You Can Spend 30,400 Second With Elvis Presley In Germany
A rooster crowed. Elvis opened one eye, wrinkled up his nose, and smiled. Yeah, that was bacon frying, all right. Must be time to get up. Stretching, he reached out across the bed and tuned the radio on to the Armed Forces Network. Sometimes they gave some news about what was going on back home.
“El,” his dad’s voice, calling from downstairs, broke into his thoughts. “Six-fifteen. Time to get up.”
Slowly, reluctantly, he slid out of bed, put on his robe and padded over to the French window and out onto the balcony. Across the street was a park, with its shady walks, its flowers and its man-made embankments, down which Bad Nauheim’s famous health waters dripped constantly.
The house on his left was being renovated. They’d started the work while he was in the hospital having his tonsils taken care of, and he was surprised to see how much they’d
gotten done in just a few days. Today they’d be working there again, he knew, even though it was Saturday. The German people didn’t go in for long weekends. Why, even the kids went to school Saturday mornings. He’d often seen them trudging home with their books after he’d gotten back from camp at noon.
Camp! He’d better hurry. He double-timed it into the bathroom, showered, shaved and then pulled on his uniform. If he ate breakfast fast and drove quickly. . . . No, ever since his father’s accident on the Autobahn, he’d promised himself he was never going to speed. . . . The accident—he wouldn’t think about the accident now . . .
“Breakfast,” his dad called. He headed for the stairs, taking them two at a time, and then stopped short on the landing. There on the piano—the first thing he noticed—was a vase of white roses, the kind his mother had loved. Next month Mom would be dead a year . . .
“Elvis—your coffee’s getting cold.”
“Okay, Dad, okay. I’m coming.” He made himself look out the window as he passed it, made himself look at the sunlight and shake the mood from himself, for his father’s sake.
Already on the table, covered with a white napkin, was a plate of hot biscuits. He sat down, spreading his napkin on his knees, and poured some cream in his coffee. Then Grandma Presley, a calico apron over her cotton house dress, hurried in from the kitchen with his plate.
She sure knew what he liked—and the way he liked it. The bacon was so crisp it broke at the slightest touch; the eggs were turned over slightly, but brown and frizzled along the edges. In front of his plate was a dish of strawberry jam and, just in case he felt hungrier than usual, a slice of coffee cake.
“What time is it?” he asked, after a few minutes of concentrated eating.
“Ten to,” his dad said. “You’d better get going. Say, any of the boys coming home with you this afternoon?”
“Yeah. Four of ’em, I think. Grandma knows. Maybe we’ll play a little baseball. Chew the fat tonight. Things like that.”
“Fine. Guess I’d better pick up a couple extra cases of Coke at the PX this morning when I go over to Friedberg for the mail. Boy, if this fan mail gets any heavier . . .”
He fixed his father with a stern eye. “Now drive carefully, you hear?”
His father nodded, not speaking. The accident was still fresh in both their minds. So fresh that instead of talking about it, they looked for ways to avoid the subject.
Checking his pockets as he rose, he pulled out his car keys and headed for the door. “Oh, I almost forgot. I’d better take the Cadillac, so there’ll be room for the guys. You mind using the sports car?”
The light blue Cadillac he’d bought second hand from an American Army captain ran well and, even at a slow pace (for him), it reached the camp gate at exactly seven-fifteen. Good, he thought to himself, fifteen minutes left till roll call.
A half-hour later, bending over the grass that looked as if it had been manicured instead of cut, he began gathering up odd bits of cellophane wrappers, matches, stray leaves—all part of policing the area, his regular 7:30 to 8 a.m. chore. “If it don’t grow, pick it up,” was the Army’s slogan.
With a mock frown, he called out to two of his friends passing by, “Wish you guys would be more careful where you toss things.”
“Look who’s talking,” they kidded back. “Who keeps messing up the joint with all those kids wanting autographs?”
He grinned, but said nothing. The cracks were good humored, meant in fun, this he knew. There were no more of those dead silences and curious stares.
He had a neat pile of crumpled cigarette packs and candy wrappers when, “Hey, soldier,” came a yell from a jeep, “get up off that ground. We gotta check our ’quipment.”
“What’s with this inspection?” one of his buddies muttered under his breath. “If I polish my rifle and helmet one more time, they’re gonna dissolve!”
Elvis had to agree, he thought. He’d already scrubbed and repaired his jeep until it purred like his Caddy. And his belt and helmet and rifle, too. Well, like everybody said, that ,was the Army!
“Hi, El,” a soldier greeted him, pounding his back so enthusiastically he dropped the rifle he was cleaning. “Just got back from a furlough and I heard you made corporal. Say, that’s great!”
“Thanks. And how was the furlough?”
In answer, the soldier just rolled his eyes heavenwards.
And then he heard a sergeant yell: “Hurry up, you guys, the film’s about due!”
