I have long enjoyed country music, so when I found out earlier this summer that Dolly Parton was coming to town, almost without thinking, I bought a couple of tickets. For weeks, I looked forward to going, and since I’ve been ver-ry deep in a book deadline, I knew going to her concert would be a nice break.
Last week, the day finally arrived. At the last minute, Doug balked about going, but my mother was thrilled to take his place. As soon as we pulled into the stadium parking lot, I was shocked at how few cars there were.
Now the Qwest Center where her concert was held has really made a reputation for itself in the past few years. Omaha has drawn big name entertainers and sports events, and more recently was the site for the Olympic swimming trials. (And yes, Michael Phelps was as much of a star here as he was in Beijing.)
So I expected the parking lot to be packed, as it usually is for high profile events–which I thought this one would be. We walked right in and found our seats, and like the parking lot, the scattering of people in the auditorium was surprising and disappointing. In fact, they’d partitioned off the upper seats, since they obviously hadn’t been sold. After checking with the ushers, Mom and I ended up moving to much better seats, front balcony and center. The stadium was maybe half filled.
The show didn’t have the flash like others I’ve seen. No runway for her to walk down, no big screen TVs for those in the nosebleed section to watch, no fancy electronic videos.
But Dolly fascinated me. The concert was part of her “Backwoods Barbie” tour which she’d been on since February, to promote her first country album release in 17 years. She truly looked like a glamorous Barbie doll on that stage, with her blond wig, sequined dress, tiny waist and big boobies. And of course, her five-inch heels, which gives her the height she’s always longed for.
She didn’t look 62 years old. Not by a long shot. Her voice rang sweet and clear through the microphone, and between songs, she shared with the audience tidbits of her life. I marvelled at her rags-to-riches story. At how far she’d come from growing up dirt poor in the Great Smoky Moutains.
The next day, I found her autobiography at the library. I looked her up on the Internet. Here’s a little about Dolly that I found:
*She grew up the fourth child of twelve. Her mother was only 15 when she married; her father 17. They’d had all twelve of their children by the time they were 35 and 37. Yet Dolly has never been pregnant herself.
*She was the first one in her family to graduate from high school, but just barely. Her singing was more important than her studies, and she cultivated her voice by singing with her sisters at Pentecostal revival meetings. Yes, preachers with cottonmouth snakes coiling around their arms while they (supposedly) spoke in tongues. Her mother had a strong faith in God; her father rarely went to church.
*Her hit song, “Coat of Many Colors,” was inspired by a coat her mother really did make for her, painstakingly piecing together fabric scraps. Dolly loved that coat, but when she wore it to school, the other kids made fun of her, calling it a coat made of rags.
*They lived in tiny, ramshackle cabins with newspapers pasted to the walls to help keep out the cold. She and her siblings learned to read from those newspapers. And the models in the pictures showed Dolly what women who lived beyond the holler looked like. Every time her family moved, they looked forward to reading different newspapers on the walls.
*Her father refused to let any of his daughters wear makeup, which made Dolly only crave it. She found ways to sneak her beauty products in, with her mother’s reluctant knowledge. Dolly would powder her face with flour to hide her freckles. Lipstick especially intrigued her–she used Merthiolate (which burned and turned her lips orange) and Mercurochrome, which was a nicer red and didn’t hurt as much. Both left her lips colored for several days.
*She left home the day after she graduated from high school and moved to Nashville. Almost immediately, she met her future husband, Carl Dean, at a laundromat. She married him at age 20. Forty-two years later, they’re still married.
Now of all the things I learned about Dolly, Carl Dean was the most interesting. He shuns publicity and rarely travels with her. He stayed home while she cultivated her career with men of power and attitude and probably more than their share of greed and lusty hormones. He never refused to let her travel for days and weeks with male friends. Nor did he seem to mind that when Dolly traveled with her best childhood friend, Judy, they always slept in the same bed because Judy understood how Dolly hated to sleep alone. (the pair have been accused of being lesbians but she denies it.)
What kind of guy is content to spend more time away from his wife than with her? They seem as different as night and day, yet during the concert, Dolly spoke of him often and always kindly. In her memoirs, she mentioned how she truly believed Carl has never been with another woman after her. I couldn’t find where she’d said the same thing about herself.
*Her father never learned to read, but he was more proud of her Imagination Library than her music career. Imagination Library, a literacy program, began in the county in Tennessee where she was born, and it mails a preschooler a book a month until he’s five.
*Dolly hasn’t forgotten her poor upbringing and has given back to the region generously. While she is especially noted for contributions to literacy, she has also raised money to build a new hospital and cancer center in Tennessee, in the name of the doctor who delivered her. Her Dollywood theme park has provided jobs and revenues in an area hit hard with poverty. She has also helped to preserve the bald eagle, assists the Red Cross and other charitable causes.
After the performance, as Mom and I crossed the street to return to the car, a sleek silver bus with smoke windows slowly drove by. We couldn’t tell for sure, but we had a strong suspicion it was Dolly’s tour bus.
Even though her welcome to Omaha was lackluster, the dirt-poor girl from the holler had certainly made it to the big-time. Though she says she sometimes feels guilty for buying expensive things for herself and others when so many in this country are poor and hungry, she has given generously to help others in need.
If you had a rags-to-riches story, would you share your millions? What would you donate your money to? What cause is near and dear to your heart?
If I had a few million bucks to give away, I’d have to pick cancer research. Not a particularly unique idea, I suppose, but it’s a disease that is rampant, and finding a cure is imperative.
Share your philanthropy ideas, and since I haven’t given away a prize lately, I’ll send a copy of Dolly’s CD, Backwoods Barbie, to one lucky winner!