'So big and so humble' A letter from Waco

July 23, 1992|By Rafael Alvarez

Waco, Texas -- THERE are three spots every wanderer ought to visit when passing through this central Texas town: the Dr. Pepper Museum, the Texas Ranger Hall of Fame and the little room at the back of Eddie Fadal's house.

We couldn't stay long enough to see the first two, but we made sure we had time to drop in on Eddie.

"I'll never forget for as long as I live," he said, standing in the middle of his special room on Green Oak Drive and holding his right hand in the air with fingers spread wide. "I'll never forget the day Elvis held his hand up like this in front of a room full of people and said: 'Eddie's one of the five best friends I ever had. He doesn't need me, he doesn't use me and I can't give him anything.'"

Eddie Fadal's Elvis Room is a tribute to that friendship.

And because of the retired disc jockey's personal connection to the King of Rock 'n' Roll, people the world over have made the trip to his suburban rancher just beyond Lake Waco -- a gang of tourists from Austria; Anne Arundel County's Ace Anderson and his teen-age son, Elvis; and your correspondent, on his way to the Grand Canyon with his 9-year-old boy.

The guest book is full and growing, and the garage holds five large filing cabinets with mail Eddie gets from fans in Italy and Greece and Japan and most every country in between, fans who have read about Eddie Fadal in their Elvis newsletters.

"They see me as a link to him," said Eddie, 66, who befriended Elvis in 1956 while working for a local radio station when Presley performed in Waco.

The friendship deepened when Elvis was stationed at Fort Hood in nearby Killeen and visited the Fadals on weekends. It was a time when the singer was certain that the Army would end his entertainment career and was grateful for a home away from home.

"That's the hook," said Eddie. "The fans know I knew Elvis in his private moments in an old house on Lasker Avenue. And they want me to tell them what he was like."

To Eddie Fadal, Elvis Presley was nothing if not "lonely and sensitive."

I met Eddie in the Meditation Garden at Graceland last August while covering the 14th anniversary of Elvis' death and found him to be gentle, generous with his time and knowledgeable.

And about a week ago, while driving from Johnny Winter's hometown of Beaumont, Texas, northwest across the Lone Star State toward the Grand Canyon, I remembered Eddie and decided to stop by.

You don't know of Eddie's connection to the King when you enter the home where Eddie lives with his wife LaNelle. There are no traces of Elvis in the part of the house where the Fadals take their meals or watch television, no signs of Presley in the bedrooms or bathrooms.

We were seated in the dining room, and Mrs. Fadal -- the woman who couldn't burn the bacon black enough to please Elvis, served us coffee and hot cinnamon buns.

As Eddie and I began chatting about the Elvis community, how various fan clubs split off into warring factions like fundamentalist churches arguing over who loves Elvis the most, my son Jake began to ask the blunt questions of a child.

Why was Elvis so fat?

Why did he eat fried peanut butter and banana sandwiches?

How come there is so much junk with Elvis' face on it?

Eddie smiled, looked at Jake with his big, kind eyes and was silent for a moment.

I tried to explain that Mr. Eddie knew the real Elvis, the human being, not the cartoon that Presley has become. I told Jake that Mr. Eddie knew the flesh and blood, not the plaster Elvis head we put in the window of our Highlandtown rowhouse at Christmas. I said Mr. Eddie cares for Elvis very much.

"Mr. Eddie knew Elvis as a friend," I said. "You might be hurting his feelings. Do you understand?"

"I think he does," said Eddie, getting up from the table. "Do you want to see the room now?"

We entered a room no bigger than a typical Cockeysville den and no different except that it is crammed from ceiling to floor and wall to wall with rare Elvis artifacts that Miss Bonnie's Elvis Bar on Fleet Street would be proud to own.

Eddie put on some Elvis music as we entered, and the room was immediately filled with Presley's voice.

At the center of everything is a long green sofa from the early 1950s, where Elvis would take naps. "He'd just stretch out and close his eyes, setting his head right there on the arm rest. He never used a pillow."

The sofa was covered with teddy bears, and on every side were piles of books and buttons and posters, original photographs of the Fadal children with Elvis, a record album made in the Fadal home and the microphone Elvis used to record it. There's the original contract between Elvis' manager, Col. Tom Parker, and the local civic center where Elvis appeared in the early days. There's a framed three-page Western Union telegram sent by Elvis from Germany when Eddie's mother died.

Eddie is proud that he never accepted expensive gifts from Elvis. "I could've had anything I wanted back then," said Eddie. "I didn't take any of it because I wanted to be a real friend. Everybody he met had their hand out. He tried to give me a purple Cadillac once, and I said: 'Elvis, there's no one way I'm going to drive a purple Cadillac through the streets of Waco.'

". . . All the time as I travel around to the different fan clubs, I hear stories about how healing his music is for people. Those stories are from the heart, and I hear them all the time," said Eddie, staring over at the couch where the King used to nap. "And as I sit here and listen to the music and think back to those times -- he was so big and so humble -- a feeling just comes over me."

L Rafael Alvarez covers Elvis for The Sun and The Evening Sun.

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