Mr. Michael Ted’s Big Production

Mr. Michael Ted’s Big Production

From A 6th Bowl of Chicken Soup for the Soul

Mr. Michael Ted’s Big Production

Michael Ted Williams passed away last week. He was ninety-four. He was tall and skinny and had been a part of the landscape in Sawyerton Springs for as long as anyone could remember. When I was a kid, we often stopped by Mr. Michael Ted’s house after school. He was old then, but you’d never have known it. Always laughing, he lived alone in a big two-story house—just he and his cats.

Mr. Michael Ted had over ten thousand cats—or at least it seemed that way. There were cats inside the house, outside the house, around the house and on the house.

There was only one place in his house where the cats were not allowed. It was an area that the whole town knew about because most of us had been through it. We younger people thought it was neat, but its very existence caused most of the adults in town to think Mr. Michael Ted Williams was rather a nut. I am referring to the Elvis Room.

Mr. Michael Ted loved Elvis Presley. It seemed rather strange to us that an older person would be so crazy about an entertainer like Elvis, but he was. “Bing Crosby and them guys ain’t got a clue,” he’d say. “Elvis does it all. He can sing, he can act and he loved his mother.”

The Elvis Room was at the end of the hall on the second floor. It was a shrine. Hundreds of pictures were stacked on shelves anchored by Elvis decanters or other figurines. Movie posters were on the walls—Fun in Acapulco, Viva Las Vegas, GI Blues and Girls, Girls, Girls.

By the door, a filing cabinet held all Elvis’s single records, which were still in their original jackets. One hundred twenty-nine ticket stubs were neatly displayed on a table in the corner. Each stub was a reminder of a particular concert attended by Mr. Michael Ted.

“That there’s the scarf Elvis wore in Louisville,” he would say as he showed someone through the room. “Real sweat on it, too. See that stain? Here’s a popcorn bag from Tallahassee. Somebody threw it on stage. Elvis kicked it off, and I caught it. I was right there—right in the first row.”

Every now and then, one of the kids in town said something mean about Elvis just to get a rise out of Mr. Michael Ted. It always worked. Once, Jeff Deas made a comment about prescription medicine.

Elvis had migraines, Jeff was told, and suffered from several old karate injuries. And unless Jeff wanted to know firsthand how a karate injury felt, he was to keep his opinions about pharmaceuticals to himself!

When Elvis died in 1977, Mr. Michael Ted left his cats with his nephew Billy Pat and headed to Memphis. We saw him drive out of town; he passed the school with tears rolling down his face. For three days, he stood outside the gates of Graceland, paying his respects with thousands of others.

He met a lady about his age, Patsy Jones, from DeKalb, Mississippi. She had met Elvis once at a train station. Having missed her connection that night, she hadn’t had any money to eat supper. Patsy showed Mr. Michael Ted the five-dollar bill Elvis had given her for food, and as he held the bill admiringly, he asked why she hadn’t spent it. She had been too excited to eat, she told him, and besides, she added, it was the nicest thing anyone had ever done for her.

When he got back to town, there wasn’t a trace of sadness in Mr. Michael Ted Williams. “Elvis was way too young to go,” he explained, “but the young fellow had a good life. He helped people ease their loneliness, and I, for one, will always be grateful. We still got his music . . . so we still got him.”

From that point until his own passing last week, Mr. Michael Ted actually increased his obsession with Elvis, but in a happy way. He traveled hundreds of miles to talk to someone who knew the singer. He bought and traded more memorabilia, and he even held an Elvis dance every spring for the high school. Nothing but Elvis songs were played for the kids, who were all dressed like Elvis and Priscilla. Priscilla was, according to Mr. Michael Ted, the only woman Elvis ever really loved.

About a year ago, Mr. Michael Ted started giving away his cats. “I ain’t real young anymore, y’know, and these fur balls need to be kicked around by somebody,” he said. Almost every person in town took a cat or two. We knew that he was preparing for the end. What we didn’t know, however, was how prepared he actually was!

“I’ll be stopping by the bank on the way in to work,” Billy Pat said to his wife, Ginny, at breakfast Wednesday morning. “Everything is already set, I think, but the will said that the funeral instructions were in a safety deposit box.” As the closest blood relation to the deceased, Billy Pat Williams had been named executor of the estate.

It was all very simple, actually. The house and lot were to become the property of the Methodist church, where Mr. Michael Ted had attended. The contents of the house were to be divided between friends and family, except for the Elvis memorabilia. It was all to be packed and shipped to DeKalb, Mississippi, in care of a Patsy Jones.

