Mike Wilson: A conversation with royalty, a glimpse at the King

Published 12:00 pm Thursday, April 4, 2024

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Yes, I met the King twice in Memphis. Well, encountered sounds more accurate here. Ok, so maybe we were in the same place at the same time. 

The first time, I was working all night at the grand opening of a new Vickers gas station on Highway 51 close to Graceland, and Elvis rolled in on a big Harley chopper to fill up at about 2:30 am. I didn’t serve him, but I was nearby. 

The second incident came when I was working for the Coca-Cola plant in the summer of 1975. I was part of a team that set up special events (festivals, charity golf tournaments, etc.) and also delivered Coke, Sprite, and Tab in iced coolers to dignitaries and friends of the owners when they were hospitalized (not for the patients, who frequently had dietary restrictions, but to attract more nursing attention to the room). Sorry, just a sidenote here. Tab? Worst soda ever. Yuck! Anyway, back to the story. 

I hauled the cooler up to the indicated room, and I was met by a bodyguard who inspected its contents and told me to leave it by the bathroom. When I entered, there he was, very large, recovering from surgery. Though he was asleep, I felt a definite connection. But, to be honest, this story is not about him…

(That summer, I also took a cooler to the deputy chief of police, who had lost a lower leg in a motorcycle accident. We chatted a moment, and then he said, “Hand me my wallet from that nightstand. I appreciate young people who work hard to pay for school.” He took out a $20 and extended it. “So where are you, Memphis State?” “No, sir, Amherst College.” He pulled the bill back as if avoiding a snake strike and declared, “Boy, don’t let those pinkos and Commies up there poison your mind!” Since they didn’t, I feel he owes me $20 with interest…)

But Elvis isn’t the only King in this story. In early 1990, I invited a former student to bring his dog over and hunt quail in a preserve near Farmville. This young man came from a very wealthy family (they owned a railroad), but you wouldn’t have detected it from his demeanor. In fact, his allowance in college was sometimes insufficient to permit the purchase of ammunition, so a couple of times I reloaded some .243 rounds for his local deer hunting. He called the day before the hunt to ask if I would mind if he brought along an old family friend, and I naturally agreed.

When they got to the parking area the next morning, the guest emerged in a full Little Lord Fauntleroy outfit with a velvet cap sporting a jaunty feather, tie, waistcoat, wool jacket, corduroy knee breeches, and stockings. 

I saw him uncase a very high-grade English 16 gauge side-by-side double with very fancy engraving on the receiver. They walked over to me and my student said, “Dr. Wilson, I would like to introduce our good family friend, His Royal Highness Wilhelm Prinze von Prusen.” The guest smiled, shook my hand warmly, and said, “Call me Willy.” Our conversations revealed that he was a direct descendent of the Kaiser who had lived most of his life in exile in Spain and occupied his time hunting and bon-vivanting internationally.

The hunt went very well. I knew that, in general, Europeans think that American autoloaders and pumps are, well, gauche, and of course I was carrying one, an Ithaca English Ultralight 20-gauge pump that only weighed five pounds. I think he probably frowned upon that piece until I knocked down five quail with five fast shots on the first covey rise; then he asked if I would like to try his piece and let him try mine. I did my best not to salivate all over that beautiful stock.

We found a lot of birds and in a couple of hours got our group limit of 36, which they generously suggested I take home since they knew about the hungry mouths waiting at my house. As we loaded the cars to depart, I could no longer suppress a burning question. 

A colleague had recently brought me an actual little piece of the Berlin Wall, which had fallen in November. I asked, “Willy, what do you make of the possibility of reunification for East and West Germany?” His eyes turned a bit steely, and without thinking overly long, he replied, “Well, when East and West are reunited, that will not be all the German territory, will it?” “Yikes,” I thought to myself. I wonder what he would think of Germany today.

Mike Wilson is a former Hampden-Sydney Spanish professor and 13-year resident of Prince Edward County, who now calls North Carolina home. He can be reached at jmwilson@catawba.edu.