Elvis - An Icon known as 'The King' but I knew him as neighbor - An interview with Virginia Blackford

The Wink

ELVIS - THE KING OF ROCK AND ROLL
ELVIS - THE KING OF ROCK AND ROLL
Rhoda, Edgar, Virginia, Darlene, and Jerry Eddlemon
Rhoda, Edgar, Virginia, Darlene, and Jerry Eddlemon | Source
Gladys, Elvis,and Vernon Presley
Gladys, Elvis,and Vernon Presley | Source

Migration to Memphis

The great depression left a legacy of migration for young parents trying to make a better life for themselves. My brother and his wife and three small children packed up what little belongings they had and left the farm, as did hundreds of young families like my brother and Vernon and Gladys Presley.

Memphis was one of the better places to move because of the varied industrial enterprises.

At that time , President Franklin Roosevelt developed the WPA, (Works Project Administration) as a relief measure with a variety of programs to stimulate the economy with jobs.

Roads, bridges, highways, buildings, and one of the first housing projects ever to be introduced, the WPA Housing Development.

My brother and his family and the Presley family were among the tenants at Lauderdale Courts under the management of Memphis Housing Authority.

LAUDERDALE COURTS FRONT VIEW - The right intrance is where Elvis lived. The back door led to the court yard.
LAUDERDALE COURTS FRONT VIEW - The right intrance is where Elvis lived. The back door led to the court yard. | Source
His Bedroom
His Bedroom
At the projects
At the projects

WPA Housing Project

These apartments were built around a court yard with a specific purpose to create a community atmosphere. People who qualified to live there could earn no more than 3,000 a year. Rent for a two bedroom was $35.00 a month.

Under the management of Memphis Housing Authority, the apartments had modern kitchens and parquet floors.

There was no stigma attached to living at the courts.

Many outstanding leaders of the community grew up there, one of them being Elvis Aaron Presley.


The back of the Lauderdale Court project
The back of the Lauderdale Court project

A community

My brother’s three children, Virginia, Jerry, and Darlene knew everybody in the courts. It was a real community of people with like circumstances dreaming of a better life.

Many, new to city life, found it comforting to be where 'everybody knows your name'.

With no air conditioning in the summer months, the windows were open and the smells of southern cooking floated the air while children gathered and played in the evening light of the courtyard.




Humes High School
Humes High School

School years

Virginia and Elvis were classmates at Humes High in their junior and senior years. Occasionally, in conversation, she slipped bits and pieces of information about him, especially as his popularity began to rise.

Just lately, I decided to pin her down and ask her specific questions. I called her in Peoria and after two hours of reining her back in from other unrelated topics, I finally hit on a couple of things that has never been published and are unique only to her.

Here goes.

The Conversation

Q. Since you lived close to Elvis, did you ever visit his house?

A. No. My brother Jerry did. They both played guitar and they would practice together. Vernon and Gladys liked Jerry because he sang gospel songs with Elvis.

Q. Did you ever sing with him?

A. No. He was more rock and roll, although he did like gospel. Jerry, my sister and I formed a gospel trio and we performed at the Ellis Auditorium at all-night gospel sings with the Blackwood Brothers, the Jordanairs, and others. Elvis loved it. He didn't have the money to get in, so he would come to the back of the auditorium, and one of us would let him in.

Q. Was Elvis involved in courtyard activities?

A. He liked to play football with the guys. Of course, we rode bicycles, but he gravitated mostly toward music. He eventually performed out in the courtyard. He was a little shy, but the reaction from the other kids gave him confidence.

Q. What was he like in school?

A. He was a big flirt. He winked a lot. He winked in the hall. He winked in study hall. He also blew kisses at pretty girls. But he was always respectful. Teachers liked him. He brought his guitar to school and performed in school plays. He liked ROTC. Sometimes he wore his uniform for no reason. He was happy and energetic, like his cup was full and spilling over.


Oh, Jesus Take The Wheel!

Q. Did you ever think of him romantically?

A. Not really. He was cute. He stood out. He dressed in loud colors. He wore black a lot, pink shirts with popped up collars. Everybody else wore conservative clothes including me. He very definitely was set apart in the clothes department. He was just different.

