It was a dark and stormy night . . .
Well, it was supposed to be, but it wasn’t . . . but it nearly was.
Actually, aren’t all nights dark? All we need to determine is if it was stormy, which it wasn’t, but it was suppose to be icy, and it almost was . . .
This Christmas letter involves two such nights, two Elvises, and two Books of Mormon, as well as the usual boasting about family accomplishments.
Shelby’s dad organized a group to go and see an Elvis impersonator in Roanoke Rapids, at a gigantic theater off I-95 on the NC/VA border. The town fathers had hoped to create a Branson Missouri Dollywood there. They even hired Dolly’s brother to run the place, which it turns out would have been akin to voting for Billy, not Jimmy, Carter for President. On the night in question, the temperature was hovering around freezing and we were looking at a two hour drive each way.
Felix and Brenda (Shelby’s parents) had heard Keith Henderson near where they live in Clarksville, Virginia, so when Felix found out he was playing in the area again he arranged for balcony box seating for our group. Felix is the consummate golf outing organizer, so this was an easy extension of his skills in that department.
There are two acceptable comments one can make about Elvis impersonators: “He looks just like him,” and “He sounds just like him.”
When the show opened Keith explained he had traveled on this perilous night all the way from his home in Chapel Hill, which is exactly where we live. From our vantage point 200 feet away, he certainly looked like Elvis, and the guys standing beside me at the urinals during the intermission agreed he sounded like him too.
Having never seen an Elvis show in its entirety before I was not at all prepared. At one point Keith strode through the audience. He’d pick out a woman and sing to her, then he would take the silk scarf from around his neck, place it around hers, and give her a kiss on the cheek. He’d then move on to another lady and do the same thing.
It’s quite a sight to see women in their seventies, sporting hairdos they last wore in 1957, reacting to Elvis. Trailing behind Keith was an expressionless skinny man, holding many more scarves draped over his arm. He’d hand them over to Keith as needed.
After the show I knew I needed to get one of those red scarves. Hopefully, I would be able to sneak off to the souvenir stand without Brenda seeing me.
Then I went crazy, why stop at one scarf? Gimme three. One for my sis-in-law, Karen, and another for her mom, Maggie, both of whom would be in attendance on Christmas Day (2013). My idea was pretty vague at this point. I thought I’d sing a few bars of Blue Christmas, do the scarf bit and be done, but Shelby said I should get an Elvis costume. Obtaining an Elvis costume is like buying a Stetson hat, people then say get the boots, the belt buckle, the horse – it’s a slippery slope. I had no idea that there’s a whole industry devoted to Elvis paraphernalia. I settled on the heavy duty Viva Las Vegas suit; I must say if that is heavy duty I’d hate to try regular wear. In an online review, a woman said her husband had gotten this costume for one occasion. She went on knowing my husband, he’ll use it more than once. Yeah, now we’re talking. If you get the suit, you gotta get the wig, and the sunglasses – with attached sideburns.
I then had to learn all the words to Blue Christmas. Our nephews, Mitch and Tyler, visited us in Chapel Hill for a few days before Christmas so we recruited them to be the Jordanaires. (They were Elvis’ backup singers, whom Keith had the privilege to sing with after winning a nationwide sound-a-like contest, but you knew that right?)
Tyler was my scarf man and Mitch was on guitar. We had to instruct Mitch that the guitar playing was not like Metallica and that he and Tyler had to stand there expressionlessly. No giggling allowed.
Keith’s version of Blue Christmas had do-whops at the end of most lines, which the boys were to provide. Just before showtime, the boys decided to wear their Sunday suits – the perfect touch.
Twas the night before Christmas,
The poor kid was terrified. I haven’t seen that look of fear in a child’s eye since my kids were little and the local rescue squad would get one of their volunteers well lubricated, put him in a Santa suit and strap him to the back of their Hook and Ladder truck to cruise the neighborhood with siren blaring and lights flashing.
I had wanted to rehearse our routine a bit more with the boys before the big show, but Tyler said he knew it and therefore didn’t see a reason to practice any longer. (Yeah, well what about me?)
I learned, once again, why I wouldn’t make a good actor. I have a terrible time memorizing lines – even if they are short and rhyme. And singing? . . .
The next day I was asked to reprise my role, as we went to visit uncles and aunts. I did it without my backup do-whoppers. I brought the Elvis costume in a bag and I’d sneak to the bathroom and change.
Between the Christmas performance and those performances for the uncles and aunts, I couldn’t have expected better reviews:
“You sang most of the words.”