“Hurry up—and wait.” That was another Army slogan.
After they’d marched, single-file, into the auditorium, they sat for fifteen minutes before the title came on. But when it did, Elvis sat up straight.
This two-hour film was like no other he’d ever seen. No cowboys galloped off in all directions. No pretty girls smiled and melted into young men’s arms. It wasn’t even like the standard Army films he’d seen. It was a lesson in how to keep alive at the front, how to disguise, camouflage, yourself and your weapons for night patrol.
He watched a jeep roll by, covered with leaves and branches, painted olive drab and yellow and brown to blend with the surroundings. Not far down the road a land mine was buried. The driver came closer . . . closer—and then he hit. For an instant, the jeep simply stopped dead in its tracks; then came the explosion. The whole sky was alight with it. Bouncing high in the air, the jeep turned over and burst into flames as a soldier crawled out of the wreckage.
And Elvis bent his head, covering his eyes with both hands. He couldn’t look. The scene had brought death starkly home to him, with all its ugliness, all its emptiness. It took him back to that night not long ago when he’d thought his father had been killed.
It had started off like any other evening. With Bobby West and Lamar Fike, the buddies he’d brought over from the States to keep him company, he’d polished off one of his grandmother’s delicious meals. His dad, feeling restless, had said he thought he’d take a drive around the countryside.
Grandma and the boys were all sitting around in the cheerful living room and, getting out the guitar his father had given him on Christmas, he began strumming it and singing a few songs. Then the boys switched to records, and somebody said how about a little refreshment. He got up to check the pantry, since Grandma had gone to bed, and thought of home—of how Mom used to do this, and how things could never really be the same without her.
Did anyone, he wondered, remember him back there? He wondered if the kids still wanted to hear him. Colonel Parker said they did. He’d gotten a letter just that day. “You’re already signed up for a dozen movies; for TV, too,” he’d written. But he felt he had to see, to know for himself. Not until his discharge would he really know the answer.
“March 24, 1960,” he said aloud, “it sure seems a long time. It seems a hundred years away.’ He laughed suddenly to himself and, pushing his way through the dining-room door, yelled, “Come and get it. Coffee and doughnuts.”
Then the phone rang. Funny, it sounded different—loud and almost frightening in the quiet night—in sharp contrast to the records they’d been spinning.
One of the boys moved toward the phone, but something made him shake his head and say, “No, I’ll take it.” With so many strangers aware of his telephone number, he usually let someone else take charge of the doorbell and the phone, but this time he picked up the receiver.
“Hello?” he said into the mouthpiece.
“Mr. Elvis Presley?” someone asked. “This is the Bureau of Police.” The voice was gutteral, heavily accented. Elvis struggled to hear him, to understand what he was saying.
On the Autobahn . . . an accident . . car overturned . . . Vernon Presley . . .”
Gripping the old-fashioned telephone so tightly he could feel his hand beginning to perspire, he shouted into the instrument. “Tell me,” he asked, “tell me—”
From far down in his chest he could feel a scream beginning to well up, fighting to rise to the surface, to take over. “Your father’s been in an accident. . . .”
Dad, he thought, Dad . . . and he struggled for control. The room seemed to fade before him . . . a mixture of antiques and modern furniture, the soft, thick rug. The guitars and tape recorder and record player. The piano . . . when his eyes rested on the piano, the room stopped spinning. Time stopped. On the piano sat the one photograph in the room, a photograph of his mother before her illness.
Not quite a year ago, Mom had been taken from him. Suddenly there was no one to listen, to advise him about the million big and little things that made up his life. And so, slowly, falteringly, he had turned to his father, as his father had turned to him. They had begun building something together, something warm and rich and almost—almost like what he had known with his mother.
And now, was this being taken away from him, too? To lose both father and mother in one short year . . . his whole body felt drained, numb with shock.
Then, as if from a great distance, he heard the gutteral voice again: “Herr Presley? Herr Presley, are you there?” He heard the officer jiggling the phone.
Forming the words with great effort, he answered: “Yes. I am here.”
“Herr Presley—what I meant to tell you, what I have been trying to say . . . your father, sir, he is all right. Shaken up. But all right.” And then the voice added, “Could you come and get him? The car, it is not so lucky. A total wreck, I’m afraid. How he escaped alive . . .”
Elvis made no comment as he took down the address and dropped the receiver back on the hook. Finally, turning to the others, he whispered, “He’s alive.”
They looked at him without understanding.
“Dad,” he said, nearly collapsing. Then he forced himself erect again, reaching with effort into his pocket for the car-keys. Stiffly, like a sleepwalker, he moved out of the door to bring his father home.
Gradually he became aware of the camera grinding behind him, of the darkened room, the old and flickering film before him. His dad had not suffered a scratch. Like the soldier climbing out of the burning wreckage of the jeep, he had lived. He had lived.