Q. Did anybody have a car? How did you get to school?

A. Mostly we walked to school. Everything was close and convenient. School, downtown, movies. But Elvis did have a car. I often wondered how he bought it. It was a CLUNKER. The windows didn't work, and the steering wheel was not even screwed down. One day he drove me to school on a stretch of street, and he took the steering wheel clean off, laughing, pretended to turn corners in the air. When the car drifted over to the curb, he'd stick it back on. I walked into class that day with a frayed look on my face, and frazzled hair.


Graduation picture
Graduation picture
Graduation picture
Graduation picture

Graduation day

Q. So, tell me about graduation.

A. Oh honey, I didn't even go! Couldn't! I had a real bad case of sun poisioning. The senior class had a picnic and swimming party the day before. I am light skinned and easy to freckle, so I took extra precaution with the suntan lotion. Elvis sat beside me for a while, and I handed him the lotion. He pulled my hair to the side and slathered my back generously. Rubbing and humming. He was always humming. At the end of the day, he drove me and Rosemary Barracco home in his car (with the portable steering wheel). We stopped at a fruit market on the way, and while we were browsing around squeezing fruit, he asked me if I would go out with him. I made some kind of flimsy excuse, I don't even remember what I said.

Q. Are you sorry you didn't go out with him?

A. Shoot yes! Also, I am sorry I missed my own graduation. But I do have the memory of the most famous man in the world, rubbing my back with lotion. We were young and he was not famous yet. Just a kid from the neighborhood.


Continued....

Q. What happened to your relationship after school?

A. He was climbing the ladder of success, and I got married to Bob Blackford and moved to Peoria Illinois. I lost contact with him personally, but I kept up with his career. I was proud of him. It was sort of a kinship I felt. You know, part of a community bond. I keep my year book handy. I browse through it once in a while. Elvis signed it.

Q. Some collector would give you a pretty penny for that.

A. Oh I wouldn't sell it for any price. It will stay in the family for my children. When I turn the pages to his photo, I don't see dollar signs--just an old friend who made good.


year book 1953 - Clip from Journal Star News

"Best of everything to a very swell girl"  "KUM".  Short hand for Kiss U Much
"Best of everything to a very swell girl" "KUM". Short hand for Kiss U Much

On The Air

Q. Did you ever use Elvis' name to impress your friends?

A. You better believe it! I milked it! It was a magnet for me. I love people and Elvis' name brought many fun experiences to my life. I treasure them. One day I was listening to WMBD radio here in Peoria, and the DJ was a big Elvis fan.

So being the 'ham that I am', I called him. That guy got so excited, he put me on hold and called me back. To shorten the story, he called me weekly on his daily radio show and we had 'on the air' conversations about peanut butter and banana sandwiches and Blue Suede Shoes. At the end of our conversations, he did a George Burns take...."Say it Mrs. B". And I would end the conversation with, "Thank yuh, thank yuh verra much". Soon I became Mrs. 'B'. His listeners asked questions. Lord, people knew me. I was invited to station functions. I was having a ball! Thanks to Elvis!


WMBD - AM radio

Virginia,  Interview with Robert Roth, DJ at WMBD
Virginia, Interview with Robert Roth, DJ at WMBD | Source

One last question

Q. How did you feel when you heard Elvis had died?

A. I was sad. I thought about him for days. How he hummed. How he flirted. How he winked. The steering wheel, the suntan lotion. His joy. It's still not real to me that he is gone after all these years.

He winked at the whole world and we flirted back. His star is still shining, sprinkling a little magic on us all.

His Star

Hollywood Walk of Fame
Hollywood Walk of Fame | Source

What Price Fame?

Idol's and Icon's who are cannonized to fame at a young age often meet an early demise. The stress of paparazzi, long lens cameras, stalkers, obsessed fans, and tabloids forces them into isolation. It is a high-octane lifestyle. Many turn to substance abuse in order to meet their demands.

