Happy birthday, Mary and Dolly (and Buffy)

by chuckofish

January 19 is my mother’s birthday. It is also Dolly Parton’s. As I’ve mentioned before, it is also Buffy the Vampire Slayer’s birthday. Talk about synchronicity! My mother would be 86; she died in 1988. Dolly is 66. Buffy, being a fictional character, never ages.

On the Episcopal Church calendar of saints it is the feast day of St. Wulfstan (c. 1008 – 20 January 1095), Bishop of Worcester. He was the last surviving pre-Conquest bishop and the only English-born bishop after 1075. Oh boy.

But today we recognize those latter day saints, Mary and Dolly.

My mother's the squirmy one on the right

My mother was born and raised in Worcester, MA. She was a happy child who knocked her teeth back in her head while sledding, so enthusiastic was the abandonment with which she threw herself down the hill. She wore braces (at age 3) to correct her teeth. She was the opposite of me as a child. I was timid where she was gregarious and daring. Her stories of her childhood frequently scared me. Especially the one about the great New England hurricane of 1938–when they ran out in the street to see the destruction! And then, of course, she skied the Headwall on Mt. Washington at Tuckerman’s Ravine while a college girl at Middlebury. She was fearless.

But life can change you. Things happen. You get married and have three kids.You move away from home and your family. You live among strangers. Despite her challenges, my mother was a great mother. She taught me that you never really know a man until you stand in his shoes and walk around in them. She taught me to keep it simple. She taught me that antiques should be lived with, not kept behind a silk rope. She taught me that Shane and Ninotchka and Breakfast at Tiffany’s and The Quiet Man and The Adventures of Robin Hood are great movies and that Errol Flynn was the epitome of handsomeness. She defended Elvis. She tried to teach me and my sister the importance of ladylike behavior at all times. She hated vulgarity. She taught me that you have to work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. She taught me the importance of being spontaneous and that parties should always have favors. She taught me that you could never have enough bookshelves and that there is always money for books.

And then there’s Dolly. Dolly Rebecca Parton as you well know, is an American singer-songwriter, author, multi-instrumentalist, actress and philanthropist, who is best known for her work in country music. Dolly was born in Sevierville, Tennessee, the fourth of twelve children born to Robert Lee Parton and Avie Lee Parton. She is clearly a multi-talented person, but her song-writing is where she really shines. Indeed, she has written over 3,000 songs and has earned over 35 BMI Pop and Country Awards throughout her prolific songwriting career. In 2001 she was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame. She was honored as a BMI Icon at the 2003 BMI Country Awards. Yes, she is an icon.

A lot of people don’t know that since she hit it big, Dolly Parton has supported many charitable efforts, particularly in the area of literacy, primarily through her Dollywood Foundation. Her literacy program, “Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library”, a part of the Dollywood Foundation, mails one book per month to each enrolled child from the time of their birth until they enter kindergarten. It began in Sevier County but has now been replicated in 566 counties across 36 U.S. states (as well as in Canada). In December 2007 it expanded to Europe with the South Yorkshire town of Rotherham, United Kingdom, being the first British locality to receive the books. The program distributes more than 2.5 million free books to children annually. Is this awesome or what?

And her Dollywood theme park has brought jobs and tax revenues to a previously depressed region. She has probably done more to help people live respectable lives in Tennessee than anyone else. Dolly never just played lip service to where she came from. She has spread her wealth around from the very beginning. I have always thought she should run for Governor. She would be a great one. She is clearly a great role-model for all young women. That is why I encouraged daughter #2 to choose Dolly as her 6th grade Reach project. Here she is in costume holding her shoe box Grand Ole Opry for her (1st place) presentation:

Unfortunately her platform sandals are not visible.

She has written so many great songs, but Coat of Many Colors is my favorite. (Dolly has also described it as her favorite of all the songs she’s ever written.) In my humble opinion it is one of the best songs ever written by an American, right up there with those greats written by Stephen Foster, Rogers & Hammerstein, Irving Berlin, Johnny Mercer, Bob Dylan and all the rest. It brings tears to my eyes just thinking about it. Hearing it sung by Dolly is a real emotional experience!

Back through the years
I go wonderin’ once again
Back to the seasons of my youth
I recall a box of rags that someone gave us
And how my momma put the rags to use
There were rags of many colors
Every piece was small
And I didn’t have a coat
And it was way down in the fall
Momma sewed the rags together
Sewin’ every piece with love
She made my coat of many colors
That I was so proud of
As she sewed, she told a story
From the bible, she had read
About a coat of many colors
Joseph wore and then she said
Perhaps this coat will bring you
Good luck and happiness
And I just couldn’t wait to wear it
And momma blessed it with a kiss

Chorus:

My coat of many colors
That my momma made for me
Made only from rags
But I wore it so proudly
Although we had no money
I was rich as I could be
In my coat of many colors
My momma made for me

So with patches on my britches
Holes in both my shoes
In my coat of many colors
I hurried off to school
Just to find the others laughing
And making fun of me
In my coat of many colors
My momma made for me

And oh I couldn’t understand it
For I felt I was rich
And I told them of the love
My momma sewed in every stitch
And I told ‘em all the story
Momma told me while she sewed
And how my coat of many colors
Was worth more than all their clothes

But they didn’t understand it
And I tried to make them see
That one is only poor
Only if they choose to be
Now I know we had no money
But I was rich as I could be
In my coat of many colors
My momma made for me
Made just for me

So happy birthday, Mary and Dolly…and Buffy! You’re the best!