Columnist: Dolly, me and the Southland

Published 12:00 am Thursday, May 5, 2016

Lynn Walker Gendusa

Contributing columnist

Several years ago when my granddaughter was 6, I decided to take her to Dollywood in Tennessee during her summer visit with me.

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

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

“Hello, young lady, what is your name?” one leaned over to ask Avery.

“Well, honey, do you watch ‘Hannah Montana’ on the TV?” said 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 filmin’. Sweetheart, you know Miss Dolly played her grandmamma on the show, don’t you?”

Avery absolutely knew that. During our drive I had told my grandchild all I knew about Dolly Parton. How we were raised within 50 miles of one another. How Dolly had lived happily with many brothers and sisters in poor circumstances. I explained that her mother had made her a coat from scraps of fabric of various colors because they 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 coat made of material scraps was displayed and lit up as if it were a diamond encrusted tiara at a royal museum. Around the bottom of the coat were pieces of paper where Dolly had scribbled the lyrics to the song that catapulted her to fame.

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

As we walked through the museum I talked with Avery about it all in hopes that Dolly had made a lasting impression on her.

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

“Did you like it, 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 within you. I think you have to go to a special school to lose it.

I never wanted to. It was part of me. Even when we moved to Georgia I remember trying to pick up the genteel southern accent of my Georgia friends.

I think I ended up with Chattanooga in accent speak. My interpretation of words never quite made it to the Georgia line.

I have never been embarrassed about my Southern roots, because I love the Southland. I love its people and its diversity; it’s endearing charm and charity. I love the way my South Carolinian neighbor says hosepipe instead of hose, just like I do, or billfold instead of wallet. And, yes, “bless your heart” is a sentence staple. I love grits and gardens and goin’ fishing.

When my son was 10 we moved from Douglasville, Georgia, to North Atlanta. It is a mere 41 miles. He was starting fifth grade. Corey never met a stranger, so I really wasn’t worried about him making new friends.

During his first teacher conference at the new school the teacher informed me that Corey was doing OK, but she thought he might be getting picked on because of his accent.

“We are still in the South, aren’t we?!” was my rather sarcastic response to her.

When I returned home I asked Corey about it.

“Oh, mom, it’s no big deal. I can handle it,” he dismissively said.

I told him exactly how to handle it.

After a few weeks I called his teacher to see if there was still a problem.

“No! It all stopped after I heard Corey telling a group of his friends that his family was proudly from the South. That his Southern family had fought in the American Revolution. He told them that if they didn’t like the way the South speaks, they should go further north to school!”

The teacher laughed as she told the rest of the story. I beamed with pride and a slightly red face.

Corey has had those same friends now for 31 years.

Sure, I get teased about my accent. Southerners are often judged by the way we speak. Many of us try to rid ourselves of accents and old ways. No one should ever apologize for being and speaking Southern. No one should ever apologize for being and speaking Northern as well.

I love that this country is made up of regions and differences. It’s a lot more fun. If we were all the same it would get downright boring.

Just like the pieces of 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 in this country make up the tapestry called “America.”

Yes, Dolly’s life changed since she wore that coat. Her house is bigger, her talent even larger. Her intelligence enormous. Her accent still the same.

Thank goodness.

Lynn Walker Gendusa is a former LaGrange resident who currently resides in Roswell.