AUGUST 1, 2013-MEMPHIS, TN: LES KERR’S LIFE FLASHES BEFORE HIS EYES. That’s the way I felt sitting in the Lobby Bar of the Peabody Hotel in Memphis, Tennessee. I was there with my wife, Gail, celebrating our anniversary. We were enjoying cocktails and reminiscing about visits to Memphis in the past. It was during my years as a student at Ole Miss in the 1970s that Memphis became one of “My Mistresses.” Ole Miss, located in Oxford, Mississippi, is not far from Memphis. Like scores of other students I hit the road north often to enjoy the city. I first went to the Peabody in 1975 when I attended a sorority formal at the hotel. I was in high cotton, indeed, wearing my rented tux getting down tonight to that funky music in an elegant second-floor ballroom.
Gail is a graduate of the formerly named Southwestern at Memphis, now Rhodes College. Although Gail and I didn’t know each other during those years, we certainly had a lot of Mid-South common ground for conversation when we met. We enjoy getting back occasionally for ribs and relaxation.
Happy Dogwood Trails to you
We sat in the Lobby Bar that Thursday just before 4:00 p.m. That’s the hour the Peabody Ducks leave the fountain escorted by the Duckmaster to their evening domicile. All at once, a bevy of young ladies in hoopskirts and large hats descended upon the already colorful scene. The Duckmaster announced that they were the Dogwood Trail Maids from Fairhope, Alabama. That immediately took me back to my years as a young radio news director in the 1980s in Mobile, just across the Bay from Fairhope.
During that time, I was asked to help judge the Dogwood Trail Maid Pageant. Also judging were a TV news reporter named Joe Becker and the head of the Gayfers Department Store “Modeling Squad.” Joe and I realized that the only reason we were there was because I was on the radio and he was on TV. Ah, the perks of media life. After the winners were announced, I recall that we were almost held hostage at the judging table by mothers of girls who did not make the finals. They swarmed about us demanding to know what their daughters could do to improve their chances the next year. And now, the current brigade of beauties appeared before me thirty years later in the Peabody Lobby.
Although it’s always crowded…
As if being swooped by hoopskirts back thirty years were not enough, I was soon transported another decade away from the Peabody Hotel, 2013 to Heartbreak Hotel, circa 1972. My old friend John Fleming, whom I remembered as “Johnny” Fleming when we played rockabilly music together in Pascagoula High School, greeted us at there in Memphis.
He happened to be on a business trip and as if he had set his GPS to find another Pascagoula person, he wandered to our table. Johnny played piano in my little band while I did my best to imitate Elvis Presley at talent shows and other school events. He was always much more competent than I when it came to music itself but I was hell-on-wheels with my then fluid hip movements and the much perfected scarf-toss. It dawned on us that we had performed the music so many years ago that began in the city in which we stood this day, Memphis. Go, Cat, Go.
Long distance information
Since returning to Nashville, I’ve pondered the nostalgic turns of the recent Memphis trip. And just today at church, I ran into a friend who told me that he was at the Peabody the same weekend. He had come to Memphis to attend a funeral. I couldn’t help but thank the Lord that it hadn’t been mine!
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Text and original photos copyright 2013 by Les Kerr.