[Excerpt from Hot Stove #202, posted on September 30, 2002.]
Lonnie’s Jukebox – Gary and Rita Shalton Edition: My brother Gary, two years younger, was two grades behind me at Van Horn High School. The new sounds of rock ‘n’ roll became part of high school life. Our parents gave us a heads-up in early 1956 about the wild new singer they had seen on Tommy and Jimmy Dorsey’s Stage Show. The new rocker was Elvis Presley, and we quickly became fans. I bought a ton of Elvis 45-rpm records that Gary and I played constantly. I specifically remember his favorite was “Old Shep.” This matched up with Gary who was an avid fisherman and animal lover.
After high school, Gary joined the Marines. While stationed in Memphis, he met a girl named Rita (small world) from nearby Hayti, Missouri (in the Bootheel). They fell in love and got married in Memphis before Gary shipped out to Vietnam where he was an aircraft mechanic stationed at Da Nang. After serving his country, Gary returned to Independence, and he and Rita raised two wonderful daughters, Wendy and Angie.
When I married my Rita in 1981, my mother decreed that she would be called “Rita Ann” at family gatherings to avoid confusion with Gary’s Rita. Another name heard at those family gatherings was “Moke” – a nickname for Gary. When he was born and named Gary Michael, the intent was to call him “Mike.” Two-year-old Lonnie mispronounced it as Moke, and it stuck for family and close friends.
Sadly, Gary died unexpectedly in 1997 at the age of 53. Earlier this month, Rita died at the age of 78.
At the memorial service for Rita, in a beautiful eulogy delivered by Angie, I learned a bit of history I had not known. Rita as a teenager was an Elvis fanatic, and she once met him. Her brother was working at a local service station and called to say a fancy car had come in and Elvis was there. Rita grabbed an Elvis photo and ran to the station and got the King’s autograph.
How fitting it was for Elvis fans Gary and Rita to marry in Memphis, the home of Sun Studios where Elvis cut his first records. Last year, Angie took Rita to St. Louis to see an Elvis impersonator, and two weeks before Rita died, took her to see the new Elvis movie.
Rita’s memorial service ended with music, and we knew from the first downbeat what it was…
“Jailhouse Rock” (listen by clicking on the song title)
had video of Gary and Rita dancing at my 50th birthday party in 1991. The party theme was the ‘50s, so Elvis was part of the playlist. The video was shot by Wendy, and she is heard in the background saying “I didn’t know they had it in ‘em.” Elvis knew. The screenshots below are from Wendy’s video.
Two very different dogs…
Wendy has a story for the next song: “My dad use to ‘try’ to sing ‘Love Me Tender.’ It wasn’t pretty. Lol. Dad had no singing talent, but it made my mom laugh.”