Christmas 1934 was surely a mixed bag. Along with holiday excitement and anticipation, 22 year old Gladys Love Smith Presley was most likely feeling incredibly uncomfortable as motherhood was only a few weeks away. Along with the obvious physical discomfort of a woman nearing term, there was emotional turmoil and worry as the country and especially the Deep South, was in the heartbreaking throes of the Great Depression. Poverty was a given for their dire circumstances. It’s perfectly normal that a caring parent would have concern for their unborn child’s future knowing their own troubled present. Anxiety of an impending birth is overwhelming in the best of circumstances, and downright frightening in the worst.
Gladys and Vernon had no indication sorrow and joy would become such close companions as birth and loss were soon upon them. On January 8th, 1935 Jesse Garon’s quiet birth was closely followed by Elvis Aron’s feisty cries. How does a mother grieve while celebrating, or celebrate while grieving?
As a mother myself, and a mother of multiples, I’ve tried to put myself in her place. Surely her heart was torn, bursting with joy and shattered by sadness. I was blessed my own triplets were born healthy and well and I knew from early on there were three tiny lives on board. The Presley’s had no idea what lay ahead for them.
Accounts I’ve read of Gladys indicate in her early years, she was a lively young woman, full of the same dreams as any girl of the time. Accounts of the later years before her early death, she often appeared anxious and worried, troubled immensely over the path her only surviving son’s career was taking. She seemed to always be a dichotomy of emotions, most laid by circumstances she had no control of.
In as much as she wanted Elvis to be happy and successful in doing what he loved to do, the overshadowing concerns for him took center stage. Mother and son were close, unusually close according to many, but I can understand her fierce protective nature. She grasped firsthand joy can be snatched away in the blink of an eye. She likely spent much of her adult years, since the birth of her twins, subconsciously waiting for the other shoe to drop. It was all she had known, give and take, joy and loss, happiness and sorrow.
Photos of Gladys paint an unfair depiction. She is almost always seen as sanguine, sad, frowning and concerned. She appears melancholy even in the happiest of opportunities – not always, but often. I see her more as fearful of the future because of the past. Contentment seemed to always be standing on the corner close to misery. Her overprotectiveness was born from fear.
Mothers want the very best for their children, a better and easier life and a happy future. She was no different. For all her worry, she did more right than she did wrong. Children don’t come with instructions, not even Elvis. Her son was a loving, caring man with a generous soul and a compassionate nature. That was no accident. He cherished and respected his elders, most especially his mother. He received a most wonderful gift in her, something every person needs – a scriptural unconditional love that was in no way self seeking.
I strongly believe for all her human frailties, faults and imperfections, she was the only person in Elvis’ life by which he knew with no uncertainty he was genuinely and completely loved. I’m not saying that other’s didn’t love him sincerely because surely many did. But there is a difference within a mother’s devotion.
Despite our best intentions and finest motives, life doesn’t always happen as it should. There is no perfect world. Like our man Elvis, his beloved mother was taken too soon. Her influence on him was both positive and negative. I can’t help but wonder how different his and HER life could have been had it not been cut short.
None are without fault but as I feel he deserved better, I’ve come to the conclusion Gladys deserved better too. I think her entire life pattern of good/bad prevented her from accepting joy. She had come to be afraid of it and kept happiness at arm’s length as a protective measure. Fear of the future because of the past was an unbreakable pattern.
It would have been wonderful if somehow that pattern could have been defeated and Gladys come to embrace, enjoy, and cherish her son’s success. I believe nothing in this world would have brought him greater joy than true happiness within his mother’s troubled soul.
As I think of this mother’s deep love, I think of a worldwide love and devotion that is forever a portion of Presley’s legacy. Around the globe he is adored and idolized. Had Gladys known of his far reaching impact and the reciprocal feelings of respect and care, it might have eased her concerns a bit. The international love has existed since the very beginning. I imagine her gazing in amazement at covers and tributes from around the world, places she had quite possibly only heard about in text books.
These are only my thoughts, observations, opinions and conclusions about this mother and son. Vernon is an entirely different story.
Happy Mother’s Day in Heaven Miss Gladys.
~ Janet Bostic