Thoughts from County Native and Arlington Public Library Director, Diane Kresh
Yesterday was the King’s birthday. He would have been 74, which once seemed old. Maggie remembered seeing him (and paying no attention) on the Potomac River’s Wilson Line, performing country-western tunes–before he got famous, that is. Gemma never heard of him. But then again, she’s 12 and only last year arrived in the States from India. She told me her favorite rock and roll singer is Hannah Montana.
When I was around Gemma’s age, I asked the adult services librarian at Westover to recommend something for me to read. Then, as now, my tastes were eclectic and sensing that, she thrust into my hands a copy of Richard Powell’s “Pioneer, Go Home!,” a satirical novel (think “Once Upon a Time on the Banks” or “The Funeral Makers” by Cathie Pelletier), first published in 1959. In brief, the novel is the story of the Kwimpers (think the Clampetts and the Sycamores of “You Can’t Take it With You”), who set out in their car from Cranberry, N.J. and end up settling in Columbiana, a fictional place that resembles the state of Florida, because their car runs out of gas on the highway.
Mayhem ensues. While waiting for assistance, Old Man Kwimper, his none-too-bright adult son, Toby, two twin boy orphans and a baby sitter (think Al Capp’s Daisy Mae) invoke squatters’ rights, build some shacks to live in and proceed to annoy everyone: the locals, social workers, the government, even the Mob. A classic story as old as storytelling–the iconoclastic rascal who outwits authority, stands up for the little guy and triumphs.
Within a couple of years, I was watching “Saturday Night at the Movies” on television and as the plot of “Follow that Dream” unfolded, it all seemed very familiar–the freeloading patriarch, the doltish son, the nubile baby sitter. The Kwimpers! Now transferred to the silver screen, cinematizing a tale of luck-over-law in the best tradition of Preston Sturges and Frank Capra. And who was cast as the slow-of-wit-but-pure-of-heart Toby Kwimper? None other than Elvis Presley in one of his better film roles. And in a twist on life imitates art, Presley’s own personal biography, from shotgun shack to Graceland, from the Wilson Line to a garage full of Cadillacs, is somewhat Kwimper-like in its demonstration of triumph over what had to be modest expectations, a rags to riches story worthy of Horatio Alger and Richard Powell. A classic story as old as storytelling and still as affecting and compelling.
Happy Birthday, Elvis.
Get all your Elvis info links here in another fine Arlington Public Library “Spotlight.”