Her name was Magdalene Morgan.
Magdalene Morgan had had her eyes on the shy youngster for a longer time and she knew - just knew - that one day, sooner or later, they would become 'an item'.
Elvis Presley and Magdalene Morgan.
'I guess my infatuation with Elvis started in that little (Assembly of God) church up in East Tupelo', says Magdalene, known as Maggie in school because people, including Elvis, never got around to learning how to spell her name correctly. 'He sang and picked the guitar. I sang and played piano'.
'I was the church pianist when I wasn't but eight or nine. 'We were always in Christmas plays together up at the church. I always played opposite Elvis, which really thrilled me a lot. One time, I remember, he was one of the wise men and I was one of the angels. Another time, he was Joseph and I was Mary.
'He was just my ideal guy. He was very pleasant, very polite. He didn't talk a whole lot. Elvis was kind of embarrassed a lot. He did not like crowds. He would talk to me a lot if we were by ourselves, like when my mother and I would visit the Presley home, which we did often because Gladys was my mom's best friend'.
Magdalene said she attended a couple of birthday parties for Elvis in his home.
'He and I would sing. We would hold hands and talk. We would go for walks in the woods out behind his house and he would talk about what he wanted to be when he grew up. He always talked about wanting to be a singer and he would marry someone who would have to be a lot like his mama. This was when we were ten, eleven, on up in there. He was just my little guy, you know'.
'At that time I was very young. I didn't expect my life to end or go anywhere without Elvis because he was my man. I was right there with him when he sang his very first song on WELO Radio. I was so proud of him!'
The station was downtown, she believes on Spring Street. Not above the Black & White store, as has been written so often. 'That's incorrect', says Magdalene. 'There was a restaurant on that same street. Nanny's Cafe. Owned by my uncle. My mom and I worked there. Well, Mom worked and I piddled. The radio station was upstairs over the restaurant. The disc jockey would call down and order his food and I would carry it up to him. That's where Elvis sang his first song on the radio. I can't remember the DJ's name. It wasn't Mississippi Slim and it wasn't Roy Miller. Mississippi Slim had his own program and Nubin Payne sang with him on his show. Elvis did sing on Slim's program a couple of times, but that was later'.
Back to the birthday parties. 'They were at that little house on Old Saltillo Road. There would be Elvis and his family; me and my family. We were very poor. We managed to have the usual meal-beans, potatoes and meat. And then some birthday cake. Gladys made the cake and the frosting. And sometimes she made the ice cream in one of those old-time ice cream freezers. We had to take turns cranking.
It was a good old party for people back then when people were poor and salaries weren't very much'.
For birthday gifts, Elvis would receive a shirt, sometimes a hand-made one made out of flour sack material. 'Gladys was very good at sewing', Magdalene remembers. 'She worked in a sewing factory. He'd wind up getting the shirt, maybe a bar of candy. Those were the good ol' times, something we will always remember'.
'One of his favourite candies back then was Milky Way'. 'I know one time we were at this Christmas play at the church. His Uncle Sales (Vernon's brother) was calling out the names of kids for presents.
I had wanted a bicycle for a very, very long time'.
'Sales called out my name. 'Magdalene'. 'Elvis and I were talking at the time and I had not heard my name called out. Elvis' dad drove a truck then and he delivered candy and cigarettes. His employer had donated this big carton of Milky Ways and I won this gigantic case of Milky Way candy bars.
That was more candy than I had ever seen in my life!'
'Well, Elvis and I went back to talking again and once more Sales kept saying, 'Magdalene. Magdalene'. Finally, he said, 'If you don't want this bicycle, I'll give it to someone else'. We stopped talking right away. I ran up there and got my bicycle. That was the highlight of my day! Of my life!' One small problem. The Morgans lived about eight miles from the church. How to get that shiny new bicycle from the church to her house?
'There I was, in a long white satin evening gown that I had worn during the Christmas play', she recalls. 'No way to get my bicycle home and I didn't dare leave it at the church!'
'So Vernon and Gladys and Mom and Elvis got in their car I got a big safety pin and I pinned this satin gown up between my legs. Up the hill we went all the way to Martin Hill. Vernon was driving about three miles per hour right behind me'. 'I rode my bike home. They had my candy in the car, so I was happy. Very happy'.
