Gladys Love (Smith) Presley.
Fitting that “Love” is her middle name for it was the essence of her especially when it came to her only child (being Elvis) that (a) lived to full term and/or (b) survived being born.
Many people are unaware that Gladys had at least two pregnancies (note: please see out the great Elvis Presley books written by Alanna Nash that cover this in detail and are a pleasure to read) with the first bearing twins (i.e. Jessie who died on January 8, 1935 and Elvis who, of course, was born January 8, 1935) and the second (sadly) ending in a miscarriage.
Back in the day it was widely believed that Elvis father, being Vernon Elvis Presley, was the “best looking young man around”. Being from the South I know that these five words are not freely given and if one was deemed the “best looking man around” then you earned it inasmuch as looks earn anything (another discussion another time).
What has been quite overlooked was that Gladys, in her own right, was beautiful.
One just needs to look at the most famous photo of Elvis childhood sandwiched between his mother and father to attest to her beauty. Vernon Elvis Presley had his choice of women and Gladys proved to be his equal in looks and his superior in virtually every meaningful aspect (i.e. hard work, love of family, smiling when the weight of the world is on your shoulders, etc.).
I have added my own photograph of this family photo and two things strike me (besides the fact that has watermarks and is a necessity in this digital world). The first is that this photo is different in the fact that there appears the pocket on the lower part of the photo, on Elvis left side, on his overalls and this does not appear in other similar photos. The second is how young a couple Gladys and Vernon were never knowing that Elvis would garner them wealth, and fame, beyond their comprehension.
Looking at this photo Gladys has a certain grace about her. She is clear eyed. There is an inner strength. Her watchful gaze, which would guide Elvis (literally) throughout her life, is omnipresent. You get a sense that she wanted to be proud of this family photograph, as it was considered a luxury for her as opposed to today when billions of photos are taken each day, but was ever mindful of her son and his needs.
Far too many people have (wrongly) judged Gladys about her weight. They don’t consider that the loss of one child, and another pregnancy, rips the heart out of a mother and it can occasionally be diminished with unhealthy acts (i.e. drinking alcohol, too much food, too much rich food, etc.). They don’t take the time to grasp the reality that a lifetime of bitter poverty, thick necked manual labor, asking for help for everyday necessities (i.e. food, clothing, etc.) for decades, being a single mother while her husband is incarcerated at a crucial time in Elvis life, combined with genetic dispositions and real health issues manifest themselves with weight gain and lower self esteem. Then you add “worry”. Gladys was a “worrier” with good reason. A lifetime of “worry” didn’t change when Elvis became successful for it was magnified with every trip, concert, appearance, etc. She worried because she….loved.
Had she of had time, anytime, throughout her adult life to just…rest. To seek medical care. To put her needs above her families perhaps there would be more photographs showcasing her beauty. However, when I see Gladys in photos I see a loving beautiful woman deserving of our respect. Her weight doesn’t define her nor should it any woman. The beauty of Gladys resided inside her as well as visually.
Gladys Love (Smith) Presley didn’t raise Elvis to be a superstar. She raised him to be a good man. To be a good Father. To be a loyal friend. To be respectful. To love and know of God/Jesus. To see people for themselves without the constraints of color or origin. She openly cared for Elvis and she sacrificed for him in ways known to, and in many others intentionally kept from, Elvis. She did her best not looking five years ahead but making the decisions an hour upon another. She succeeded.
When time allows and I look at documents, photos, videos, and audio recordings etc. about Gladys some things readily stand out and some need to be digested for they are not readily apparent. An example is Elvis’ report card when in the first quarter of school he got the lowest grade that year and it was a “D” in arithmetic (that’s now known as “math”). One can only imagine what Gladys’ reaction (as she was not highly educated) was to this grade and the words she shared with Elvis. But what we do know, and I have always believed in the adage of “never confuse efforts with results”, is that the very next quarter Elvis got a “C”.
I believe that this is a representation of the beauty of Gladys in that she knew Elvis was capable. She had known the pains, and the gains, of hard work and determination. Even though Elvis was young at the time of the report card Gladys knew enough to know that a “D” would set an example of “just getting by” and Gladys wasn’t one to allow her beloved son to build his foundation of life with grades, and results, of “just getting by” when he was capable of so much more.
By Gladys’ sacrifices. love, support, hard work, determination, faith and more Elvis life story became internationally known and accepted as a part of the “American Dream”. I have always respected Gladys Love (Smith) Presley and that respect has only grown through the years.
There are many life lessons one can learn about Gladys but with each new revelation, with requires; context, effort, comparisons, and openness, the beauty of her face, and of her character, is renewed. In order to fully “see” Gladys Love (Smith) Presley one can take the easy route and go by images alone. But, as is the case much in life, in order to confirm real beauty one must look past the eye and in doing so one can truly….see.
When one looks past the surface life is more meaningful. Life is more graceful. And happiness in life isn’t measured by the number of digits in ones bank account but by the way one carries themselves and the manner in which their love, and passions, are expressed.
Though she came from generations of poverty, with limited education, the life story (as well as the individual qualities) confirm that Gladys was beautiful…in every meaningful way.
Take care and may God bless you.
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