Janelle McComb of Tupelo, Mississippi was a good friend to Elvis and his family for many years. On several occasions Elvis asked her to lend her unique talents to record his feelings in verse. “The Priceless Gift”, a birthday poem for his daughter Lisa, was one of those occasions. Lisa’s copy is displayed at Graceland. Here, from its author is the story of how the poem was created:
In the latter part of ‘71, I was visiting Graceland. Lisa was pushing her baby buggy through the hall, and I said to Elvis, “Can you imagine? She is soon going to be four years old. What are you going to give her for her birthday?”
Elvis paused and said “I don’t know – she’s all we have – she is our most prized possession. I want Lisa to know what the important things in life are. Money is not important – it is fleeting and all this is just vanity.” He said “A lot has happened through the years. Do you remember, when we left Tupelo, all we had was a little trunk on top of the car.”
We talked and laughed for an hour or more reminiscing about his childhood, about his mother cooking, about how his grandmother wore an apron, and about the song “Precious Memories”, which was sung at his mother’s funeral. He said “Those early values that my parents taught me are still my values, and I want my child to know them.”
“Mrs. McComb,” Elvis said, (he always addressed me as “Mrs. McComb” when he was talking to me, but always autographed things to me as “Janelle”.) “do you think you could take your pen and write something for me to give my little girl to tell her what the real values of life are, because I may not always be around.”
“In other words,” I said, “you want to give her ‘the priceless gift’.”
He said “That’s right, and be sure to sign it ‘Daddy’.”
I said “Well, Elvis, I’ll try.”
I went home and wrote the poem. When I brought it back to Elvis at Graceland, he was so touched and pleased when he read it, he ran up the stairs two at a time to hide it until Lisa’s birthday. When he came back down crying, I asked him to sign my copy of the poem. He signed it, then with his elbow attempted to wipe the tears off the paper and smeared his signature. He said “Oh, Mrs. McComb, I’ve ruined your copy.”
“No,” I said, “someday those teardrops will be just as priceless as this poem is to you.”
The Priceless Gift
Birthdays are always special
as your fourth one comes to you
and I wondered what I’d give you
Just anything wouldn’t do.
I thought of childish treasures
to hang upon your wall
Yet nothing seemed appropriate
or none I could recall.
Money seemed so cold and fleeting
Bought treasures go so fast
And I wanted a gift to please you
And one that would also last.
You know you’re sort of special
You are really all we’ve got
You’re Mama’s bit of heaven
And Daddy’s tiny tot.
I closed my eyes – the years rolled by
And I slowly found my way
To a shadowed corner in the attic
T’was a link to my yesterday.
I raised the lid to a frayed old trunk
And there a priceless treasure lay
A tattered apron with strings still tied
And I knew I heard her say –
“Son, I’m now just a precious memory
But don’t ever forget one thing
I always tried to guide your life
With these worn out apron strings.
They guided a man named Lincoln
As he steered the ship of State
It’s the only gift I gave you
That will never go out of date.
Apron strings changed the course of
History as great men felt their tug
They followed sons onto battle fields
Without the slightest shrug.
They guided both kings and beggars
Through harmony and strife
Son, you surely must have felt their tug
For how God has blessed your life.
I bowed my head and said a prayer
For I knew God had surely touched
A tattered old trunk so tucked away
And an apron that had meant so much.
So Lisa, I give you the “Priceless Gift”
That surpasses all other things
A whole lifetime of love for you
She tied in her apron strings.