Oft-times, while the mothers visited in the Presley house, Elvis and Magdalene would take strolls through the woods in the hills behind the house. There, they would talk, dream aloud and once, Elvis even got up the nerve to kiss his girlfriend for the first time! 'We were just like any of the other kids while together', she said. 'We would talk about school, church, singing He always wanted to be a singer Always!
That was his greatest ambition, to be a singer'.
'At the time, we had planned to go through this together. (Laughs.) But it changed. We were so close at that time I just thought we would always be together - in life, singing, everything'.
'Back then, there was nothing but woods behind the house. One day he took a knife and he carved a heart on a tree trunk and in it he put my initials and his initials And then he carved 'Love Forever' underneath the heart'.
'Later, he would carve the same thing into the lumber near the back of his house. He carved that one very lightly, then took a pencil and outlined it. After I moved to California and came back, I went out there and looked for those hearts. The tree was gone and the heart carved into the house was gone. I was disappointed. I guess I had expected to find everything as it was when we left'.
Though they were 'sweethearts' from the end of the filth grade until Elvis moved to Memphis in the beginning of the seventh grade, their kisses were few and far between.
'Just twice in three years. No, make that three', she beamed, as if the smacky lips had happened only yesterday. 'I remember them all. The first time was just after he had carved that heart in the tree. The second time, we were sitting in the swing on his front porch one night while our parents were talking inside. He slowly eased his arm around me, like he didn't know if this were the thing to do or not at this stage. And then he just sort of leaned over and kissed me. The third time, he sneaked a kiss in the back seat of the car while we were going to a (church) rally. I mean, that was a real sneaky. Just a little quick kiss'.
What type of kisses were they? The steamy, sensuous types flashed on movie screens around the world?
'Heavens, no!' Magdalene shouted. 'No! We were too young for that.
Our parents would have killed us if we had kissed like that!'
They attended school together at Lawhon. 'He really tried his very best, but he didn't make the best of grades', she remembered. 'He was always very well-mannered in school. He never had to go to the principal's office or stand in the corner. I'm sure his mother and father helped him at times with his homework, but I never did. He was always bringing his guitar to school and at lunch time he would go sit out under a tree and pick and sing.
Not just to me, to anyone who happened to be listening'.
'He mostly wore overalls or coveralls; at times a flour sack shirt. He did have a few better shirts. He was always neat and clean. His clothes were always pressed Once in a while he would wear jeans, but he never liked wearing jeans. Said he wasn't comfortable in them'.
'And he didn't wear tennis shoes. He wore those high top shoes-brogans? You could buy them for $3 a pair then. Today, kids wear them and they pay $100 a pair'. 'Once in awhile we would go across the highway to Johnnie's and drink a Coke. Always, his mother was with us'.
Elvis' habit of stammering while talking in public was evident even in elementary school days.
'To me, Elvis always seemed nervous', said Magdalene. 'He never could sit still. He stuttered. Not to the point you couldn't understand him. It was 'Ah ... ah ...' Like he did in later life, after he got famous. He was kind of fidgety, especially in crowds. He had a habit of tapping his pencil when he talked.
It was a sign of nervousness'.
Their relationship was not confined to the classroom or the school ground. 'We didn't go to the movies', she said. 'No money. In our little church we had a group for young people called Christ Ambassadors. They had CA rallies all over this area and whichever church brought the most members to a rally got a CA banner. They could take it to their church and keep it until some other CA group did better'.
'Elvis and I were always together at those CA rallies.
We would go to different towns-Saltillo, Corinth, Priceville. Most times we would go there on the church buses. Once or twice we rode with Aaron Kennedy, the song leader at our church'.
She remembers the Presleys as a close-knit, loving family.
'He idolized his parents and they idolized him', she said. 'He held a high respect for his mother and father. If they said 'no', that meant 'no'. I know I'm prejudiced, but Elvis was just a well mannered boy to be an only child. I'm an only child and I was spoiled rotten and I know it. Elvis was brought up like kids should be today, from the old school, with a lot of respect, no talking back, no sassing'.
In the church, Magdalene, on piano, would accompany Elvis as he sang from behind the pulpit - gospel songs like 'Amazing Grace', 'The Old Rugged Cross', and some of the older, better-known hymns.
