That Elvis Song

My dad pulled into the driveway after a day of working on air-conditioners.

He didn’t turn the truck off because there was a song on the radio that he was listening to.

He hadn’t said a word for the last several minutes. But for the moment, he was listening only to the radio.

It was an Elvis song.

I can’t say that he was a particular Elvis fan, but I think he liked him.

As the truck rolled to a full stop, Elvis was not yet finished. So, dad put the truck in park and left the engine running. He wanted to hear the last of the song.

And then I noticed something different.

Tears were rolling down his face.

I’d always known that my dad was emotional. He could watch an old war movie and remember something from his past and tears would roll down his face.

He could speak to an AA meeting and recall the details of some terrible event or story in his lifetime and tears would come.

We sat there, engine running, and Elvis singing.

As the snow flies
On a cold and gray Chicago mornin’
A poor little baby child is born
In the ghetto (in the ghetto)

And his mama cries
‘Cause if there’s one thing that she don’t need
It’s another hungry mouth to feed
In the ghetto (in the ghetto)

Well, the world turns
And a hungry little boy with a runny nose
Plays in the street as the cold wind blows
In the ghetto (in the ghetto)

And his hunger burns
So he starts to roam the streets at night
And he learns how to steal, and he learns how to fight
In the ghetto (in the ghetto)

Then one night in desperation
The young man breaks away
He buys a gun, he steals a car
He tries to run, but he don’t get far
And his mama cries

As a crowd gathers ’round an angry young man
Face down on the street with a gun in his hand
In the ghetto (in the ghetto)

And as her young man dies (in the ghetto)
On a cold and gray Chicago mornin’
Another little baby child is born
In the ghetto (in the ghetto)

And his mama cries …

Dad didn’t grow up in a ghetto.

But he did grow up financially destitute.

And poor even.

I’m not even sure what his dad did for a living. He may have been a farmer. I do know that dad started drinking at around 10 years old. He learned the craft from an old guy that lived next door who made his own moonshine.

Which was probably cool to a 10-year-old.

He managed to continue the art of drinking for the next 30 or so years.

Maybe that’s why the song was so emotional to him. Maybe he saw himself in that little boy that Elvis sang to us about.

Just another nameless kid growing up in a place with no chance of breaking out of the cycle.

My dad was the quintessential red-headed-step-child.

With few opportunities for success in Choctaw County, Alabama.

Maybe he saw his own mother crying. Severe poverty. No father for her firstborn.

I don’t know.

I just know that the sappy song made him tear up there in our driveway one hot summer afternoon.

And I’m glad.

News Reporter

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