Polly Hines Shaner was not one to back down from a challenge. It was part of her energy and it was a part of her spirit. My mom was such an endearing and warm-hearted human. She loved everybody and everybody loved her. She had 17 grandchildren. And if you asked any one of those grand-children they would have told you, that without a doubt, THEY were in fact, their grandmothers favorite grandchild! She just made everybody feel that way. She had many friends from the neighborhood and her church and all of them would have said the same thing, “I think I’m Polly’s best friend.”
Polly had a lot of younger friends, with varying degrees of years younger, that she considered to be “like my own child” or even “like my own grandchild.” One such young man was my first cousin Billy Hines. Billy was my mothers nephew, but they were only four years apart in age. Mom and Billy grew up together more like brother and sister than aunt and nephew. They tormented and pranked each other constantly, yet loved each other fiercely. God save the outsider from one of them, who hurt or insulted the other.
My mother loved music, especially from the crooners. Elvis, Patsy Cline, and Jim Reeves were among her favorites. She would often sit in a chair or curled up on the couch listening to LP albums of “her music.” I guess that’s where I got my love for music.
It was mid-fall of 1956. My father had been discharged from his U. S. Naval enlistment for several months now and was home in Peoria, Illinois with my mom, my older brother, me, and my newly born sister. Peoria was a gritty blue-collar town with most of the working men employed at the Caterpillar Tractor assembly plant. My Dad was not one of the “Caterpillar Creeps.” Times were tough, and my father was very under-employed to say the least. He worked at a couple of low paying jobs, (even for the late 50’s) but for a man with a wife and three children under the age of four he was struggling to keep his head above water on so many fronts. At the time my dad was 24 and my mom was just barely 22 years old.
My parents, siblings, me, and my cousin Billy made a trip to Memphis for my dad to visit the Navy Base where he negotiated a re-entry back into the Navy without a pay and rank cut from his previous service time. While they were in town, my mom wanted to go by the home where Elvis Presley lived to see if she could see the dark-haired crooner. After some pleading my dad turned the car around and headed to see Elvis. As my father’s car pulled down what is now known as Elvis Presley Blvd., in what is now a run-down section of Memphis, known now as Whitehaven, my mother’s eyes lit up because in her mind she KNEW she was about to meet Elvis!
As they arrived all the “lesser-fan-girls” were gathered around the heavily secured fence that led up to the front door of the Old Graceland. Mom was verbalizing out loud that she thought she could climb the fence and get to the front door before any of the security guards could catch her. My Cousin Billy couldn’t resist and challenged her, you might say he even “double-dogged dared” her to do so! As my mother’s lips tightened, and her eyes squinted at him, you could almost hear her body language pick up the gauntlet and say, “challenge accepted” as she handed my dad the baby!
Mom got out of the car and perused the landscape. The only security element there seemed to be was a fence that was a rod-ironed design that no adults could slip through. The barrier was high, but not a solid wall, so it gave a good view of the mansion. The front lawn was studded with a variety of trees that glistened with colorful fall hues as the sun shone through the leaves. As she started her ascent over the fence, she told my cousin and Dad that she that if she could climb over the fence without being noticed she thought she could dart between the trees and hide behind them, one at a time, so as not to be seen by the security and body guards. And she did just that! In a matter of seconds, she had darted all the way across the lawn to the door and began knocking anxiously as she looked back smiling at my cousin Billy who stood there with his mouth opened in shock!
About as fast as she turned around to re-knock on the door, it suddenly opened surprising everybody watching her, but especially my mom! But NOBODY, I mean nobody expected what came next. Elvis, THE KING of Rock and Roll, the man himself. Elvis Presley answered the door! Elvis spoke with that same golden tone she had heard so many times in those talking sections of so many of his songs, he looked down at my mothers 4'11" stature and said, "Yes, can I help you"
“I came to see Elvis,” she blurted out!
At first, Elvis looked down and said, I’m sorry, you're not supposed to be here and you’ll need to go back… but then said, “What’s your name?”
My mother was almost never at a loss for words. Between that and her hyper-ventilating she managed to quickly squeak out, “My name’s Polly. I’m here with my family, and my nephew bet me I wouldn’t come and knock on your door!”
“What’s your nephew’s name?
Still speaking quickly and short of breath she said, "He’s Billy, and he’s the one down at that car" as she pointed behind her. As they both looked in that direction my cousin Billy was standing on top of the car to catch a glimpse of what was going on. His mouth was a gaped with his hands on top of his head, as if he was holding it to keep from exploding!
“Come on, let’s go see Billy.” Elvis stuck out his elbow, my mom cradled her hand in the crook of his elbow, between his forearm and bicep as they turned towards the car.
As they approached the gate my mom told Elvis she wanted his autograph. When they arrived my dad had a pen, but they couldn’t seem to find anything to write on, so my mom said, “Here’s a photo of my baby, (Brenda) just write it on the back.” As he completed the signature, he handed the pen and photo back to my dad, and then the “ground moved” when Elvis reached down and kissed my mother on the cheek!
Elvis was pulled back by a host of security guards that had followed them down the driveway. Everybody applauded at the sight and actions of Elvis. Many of the other girls hanging on the fence just stared in silence. As Elvis was led away he turned back to my mom, waved, smiled, winked and said, "Don't do this again!" Then he turned back toward Graceland, walked back to the house and through the front door.
My mom - She was the one! She was the spunky, “don’t you dare me to do anything unless you want me to do it,” kind of fun mom everybody would be lucky to have! She was the one who knocked on the door of Elvis. She was the one who was kissed by Elvis. Aaron. Presley!
My mother passed away in 2000 at the age of 65. She told this story for the rest of her life and will forever more be told in the annals of our family history.
Steve Shaner is a professional story teller that delights in traveling to meet new and old friends. He can be contacted at email@example.com.