Dolly, Me and the Southland

Several years ago, when my granddaughter was seven, I decided to take her to Dollywood in Tennessee during her summer visit with me.

We drove from Atlanta through the Great Smoky Mountains winding our way to Pigeon Forge. Once there, we checked into our rooms and then off to the theme park.

The sunny day began to turn dark with clouds. Once the rain started to pour, we quickly made our way to the Dolly Parton Museum, where a trio of women warmly greeted us.

“Hello, young lady, what is your name?” One of the women asked as she leaned over a counter.

“Well, honey do you watch Hannah Montana on the TV?”,asked another.

“Yes, ma’am, I do!” Avery responded as her eyes lit up.

“Well, honey child, I am gonna’ take you upstairs and show you the room where they did some of the filmin’. Sweetheart, you know Miss Dolly played her Grandma on the show, don’t you?”

Avery absolutely knew that fun fact since she had spent a few years watching Miley Cyrus play Hannah Montana.

During our drive, I had told my grandchild all I knew about the life of Dolly Parton and that she and I were born with 50 miles of one another in the Tennessee hills. I explained how young Dolly lived happily with many brothers and sisters in a tiny house in the mountains. I described how her mother made her a coat from scraps of fabric in various colors because her family could not afford a store bought one.

As the kind woman showed us the way to the Hannah Montana room, Avery pointed to a glass case, “Grandma! Look! There it is!”

The little coat made of cut pieces of worn fabric was displayed and lit as if it were a diamond encrusted tiara at a Royal Museum. Around the bottom of the jacket were sheets of paper where Dolly first scribbled the lyrics to the song which catapulted her to fame.

While we gazed at the “Coat of Many Colors,” I was reminded of everything from my grandmother’s quilts with their tiny hand sewn stitches, to how with a dream rags can become riches.

As we walked through the museum, I continued to tell Avery Dolly tales in hopes that the stories about this amazing, intelligent woman had made a lasting impression on her.

When we exited the building, I asked her what she thought of her experience.

“Did you like the museum, Avery?”

Yes, I did, but you know what Grandma?”

“What, Avery?”

“Do you know all those people in there talk just like you?!”

I laughed till I cried.

Once you are born and raised in the mountains, the Tennessee accent stays with you unless you attend a specialized school to lose it. I never desired to because the way I speak is a significant part of who I am. When I moved to Georgia as a teen, I remember trying to pick up a bit of the genteel southern accent of my Georgia friends. I ended with possibly a Chattanooga speech. My interpretation of words never entirely made it across the Georgia line.

I am proud of my Southern roots because I love the Southland. I love its people and its diversity plus its endearing charm and charity. I love the way my South Carolinian neighbor says “a hosepipe” instead of a hose or says “a billfold” instead of a wallet, just like I do. And, yes, “Bless your heart” is a sentence staple. I also love grits, God, and goin’ fishin’.

I love that this country is composed of differences. It makes America a lot more fun. If we all sounded or looked the same, life would be downright dull.

Just like the different scraps of material made a tapestry of warmth and love for a little girl from the hills, the diversity, and sounds of our various cultures make up the fabric we call “America.”

Yes, Dolly Parton’s life has changed since she wore the coat of many colors. Her home is now an impressive mansion in Tennessee. Her intelligence and talents are enormous, yet her accent is still the same.

Thank goodness.