Memphis Is Marvelous
Over the weekend, I took a quick trip to Memphis to visit my daughter who’s currently teaching 6th grade social studies at a KIPP Charter school in the Midtown section of the city. She left last June and launched into intensive training to become a teacher with an organization that has high standards with the intent to make a difference within poorly performing schools. It was the first time my daughter had lived in anyplace but California, and let’s admit it, Memphis is a far cry from California in both distance and culture. Or, maybe not. While I’ve traveled to the south, even lived in Texas for a while – which is really considered the “Southwest,” I’ve never been into southern Tennessee or into the Southeast before, so I had certain expectations that were completely dashed – but in a good way. I lived in Maryland and then Wisconsin during my “growing up” years, but have never returned to either state or even area since I moved away. While my memories of activities included hiking in the woods, the slowly changing colors of Fall and cold winter days, I never considered the same could be said of Memphis. I flew in during a cold spell with temperatures in the low 40’s. As we flew across the country, I noticed a lot of flat land mass over Kansas and Missouri but as we approached Tennessee, bunches of what looked like large bushes saturated the land. Upon landing, and while driving through the state, those “bunches” turned into large groupings of trees that were in the midst of their fall colors. And Memphis … wasn’t the tired, dirty town that I was expecting. While certainly an older town, the neighborhood streets were wide, with more trees lining the sidewalk. The folks were friendly, with a certain energy that seemed full of purpose without being frenetic. Californians are big into preserving the environment, and I’ve come to appreciate the mostly litter-free roads throughout the state, but I was happily surprised to find very little trash on the side of roads, whether it be the highways, the town streets, the neighborhood yards, or even in the more depressed sections of the city. I found the town charming, unpretentious, and going about its business quietly but with friendliness.
I reminded my husband (who tagged along) that Memphis was the home of Elvis Presley’s beloved Graceland, and also the town where Martin Luther King, Jr. was shot. You would think that Memphis would maximize publicity on both of these “touristy” attractions, but honestly, there wasn’t much announcing their locations or urging us to be sure to take them in – even driving into Memphis (I guess I forgot to mention we flew into Nashville and drove to Memphis) or driving through the town (I’m pretty sure we covered most of the city in our quick trip). But once arriving at either place, it’s all there – the whole Graceland experience covers several blocks on a busy street, providing plenty of parking and souvenir shopping stores, along with the tour of the mansion. The small little street where Martin Luther King, Jr. died is fairly unassuming, and right now the Civil Rights Museum is undergoing extensive renovations. But history is preserved – the Lorraine Hotel, the rooming house where James Earl Ray was staying, with the museum and a small store set up to fill in the details. It’s hard to believe that we’re approaching the 50th anniversary of President Kennedy’s assassination. Everyone remembers where they where when he was shot. I was quite young at the time – so my memories of the shooting are vague. His death, however, launched the country into turbulent years that brought into focus issues such as the Vietnam War, the loss of innocence and the Civil Rights Movement. When Martin Luther King, Jr. died, I experienced a great sense of loss and sadness – during the years prior I had observed and listened as the movement gathered strength and the debate intensified. I remember thinking that of course we should all enjoy the same civil rights and couldn’t understand what the big deal was all about, but could see that for many it was indeed a big deal. So when he died, I was worried and wondered if the whole fight for equality was over. This is why I wanted to visit the site where Martin Luther King’s life ended – to remind myself that the impact he made in our country was real in the 60’s and how important it still is today- to work to rid ourselves of prejudice and support the rights of everyone, regardless of race, gender, religion, or lifestyle choice. Oh, and we did visit our daughter – made sure her heat was turned on in the apartment, took her car to the shop for repairs, got her internet hooked up and tried to dance the South Dallas Swag for her students. Let’s just say I have some work to do! Happy Thanksgiving everyone, let’s be kindly towards one another!