There is a story making the rounds in the South, of incredible luck and astonishing nerve, of love and divorce and untimely death, of fabulous worth that was cast away, of riches and rare sentiment recovered in a junkyard, and of a resurrection, of sorts.
This is something that could have happened only there, where romances seem to tangle like the honeysuckle, where any family history is a fable of a loss, and where what really happened is never so interesting as a subsequent, slow, gently unfolded and long elaboration.It was told as true as stars shine on Alabama to Jo Tartt Jr., who once hailed from Livingston down that way. He heard it from his brother Innes, in Gulf Shores, who was so informed by Randy Laney over in Gadsden. One of them, Jo believed, might know a person who knew the person to whom this happened. Jo was pretty sure it occurred in Magnolia Springs.
Innes, it happens, did not know who, but he thought the where was around Birmingham. Innes did think that Joan Hand, wife of Perry Hand who works in Mobile, could know the central figure.
She did not either, though she thought Diane Bozeman did know the fellow and that he lived in Spanish Fort.
But Diane Bozeman, too, didn't know, although she believed this involved someone who had been the college roommate of somebody she knew who was the son of a Marie Armstrong who works in the First Alabama Bank in Andalusia. But this happened, she was almost certain, around Montgomery.
Marie Armstrong had never heard a word of it.
And who, she wanted to know, was Diane Bozeman?
Well it would seem that there might be no certain beginning. If so, there is no ending, either, for Jo Tartt Jr., is telling everyone he knows. And you know? There's not a single one who hears - and, mind you, all named here are gentry with the sensibilities of the wide verandahs - who doesn't want to trust it.
It goes like this:
Not long ago, last spring, last winter, a young man was prowling about a junk heap outside Magnolia Springs when he came across the frame of an old motorcycle. He bought it for little more than a lunch at Denny's and took it home.
Thinking he'd restore it, and needing some particulars about what parts would be required, he wrote off to Harley-Davidson, the manufacturer, enclosing the vehicle identification number he'd found beneath the rust.
And very soon, he got back a letter from Harley-Davidson, offering him $5,000 for the battered thing.
Hmm, he thought. That offer sure came quick. So he said no, for anyway he'd figured to fix it.
About a week after that another letter arrived from Harley, offering him $10,000.
Again, he said no. This time he got a lawyer to write that refusal, letting 'em know he was a serious person.
Well now, it wasn't more than a couple of weeks before he got another call, from a man who said he was Jay Leno. The TV talk show host? And guess what Jay Leno offered?
And guess what the young man said. He said no. Imagine. He just said no. To $750,000 for a piece of junk that wouldn't run.
Weeks went by. Then, there was another call. From Jay Leno again. This, he said, was his final offer, take it or leave it, $2.5 million.
And the young man said - with reluctance? with nonchalance? - all right.
Soon came a representative of Jay Leno with a certified check, but before handing it over, he wanted the young man to lift up the seat on that motorcycle frame and pass on over the telephone to a waiting Jay Leno any words that he found written there.
What he read was, "For Elvis, love, Priscilla."
That would seem an awful lot, even for the Harley once owned by Elvis Presley. But there's a little more to it.
During the time that they were married, this story goes, Priscilla gave Elvis seven Harley-Davidson motorcycles. Jay Leno had managed to find and restore to prime condition the first five. This almost completes the collection. There is only one now - or maybe not - still out there to be found.
Now guess what is reported that Jay Leno said when the check was in the young man's hands and that motorcycle was in his own.
"I'd have gone to $7.5 million."
That there's the story for a porch swing that goes down in Alabama with mint and ice tea just as nice as mint in bourbon.
So is it really so? Oh it's known that Elvis rode a Harley, for he was seen low in the saddle sometimes on the streets of Memphis. And, surely, surely Priscilla gave it to him.
Yet what about that lucky young man? What about Jay Leno?
"It is NOT true," says the TV star's publicist Jennifer Barnett, and there is exasperation in her voice at having to say so to a reporter, a self-supposed sophisticate who has struck at this tale like a bass to the long red worm.
"It is an urban legend."
Urban? There's nothing urban about it. It reeks of magnolias and loud exhaust on tarry Southern backroads where certainly there's got to be, or likely was once, somewhere, maybe in some junkyard, a hawg that Elvis rode and now belongs to someone else.
"No," says Barnett. "Jay does collect motorcycles. He does own Harleys. He does NOT own an Elvis motorcycle. That story has been going around a couple of years. Jay has gone on television denying it. Still, we get calls about it at least once a week. I don't know how that rumor got started."
There you have it.
And now who are you going to believe? Jay Leno's publicist? Or your heart?