Grandpa Elvis, Interstate 40, and England Swings

Silver wings shining in the sunlight,
roaring engines headed somewhere in flight.
                                         Merle Haggard
I remember traveling around with my grandpa across the country shortly after I graduated high school ten years ago. Going through the red dirt vistas of Arizona through the Texas panhandle, the rolling hills of Oklahoma, and meandering though sleepy hollers (no, they are not called “hollows”) of Eastern Kentucky, he’d sing whatever he pleased.
Off-the-cuff lyricism
Some times he would make something up completely. For instance, traveling through Tucumcari, New Mexico brought with it many extemporaneous verses, involving fireworks stands and American Indian references. Even if it sounds racially offensive, it wasn’t; it was funny. “I laughed until I stopped.” That was my grandpa.
Classic Americana
On other occasions, and with his usual near pitch-perfect baritone, he’d almost exhaust all the old country classics from his era. Elvis, Johnny Horton, Ricky Nelson, Johnny Cash, Merle Haggard, Ernest Tubb, Charlie Pride- and on the list would go. One of my favorites he would sing went like this:
Now, if you huff and puff and you finally save enough money
Up to take your family on a trip across the sea
Take a tip before you take your trip
Let me tell you where to go, go to England, ohEngland swings like a pendulum do
Bobbies on bicycles, two by two
Westminster Abbey the tower of Big Ben
The rosy red cheeks of the little children

Roger Miller, known for hits such as King of the Road and Kansas City Star, penned and sang that song. Grandpa just picked it up and made it his own. As a grandkid who thought highly of his grandpappy, I ate it up. He was like a human juke box, and I enjoyed listening to him for free.
On the road, singing, and talking Elvis
We spent many hours and days on the road together that summer after high school. Many hours and days of talking, telling stories and singing; generally, I did most of the listening, and I am more than glad that I did. Whenever I listen to the old stuff, the good stuff, I remember my grandpa. Somewhere around that time, my friends and I would take to calling him Grandpa Elvis. He played along. He was an Elvis fan after all. A Pre-G.I.-Blues Elvis fan to be precise.
“After he started making movies, his music suffered a bit,” grandpa would say, in a voice he generally used when he was making some sort of social commentary.
I took such commentary as a given at the time, but since I’ve grown up a bit, I would have to agree with his sentiment regarding Elvis. Not everyone will, but I have come to.
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One thought on “Grandpa Elvis, Interstate 40, and England Swings

  1. Deborah Nesper (Bowling)

    The years have passed and I took this all in times two as a child and as an adult with children…the lovely times with my father and his on going thoughts given in such a style that each word really meant something, for a reason and yet so storyteller like. I cherish the memories and thank the Lord every day for His selection of a father for our family.

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