*Okay, no one said that to me. I stole it from an ad about American Idol, and Randy Jackson said the line, but it was too good to leave out.
** “Uh, sorry Tyler. I got nervous and rushed my line. If only we’d practiced more…
Enough about Elvis, now it’s time for family boasting. (I read somewhere this is the part that most people hate about Christmas letters. It was on that series of tubes – the Internet – so it must be true. But, in truth, I write this part for me, not you, so I have some idea of what I did for the past year.)
We bought a Prius. It replaced our 4WD beach vehicle, a built tough GMC Yukon, which was so rusted my mechanic wouldn’t let me drive it anymore. He said when he put it on the lift and looked at the chassis, he could poke his fingers straight through the “solid steel” I-beams. “One good pothole and the whole thing could have buckled.”
Shelby and I got season tickets to DPAC, the Durham Performing Arts Center. We did this so we could see Book of Mormon, which was the only guaranteed way to get tickets to that show. So we also had tickets to many of the Broadway shows touring that year: Evita, Once, American Idiot, The Wizard of Oz, etc. which brings us to the second big winter storm story.
We had tickets to see Book of Mormon on February 13th, a night that central North Carolina got a huge snow and ice storm. The governor declared a State of Emergency and said to stay off the roads. Folks who normally had 30 minute commutes were on the road for upwards of 7 hours. DPAC said they were going ahead with the show and if you couldn’t make it that was too bad, no refunds. If you want to know the true effect of social media, all you had to do was follow the ranting of customers on Facebook and Twitter that evening. Apparently, so many people said they were canceling their memberships and never coming to DPAC again that by 10 a.m. the next morning the theater’s management had reconsidered. They would refund your money or give you tickets to the 2015 showing of Book of Mormon. No problem.
In April, we traveled to Vermont to help with Katie’s 24-hour Hack-a-thon, that she helped organize at the local private school where she was mentoring kids in programming and math.
In May we sold our last remaining house at OBX, Sound Mind and Body, via an auction, and returned to New Hampshire for Katie’s defense of her PhD thesis. We got back in time to see a local Raleigh lady who was a semi-finalist on The Voice that year, Kat Robichaud, perform at The Lincoln Theater. *** (I only wish I’d known there was going to be a costume contest. Elvis would definitely have won the celebrity category.) We also went back to DPAC to see Julianne and Derek Hough and their dance troupe perform. Just watching them, we were exhausted.
In early June we traveled, once again, to the Dartmouth area to watch Katie receive her PhD – Dr. Kinnaird, the first in the family to do so!
Also, in June we began attending a series of events held at Fearrington Village, a mainly retirement community, up the street from us, where they invite in famous cookbook authors to talk about their latest book and we get to have a fabulous meal at Fearrington’s five star restaurant. For you foodies out there we dined this year with Michael Ruhlman, Gabrielle Hamilton and Ruth Reichl.
In July Mitch and Tyler spent a week with us and took a cooking class at Whisk in Cary where they learned how to make crepes. They also got a secret behind-the-scenes tour of La Farm Bakery from master baker Lionel Vatinet.
In August my brother Rob and his wife Deb stopped in on their way back from Louisiana. I went to D.C. to spend a weekend with my son, Alex.
In September, we went to the Outer Banks Bluegrass Festival and attended the American Kitefliers Convention there, as well. We got really excited when Shelby’s Virginia Tech Hokies beat Ohio State, their only loss of the season. This was going to be The Year. The Hokies were on their way! Then the rest of the season happened. She doesn’t want to talk about it. But next year . . .
This past November, Shelby’s best friend Wendy got us tickets to Book of Mormon in Richmond. So there DPAC – we saw it anyway. And we got to eat at Mike Isabella’s restaurant, Graffiato. (Mike was a contestant on Top Chef.)
Alex has left the turf grass management business, worked briefly as a mover, and has now found a home with Bartlett Tree, which fits well with his desire to be an active adventure sports person. He continues sky-diving.
I attended a Mayanist conference in nearby Davidson, NC, and have now arranged to go to Guatemala in February. We have put a contract on a house in Richmond, VA, and plan to move when our lease is up on this house in April.
But back to Mother’s Day. Shelby found a perfect card for Brenda for Mother’s Day. It featured a picture of Elvis on the front holding a mic. He was dressed in his Viva Las Vegas suit. She took a picture of me in my suit and pasted my face on top of his and gave the card to Mom.
We were in Richmond at the time. Claire saw the card.
Guess what she said?
“Ho ho ho.”
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