Mom bought red satin drawstring bags for us to take Benjamin’s ashes into Graceland. He was watching a movie called “Finding Graceland” when he died, and he liked Elvis enough to put him there. If Freddie Mercury had an estate to visit, that would have been better but Memphis was drivable and had mystique.
Before we got in the car, Mom and I rationed the ashes with a spoon into ziplocs first, and then the red bags for the finished look. It was surreal and horrifying to spoon it in without spilling him, and we broke the intensity with awkward jokes and light conversation. Thank goodness we had decorative bags to cover the story, but we didn’t know what to do with ourselves. We had picked out the bags at World Market the day before, and decided they were suitable. Small things to mark the biggest things our heart had ever had to face.
When we got to Graceland, we decided the best way to proceed was to go on the prescribed tour they offered to the public.. We filed in behind the Elvis fans clutching our red bags underneath purses and coats. I think it was January, so the layers we wore covered up any evidence of Benjamin, and we wandered into the Jungle Room. There was a man on an audio recording who was narrating Elvis tidbits as we shuffled along, and I knew my parents were looking to me to decide when we should scatter ourselves to scatter Benjamin. Graceland was much smaller than I thought it would be, and it seemed impossibly ordinary to have housed such a legend.
When we got to the backyard, they gave us free time. People wandered around near the gravesite, and there was a gazebo in the other corner of the yard. When I called earlier to ask, the management told me it was illegal to spread human ashes on the grounds. Benjamin would simply love we were premeditating something against the law on his behalf, so we all were secretly feeling thrilled along with our heartbreak.
There was a security guard in the corner of the yard, and I mostly had my eyes on him. We awkwardly fumbled with our bags and we surely looked lost and less Elvis focused than the others. At some point, this man whom I will never forget, locked eyes with me and softened his entire body. He turned around with ceremony and bowed his head and folded his hands behind his back with marked reverence. I looked at my parents with urgency and said “NOW.” We scattered his ashes in the yard, but it was completely different than the romantic toss you see in the movies. I spilled a little on my shoes, and some of the chunky bone fragments got stuck in the grass and on the stone walkway. I poured him out a little too fast, because I knew the man would turn around again soon. Nevertheless we scattered it all out somehow, and there was some release and completion in the motion of it all. Graceland had given us a very Benjamin style ceremony, and that sweet man had given our family space to break a rule and allow for levity.
That is what grace is. When something comes in the middle of the day to ease things a little, or someone shows up with an umbrella in the pouring rain. Usually people never know how much they shifted the day for you, and that is just as well. But I think he knew, just in the way he turned around.
Graceland, it turned out, lived up to its name.