The film went on. Even with his eyes closed, he could see the pattern of light and dark, the changing of scenes. It still seemed strange to sit in a movie with a bunch of guys—without a girl. What, he wondered, will the girl I hope to find one day and marry—what will she look like? It didn’t really seem to matter any more how she looked, the way it used to. Whether she was a blonde, brunette or a redhead didn’t matter, as long as she was truly feminine. And she’s got to be real. Not a sophisticated girl pretending to be something she isn’t. That’s not what I want.
Will I ever find her? he wondered. Will I ever find the kind of girl I want? Opening his eyes, he saw “The End” flash by as lights came on sharply, blindingly. He blinked and tried to smile. I’ll know her when I see her, he told himself. I’ll know her if she’s two blocks away. Then he smiled. After all, the Army says my vision’s twenty-twenty!
Patiently, he joined the slow line of soldiers leaving the auditorium. It was noon. A few more minutes and he’d be in the car with his buddies, heading home to one of Grandma’s pick-up Saturday lunches. The chow in the mess hall wasn’t bad, but he knew he was lucky not to have to eat it three times a day, lucky to be able to eat breakfast and dinner at home.
When he got to the Caddy, Red was already there, his gangly length leaning against the front bumper. “Exercise, that’s what I need, man,” he said. “Those pushups barely warm me up!”
Smiling, Elvis waved to three more GI’s approaching on the double. “Hey, everybody made it,” he said. “Let’s get this show on the road. I’m as hungry as a bear on the first day of spring!”
The house was quiet in the summer afternoon, its dark-red shutters on the second and third floors closed against the heat. The ones on the first floor were closed, too, but they were seldom open anyway. They were too much of a temptation to curious strangers who strolled by from time to time. He spotted the white sports car, its black leather upholstery gleaming, standing in the driveway just inside the gates. Dad’s home, he thought, as he parked the sedan at the curb and led his guests up to the side door. Although there was a front entrance, nobody except strangers ever used it.
“Stow your gear upstairs,” he said. “You an put it in my room, and we’ll sort it out later.”
The four bedrooms in the house were all occupied. He had one to himself, and Dad and Grandma each had a room. The fourth was shared by Lamar and Bobby. But the fact that they had no guest rooms didn’t bother anybody. Whenever he had guests, he always knew that somehow they’d find a place for everybody to sleep. And if there were lines in front of the two bathrooms in the mornings, he didn’t mind that, either. He knew how much his GI pals, lonely and far from home, appreciated just being in a real house, with a family and home cooking. They weren’t looking for luxury, and hospitality to him and Dad—and to Mom—had never been a matter of the size of their house or the number of its rooms.
When he’d changed into slacks, a bright red shirt and a snappy blue jacket, he headed for the kitchen. Sandwich makings were already on the table, along with a big pitcher of milk and a pot of coffee. The refrigerator bulged with ice cream and soft drinks. Helping himself to bread and ham, he added a thick covering of sauerkraut. He topped off the sandwich with a huge bowl of ice cream, dripping with hot-chocolate sauce, and then, sighing contentedly, he went into the living room.
“Come on, El,” Red urged, song.”
He picked up his guitar, strumming it briefly, and then started to put it down again. “Aw, come on,” he said. “It’s too nice a day to stay inside. Let’s go out and toss a baseball around a little.” He peered through the shutters. “Nobody around.”
“Better let the boys go first,” his father suggested quietly.
He turned back to his guitar while the four soldiers trotted outside into the street, where they began a leisurely game.
Bobby followed them out and looked carefully around. Traffic was lighter than usual for a Saturday afternoon. A few people strolled by, but that was all. “Okay, El, the coast looks clear.”
Elvis propped his guitar against the wall, ambled out the door and into the street. He had only caught the ball once, when several small boys appeared from nowhere, armed with the usual pencils. Tossing the ball to Red, Elvis obligingly signed his name. But the strollers were increasing, too, from two or three to what was rapidly becoming a crowd. “Elvis,” they called. “Hello, Elvis!”
Smiling, he waved briefly, then disappeared into the house again.
For a few minutes, the others continued to throw the ball back and forth. Then, as the crowd thinned out and the street began to look normal once again, the boys followed him inside.
“It’s a shame,” Red said. even have a little ball game.”
“Nothing to get shook up about,” he grinned and, picking up his guitar again, sank down into a chair. “There’re so many good things in my life . . . I’ve learned a lot about them this past year,” he said, and, as his eyes moved from the photograph of his mother, coming to rest on Dad, he added: “And they’re more important than a ball game.”
PARAMOUNT HAS REISSUED “LOVING YOU” AND “KING CREOLE” SO YOU CAN SEE THEM AGAIN, AND RCA VICTOR’S THE KING’S RECORD LABEL.
It is a quote. PHOTOPLAY MAGAZINE MAY 1956