An unknown author, Bill Burk, sometime back wrote a book simply entitled, “Early Elvis: The Tupelo Years.” The book transports the reader back to the two-room shotgun house where Elvis Aaron Presley was born in East Tupelo, Mississippi, and it sorta traces the dreams of that young fellow who hoped that one day he would be a good enough singer to have his own program on local radio station WELO.
That book was not written just entirely about the boy, Elvis, but weaved in the story of the Great Depression times in the Deep South, and subsequently about the Second World War. It was about tough times, sad times, happy times, and was about what folks ate in Tupelo, how they thought, and how they worshiped God.
As I read, it kinda made me think of what I’ve tried to accomplish with my writing for a bunch of years … talk about folks in general and specific and stuff from those far-a-way days on a personal level best I could remember and best I could write it down.
We’ve written about fellows and gals who came from the simpler times of the ‘40s, ‘50s and ‘60s … and some even past. Folks who were happy to be hired to host a show on radio station WXAL … or be elected high school cheerleader, or make at least a C on a biology test, or get to start in right field on a local baseball team.
Most folks from these parts have done well right where they were settled, and ought to be proud, as they are. Some others have gone on to fulfill bigger dreams, as did Elvis. Some locals we know well have played college and professional sports, won statewide beauty contests, become world famous financial wizards, and became admirals and law school deans.
The fact of the matter is, amongst us right now in the rural southland, are boys and girls who will be remembered for the heritage they have left, and have, as Elvis, defied the odds, and fulfilled the American dream. Elvis, who I figure has about the most recognizable name in entertainment history in the whole danged world, started off in a two-room wood frame house with no plumbing or electricity, and absolutely no connections to Nashville or anywhere else, but that fellow wearing a pair of blue Swede shoes redefined American, and world music, as few folks have before or since to my way of thinking, if you please.
You just don’t ever know about folks. Donald Corley came from humble beginnings in Linden, Alabama, and worked his way though Auburn and law school, ending up being the dean of Cumberland School of Law in Birmingham. Jim Rogers was a smart student in Demopolis, but few knew he would become world renowned as a financial wizard. Ralph Abernathy came from a Black family in South Marengo County, and represented his people well as the trusted right hand of Martin Luther King in the mid-sixties, when level heads were most needed on all sides of all questions facing the country.
I’m thinking back right now on men and women, boys and girls who made an impact on my life as friends, teachers, coaches and just good people, who were simple folks doing what they felt was the right thing to do, but leaving an inedible imprint in the minds, hearts and souls of so many they touched and encouraged and guided. Most of them never made headlines, outside of a local ball score, but they were winners, and are remembered.
You might stop for a cold drink in Nanafalia, Alabama and see a young boy humming to himself and kinda swinging his arms back and forth. Hey, someday that kid might be introduced in Nashville as the reincarnated Elvis Presley whose early years were spent on the Tombigbee River near Nanafalia, Alabama.
Anyhow, it’s not a bad thing atall to let our minds wander back to early days, whether we were there in person or just read or heard about some boy or girl who were there, and did something worthwhile and good, and are remembered for it, whether that memory is centered in Putnam, Alabama or Washington, D.C.
— Tom Boggs is a columnist for the Demopolis Times and a native of Marengo County. His column,“Days Gone Bye,” appears weekly.
(This column originally appeared in the Wednesday, January 9 issue of the Demopolis Times.)
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