When I was a little girl, I would beg my mother to tell me stories about her growing up years. She would reluctantly share pieces and tidbits about her country life childhood in the rolling hills and hollers of the east Tennessee Smokey Mountains, where everyone seemed to be blood kin. For a lonely child in a big city Texas suburb, hills meant concrete overpasses and country roads had four lanes. Hers was a world of aunts and uncles and cousins and sisters – of which I had none. It seemed a romantic fanciful mixture of the Waltons and Little House on the Prairie. My youthful perception of her life was surely very different from the stark reality of depression fueled, southern rural, abject poverty.
At what point does authenticity fade to heresay? How often have you heard family stories repeated to the point you aren’t sure whether your memories are recollections or recitations? Such is the landing spot for many Presley tales. Second, third and even fourth generation accounts turn to fabricated tales, things discussed so often the line between truth and fabrication is so dissipated it’s almost nonexistent?
It’s especially discouraging when repeated falsehoods become known truisms, the truth be damned. No, Elvis did not sell out every concert of his career. No, one billion people did not watch Aloha via satellite – statistically impossible. No, he did not pay to have a blind girl’s sight restored. No, he did not specifically forbid Priscilla from using the name Presley in the divorce decree. No, it was not his dog in Live a Little, Love a Little and yes, as incredibly handsome as he was, he could take a bad picture. None of these truths detract from the man he was.
Elvis was a wonderful talented man, kind and generous to a fault, and the greatest entertainer the world has ever known. He gave and loved without end, respecting and adoring his fans unlike any other entertainer ever has. True tales are out there, are astounding in scope, but not surprising in detail. They are of themselves grand enough to not need added ribbons and lace. In fact, the known ones are only the iceberg’s tip, more hidden than revealed.
In my mother’s stories, I picture the green rolling hills, the icy cold creek water rippling down from the mountainside, the spring house keeping the butter and milk cold while the smokehouse held savory meats. The bountiful fruit filled orchards, fresh for the picking berry vines, shaded ponds perfect for fishing, caves for exploring, and the little one room schoolhouse three or four miles down a dusty dirt road, where her cousin Mr. McBee was their teacher, all sound like a blissful life of everyday adventure and fun.
My mind doesn’t allow for the brutal cold winters with no electricity or running water and no indoor plumbing and minimal heat. I don’t think of the many mouths to feed that often never had full stomachs. No refrigerators or modern appliances, a stove where you had to build a fire to cook only if the wood was cut, and a very long walk to and from school in extreme weather. Decent clothing and shoes were a premium and books a luxury. Try as I might to understand, I’m sure the immense hardships likely dwarfed the assorted pleasures. My point is, we often only see and hear what makes us feel good, what we want to believe.
When on occasion, I share what I recall of these stories with my own daughter, even less is authentic. It’s not because I want to omit things but because my brain visual is cropped and not panoramic. The generational difference becomes the generational divide. So when the child or relative of someone who was directly connected to Presley tells tales, it can unintentionally become skewed.
As the Elvis circle shrinks, so do direct contact accounts. New experts come out of the woodwork. Do they suddenly have recollections 40 years after the fact, or is it that those who could discredit their stories are no longer here? It does makes one wonder. They all sound like he was their best friend, but where was his? Wives and girlfriends and children of wives and girlfriends that never knew him become experts, same for second hand friends. People who knew people who knew him become experts. It’s a long list of short expertise. It’s disheartening as it alters history in the pursuit of self promotion.
The man Elvis we loved had his flaws, don’t get me wrong – but he deserves better. He deserves authenticity and genuine respect. Photoshopped photos and skewed stories slanted in the teller’s direction are a disservice. The detailed detective work is to be applauded and the truth cherished. I love those that care more for truth than self promotion. I value those that go the extra mile to be real. I admire those that show genuine care and respect and devotion providing a current insight into past events. I despise the ones who’s words say “look at him” but their actions scream “look at me.”
Be careful and cautious who you listen to. Read and research and arm yourself with various angles pointing to similar truths. I’ve been fooled a time or two, less now than in years past as I learn more about the one we love, but it still happens.
The chapters are varied and the story has no end. Devotion will not fade as long as we keep our eye on the Presley prize of authenticity. As fans, it’s us who keep the flame alive and the truth in check. It’s an awesome responsibility and I’m proud and pleased to do my part. He would be pleased too. Elvis was and is so very, very loved, for all time.