Graceland, December 20th, 1957
Elvis has made his wishes clear: every decoration on the white plastic Christmas tree should be red. Reaching almost to the ceiling, the tree’s stiff branches burst forward into the dining room like stars. Gladys sits beside it, surrounded by boxes of baubles and tinsel, searching for old things to match the new.
Her son is still in bed, and the house is quiet. She’s determined to wait for him to rise before dressing the tree, so they can do it together, but has decided it won’t hurt to select a few items before he appears. She’s been sitting for almost an hour now, letting the late morning sun warm the side of her face as she picks through the ornaments. She’s put aside a pile of red things Elvis bought last year for the Audubon Drive house – glass stars, glittering snowflakes, miniature Santas, striped stockings and candy canes – and has given herself over to the examination of the angel he made from a clothespin and shiny paper in elementary school. The wings are a little ripped and the face he’d painted has faded to a couple of vague splotches. That angel moved with their family from Tupelo to Memphis, and has been displayed in more homes than she can count, from two-roomed duplexes to rooming houses to public housing to private apartments. Last year Elvis wouldn’t let her put it at the top of the tree because, he said, it would ruin the photographs taken of the Presley family Christmas for the newspapers. Gladys straightens the wings with a flattened hand, tidies the four strands of yellow wool that make the angel’s hair, and struggles to her aching feet. Then she buries it deep inside the needles at the back of the tree. This year she will refuse to leave it in the box.