The miniature blond bombshell burst onto the stage like a bright fiery sun, capturing the audience’s attention with her mesmerising performance of dance and song. From my seat in the Gods, she was a spec of light in the distance, but the energy she produced was electrifying.
Ms Dolly Parton is a messenger from heaven. With a voice as sweet and rich as God’s driven gold, she can certainly deliver a tune, whether it is rock or ballad. Without her gaudy makeup, facial alterations, over-the-top wigs and trashy costumes, I would still pay the price she asks for a ticket to her shows. Beneath the cheap veneer is an authenticity that grips at your heart strings. One just has to listen to the lyrics of her songs to know that she is indeed a very special lady.
Whilst sitting in my seat at the Brisbane Entertainment Centre, I struggled to fight back the tears. Her presence was overwhelming along with the knowledge that I was watching a fellow family historian who has dedicated her life to the promotion of her heritage. I was envious that she has the talent to put her family’s stories into songs to be shared with the world. Indeed watching Dolly that night was an enlightening experience and I came away with more than just musical joy.
Dolly shared with the audience the stories behind her songs. She told us how her Daddy left the family in the smoky mountains in search of work in Detroit. He had never been out of the mountains before and after two weeks returned home saying that he’d rather be penniless than be without his family. She painted a cheerful picture of her “Tennessee Mountain Home” which was a humble one room abode that housed her family of ten. Then there was the tale about her “Coat of Many Colours” which teaches the lesson “one can be happy, if one chooses to be”, despite the lack of money and fancy things. There are many lessons to be learnt from Dolly’s songs, which we can apply to our own family stories.
My ancestors were no better off than Dolly’s family who lived, dirt poor, in that little cabin in the Smoky Mountains. Dolly could have written songs of bitterness and blues, as a result of being poor. However, her messages are upbeat revealing the happy person she grew up to be. The secret is attitude, which perhaps can be credited to her parents and the lessons they bestowed upon their children. In her own words, “we had no money, but we had lots of love”.
Of course, most of us are not blessed with a voice as beautiful as Dolly’s greatest gift. All the same, we do have a voice. We can all tell a story and it is important to preserve our stories for future generations. Perhaps there are lessons to pass on to our own children and grandchildren. Our society has placed so much importance on wealth and what it can buy. Yet Dolly Parton along with many of my own ancestors lived seemingly happy in the absence of money or things.
My own childhood was spent with very few toys and those I did possess, I can still remember with clarity, including the name of all my dolls which can all be counted on one hand. There were no computers, tablets or mobile phones so instead of existing with our eyes glued to screens, we used our imaginations. My sisters and I played caravan parks between the hibiscus bushes in the front yard. Two apple crates formed a caravan and the annexe was a tea towel strung between the two, held in place by bricks. We created a kiosk beneath the tank stand with Dad’s big paint box forming a counter. The shelves were stocked with items from Mum’s pantry and we sold burgers made from two large leaves stuffed with grass and flowers. In our world of play we lived in imaginary houses set up in clearings amongst the banana trees behind our Grandmother’s house or in between the trees on the riverbank behind our house. We were happy and our props cost zero.
When the props are provided for play, one doesn’t have to explore the possibilities. The realms of our imaginations are endless and if it wasn’t for our ancestors’ explorations of the realms of possibilities, I am positive that their achievements would never have reached the heights that they did. Many would not have left home for a foreign shore they knew very little about. Their legacy was a huge leap into the unknown, not knowing if they would perish at sea or land safely at the other end. Once they reached their destinations, their dreams of better lives were fraught with dangers and obstacles, and yet they persevered in order to create the world we live in today. It might appear that they had nothing, however often the world they left behind was far worse than the one they created. Therefore, they were grateful for the little that they had.
This is why it is important to tell our ancestors’ stories, to sing praises for their achievements however small they may seem, to keep their memories alive. Despite my voice and song writing abilities being somewhat inferior to Miss Dolly Parton, that doesn’t stop me from promoting my heritage. This is why I write my family stories. My audience may not be as large and far reaching as Dolly’s, but I write in the hope that my family might take away some lessons from the past.