A statue of Elvis Presley in front of Tupelo City Hall. From Tupelo.net
It may have been the best $15 ever saved by Noah Presley.
January 8, 2023, marks the 88th anniversary of the birth of my cousin and Mississippi’s own Elvis Presley.
That boy, born in East Tupelo on the wrong side of the tracks during hard economic times in 1935, would go on to become one of the greatest and most famous music icons the world has ever known.
With the release of the hit movie this summer, a whole new generation is now learning about this man who changed the world of music. When my fiancé and I watched the movie in Tupelo, the crowd was completely diverse in all respects. Elvis’s story is still one of the truest ones of a small-town boy who made it to the big stage. That still strikes a chord with folks from all backgrounds.
Elvis died at 42 years of age in 1977 – one month after I was born. Family stories about him, his early days in East Tupelo and his secret Sunday afternoon trips back home were passed down to me as I grew up by family members.
My grandmother, Christine, wife of Noah Presley, who was my grandfather and Elvis’ great uncle, talked about the time he showed up unannounced at their house on Kelly Street on a Sunday in his shiny Cadillac. He spent the afternoon signing autographs for all the neighbors. She explained that this was years after he had moved away and just as he became famous, but that he had never forgotten their house on Kelly Street, a place where he spent so much time as a child.
In my lockbox, I have an original photo of Elvis at the Lee County Jail in Tupelo after he was made an honorary Deputy Sheriff. Somehow that didn’t get lost through the items that were passed down.
It’s fascinating to learn how the course of events and the decisions made can alter fate and turn destiny on a dime. Over the years, I had never really taken time to think about the early years of Elvis’s life and how things could have played out a whole lot differently for him.
My grandfather, Noah, was, by all accounts, a very kind, generous man to those around him who were in need. Besides being mayor and town marshal of East Tupelo, he also owned a grocery store there, where it’s been said that he kept (and ignored) a long ledger of names with amounts of those who owed him for groceries that he had let them have on credit to be able to feed their families. His nephew Vernon was, no doubt among the later crowd.
Possibly in one of the greatest tributes to my grandfather, writer and Elvis historian Sally Hoedel said that Elvis picked up his habit of generosity from my grandfather, Noah.
Noah gave away groceries and Elvis gave away Cadillacs.
So many times, history turns on a dime, or in this case a five and ten dollar bill.
According to my grandmother, after Elvis’s father, Vernon, was charged with forgery/check alteration that resulted in him getting $15 related to the sale of a hog, my grandfather pleaded with the gentleman whose check was altered. My grandfather asked to let him make up the $15 and therefore Vernon could possibly avoid prosecution, stay in East Tupelo and tend to his family.
Remember, Elvis was young, and Gladys had lost his brother, Jesse, during childbirth.
My grandfather wasn’t successful and off to Parchman Vernon went, according to family stories.
I’ve always wondered what would have happened had my grandfather been successful, paid the $15 back and Vernon, Gladys and Elvis had stayed in East Tupelo. Would Elvis have ever made it to Memphis, met Sam Phillips, recorded “That’s Alright Mama” or made it to the world stage?
We will never know, but it may be the best $15 ever saved by Noah Presley because it possibly helped a little to give us the gift of the King of Rock and Roll.
Happy Birthday, Elvis!