TUPELO – For Guy Harris and James Ausborn, Elvis Presley is the kid they spent much of their childhoods with, going to the fair and eating at Johnnie’s Drive-In – not the King of Rock ’n’ Roll.
The two men remember Elvis, who would have been 75 today, as their classmate, their fellow church member, their friend, not as the man who went on to sell a billion records and become one of the most recognizable people in the world.
“As they would say in Tupelo, he was just a little snotty-nosed boy when I was born,” the 71-year-old Harris said with a laugh.
“I sat right behind him in class in the sixth grade at Milam, and we run around together,” Ausborn, 76, said. “I rode him around on my bicycle all over town.”
Ausborn remembers Elvis loved music from an early age.
“We’d go fishing together down on the creek, on Mud Creek, and he would start singing. I’d get on to him singing. I’d tell him, ‘We ain’t gonna catch no fish, you keep singing,’” Ausborn said, laughing.
Elvis was born in Tupelo in 1935, and lived here for the first 13 years of his life before his family moved to Memphis.
Shirley Hunter of Belden and Barbara Mallory of Verona, both 70, were some of Elvis’ earliest fans.
Both recall seeing Elvis when he performed in Belden in 1955 and again in Tupelo in ’56.
“He was a little bit timid, but he could sing better than he could talk,” Hunter recalled. “I thought he did a really good job. … The gymnasium was full, I remember that.”
They bought pictures of him at a Belden concert and had him autograph it.
“He just smiled at us,” Hunter said. “He was very handsome … he had that special smile.”
Mallory and friends started the Tupelo Elvis Presley Fan Club in 1956.
Mallory saw Elvis several more times over the years and for the last time in ’74.
“He had a way of communicating with the audience that it almost made you feel that he was singing directly to you,” Mallory said. “He somehow was able to pull you in. It was just that magnetism, and he was so natural. It was just spontaneous. It was not rehearsed. It was just him being himself.”
Ausborn didn’t see Elvis again after his career took off, but Harris kept in touch with him. He visited him in 1956 in Memphis – and still has a photograph to remember that visit by – and he saw Elvis for the last time in 1970.
Elvis remained, according to Harris, the same boy he and Ausborn befriended all those years earlier.
“There was no telling what the guy gave away, making the money and stuff like that. I think the reason for that was his humble beginnings here in east Tupelo,” Harris said.
Elvis still has an impact on the lives of Harris and Ausborn.
Harris frequently visits the birthplace, meeting visitors from all over the world and sharing his memories.
Ausborn also loves telling Elvis tales.
“I’ve made, I think, about 14 documentaries on him,” he said.
Both men say they still can’t believe their childhood buddy revolutionized the world.
“It’s amazing, really, to think a guy from this small a town could do something like that,” Harris said. “What’s such a shame about the whole thing is, he didn’t get to live to enjoy it. He should be living, enjoying all this.”
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Sheena Barnett/NEMS Daily Journal