“August is not my favorite time of year. My father was buried in August; the sun was very bright and it was humid and steaming hot. It was so hot that I refused to wear black.”
Those sentences are drawn from my memoir about growing up in a funeral home with my charismatic mortician of a father. Every year when the anniversary of his death descends on me I always forget that Elvis died a week later that same year – 1977. I liked Elvis very much, but I loved my father and he was the true sovereign of my life. So while the earth that covered his fifty-two years was still moist and fresh, I heard that Elvis, a young king in his own right, had died in the bathroom of Graceland. I felt nothing, numb from the previous week’s events.
There were similarities between the two. My father was a bit flash. He loved good quality fabrics and expertly tailored clothes and daringly branded himself in them; he wore his suits with an unusual flair and talent, especially for an undertaker. When Elvis wasn’t slinging around his god-awful costumes, he was pretty sharp, too. My father’s quiff, disturbed forever by a distinguished balding, at one time rivalled Elvis’s jet black head.
Elvis and my father were Southern boys and possessed a distinct gift with women that can be found nowhere else in quite the same way. The flaw that marked them both hurt their wives, two women who wrestled with their adoring love for these rogues and a constant need to re-evaluate their marriages.
Some wicked little thing was born while they were in service to their country, my father in World War II and Elvis in Germany in 1958; it dogged them for the rest of their lives. My father, cold and hungry, trembled in a trench and dodged his buddies’ body parts as they flew past him and thus took his first drink from another soldier’s bottle. A sergeant introduced Elvis to amphetamines when they were on manoeuvres and we all know how that ended.
A friend said that she always felt August was the true end of the year. It was for Elvis, it was for my father.
At some point in September a sharp air arrives and I wake up, relieved that the dull ache of August is over.
When my eyes are weeds,
And my lips are petals, spinning
Down the wind that has beginning
Where the crumpled beeches start
In a fringe of salty reeds;
When my arms are elder-bushes,
And the rangy lilac pushes
Upward, upward through my heart;
Summer, do your worst!
Light your tinsel moon, and call on
Your performing stars to fall on
Headlong through your paper sky;
Nevermore shall I be cursed
By a flushed and amorous slattern,
With her dusty laces' pattern
Trailing, as she straggles by.