Billy Pat arrived at the bank, followed a teller into the vault, unlocked box number 30024, and inside found an envelope marked “INSTRUCTIONS.” Billy Pat thanked the teller, left the bank and drove directly to the only funeral home in Sawyerton Springs, Max’s Mortuary.

Max Reed, the mortician, met Billy Pat in the foyer, took the unopened envelope and assured him that all would be taken care of. “I’ll call you after lunch with the final details,” Max said, “but let’s go ahead and set the service for Friday at 2 P. M.”

Ten minutes later, as Billy Pat walked into his office, his secretary held the phone out toward him and said, “Mr. Reed is on the phone. It must be important because he insisted on holding, and he has been holding for seven or eight minutes!”

Billy Pat wrinkled his eyebrows in a confused manner and took the phone. “Yeah, Max, this is Billy Pat,” he said.

“Billy Pat, did you read the instructions your uncle left?” Max asked.

“No,” Billy Pat replied. “I never even opened the envelope.”

Max continued. “Did he, by chance, ever give you any idea of his plans?”

“No, I don’t think so.”

“Did Mr. Michael Ted’s will say anything about the funeral?”

“Just that his instructions were to be followed,” Billy Pat said. “What’s this all about, anyway?”

“It’s about the biggest send-off this town has ever had. Or is likely to ever have. For God’s sake, get down here— you’re not going to believe this!” Max said.

On Friday afternoon at two o’clock, the Beauman’s Pond United Methodist Church was filled to overflowing. In fact, I believe it is safe to say that the entire town was there—every man, woman and child.

Near the casket were rows and rows of flowers. Gorgeous sprays of carnations and roses surrounded sayings like “GONE, BUT NOT FORGOTTEN” and “IN OUR HEARTS FOREVER.” Near the steps of the church’s pulpit was the arrangement from Miss Luna Myers and Miss Edna Thigpen. It was a plastic telephone encircled by purple gladioli and white mums. Above the phone were the words “JESUS CALLED . . . MICHAEL TED ANSWERED.”

Max Reed stood to the side. He was horrified. He knew what was about to come, and although it seemed to him almost indecent, he had done exactly as the man requested.

Pastor Ward sat in his chair in the pulpit. Crossing and uncrossing his legs constantly, he kept wiping his face with a handkerchief. Maybe it was the music. “Love Me Tender” was playing in the background. New things always made Pastor Ward nervous, and today he was about to perform his first Elvis funeral.

Max nodded at Terri Henley as she approached the pulpit to sing a song. This is nuts, she thought. A song like this at a funeral?

Terri sang “Hounddog,” “Heartbreak Hotel” and “Teddy Bear.” Several people snickered when she finished her last song and said, “Thank you. Thank you very much.”

Then it was Pastor Ward’s turn. “Brothers and sisters,” he began, “we are gathered here to mourn the loss of a friend. He was a very unusual man.” Pastor Ward said later that that was the only occasion in his ministry when the whole congregation “amened” a single statement. As he finished his prepared words about how wonderful a person the deceased had been, Pastor Ward paused to say a silent prayer of his own. “Dear God,” he muttered, “get me through this next part.”

Reading from a sheet of paper Max had given to him earlier, Pastor Ward said, “And now, ladies and gentlemen . . . the moment you’ve all been waiting for, from Sawyerton Springs, Alabama, Michael Ted Williams.”

Max Reed pushed the button on a tape player and started toward the coffin. As the music from 2001: A Space Odyssey filled the sanctuary, Max slowly lifted the casket lid. As the lid opened, the mourners (if indeed they could have been called that) stood up to get a look. At the loudest part of the song, when the casket was fully open, people broke into applause.

There, amid the flashbulbs popping, was Mr. Michael Ted Williams. His hair had been dyed jet-black. He was wearing fake sideburns and a gold tux.

He looked good. In fact, that’s exactly what everyone said—“Doesn’t he look good?” He didn’t look natural, but a few people said so anyway. Everyone did agree, however, that he looked exactly as he had intended. He looked like a ninety-four-year-old Elvis!

It is an understatement to say that no one will ever for-get Mr. Michael Ted. He was a great old guy who provided us with laughter even after his passing. One can imagine him chuckling as he wrote down the instructions for his own funeral—the most amazing production any of us had ever seen. There was one more time during the service in which the congregation applauded. It was out of respect and admiration for the old man. Applause is intended as acknowledgment for a job well done, whether that job is a show or life itself. So the congregation stood as one, clapping and cheering, as the casket was carried out of the church.

Pastor Ward looked at the people and with a big smile said, “Ladies and gentlemen, you can all go home. Mr. Michael Ted has left the building!”

Andy Andrews

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