Some folks might think she’s caught in a trap and can’t walk out, but Wanda Kitchens would never say she loves Elvis Presley too much, baby.
Like Presley, Kitchens’ birthday is Thursday. Elvis would have been 80, while Kitchens turns 66.
But there’s far more to her devotion. Kitchens got a tattoo of the legendary performer’s signature on her ankle on her 50th birthday, one of many reminders she has of Presley.
“Just looking at his face, watching him move,” she said of her memories from seven Presley concerts she attended over the years. “I’ve always loved Elvis.”
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Kitchens has been cutting hair in the area for 40 years. Her shop is on Ga. 49 just across the Jones County line, next to P.K.’s Foods, a convenience store.
Customers of that store and her own shop have noticed her collection of Elvis memorabilia, which included an Elvis-themed Christmas tree during the holiday season, and they often contribute.
“Even people who are not my customers, they bring stuff to me,” she said. “I could have a museum.”
Kitchens has also taken her love of Elvis on the road. Besides her four Macon concert experiences, she also saw him perform in Auburn, Alabama; Jacksonville, Florida; and Atlanta, but it was the Auburn show that provided the most interesting souvenir.
After the concert, Kitchens stayed in a hotel in town. The next morning, a nearby hotel advertised that Elvis had slept there.
“I ran to see if I could get a glimpse of his room, and the maid actually let me get a spoon that was left in his trash can,” she said via email.
In the years since Elvis’ death in 1977, Kitchens has visited the Graceland mansion in Memphis, Tennessee, nine times. One of those trips came on the 25th anniversary of The King’s death in 2002, when Kitchens got to watch a performance of Elvis’ band members alongside a video-screen projection of Elvis at The Pyramid in Memphis.
“That was a good one,” she said.
Other Middle Georgians shared their Presley experiences after The Telegraph asked for remembrances as his birthday approached. They included those who had first-hand encounters with Presley as well as people too young to have seen him alive.
For example, one fan, Daryl Andrews, was just 2 months old when Presley died, but his zeal is so well-known that people actually call him Elvis on occasion.
Here are some of the other responses we received from readers:
“As a smitten 7-year-old attending her second Elvis concert at the Macon Coliseum in June 1977, I was in awe of my favorite performer as he strolled across the stage in his sunburst-emblazoned white jumpsuit, singing all the songs I knew by heart. As he began the first melodious notes of ‘Can’t Help Falling In Love With You’ ... , my father scooped me from my seventh-row seat and plopped me atop his shoulders, making a beeline for the stage. After a few words with the security guard stationed there, we were ushered to the rim, where I could just barely see the white boots of my idol walking toward me. Looking down at me, Elvis smiled and winked and then strolled over to the piano where he picked up a baby blue scarf and then returned to me. Kneeling down, he took my hand and covered my little fingers over the shiny blue material to keep the hysterically screaming woman standing at the stage beside me from grabbing it away from me. He then rose to his full height, towered over me once again and continued to sing that beautiful song that will forever remind me of the night I was touched by the King.”
-- Adra Johnson
“I can remember seeing him at the age of 12 (in April 1975) and thinking, ‘This is the singer for me.’ Seeing him in concert in Macon for the first time was a dream come true. My friend Ellen Morgan and I decided that we were not going to scream or act crazy as some of the fans were doing that night, but as soon as we heard the opening music of (“2001: A Space Odyssey”), the screaming began! It never stopped! Elvis in concert was an awesome experience!”
-- Elaine Greene
“As a retired airline pilot, I had many, many conversations with Elvis while on my flights -- one of my regular trips was to Memphis. It so happened that we are the same age. Elvis invited me to Graceland for lunch one day, and I could not go because of a scheduled trip. I would have gone if I had known that it would be the last time I would see him. I remember him always saying, ‘Hi, Captain Tom.’ ’’
-- Tom Shedd
“I remember going to the Elvis concert in Macon only a few short months before he died. Elvis was so slow and puffy, that I was really disappointed in seeing him in person. He wasn’t the same young and vibrant man he had been earlier in his life and what I envisioned him to still be. He had on the traditional white suit and scarves around his neck, which he passed out to a couple in the first row. However, what I remember most was that tickets (on the floor) cost $7.50, which I thought was outlandish in 1977.”
-- Vivian Stilley
“It doesn’t seem that long ago that we first started hearing Elvis’ songs. I well remember one night going into The Wish Bone Lounge in Wichita, Kansas. My buddy and I planned on a quick game of pool. We were quickly told, ‘No pool playing, but sit down and be quiet.’ They meant no whispering. The jukebox was turned up loud, and Elvis was singing ‘Heartbreak Hotel.’ Everyone was dead quiet. This was the rule for several weeks -- quiet, no pool, just listening to Elvis. Several lounges in Wichita would play Elvis songs and then rotate the record and start over again. While the record was being rotated, the waitresses got busy taking orders and serving. The listeners rushed to the bathroom in order not to miss the songs.”
-- Gary Gordon
“When Elvis last came to Macon, I was barely 10 years old, yet for me, he was already The King. I remember begging my parents in each of those years to take me to one of his concerts, and my pleas were met with standard responses of ‘maybe next time, son.’ Even though that next time never came due to Elvis’ untimely death, he nonetheless touched me in other ways. I remained an ever loyal fan over the many years since and was ultimately inspired by Elvis and his music to pursue a hidden dream of my own of public performance singing. In these last several years, I have performed many times in multiple venues and always include in my sets the great songs and ballads of Elvis Presley. However, in something I never believed would happen, this adventure has even taken me to the point of doing work as an Elvis tribute artist. While I never met Elvis Presley or even saw him in concert, when I put on one of my Elvis jumpsuits and perform as ‘1974 Elvis,’ I feel a rare and special connection -- an inspired connection -- to him and his music that most people never have the chance to experience.”
-- Chris Edwards
“I was in Memphis at the time of his funeral and visited the cemetery after the burial. I have a small piece of ribbon as a remembrance.”
-- Shirley Moody
“She is 81 years old and she has seen Elvis four times -- twice in Atlanta and twice in Macon. At one of the Macon shows, she had front row tickets, and he actually reached down and touched her hand during his performance.”
-- Brenda Hines, for her mother, Mable Duckworth