome me.
And I hugged her and kissed her. And we laughed and talked as we walked into the house. I wasn’t aware that it was a dream – until I woke up in a cold sweat. It was like a real visit – a happy one.
Her grave is just 2 miles away from our house. I go over there twice a week when I am at home. I keep an order with the florist for flowers once a week when they are in season. I like to take red roses, because she loved them.
I can remember when I was 8 and we bought our first home in Tupelo. Mama planted red roses and white roses, and they climbed up over the windows. She had them blooming everywhere.
Even when we didn’t have a nice house, she had a little red rose bush or 2 blooming. She planted them at Graceland, and she loved to take care of them herself.
Red roses say ‘I love you’ and when I was old enough, and had a job, and was first earning a little money, I bought her a bouquet of red roses out of season.
And she said it was extravagant, and I shouldn’t have, but she put them to her face, and she would sit by the table to smell them. And I can see her now with the roses pressed next to her face, breathing the fragrance.
No matter what happened to us Mama always made the best of it. She could perform miracles with 10 cents and the cheapest cut of meat and make a festive banquet for us out of almost nothing during the hard times.
I remember the Christmas during the depression in the Thirties when everyone was out of work. Daddy hadn’t been able to find a job in a long time. That year the church brought us our Christmas.
We weren’t the only family who was thankful to have a Christmas basket of groceries. But somehow Mama always managed to fix up a Christmas tree for us. And somehow we’d manage to have a little gift of some kind underneath it to open Christmas morning.
And when the Good Fellows Organization had to furnish the toys, Mama would hide them away, and we would believe that Santa Claus had put them under the tree when we found them Christmas morning.
There was another winter when Daddy had a bad back, and was out of work for months, and the church took up a collection to help us. They helped a lot of needy families, and we were grateful. We managed to live somehow, and Mama always managed a happy Christmas.
One Christmas I wanted a bicycle and a guitar. Mama talked me out of the bicycle for the guitar. That’s how I first started singing with the guitar.
Our hardest Christmas was when I was about thirteen, and we left Tupelo to move to Memphis. Christmas came and we couldn’t find work anywhere, and we had no money, and nothing.
So Mama said, ‘All right, we’ll go back home for Christmas.’ And we hitch-hiked back to Tupelo so we could have Christmas with some of our relatives. Mother was cheerful all the way.
My father had worn the soles of his shoes through, and I can still see us walking along the highway in the cold, until a big gas truck picked us up. But we were always happy as long as we were together.
We made the best of the bad times because Mama had a way of making them into good times.
Some people might misunderstand my love and devotion for my mother. They might think I was a mama’s boy. But that isn’t true. Everybody loves his mother in his own way, and I was an only child.
She was very sensitive, and tender-hearted, and she gave me advice and she never steered me wrong. All of my life I depended on her for so many different things.
I was a twin, and my twin Jessie Garon died at birth. Mama always said that she would have liked to have had more children.
But something had happened at the time of our birth, and it was impossible. We often talked of Jessie Garon, and if he had lived and what it would have been like with the 2 of us instead of just me.
We went through so many real hard times that now I remember, and I think back to the hard times and then the good times, and the present time. And I’m appreciative that God let my mother know and share some of the good times with me.
I always wanted to buy her something real special for Christmas. From the time I began working driving a truck and could afford something nice, there was never anything she really wanted.
She was old fashioned, and a real woman who thought first of us and making us a good home.
She was happy for me when things began going real good – not for what it could do for her. I wanted to give her things like mink coats or a mink stole one Christmas, but she would never take one. She’d say that it would only hang in the closet.
So I gave her presents I knew she would like. There was a big set of silverware and some china, and she was really thrilled. She liked things that she could use for the house.
One Christmas I gave her a pressure cooker, and she was so happy. That’s the way she was. She wouldn’t let me give her anything else like jewelry. ‘I won’t use it,’ she would say, ‘it will just stay in a drawer. So please don’t get it.’
It was 1956 when we celebrated our first Christmas in our new house in Memphis. Before, Christmas was us – and now it seemed as success grew so did our Christmas, for there were many more people with us.
Mama always cooked the big turkey dinner herself, and she wouldn’t listen to anything else like anybody else doing it for her.
I began collecting things – gifts, music, records, and all of the things that come along with a growing career. And we had no room or place to store everything. When I went out on the road, I told Mama and Daddy to go looking for a bigger place.
I said I’d like a big Colonial type of house. Then I came back and we found Graceland. It was being used for a church, and no one had lived there for a long time. The grass was waist high, and it needed a lot of renovating and care.
Mama worked day and night to fix that house up, so it would be just right for us. With the exception of a change of drapes it is still furnished as she left it.
And with all of the effort she extended to make it our home, it will always be our home. Whenever I come back from a picture or a tour, in my mind she’s there.
There are so many things now for her to see and to share with me. She was such a young woman – only 43. She had a premonition she was going, because when she went into the hospital she asked Grandmother to please stay with me and Daddy and as long as she lived.
We thought it was her imagination, and that when she got into the hospital and they found out exactly what was wrong, she would soon be well. But she smiled, as if to say she knew it was too late. The Lord giveth and taketh away.
(Elvis referenced Chapter 1 Verse 21 from the book of Job: “And said, Naked came I out of my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return thither: the Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.”)
It’s hard for me to realize that Daddy is going to be a father again after all these years, which reminds me that I still have my Christmas Shopping to do!
Last Christmas I bought 36 transistor radios for gifts. It’s funny what happened. I took 1 of them down to the gate to give to a fan club president.
And another little girl standing there said, ‘Please, Elvis, may I have 1, too?’ And before I knew it, I had given away 6 of them to the kids at the gate. These kids are fans who come by to say hello, and when I am home I usually make a practice of going down and talking with them.
The word went around and before I knew it I had given away 10. And then came notes like ‘I don’t want to be nosey, but I understand you are giving away transistor radios for Christmas. Did you inadvertently forget my little daughter’ . . . etc., etc.
I like to give, but I don’t want to be put in a position of being expected to give, for that takes the joy out of giving.
As for myself, people often ask me what I want for Christmas. I have been so lucky, so fortunate in life that I need nothing material.
For me the only gift, the best gift of all, would be an inner spiritual one – that peace of mind and understanding of the heart which would enable me to bring her Christmas tree down from the attic, and to sit there as she did and watch it turn and play Christmas carols, and be sad no more.
Mama would want that.
As told to May Mann for Modern Screen magazine in 1961
To read “Display of mother’s Star of David headstone revives talk of Elvis’s Jewish roots,” click here: The Times of Israel
Elvis mentioned that his mother loved red roses. Here is the song he recorded titled “Mama Liked The Roses.”
You may also like:
Elvis Tells the Story of a Prayer (God is My Refuge)
A Christmas Prayer
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Thank you, and it is my prayer that you have a very blessed day! ❤