Elvis found his burning early in life and his talent could not sleep within him. He had to fulfill his destiny. He was a radiant flower in a field of grass and we wanted to hold the beauty. We picked it and watched it wilt away.

Uptown Square
Uptown Square

Lauderdale Courts Preserved

The Courts were slated for demolition at one time, but appeals from fans and Memphis Heritage Preservation placed it on the National Register of Historical places.

It has been renovated, and renamed "Uptown Square"

Sleep Where Elvis Slept

That's right. You can sleep in his bedroom. Reproductions of the furniture and memorabilia. All the modern conveniences, including a 1951 Frigidaire refrigerator. TV and Internet services. Swimming pool and fitness room. Up to 4 guest. 2 night minimum. $249.00 a night.

The address: 185 Winchester #328

www.lauderdalecourts.com

1-901-521-8219

Things to do downtown

Memphis is an exciting town with a touch of blues, a touch of country, and people with a southern accent. Eat world famous bar-b-q, ride downtown trolley cars,see the Hotel Peabody with parading ducks, Beale Street with W C Handy music, Mud Island, and the great banks of the Mississippi River, all in walking distance from the Courts. And of course, a few miles away...Graceland

http://www.hellomemphis.com/attractions/?gclid=CKLH8_CPg68CFcqe7QodKTPE3A

Wink!

I am now going to the grocery store. I will take a tip from Elvis. I am going to wink at somebody. It might be a baby in a shopping cart, it may be a young boy in the produce department, or it could be an old man in the check out line....whatever, winks count!

"Thank yuh, thank yuh verra much"

More by this Author


Comments 31 comments

Sunnie Day 4 years ago

Dear Ann,

This was so fantastic! I could not stop reading. What a wonderful interview and to know someone who had that close of a relationship with the King of Rock and Roll. I grew up on Elvis as my mom loved him. I am going to remember this story for a long time..How precious! WINK WINK!


tsmog profile image

tsmog 4 years ago from Escondido, CA

Wow and cool! This must have been a bunch of fun to put together. Thank you for doing so. I have an aunt who is gon'na love it.


Sueswan 4 years ago

Hi Ann,

"He winked at the whole world and we flirted back. His star, still shining, sprinkles a little magic on us all.?"

Love Elvis and loved this interview.

Thank you. Thank you very much. :)


Gerg profile image

Gerg 4 years ago from California

What a great, humanistic and well-written hub article! Thank you so much for sharing it.

G


moonlake profile image

moonlake 4 years ago from America

What a great story. Loved Elvis. Once saw Priscilla at a skating rink in Germany. Great Hub really enjoyed it.


DonnaCosmato profile image

DonnaCosmato 4 years ago from USA

I can't wait to share this on Facebook so my mom can read it to. She is a huge Elvis fan and having original, unknown content to read will be such a treat for her. Thanks so much for an excellent hub! Voted up as well.


billybuc profile image

billybuc 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

Fascinating! I loved the interview and recollections. I was never an Elvis fan but even I would have been impressed to have known him. Great job!


DFiduccia profile image

DFiduccia 4 years ago from Las Vegas

Hi Ann,

You struck gold with this Hub! What a compelling human interst story about the King. Thanks so much for sharing this story.

DF


mckbirdbks profile image

mckbirdbks 4 years ago from Emerald Wells, Just off the crossroads,Texas

This hub has me all shook up. You can tell you have a burning love, of the subject. Cross My Heart and Hope to Die, this is the best Elvis hub I've read.


hoteltravel profile image

hoteltravel 4 years ago from Thailand

This interview is so different from similar ones because of the down-to-earth approach of Mrs. Blackford. A rare glimpse of a person before he scaled the peak of fame. Thanks for sharing. Voted up and awesome.


clara kish 4 years ago

Hi Ann,

John put the memory stick in the computer it seems to have helped it a lot , maybe I can get back oh here again this week .

