Friday morning. 6:45 a.m. Driving slowly through the dark up a snowy mountain road in Colorado. I’ve just dropped Cara off at the Park n Ride because she’s got to go to work down the mountain but we didn’t get her snow tires on ahead of this snow and it’s one thing to crawl to the Park n Ride but another to venture out onto the 285 Frozen Speedway, so she’s catching a ride down with a coworker.
And I’m thinking of my childhood in Louisiana. I think we had snow maybe four times growing up — and calling it snow is being overwhelmingly generous. Sleet. Wintry mix. Just enough to make a 12-inch snowman that was as much dirt and grass as it was snow.
But here I am thinking of being a young boy in Louisiana. A very young boy. And all my cousins on MawMaw’s side.
Because Willie’s Roadhouse on SiriusXM is playing “Elvira,” by The Oak Ridge Boys. If you’ve somehow lived your existence having never heard this song, give it a listen.
What I associate the most with this song is being at my Uncle Charles and Aunt Brenda’s house. Uncle Charles was my godfather, my parrain as godfather’s are called in Cajun French. And his and Aunt Brenda’s house was always wild and free-wheeling; it felt like almost anything was allowed.
The first of many instances where this memory gets shaky is I don’t remember which house of theirs this was. There were a few.
I’m pretty sure it was the early 1980s. I seem to remember a record player shaped like a jukebox in one of the rooms off the left side of the hallway. But I can’t guarantee that the jukebox-shaped record player existed.
But I remember the kids standing around it. I’m there. My brother Brian is there. And Uncle Charles’ children Jonathan (older than me) and Amanda (younger than me). Maybe Christine, my other first cousin, is there. I can’t remember if the younger cousins had been born yet.
We were probably arguing over which songs to play. And none of them were exactly pop hits. At that age we liked what our parents and grandparents liked. We were suckers for oldies and gimmicky songs and gimmicky oldies. The Coasters doing Yakety Yak comes clearly through the years, with the kids shouting the “don’t talk back” part. “My Dingaling” by Chuck Berry. “Dead Skunk in the Middle of the Road” by Loudon Wainwright. And the somewhat frightening “They’re Coming to Take Me Away” by Napoleon XIV.
But “Elvira,” man. That song was it. For two reasons. For me at any rate. The first was the the “giddy up ba-oom papa oom papa mow mow” part. Pure artistry.
The second was, well, Elvira. Yes, that Elvira. Mistress of the Dark, Elvira. I don’t know where I would have seen her, what late-night TV weirdness MawMaw and PawPaw would have had on at their house. Or Uncle Charles at his. I doubt we would have seen her at our house. Aside from the early bedtime at home, we didn’t have cable. And this was pre-VCR (for us, at any rate).
So I probably didn’t know anything at all about Elvira other than that she was hot. I might have been eight or nine and didn’t have much of a concept of such things, but I knew that Elvira did something to my brain and parts further south. Elvira and Olivia Newton John. Opposite ends of the spectrum. (Which might have something to do with my fascination many years later with Julie Bowen and Sofia Vergara on “Modern Family.”)
At any rate, I thought the song was about Elvira. So a killer tune with a killer visual. Hard to resist.
Of course, it turns out the song was written about her. In fact, it wasn’t an Oak Ridge Boys original. It was written in 1966 by Dallas Frazier and he named it after a street in East Nashville. (The Oak Ridge Boys version, however, had the distinction of going platinum.)
Where am I going with this? Absolutely nowhere. It’s a memory and that’s where they go. You’re driving down a snowy road as an adult, 1,800 miles from where you grew up, and a song transports you back 40 years to a memory of you singing it with your cousins and your godfather’s house.
And, knowing what I know about memory, this one could be very far from reality. I guess I could call up my cousins and ask, but I’m not taking the risk of being confronted with a “Nah, Kenny, the record player was a little piece of crap on a folding table. And we were listening to ‘I Love a Rainy Night’ by Eddie Rabbit. That was our jam.” Or, worse: “What? I’m pretty sure that never happened. What are you even talking about?”
So I’ll just enjoy my memory the way I see it.
Giddy up ba-oom, yall. Giddy up ba-oom.