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MEMORIES FROM GRACELAND
November 20, 2016  -   Daily Mountain Eagle  /  Elvis Express Radio
MEMPHIS For most teenagers in the late 1960s, Graceland would be an intimidating place. For Dora resident Edie Hand, spending time at the home of Elvis Presley was simply a
family reunion.

Alice Hood Hacker, Hand’s grandmother, took her to Graceland for the first time in 1967 when Hand was only 16. Hacker was the sister of Elvis’ grandmother, Minnie Mae Hood
Presley. Hand, whose full name is Edith Mae Blackburn Hand, was named after Minnie Mae.

“I was just a 16-year-old from Burnout, Ala., that got to meet Elvis, but it is special to think back on all I learned from times that I spent at Graceland,” Hand said. “I loved my
grandmother so much, and I loved Minnie. They taught me a lot, and they taught Elvis a lot. Both of us learned about being real from them.”

Hand returned to Graceland for the first time in nearly a decade on Nov. 5 when she presented the Elvis estate with several awards she had picked up in honor of Elvis during a
recent awards ceremony in Los Angeles. The Reel Cowboys, a California organization that recognizes western films, honored Elvis in September with a Silver Spur Award, which
was presented to Hand and Elvis’ longtime friend Jerry Schilling.

Hand returned that award, along with several others given in honor of Elvis that night, to Graceland to be preserved in its archives.

“It was an honor to be there with Jerry to accept the award,” Hand said. “It was such a humbling experience not only to be there but to be the one to bring the award back to
Graceland. Jerry could have brought it back himself, but it was his choice to let me bring it back.”

Hand presented the award to Graceland officials during a fan appreciation weekend at the new Guest House at Graceland on Nov. 5. More than 500 Elvis fan clubs were
represented during the event.

“It means so much to get to do this in front of Elvis’ fans,” Hand said before presenting the awards.

Earlier on that day, Hand and a longtime friend, Gigi Ballester, toured Graceland together and shared memories of their days in the mansion.

Ballester worked in the marketing department of RCA records in the 1960s and 1970s.

“It was never boring at Graceland, Ballester said. “There were always people here, and we all got to know each other. Edie and I were both young girls when we met at Graceland.”

Hand said she remembers meeting Ballester for the first time in the mansion’s kitchen.

“Besides making buttermilk biscuits and chocolate gravy like my mom and grandmother taught me, meeting Gigi is one of my favorite memories from the kitchen,” Hand said.

Ballester said she remembers Elvis being proud of Hand because she was the first member of the family to graduate college.

“That was something that he mentioned a lot,” Ballester said. “He always talked about her graduating college. That meant so much to him. He also talked about Edie’s talent. He
knew she was special and would say that often.”

Hand said that she would travel to Graceland many times, typically once every three months or so.

“My grandmother and I would go together. I was her riding buddy,” Hand said. “Minnie and them didn’t let a lot of people come. You couldn’t just let everybody come and hang out.
They liked me. I think one reason was because I was never awe. I thought it was cool to be there, but they were just family to me. There were a lot of times that Elvis wasn’t even
there when we would go.”

While showing friends around Graceland, Hand said she would stay in the blue room downstairs on many of her trips.

“I would get up and look around, and I would think about how cool it was to be there,” she said. “My grandmother and I had so much fun during our trips, and the blue room was our
home while we were there a lot of times.”

Hand said she has seen some areas of the mansion that most people have not seen, mostly the upstairs area. Delta Presley Biggs, Elvis’ aunt, took her into that area.

“I saw everything privately many times,” Hand said. “She let me try on his capes. I remember looking at myself in the mirror with one of those on. It was like a department store up
there, because there was so much stuff. It was also decorated a little different from time to time. I remember fur on the walls one time.”

During her recent visit to Graceland, Hand talked about her times playing the piano inside the mansion. She said Elvis loved to hear her play “Peace in the Valley.” Hand said that
she cherishes the times she got to hang out with Presley.

“I told him one time during one of my later visits that “I’m just an old country girl that’s learned how to maneuver in city traffic,’ and he just loved that line,” Hand said.

Hand has authored more than 20 books, but she said one of her favorites is “The Genuine Elvis: Photos and Untold Stories about the King.”

“Elvis was always genuine to me, and I’ve tried to remember that throughout my life,” she said.

Hand said she remembered seeing Elvis have someone take a person a wheelchair after seeing a news story on television about the person being in need.

“I was there that night. I watched that first-hand with my grandmother,” she said. “That simple act had a profound effect on me at a young age. It made me want to grow up and be
able to help people.”

The recent visit to Graceland was an emotional experience for Hand.

“When I think about it all, this was a different visit for me than I’ve ever had,” Hand said. “Being there with Gigi and just remembering the times was very special.”

Hand said each room in the mansion and different areas on the grounds bring back specific memories, especially at the resting places for Elvis and his family.

“It’s hard for me, but it is always hard for me at the resting places,” she said. “But I start to think back on my grandmother and Minnie Mae, and I can’t help but smile.”
Edie Hand stands in front of Graceland on a recent visit to the
legendary homestead of Elvis Presley. Hand, Elvis' cousin, was in
Memphis to present several awards to Graceland officials during
the recent Elvis Fan Appreciation Weekend.