Between me and Elvis, I've always had the upper hand. The legendary being who pop culture itself was invented for and around could always be diminished with two great family legends. I used them to introduce myself on the first day of class in Jr. High a few times:

"My name is Laura Barlow and my biggest claim to fame is that Elvis taught my uncle how to ride a bike," or
"I am Laura Barlow. Elvis asked my aunt out on a date. But she rejected him."

Most of the time the teachers would exaggerate an gaped-mouth response; maybe they thought I was lying; but both accounts are, in fact, true.

My mother was born in Memphis and lived in the same trailer park that he moved to when he was thirteen.

The only qualifier I ever heard was that my aunt, Patsy, had actually been friends with Elvis's sister and that he only flirted with Pat when she was sleeping over at his house as a guest of his sister's. But even in the wake of the exaggerated truth of that story still stood the factor that won me the upper hand:
"But Pat never liked him. . . said he seemed slimy." My mom lapses into the southern accent of her youth as she says it.

In part, it was easy to minimize the real Elvis all of these years because I didn't know who he was. Yes, I'd heard a few songs here or there on Back to the Future and from the toy speakers of the red, velvet, Valentine's Day chocolate box my Dad bought for my mother one year; but beyond that; I never even thought to care.

My oldest brother, Tom, once caught a lizard in the desert that he named Elvis. Even as I type the name now, it reminds me more of a brown lizard who lived in a glass tank with sand and rocks; who died when my little brother, James, tried too hard to catch him when he once got out.

A friend put the song "Blue Moon" on a mix for me and I listened to it for the first time at two o'clock in the morning on a 2 train headed to Flatbush from 96th Street through my yellow, skull-candy headphones last night. My entire countenance awoke and hung on every note. I was dazzled, starstruck, and pinched both of my arms to check if I really was the living niece of these living people who'd interacted with living man who produced these living sounds. I put the song on repeat until I got home.

I wish I'd asked Uncle Ted what it was like to to ride bikes with Elvis before either of them died.


Ms. D. said...

Laura, I was already a fan of yours, but this cements the deal -- not because of your connections with celebrity (or even because you happen to have a marvelous mother), but because of the way you write about it.

whit said...

Laura, I didn't know any of this. Awesome story, thanks for sharing.

mim said...

Oral tradition on the page at last! Thanks

laura said...

Ms. D! I am super flattered! Thank you. Whit! I can't believe I never told you these family legends...weird.

Cambrie said...

I remember your mom telling this story once or twice. Awesome.

Tom said...

I miss Elvis (my lizard).