Margaret’s visitors from Shen

As I have noted elsewhere, I visited Shenandoah to see the restored Everly house in early September 2015. After learning that Margaret was angry about the house being displayed—and that she had broken off communications with the town—I was told that I should talk with a woman who had visited Margaret only a few weeks earlier. I assumed this was someone who had known Margaret for a long time, but it turned out that the woman did not know Margaret at all. She was someone who was making a trip to Nashville for her daughter’s benefit, and she made her stop at Margaret’s house as a representative of the city of Shenandoah.

As my companion on the Shenandoah trip, Lorrie, and I made our way back from meeting this woman, we wondered why Margaret would agree to see a representative of the city when she was furious with the city for displaying the little house.

The answer became apparent months later.

Visitor’s observations. The visitor—I will call her Anne here—had taken about two dozen photos of Margaret and the house. Before showing them to us, she commented, “Some work must have been done on this woman’s face. Nobody looks that good naturally at ninety-five. Lorrie and I looked at the first photo and remarked how much Don looks like his mother. Anne was not a fan of The Everly Brothers and had not seen any photos of Don taken after he retired. I showed her one on my phone, and her jaw literally dropped. “It’s the same face!” she said. When we got through discussing how similar the faces were, the woman continued her narrative and showed us the remaining photos.

The house “Bye Bye Love” built. Margaret gave her guests a full tour, explaining that everything in her home, which she referred to as “The House that ‘Bye Bye Love’ Built,” was exactly as it was when she, Ike, and Phil first moved in: original furnishings, original carpeting, original everything. This in itself seems highly unlikely. The photos revealed a large expanse of cream-colored carpet that would be sixty-plus years old. Even if Margaret made Ike and Phil walk around the house in stockinged feet, it is hard to believe that American carpet made in the 1950s would hold up so long. Margaret emphasized that her sons gave her complete authority on all decorating. That was probably true for the most part, but I am guessing it was not Margaret’s idea to paint the walls of Phil’s room black.

Margaret showed her visitors the interior of the house and the landscaping around it. Anne said that Margaret, who is very petite, was remarkably spry, leading the way up and down stairs at a brisk pace. Lorrie and I saw a closeup of the shoes Margaret was wearing, which were not the blocky tie-ons or athletic shoes that so many of us elderly women need for stability. Margaret’s shoes were a kind of ankle-cut cowboy boot with a wooden heel of maybe two inches, fancy buckles, and plenty of ornamental tooling on the leather.

One wall of the great room (or the living room, as we say in some areas of the United States) was covered with framed art work Don had produced in high school. The sketches and paintings are obviously excellent work for someone in high school. Margaret sat in a chair in front of this wall to be photographed and to speak with her visitors.

A chat with Margaret. She told them she “wasn’t seeing anyone” (dating) at that time and that both her sight and hearing were failing. She also said that she had three typescripts of books she had written about her life with Ike and her sons, her sons’ success, and her life after Ike’s death. Margaret has spoken of her unpublished manuscripts on other occasions as well.

Margaret said she was “at peace” with Phil’s death because he had gotten to do everything he wanted to do in his life.

Anne’s daughter was the real reason for the mother’s trip to Nashville, as the girl wanted to be a singer. Margaret asked the girl to sing a song, and when the girl had done so, Margaret took a pink long-stemmed rose from a vase on the coffee table and presented it to the girl, saying that the rose was very special because, as Margaret put it, “My son sent me these roses.” Margaret then explained that Don visited regularly and frequently sent flowers to her.

In fact, she said, if the visitors had only come the day before, they could have met Don, who had driven over to return her 1979 Cadillac to her. Margaret said that Don had restored the car, putting it in drivable condition, despite the fact that Margaret had stopped driving about six years earlier. “But it can be driven now,” she emphasized.

My friend and I discussed this information about Margaret and Don at length on our three-hour drive from Shenandoah back to my home. There is no doubt in my mind that what I am reporting here is what Margaret told her visitor. I made notes about it after we got home, as it would be big news for other EB fans, who generally believed that Don and Margaret stopped speaking when Ike died in 1975.

I shared the information on several EB fan sites, and about eight months later, a man who had known Margaret for many years reported that he had called her about this news, only to have Margaret say that Don had driven over to her house in his sports car, once, but he did not come inside the house, that he had sent her flowers once, and that she had herself had the Caddy restored. She even added that she had offered the Caddy to Don.

Regulars on the fan site thought the man’s account must be the accurate one and the one I had heard inaccurate. My guess is that both are accurate accounts of what Margaret said and that neither account comports with reality. I would not be surprised if Don has not spoken directly with his mother in forty years. 

Drawing conclusions. Margaret has been caught in a number of lies. Some are pure fabrications and some are nuanced combinations of manipulation, misdirection, and omission. Maybe she does so consciously, maybe she does so compulsively. Maybe she believes it is okay to make things up in the service of what she considers a worthy cause or a greater truth.

The point is, what Margaret asserts cannot be taken at face value. Whether it’s her story of a seven-year-old Phil rehearsing for an upcoming performance by singing in his sleep or whether it’s making the public believe that her surviving son dotes on his mama, Margaret frequently misrepresents reality for public consumption.

She does not like it that her family was poor prior to the success of her sons, so she tells the family history in a way that obscures or suppresses the truth—and becomes enraged when a tiny house stands as evidence of the poverty. She is in some way uncomfortable with her elder son’s estrangement, so she creates a new reality for herself which she hopes others will embrace.

Once you catch on to Margaret, you realize why the brothers kept her out of the public eye. She was not at their weddings, she was not at their Reunion Concert, she was not at “homecoming” events they did in Shenandoah (except as an observer of a parade) and, as far as I can tell, she was not at the Central City events. There is a serious underlying problem when a healthy mother is absent from such important dates in the lives of her sons.

It’s my conclusion that Margaret’s shaky relationship with reality is a major reason the brothers never cooperated on a decent biography of their lives and career together. A writer of any quality would want to interview a living parent. If Don and Phil explained the problem to a writer, the writer would want to explain the problem in the book. Many of Margaret’s anecdotes about her sons as children would have to be debunked. Worst of all, once the book was published, Margaret would start giving interviews, which would call attention to the problems she created.