by Andria Lisle
See Minnie Mae Hood Presley, above, serving biscuits to her son Vernon and her grandson Elvis?
Well, Minnie Mae's niece, Alice, was the grandmother of Alabama-based actress, advertising executive, and book author Edie Hand.
Starting tomorrow, Hand, Joe Meador, and Ronnie McDowell, co-authors of The Genuine Elvis: Photos and Untold Stories about the King, will be signing copies of their new book all over town.
Flyer: What was it like, as a relative of Elvis, to actually visit Graceland when he was alive?
Hand: Well, we were down-home people. I can still hear my grandmother, Alice, and his grandmother, Minnie Mae, dipping snuff and telling stories. Ghost stories were a big thing! They'd be laughing and high on life. When I came to Graceland, I would always bring the black gum toothbrushes for them to dip their snuff in from my grandparents' sawmill farm in Russellville, Alabama. My Aunt Nash Pritchet, Vernon's youngest sister, was an Assembly of God minister who had a daughter my age, Karen. I got to be good friends with [Elvis' scarves-and-water man] Charlie Hodge, and [Elvis' step-brother] Rick Stanley.
What was the reaction on your side of the family when Vernon Presley was arrested and sent to the penitentiary at Parchman?
People were much more tight-lipped back then. You didn’t talk about your problems, you didn’t have Oprah. My grandmother would say things like, "They’re having a bad time," but not a lot was said about it. It was one of those things — you do strange things in bad times, and Vernon did it for survival.
It seems like Elvis always kept himself surrounded by family. What do you think he got out of the closeness?
From my observations, he didn’t like a lot of change. From listening to my grandmother and Aunt Nash, I got the feeling that he worked even when he didn’t feel good, because he felt responsible for his family and his friends. I think he felt like it was a privilege to do it. With fame and fortune comes responsibility, and Elvis delivered.
What compelled you to write The Genuine Elvis?
Twelve years ago, I worked with the Elvis fan clubs, helping them collaborate on a Presley family and friends cookbook. Then one day, Ronnie and Joe and I were talking about making something new for the fans, and I said, well, I'll check into it.
We found a lot of real stories that hadn't been told. Louise Smith hadn't shared her stories with anyone else. Ronnie did all the paintings. My good friend [photographer] Al Wertheimer allowed us to use his photos. I've known [contributor] Jerry Schilling since I was in college. The book is a nice insight into the sweetness of Elvis.
Did the stories in the book enlighten you at all?
There wasn’t any great new things, other than it was a confirmation to me that Elvis truly was this genuine guy. Even in my teenage years, when he was a big star, I saw that firsthand. The sweetest things I learned were from Louise, from before he was Elvis, like what it was like when he was so very poor.
This book is exactly what Ronnie, Joe, and I wanted to do, which is to share the genuine Elvis with his fans. He was the epitome of the American dream — the poor boy from Tupelo, Mississippi, who rose to fame. At the book signings this weekend, I’m going to wear the necklace, earrings, and scarf that he gave me, and I'm going to put a yellow rose on my family's grave, because he gave me two dozen yellow roses on the opening night of my first play.
Elvis was an encourager. He knew I was the first cousin to graduate from college, and he would always say I’m pretty and smart. I always wonder if I had been older, if I could’ve been a better friend in return. I always felt welcome at Graceland, and what he gave to me was his realness.
Hand, McDowell, and Joe Meador will be signing copies of The Genuine Elvis at the following locations this weekend:
Friday, August 14th, 2-4 p.m.
National Book Launch at Graceland in the "Elvis Lives" Exhibit with special guests Louise Smith, Charlie Watts, and Jordanaires vocalist Ray Walker.
Saturday, August 15th, 2-4 p.m.
Bookstar, 3402 Poplar Ave.
Saturday, August 15th, 4:30 p.m.
Lansky's at the Peabody, 149 Union Ave.