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Southern Stories
Jul 17/13

How Dolly Parton and Balloon Boobs Gave Me Strength Posted by: Dan | 0 Comments

There are a lot of reasons to love Dolly Parton: her voice like angels singing … how no matter what you’re going through, she’s got a song that’ll sympathize … how, other than the goofy press she gets from National Enquirer, you’ll never find a Dolly scandal in a gossip rag … the fact that she’s been writing her own damn songs since she was five years old and playing the guitar since she was seven …

My admiration for Dolly Parton started with “Jolene.” It was one of the first songs I learned to play on the guitar, and I was really proud after I taught myself to sing along with the chords. But I never played it for anyone else, on account of the near-crippling self-consciousness that kept me from speaking up or participating in damn near anything as a teenager.

“Jolene” was a gateway drug, and pretty soon I was a full-blown Dolly follower, belting out “I Will Always Love You” behind closed doors.

It may have been that her heartfelt, stripped-down, lay-everything-on-the-table lyrics soaked into me and built me up from the inside, but I think it was her unparalleled sense of humor and brazen lack of concern for what anyone thinks about her that gave me the courage to do what I did.

On Halloween morning my last year of high school, I nervously shimmied into a red, sequined Western dress that was two sizes too small, shoved my oversized feet into a pair of shined-up, high-heeled cowboy boots and made the adjustments necessary to keep me out of the principal’s office for indecency. I wrapped my uneasy fingers around a tube of fire engine-red lipstick and outlined my thin lips, arched my eyebrows with a black pencil and left my thick-rimmed glasses on because I had to see where I was going. I stuffed my stringy, brown hair messily underneath the biggest, platinum-blonde wig I could find, and, finally, I wiggled two blown-up balloons down the front of my dress.

I had on enough rouge to hide my flushed cheeks as I walked down the halls, hearing the giggles and watching the wide eyes give me the up-and-down. But I held my head — and my wig — high and sauntered to the costume contest on the school’s towering front steps, the closest thing to a stage I’d ever stood on. When they shouted out that “Miss Dolly Parton” had won first place, I took a bow from the top step, grasping to keep my wig on and my boobs from toppling out as the crowd hooted and hollered.

Afterwards, I strutted back to my desk at the back corner of the art studio and divvied my winnings — a bag of tootsie rolls — amongst my adoring fans. I even worked up the courage to autograph one of my balloon boobs and give it to the boy I secretly admired. Each day, as I walked past the withering balloon taped to his desk, I blushed — but not from embarrassment.

“You’ll never do a whole lot unless you’re brave enough to try.” – Dolly Parton. 

After a long day of pencil pushing, Little Rock writer Willa Dean likes to go home, pour herself a drink, throw open the windows and listen to “The Grass Is Blue” with the volume all the way up. Holler at her at willadeanwriter@gmail.com.



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