At the Tupelo Hardware Store on Main Street in Tupelo, Mississippi, you can walk through the very door a ten-year old Elvis Presley walked through with his mother Gladys in 1945. (In the photo, it’s the one on the right.) You can stand on the very spot, or close to it, where he stood at the cash register while his mother bought his first guitar. I recently did that, not because I am much of an Elvis fan, but because I happened to be passing through Tupelo, the hardware store was there, and I had time to let my curiosity lead me in.
I was glad I made the stop. The place remains a wonderful active hardware store boasting, among other things, over two thousand lawn mower blades. Opened in 1925 and currently third-generation owned, the old-fashioned building boasts a lofty first-floor ceiling, sliding access ladders along the side walls, and sturdy wooden cabinetry and floor fixtures with dove-tailed drawer after drawer full of nails, screws, bolts, washers, and such.
And I got to hear in situ The Story of How Elvis Got His First Guitar, which goes like this: Elvis and his mother had originally set out for the Tupelo Hardware Store not to get a guitar but to get a bicycle. When they arrived, however, and stood at the place where today an “X” is taped to the floor, Elvis spotted a .22 caliber rifle in a case behind the counter. He promptly lost interest in the bike, fixing his heart instead on the gun. His mother responded with a firm No. The young-and-future King pouted. Discussion ensued. In the end, a compromise: Elvis left the Tupelo Hardware store with neither a bicycle nor a gun—but with a guitar.
Wow, I thought, trying to take in The Story’s implications. What if Elvis had never gotten that guitar? The question makes for interesting speculation, as does a second one: What if more of us did as he did and chose guitars over guns? We can only imagine.
On a less revisionist scale, the story invites us to consider our own choices—not just past ones (from which we still may have something to learn) but current ones, too. The choices we face today, this week, this month may not be the kind we expect to have life-changing implications for us, let alone for the entire future of rock and roll. Then again….
Each day we make dozens of choices: What to wear, what to eat, which route to take to work or school or the gym—or whether to go to the gym at all. How to pray, and for whom—or whether to pray at all. What to spend, what to give away. What words to use in speaking with those we live with, work with, meet along the way. What to do in our spare time.
Lent, which begins this week, calls us to reflect on the things we choose: bicycle? gun? guitar? It invites us to consider what factors influence our choices: predetermined ideas? in-the-moment impulses? inner (or outer) Gladys-type guides?
Lent also nudges us into a liturgical space in which we can choose to observe a particular spiritual practice over the coming weeks. If we choose wisely, who knows? Even a small and seemingly insignificant choice may affect us—and our world—more than we can imagine.