story by Shere Chamness
Place Winner in Fiction Category, Denver Woman’s Press Club In-House Writer’s
the same time Elvis Presley was drafted and sent to Fort
Hood, I was sixty miles away, imprisoned in my fourth body cast, a chunk of
plaster that held me immobile from armpits to toes. I was eight years old, spending
the summer of 1958 with my grandparents. They ran the Blazilmar
Hotel and coffee shop in Taylor,
| My grandmother
Eureka always had a yearning for celebrity. Barely five feet tall with haunting
blue eyes and wavy black hair, she was a living doll. Her ample bosom inspired
comment long before the era of silicon. Almost thirty years before, she’d traveled
all the way to Hollywood to land a bit part in a silent film. From then on, she
felt qualified to add the words “movie star” after her name.|
By the time
I was born, her dreams of glory and fame had not faded one bit. When x-rays revealed
deformities in my hip bones, she conceived her most ambitious scheme of all for
becoming a celebrity: she would create “The Eureka Foundation,” to educate doctors
about how x-rays could reveal birth defects.
Ignoring the fact that most
doctors believed x-rays might actually endanger babies, Eureka embraced her mission
with zeal. She had business cards and brochures printed, wrote press releases
for newspapers and gave speeches at local clubs. Next to every cash register in
town stood a mayonnaise jar with a photo of me in one of my various body casts,
and a plea for spare change.
My grandmother had a natural talent for
public relations and marketing. She instructed the hotel janitor to weld a special
cart so I could be rolled all over Taylor,
cast and all. Even though I was lying flat on my back, legs splayed wide in an
“A” shape, I went to movies, church and even did a little shopping at the five
and dime. Every time we went out, fresh money jingled in mayonnaise jars all over
When Eureka learned that Elvis Presley was stationed just an hour’s
drive from Taylor, she touched
up her gray roots, polished her nails, packed up the promotional materials, and
hit the road.
light-years from our story, a "Vegas" Elvis mural appears on a Robstown,
Texas Ice Cream Shop. 2003 TE Photo|
King’s generosity was legendary. Everyone knew the story of the waitress who’d
received a Cadillac from Elvis because her mother was sick with cancer or something.
My grandmother thought she’d hit the jackpot in Fort
Hood, when Elvis himself walked into the visitor’s room. She whipped out a
full-page Houston newspaper article
about her cause. She described the excruciating pain her poor little grandchild
was suffering. She spoke of thousands of children her foundation could rescue.
Did a tear fall from one of the King’s blue eyes? If so, he wiped it
away quickly because his commanding officer came in to fetch the famous recruit
back to the exercise field. Eureka, always quick to see an opportunity, pulled
out a business card and invited the whole unit to drop by her coffee shop for
free homemade pies next time they were in the neighborhood.
thanked her kindly and turned away, but it was too late: Eureka had gotten a death
hold on his wrist. You wouldn’t know it to look at her, but that woman was strong.
“You’ll come? You promise?” she asked, smiling with the full force of her
huge blue eyes. Now what sergeant in the world can say no to a blue-eyed grandmother
with an iron grip on his arm?
“Well, ma’am, it’s a little out of our
way...” he began.
Her big eyes filled with tears. “It would mean the
world to my little granddaughter,” she said, holding up the photo of me in the
He relented. “Well,” he said, “maybe when we’re out that
way on maneuvers sometime, we could drop by...” He was thinking about the homemade
So was Eureka. “I’ll need to know what day you’re coming so we
can bake extra pies,” she said. “What’s your favorite, Lieutenant?’
Sergeant, and I sure am partial to coconut cream,” he told her.
my favorite too!” she said, “with loads of meringue –
“ –and toasted
coconut on top,” he finished, his mouth watering at the thought.
will you be coming then?” she asked, pulling out a notepad and ballpoint pen with
her free hand. “I’ll have my girl bake a special pie just for you... with extra
coconut!” She winked at him.
He thought for a minute. “How about next
Thursday... the 29th?” he asked.
“What time?” she asked.
TIME?” he repeated. “Jeeze lady, now you want a time?’
“Don’t you boys
have a reputation for military precision? That’s what I’ve always heard...’
