Elvis or Bust.


Juju sat patiently waiting on the living room floor of her house.  It was December 24, 1977, her sixteenth birthday.  She knew she was spoiled beyond belief and didn’t need a thing, but the girl had some “wants.”  Juju wanted new Levi’s, an 8-track carrying case, and a new pair of softball cleats.  The two boxes  under the tree with her name attached clearly were big enough to house the things on her list.  Juju’s mother was finishing up in the kitchen, then the big reveal was going to take place.

Juju’s mother had been very excited and anxious for her to see the two gifts.  She seemed quite proud of herself and this made Juju all the more crazy to rip into them!  Sweet Sixteen is different for a girl, Jewel had told her.  You are turning into a woman and soon you will be heading off to college.  All the more reason to need the extra-large tape case Juju had circled for her mother in the Edison’s Gift Catalog.  Had she not seen it opened to the page where Juju had left it…..on her bed pillow??  The case would protect the tapes that Juju would surely have long into the 1980s.

Juju was rock solid in her belief that one of the boxes had the softball cleats inside.  She had gone to Sears with her mother on two occasions, pointing out the exact pair she desired.  Juju told her mother to go down one size because the shoes were in the boys section.  The shoes had rubber cleats and they matched the colors of her softball team uniform perfectly.  Juju imagined how cool she was going to look the following Spring as she played first base for the Fort Worth Chargers.  Maybe Jewel was excited because she had thrown in a pair of Levi 501s in the box with the cleats!!??

Juju had all her favorite 8-tracks stacked on her bedroom dresser in anticipation of the carrying case and complete organization…disco on one side, rock on the other…in alphebetical order!!  Juju was singing along to the John Denver Christmas Special when Jewel came into the room and sat in her chair.  This was it, this was the big moment!  Jewel motioned for Juju to grab the two boxes which Juju did in quick order.

“Today is your birthday Juju, so start with the one with the birthday card stuck to it.” her mother stated.     The card would be read later, Juju tore into the box as paper flew over her head in pieces!  Then….stunned silence.  What is that? Juju asked.  “Pick it up” Jewel said, “isn’t it gorgeous?”  Juju held in her hand a tan cloth and crocheted purse.  PURSE?!!??  Is this a purse because only about four 8-tracks can fit into this!??  Did I open the wrong box!??!!

Jewel started to frown and sighed loudly.  Juju you need to start carrying a purse to carry your stuff, a compact, some powder, a hair brush, and your car keys.  Some powder?!!  Car keys fit real good in the front pocket of a new pair of Levi’s!!  “Maybe people will stop calling you a tomboy if you try a little Juju.”

Juju forced a smile and said she would carry the purse, “on occasion” …thanking her mother she scooted the purse off to the side.  Surely the second box would more than make up for the purse.  The box was BIG and heavy….big enough for the 8-track carrying case, jeans, and cleats.  Good old Jewel…it would be just like her to set Juju up with a “gag” gift, then deliver all the goods in the second box!

Smashing into the second box from the top, Juju looked down the opening to see the top of a black pompadour!  “Be careful Juju! That is a collector’s item.”  Juju reached in and pulled out a fifteen pound sculpture.  A bust of Elvis Presley, painted in day glow colors. (Imagine Elvis on black felt, …but classier)

Jewel told her daughter that she knew she had always loved him, and with him dying four months earlier she knew Juju would want something to remember the King in her bedroom.  Jewel was so happy to see Juju with the bust.  Juju feigned delight and hugged her mother tightly, thanking her for the thoughtful gift.  “I know you have watched all his movies and had a crush on him…I knew it!” Jewel said.

Juju collected her gifts and walked back to her bedroom.  Neatly re-stacking the 8-tracks in their place beside her stereo system.  She sat on her bed and examined the purse.  It was sweet of her mother to buy her a gift, but there was a lot of meaning behind the gift that was not lost on Juju. She was sixteen now and Jewel was clearly longing for something different from Juju was exhibiting to her on a daily basis.  The purse was one last attempt to see if Juju was the image in Jewel’s head or the girl seated on the bed wearing the Chuck Taylors.  One day soon Juju would let Jewel know the battle was long over, but until then she would make a show of it and walk the purse to the car a couple of times to appease her thoughtful mother.  By February the purse would disappear to the back corner of Juju’s closet, beside the brand new electric curler set.

The Elvis head with the bright orange scarf wrapped around his neck was a whole other story.  That gawd-awful thing would have to sit on Juju’s dresser for the better part of 1978. Juju never had the heart to tell Jewel that she loved, truly loved Viva Las Vegas as a result of a crush…but it had been on Ann Margaret and not the King of Rock & Roll.  Juju turned the bust into a perfect use…Elvis proudly wore her Charger’s softball cap…the team color of orange coordinating perfectly with the scarf.

In a perfect world Jewel would have had a young woman who loved purses and pined for Elvis.  In the real world of the late 1970s, she had a baby dyke that danced privately in her room wearing high tops and jammed to the Beatles.

The Christmas gifts we receive each year not only reflect the giver, but they reflect what the giver sees in us…what they want to see us enjoy.  It is a piece of them in that box, their delight in picking out just the right gift.  It is their hope they wrap up, hoping to see the magic of Christmas light in our faces when we first see their offering.

So remember that when you unwrap the purple socks from Aunt Harriet this Christmas morning or the XXL Snuggie from your mother-in-law.  Show delight and thankfulness no matter how shocked you are in what is in the box before you.  The gift to the giver is written all over your face….make it a happy script.

I know my mother saw disappointment when I held up that purse.  But I think I made up for it with my acting job on the second package.  The following year my mother gave me an orange skateboard and some Levi jeans….I gave her a dust buster.

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One response to “Elvis or Bust.

  1. You have a wonderful heart Julya! Thank you for sharing these moments…
    and the smiles they bring!

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