Dolly Parton’s rural Tennessee upbringing is far from her rhinestoned present, but she’s always happy to share stories about her childhood. Parton has talked in depth about being young in the Smoky Mountains and rising as a country star. She once discussed one of the earliest moments in her life and how her parents paid for it with cornmeal.
Dolly Parton grew up in the Smoky Mountains
Parton was born in Locust Ridge, Tennessee to parents Robert Lee and Avie Lee Parton. She was one of 12 children raised in their mountain cabin. Her father was a tobacco farmer and construction worker who worked to support his large family. Her rural home — of which there’s a replica at Dollywood — had just one bedroom and no electricity or running water.
According to Parton, she always knew she wanted to be a star. She would stand on the porch of her home with a tobacco stick and a tin can to use as a microphone. Parton would sing to whatever audience she could get — her siblings, parents, or even just animals.
“I imagined it, I dreamed it, I worked for it, and God was good enough to let me have it,” she told USA Today.
Dolly Parton’s parents once paid a doctor with cornmeal
Given the remoteness of their location and their poverty, the Parton family had to make do when someone needed a doctor. There were no roads near their home, and the hospital was too far away. When her mother was delivering Parton, the family had to call a nearby missionary doctor.
“We had a missionary doctor that had been sent to the Smoky Mountains to take care of the poor mountain people. He used to have to ride in on horseback,” the country star explained.
She explained that though the doctor was necessary, the family had nothing to pay him with. This was normal in their community, however.
“The mountain people didn’t have any way to pay him with money, so you paid them with whatever you had, your canned goods or some ham or some whatever. We grew corn, and Daddy would take our corn to the mill to be ground,” she explained.
When her father went to get the doctor, he traded the cornmeal for the medical service. The exchange resulted in Parton’s safe entry into the world.
“Mama was having problems with me, so Daddy had to run out and get [the doctor]. They came back on horseback and Daddy paid him with a sack of cornmeal, and I’ve always joked and said that I’ve been raking in the dough ever since,” she said.
A corn maze was designed to look like the singer’s face
For their fall 2021 season, Van Buren Acres, an Ohio farm known for creative corn mazes, designed one in Parton’s image. According to Knoxville’s WBIR News, visitors to the elaborate corn maze have to make their way out of Parton’s face. The maze also includes her guitar, the mountains, books in reference to her Imagination Library, and a butterfly.
Though the maze isn’t located in Parton’s native Tennessee, it feels like a fitting celebration of the musician.
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