I read your Hub about Elvis, I enjoyed it I will be back later to read some more of your Hubs. Thanks, Clara


anndavis25 profile image

anndavis25 4 years ago from Clearwater, Fl. Author

hotel, Yes it was a casual easy conversation. Thank you for the comment..Thanks for the votes..AD


anndavis25 profile image

anndavis25 4 years ago from Clearwater, Fl. Author

Clara, I was wondering what happened to you. It will be good to have you back...Love, Ann


anndavis25 profile image

anndavis25 4 years ago from Clearwater, Fl. Author

Mckbird, Your comment, so cute. Always refreshing answers, is there a vote place for that? Thanks, Mck.


drbj profile image

drbj 4 years ago from south Florida

This is an outstanding interview, Ann. Loved the personal touches supplied by Virginia B. How she must regret not saying Yes to that high school date. Voted Up, m'dear.


anndavis25 profile image

anndavis25 4 years ago from Clearwater, Fl. Author

Thanks drbj. I want to ask you a question. before you commented, I clicked approve, then reply on others and the page kept returning to the top of the hub and I couldn't comment. Has this ever happened to you?


anndavis25 profile image

anndavis25 4 years ago from Clearwater, Fl. Author

Hope you mother enjoys the hub. I think Elvis would have been 78 this August.

Thanks for the visit.


anndavis25 profile image

anndavis25 4 years ago from Clearwater, Fl. Author

Glad you enjoyed this moonlake. I never saw a celebrity in person, but I guess everybody sort of stares at them. I'll bet you stared at Pricilla.

Thanks for the visit.


anndavis25 profile image

anndavis25 4 years ago from Clearwater, Fl. Author

Gerg, glad you stopped by. Have a wonderful weekend, Do something silly.


anndavis25 profile image

anndavis25 4 years ago from Clearwater, Fl. Author

Hi Sueswan. Glad you liked the interview. Thanks for stopping by.


anndavis25 profile image

anndavis25 4 years ago from Clearwater, Fl. Author

Hope your aunt enjoys the article. Yes, it was fun to put together, took about 3 days. Elvis would have been about 78 this August.

Thanks for the visit


Dim Flaxenwick profile image

Dim Flaxenwick 4 years ago from Great Britain

What a wonderful hub, such a lovely story.

I love it when really ´´big´´ stars like Elvis, who are idolised, are remembered by people who knew them before the fame.

I love the way you wrote it too.


anndavis25 profile image

anndavis25 4 years ago from Clearwater, Fl. Author

Thanks Dim, it means a lot to hear from you....AD


drbj profile image

drbj 4 years ago from south Florida

In asnswer to your question, ann, Yes, a few times and I always thought it was because of the 'page down temporarily for maintenance' comment I get from time to time when I open a hub to read. Do you get that also?


donnaisabella profile image

donnaisabella 4 years ago from Fort Myers

A lovely interview Ann, I loved reading it! And you write so well, I was completely captivated. Thank you for sharing this lively interview, it made me smile a lot. Good luck to Mrs B and wishing her the best and as she carries the torch!


anndavis25 profile image

anndavis25 4 years ago from Clearwater, Fl. Author

Yes I do. Appreciate your answer. Happy hubbing drbj


anndavis25 profile image

anndavis25 4 years ago from Clearwater, Fl. Author

Hello Ms donna. Happy to have you aboard. We will share...


Marsei profile image

Marsei 4 years ago from New Orleans

Ann, I loved this hub. My best friend in high school was obsessed with Elvis. She dragged me to every movie he ever made. I wasn't crazy about his acting ability but I still drag out the vinyl at Christmastime and play

some Elvis, Blue Christmas, one of my favorites he's ever recorded. This was so well-organized. I'm sure putting it together was a lot of fun.

Excellent hub!

marsei


James A Watkins profile image

James A Watkins 4 years ago from Chicago

What an utterly fascinating article! I love it. Thank you very much for this treasure. Your Hub is one of the best I have read. Great!


KathyH profile image

KathyH 3 years ago from Las Vegas, Nevada

This was so interesting! What a neat story Virginia has, and you did a great job interviewing her! :) Really interesting! Voted up and more! :)


Darja1981 3 years ago

Great hub, we are all remember Elvis, the legend and I still love hear his music.

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