GENDUSA COLUMN: From tiny to tremendous

Published 10:30 am Wednesday, November 23, 2022

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On a cold January day in 1946, their fourth child, a girl, was born in a one-room cabin in the hills of Tennessee. More babies arrived in the following years, and the parents had little to offer their twelve children except for music, love and faith. 

When the spirited girl with dimpled cheeks walked to school in her hand-sewn clothes and dusty shoes, she would often be teased and mocked because she was poor. But even though she was tiny, she stood proudly tall. Perhaps, her mama read the Bible to her youngsters each day, and her child recalled the words, “It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than a rich man to enter the Kingdom of God. “Those bullying kids were like the camels and would have trouble getting into heaven while she would fly right on in! “That’ll teach ‘em!” Little Dolly thought.

God must have looked down on the mountain child that day and given her a spirit of courage and love that would eventually change countless lives. The Lord continued walking with Dolly, blessing her with a song in her heart and gratitude in her soul.

I was questioned years ago, “Who would you invite to dinner if you could ask anyone living in the world today?” 

“Well, I guess if Jesus isn’t available, it would be Dolly Parton.”  

Shocked at my response, they simply replied, “Why?!”

I had left Tennessee when Dolly began singing with Porter Wagner, but I remember catching a glimpse of her on television. At the time, I didn’t love country music even though I came from the land where the Ole Opry is revered. It wasn’t the music that sparked my interest in her; it was something more. It was something that I understood without understanding why.

It could be because I sound like Dolly with the same Tennessee mountain twang that must form in the blood. One cannot change it, and I have often said it would be an insult to my ancestors if I did. Because we are nearly the same age, I have watched Dolly from afar grow from a little mountain girl to owning the mountain! 

So, Robert and Avie Lee Parton’s girl became an icon, a movie star, a bigger-than-life presence, a builder of dreams, a singer/songwriter, an aunt, a sister, a wife, and a faithful steward of God.

Dolly Parton is one of those rare folks who doesn’t let fame inflate her ego nor allow money to empower her unless it is through philanthropy. She understands that her gifts are blessings and knows how to use them to bless others. 

 These types of people don’t spread gossip, shout, belittle, or shame anyone because they understand they are living only for a while. They know they will go home where Mom and Dad are waiting, and the light shines eternal. People like Dolly are brilliant enough to know it is not what you make of yourself on earth; it is what you give of yourself to all. Amazon founder Jeff Bezos recently awarded Dolly Parton his “Courage and Civility Award,” presenting her with $100 million. Why would he give so much to someone who has so much?  He understands that a big heart will use gifts wisely, and a humble spirit will fly miles spreading compassion, kindness, and hope. She has proven her worth by the value of her soul. 

If we want to learn about leadership and charity, don’t look much further than a tiny Tennessee woman who sends books to the children of Appalachia. She aims to whip illiteracy and open doors for impoverished children to become rich with knowledge.  When fires flame, tornados or floods ravage, or diseases need cures, she is there with a pen and checkbook, a song and a loud voice.