Let's go back to around 1956. My father-in-law is sick with cancer and the VA asked if they could send him to the Memphis, Tennessee VA and do some research on his particular type of cancer. He said yes and away he went with no delay.
During this time, the Kennedy VA in Memphis was the largest VA hospital in the United States. The name had nothing to do with President Kennedy. This was a one-story building that covered the biggest area I had ever seen for one building. I never covered it all but we covered a lot of it. The family took turns staying with Mr. Tom because he was very sick.
I had a brand new — or almost brand new — 1955 Chevrolet and it stayed on the road a lot during those days. I very well remember the roads because this was about the same time they started putting the white stripe on the outside of the two-lane highways; all roads were two lanes during this time. We marveled at how a good person could see and how it kept us from running off the roads.
The trip was long and tedious as we drove to and from home to Memphis at least once a week. Now, I will get to more of the story.
A lot of my kinfolks were sitting there the day Elvis came to get his physical for the Army. He didn't come with a group of guys; he came with his girlfriend in a Cadillac convertible and took his physical.
I wasn't there that day and when they told me about it I was just a little envious. You see, Elvis and I were in about the same age group and in just a few days I would be taking my physical too. The hospital was easy to get to; we didn't have to go into the town of Memphis at all.
On and off during the writing of this article, I will be mentioning money, and even to this day, I compare all wages and prices to cotton mill wages. In 1956 an hour-wage employee of cotton mill earned about $50 a week and a supervisor earned from $62 dollars to $70 a week.
When Elvis took his physical he had purchased a ranch-style brick home in Sherwood Forest. Sherwood Forest was a new and nice neighborhood not too far from Kennedy Hospital. They said Elvis paid cash for the house which was probably around $30,000.
I know of a house in Tallassee that reminds me of Elvis' new home. I think it was less than $20,000 when it was built on the man's property. His neighbors were the highfalutin kind and I'll tell you more about them later.
There was a man in our hometown who had a daughter who married a boy from Memphis. This boy or young man was Tom Cobb, a handsome young man that worked for the Memphis Fire Department. Years later I heard Tom had made it all the way to chief over the Memphis Fire Department.
Let's get back to our story.
This man in Tallassee asked if he could ride with us on some of our trips which would enable him to visit his daughter and Tom. We would go to Kennedy Hospital; Tom would be waiting there to pick up his father-in-law.
Tom and I got to be good friends and would go out for coffee and burgers. We would sit and talk and he would show me around to different places. On one trip to Memphis Tom's father-in-law asked if Tom had ever mentioned being good friends with Elvis.
Now let me tell you this right here and now, anybody who had ever lived in Tupelo, Mississippi or Memphis, Tennessee was a close friend of Elvis. So, I said sure he is.
"No, I'm serious," the father-in-law came back, "and when he picks me up I'll prove it."
When we got to Kennedy Hospital, Tom was waiting.
Just before they started to leave for Tom's house I spoke up and said, "Tom, your father-in-law says you know Elvis and you buddy around together.” Tom said, "Yes, Elvis is my friend but we don't buddy around much because Elvis is so busy." I laughed and said, "Prove it."
The next day Tom came by the hospital and said, “Let's go.” “Go where,” I asked. “To see Elvis,” he said. We got into my car and he gave directions. Soon we came to this house and it had a wrought-iron fence around it. I had a baby sister — she was probably 13 — and she said bring me back a souvenir. We pulled up to the front gate and Tom got out and spoke to the yardman, guard combination. The yardman spoke first, "Hi Tom." Tom spoke back, "Is Elvis around anywhere?" "Naw, he ain't, Tom. He is in Hollywood talking about some picture." Tom thanked him and the yardman said, "Mrs. Presley is home and she won't like it if you don't say hello."
We went in and she greeted Tom as if he was one of her own. "How are things going?" Tom asked. Mrs. Presley said, "I don't know, Tom, I don't like it here, my nextdoor neighbor has made a few remarks about me having a clothesline in the backyard." Tom said, "Have you told Elvis?" Her answer was, "I will when he gets home."
We didn't stay long and as we left I thought about my sister, Dale. I reached down and pulled up a handful of Elvis' grass; Dale was tickled.
I missed Elvis twice — once when he took his physical and again at his home in Sherwood Forest. His mama must have told him because he then bought Graceland for $100,000 in cash. Over half the houses around nowadays cost that much.
Ronald Brantley is a Tallassee native and longtime weekly columnist for The Tribune.