'After they moved the radio station out on the levee, on Sunday afternoons I would go there and play the piano while Doris Presley, Elvis' second cousin, Sales and Annie's daughter, would sing. Elvis, Vernon and Gladys were there many times to give us support, but Elvis never sang on those Sunday sessions. Just like I would go with him to the Saturday jamborees and he would sing on the radio and I never did'.
There were times Magdalene and her mother would spend the night with the Presleys. 'After we would eat supper, they would make Elvis a little pallet on the front floor. Me and mama would sleep on a pallet in the kitchen. They would move the table over to make room for us.
I don't think our parents ever worried that the two of us were getting too close'.
'He never proposed marriage to me. Nothing like that. We were much too young to be thinking things like that in those days. Oh, he would say 'When we grow up, we are going to do this, do that'. At that time, if you just held hands it was very serious. And we did hold hands a lot. It was very serious (between us)'.
'I remember that night on his front porch swing, when he slipped his arm around me while Mama, Gladys and Vernon were inside. I thought, 'My goodness, we're practically engaged!' You know how children were then? Of course, it's a lot different now'. 'It was just a very sweet relationship. Very clean. Very sweet'.
And then came the heartbreaker. The Presleys announced they were moving to Memphis.
'When I heard they were moving to Memphis, I cried a good while', said Magdalene. 'I missed him. I kept missing him even after I got married and had children. I loved Elvis. I will always love Elvis. There will always be a spot in my heart and Elvis will always be there'.
After Elvis left town, their paths drifted apart. They would see each other again only once And they almost made contact by telephone in Hollywood once. Almost.
'The last time I saw Elvis, I was working with my mother in the Depot Cafe in Tupelo', said Magdalene, a touch of sorrow in her voice. 'Everything about him had changed. His looks. His mannerisms. But deep down, he was still the same guy. When he walked into the cafe, I was taking a break. My mom brought him to my table and said, 'Maggie, do you know who this is?' 'And I said, 'Sure, It's Elvis'.
'He sat down at my table and we talked for awhile, He went over some of the music he was getting ready to sing. Said he had been down on Beale Street in Memphis and had been singing with some black people. And he now had a guitar with all the strings on it. He was real excited about what was beginning to happen in his life'.
'I would like to think he had come back to Tupelo specifically to see me. We never wrote letters. (Elvis remained notorious for not writing letters throughout his life.) Not long after he moved, I became engaged, I didn't wait for him. I figured I was never going to move to Memphis. I figured he would just go his way; I would go mine, I told my husband all about Elvis. He didn't appreciate it. He was jealous'.
After getting married, Magdalene found herself working in a restaurant in Hollywood. A friend of her husband's was working on a movie set where Elvis was filming. On hearing that Magdalene and Elvis were once 'an item' in Tupelo long ago, he suggested she telephone the studio and try to talk with Elvis'.
'He gave me the telephone number', she said.
'I called. They tried to give me the brush-off He was getting a lot of calls because he had a lot of fans. I explained to them Elvis and I had attended school and church together in Tupelo. Finally, I convinced them I was legitimate; that I was not some starry-eyed teenager; that I was grown up and had children'.
'The man said he would have him call me during a break in the shooting. I was on a break myself, working split-shift at the Firebird. I had to go back to work. I was very disappointed Elvis had not called me.
'Then, after retuning to work, I called this (movie) man's home and he said Elvis had called for me not thirty minutes after I had called him. I never got to talk to him'.
In 1992, a marriage certificate, supposedly uniting Elvis and Magdalene, popped out of the woodwork. Some thought it authentic because it was clearly Elvis' signature on the official document, which also included the date of 'marriage' and the Justice of the Peace's signature. Others thought it was just Elvis joking again.
On seeing the marriage license, Magdalene shouted, 'My Lord! Where did this come from?! I never saw it before!' Scanning it more closely, she noted, first, the signature was not in her handwriting; besides, her name was even misspelled. (As said above, Elvis, never got around to learning how to spell her name correctly.) Then she noted the date on the license Just hours before Elvis and his parents were moving to Memphis. Perhaps this was his feelings about the girl he left behind. Given that thought, tears formed in the eyes of Magdalene Morgan.
Original interview with Magdalene Morgan by Bill E. Burk
Used with permission - Copyright Bill E. Burk.
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