“Okay, okay! Between 1400 hours – I mean between 2 and 3 p.m.,” he answered,
“now that’s as close as I can say.’
“Wonderful,” she said, eyes twinkling.
“I’ll have lots of iced tea ready. Now, don’t you forget!” She let go of his wrist.
He rubbed his hand to get the circulation going again; he was pretty sure he wouldn’t
so at 2:00 p.m. most of Taylor’s residents had assembled in the coffee shop to
meet the King of Rock and Roll. Even the bank closed early. Nervous conversation
reverberated against the ornamental tin ceiling, making my eardrums ache. The
hanging wooden fans were turned up to “high,” but everyone sweltered in anticipation.
Teenaged girls in tight sundresses had spent the last 24 hours getting ready,
but still they applied fresh lipstick every few minutes, checking their faces
in compact mirrors.
Not one of the pies had been touched; these were
reserved for “our boys,” as people had begun to call the expected soldiers. The
room throbbed like a huge beehive.
I had been given a place of honor
near the door. Dressed in my Sunday clothes, hair freshly washed and curled, I
waited for the King. Next to me on the table, Eureka had placed a clean industrial-sized
mayonnaise jar with my picture on the front. Around that she had arrayed business
cards, brochures and the Houston newspaper article.
The jukebox was
stocked with every song Elvis had ever recorded. A kitchen helper, entrusted with
several rolls of nickels, was given explicit instructions to keep Elvis tunes
playing. “Love Me Tender” came on, and the teenaged girls moaned in happy anticipation.
2:15 p.m. a couple of yellow buses drove up, full of sweating men in uniform.
They piled out and swarmed into our little coffee shop, which exploded in a flurry
of noise and excitement. As the soldiers paraded by my cart, I looked from crewcut
to crewcut. They all looked exactly alike! How would I recognize the King? Overcome
with panic, my heart beating a hundred miles an hour, I tried to smile and reply
to each soldier as he passed. But it was like being inside a whirling tornado
of bodies and faces.
Sympathetic eyes peered at me from all directions.
Benevolent hands patted my head; and several soldiers at a time signed my cast,
wishing me good luck before they headed for a glass of iced tea and slice of pie.
Flat on my back, I couldn’t see if the King was in the crowd. Some of the girls
were jitterbugging with soldiers in the small space. People were bumping my plaster-encased
legs. Over the roar I heard: “...don’t be cruel to a heart that’s true...” I wanted
The song changed to “Teddy Bear” when the last soldier in line
leaned over and kissed me on the forehead.
“You’ll be up dancin’ yourself
before you know it,” he told me, “You’re gonna do great.”
I looked up
in surprise. All the others had drifted off to eat pie and party with the townsfolk.
This soldier squatted down beside my head and offered me a stick of gum.
“Thanks,” I said. He leaned close, to be heard over the din.
much longer are you stuck in this thing?”
“The rest of the summer.”
“Tough luck, kid. No swimmin’ this year. But in September you’ll be – what,
in third grade?’
“Fourth,” I corrected. “And I’ll be in a brand new
“Brand new? Is that so? You got a boyfriend?”
“No,” I said sadly, “he broke up with me when I had the operation.”
He shook his head. “Well, don’t worry about that – you’ll meet somebody better
It had never occurred to me to think there was “somebody
better.” I thought a crippled kid like myself was doing good to have any boyfriend
“Tell you what,” he said, “How about I’ll be your boyfriend until
you find someone better?”
I looked up at his dark friendly eyes. I was
“But you can’t be my boyfriend. You’re a grownup.”
“Shows how much you know,” he popped his gum, “it’s just until the right guy shows
“But you’re in the Army,” I argued, “how could we go get Cokes
He laughed. “You got me there, kid. Tell you what. I’ll
send you money for the movies and you can invite your best friend. You can go
to movies, right?... in your wagon here?”
“Sure,” I said, “but I have
to stay in the aisle.”
“Okay then,” he said, “I’ll send you some money
for movies and Cokes, and you take one of your friends to substitute for me. How’s
“Substitute?” I repeated.
“You know what that is?”
“Sure I do,” I had a big dictionary in my room, and would look it up
right after the party.
“Well then, as your boyfriend, I’ll send you postcards
from wherever we’re stationed. We’re supposed to go to Germany this fall.”
“I can write letters,” I told him. “I write to my mother all the time.”
“That’s good,” he said, “So while I’m over in Germany, I’ll have your letters
to look forward to.” He picked up a couple of the business cards. Turning one
over, he wrote something on the back and handed it to me.
me at this address, kid. I’ll get it no matter where they send me. Can I send
your postcards here, to this hotel?”
“Well, sure – until I get the cast
off. Then I guess I’ll be at the Scottish Rite.”
“My hospital in Dallas. I’m going
back in August for physical therapy.”
huh? That’s where my mother lives. Maybe I’ll stop by.”
“Okay.” I looked
at the card. His name was William.
“Nice to meet you, William,” I told
He kissed me again on the forehead. “Thank you, sweetheart.
Now, take care. You’ll be dancin’ again before you know it.” And he was gone.
He didn’t even get a piece of pie.
the buses rolled away and the crowd disappeared, my grandmother bustled over to
look at the mayonnaise jar. It was crammed with folded green bills. Eureka’s face
was bright with excitement.
“Wasn’t that grand? Right here in our own
coffee shop! What did he say to you, honey?”
“He said he’d be my temporary
boyfriend and he’d come see me in Dallas.”
She set the mayonnaise jar
down and gave me a piercing stare. “He said what?”
I repeated more slowly,
“He said he’d be my boyfriend and come to see me in Dallas when I get the cast
off. And I can write letters to him. Look – he gave me his address.”
She frowned at the card, then tossed it back. I grabbed it.
said, “not that guy. What did Elvis say to you?”
“Elvis? I didn’t see
him. Was he here?”
“My lands, child! Who do you think the whole town
came to see?”
“I didn’t see him.”
“Look right here,” she said,
pointing at the side of my knee. “He signed your cast.”
to look, but the angle was impossible. “What does it say?”
‘May God bless you. – Elvis Presley.’ ”
Several of the waitresses
came over to look. “Wow!” said one, “Can I have that cast?”
say not!” replied my grandmother, “I’m going to have it made into a lamp stand.”
The vision of my body cast topped by a scalloped shade with tassels
– in somebody’s living room – made me laugh so hard I got the hiccups. I couldn’t
wait to write William about this.
August, back in the hospital, my treasured cigar box contained twelve shiny postcards
from William. I had written him three letters – each one almost a whole page long,
detailing my 8-year-old worldview.
When the cast came off, as it turned
out, nobody got it. They wouldn’t allow Eureka to have the smelly thing.
“But it’s a keepsake... a collector’s item,” she argued. Nonetheless, the
orderly sawed right through the King’s precious autograph, splintering it into
I threw myself into physical therapy with a passion I’d never
known before. Someday, I was going to learn to jitterbug! Maybe I’d even get to
dance with William.
One afternoon when all the kids on the ward were
supposed to be sleeping, I was awake, quietly reading a movie magazine. A nurse
tiptoed in to say I had a visitor. “He’s out in the hall. His name is William.”
She lowered the safety rail and handed me a robe. Aided by crutches, I walked
shakily into the hall, my smile so big it almost split my cheekbones.
“Hey, look at you now!” he said, “Walkin’ good as new.”
in the afternoon sun, wearing his dress uniform, he was the brightest star in
my little universe. He handed me a pack of gum, and I took it eagerly.
Some things are more important than celebrity.
2004 Shere Chamness
shoe horses, don't they?" September 2, 2007 Guest Column
Blazilmar Hotel Story
Dear TE, My grandparents (Paul and Eureka Ferguson) managed the Blazilmar hotel
in Taylor, Texas, in the late 1950s
and I spent several summers there. I well remember James the elevator man and
even helped as his special assistant sometimes when he was busy with some chore
my grandmother thought up. He taught me how to ease the lever down to stop exactly
even with the floor so the guest doesn't trip.
Your reminiscence page
brought back such a flood of old memories it makes me eager to write an article
for your magazine. Meanwhile, [here is] my 2004 short story, set in 1958 at the
"Waiting for Elvis" is fiction, but based on actual events. It won second place
in the Denver Woman's Press Club ---- In-House Writer's Contest in 2005! - Shere
Chamness, August 22, 2007