I stood waiting restlessly, fidgeting with my ring and glancing at my watch. It had been a whole eight minutes since the guard led my family back through the roped off Dollywood theme park gates, but to me, it seemed like an eternity. The wonderful smell of fresh bakery items lingered in the air, a tempting invitation from one of the many shops surrounding us. I looked down at my drawing, which leaned against the outside wall of a restaurant. My eyes scanned the three-by-four foot paper monument for any slight imperfections, as if I could do anything about it if I found one. The blaring of drums and the explosive rhythm of guitars escaped the walls of the theater.
Arriving at this destination was no easy task. It began seven months prior when I was throwing a football in the back yard with my dad and sister one evening. My throws were known to flop around in the sky, suffering from intense seizures mid-air, and then falling limply to the ground several feet before reaching their target. This being a particularly bad day for me athletically, I made a simple proposal. “Dad,” I shouted. “If I can get this football to you, you have to take our family to Dollywood’s Grand Opening in April. Is it a deal?”
Dad, chuckling, agreed to the bet. Little did he know that now, I was a man with a mission. With gritted teeth and a flash of determination in my eyes, I shifted all my weight back to my right foot and then jumped forward as I released the ball. I almost fell flat on my face, but the ball bolted from my fingertips and dashed through the early evening air.
Seven months later, here we were.
My art teacher, Linda, had helped me devise the perfect plan to meet my idol. Together, we brainstormed and, not surprisingly, came up with an idea incorporating art. I decided to make a drawing, better than any I had ever made before, to give Dolly. I knew I wanted it to be something that expressed my personal feelings about her, not just a portrait. We came upon the idea of using music in the design, and soon the layout was complete. Dolly would be standing to the right with a multi-colored butterfly resting on her palm. She would be in front of the musical score to “Love is Like A Butterfly,” with pictures and symbols of other songs flanking the design.
Despite an earnest letter-writing campaign, there had been no definite promise that I would get to meet Dolly. Security guards and other workers had told us a personal meeting was out of the question. But then I found my savior, the woman who had answered all of my letters, and she solicited a guard’s assistance to unlock the gates and lead us to the Dollywood Music Mansion.
I heard a deep, male voice on the other side of the theater door. Flashing a look of nervous anticipation towards my mother, I was surprised to see that her face exhibited the same emotion. Then another hidden male voice responded, followed by a high-pitched female giggle. It was Dolly! My heart wanted to spring out of my chest.
The door, bearing an “Authorized Personnel Only” sign, sluggishly crept open. Four tall, muscular men stepped out. Then Dolly Parton emerged from the doorway, her blond, shoulder-length hair glistening in the sunlight and bouncing with each step. She wore a red and white dress and heels that put the highest Appalachian Mountain to shame. “This is a beautiful picture,” she remarked in a familiar voice. It was one that had comforted me many times when I felt like there was no one in the world who could possibly understand what I was going through. “Who made this masterpiece?”
Although I had been staring at her since she stepped out, she hadn’t looked directly at me yet. Now, her blue-green eyes warmly greeted mine. I proudly announced that I had, then I shyly stepped forward as she examined my gift. She appeared to take note of every pencil mark.
She looked up towards me and said in a sincere voice, “This is beautiful. Is that your family? Looks like they want to take some pictures.” My sweaty hands rubbed along the smooth surface of the drawing as we lifted it off the ground. Now I was quite a bit taller than Dolly, so as I stood there grinning, I didn’t realize that I had positioned the drawing to conceal her entire face! I glanced over and gasped, quickly lowering the picture as she giggled. Wouldn’t that be nice – to have gone through all this and have fifteen pictures of me standing next to a swirl of blond hair?
Although her bearded manager persisted in telling her she had to leave, Dolly informed him, “You ain’t my boss. You’re just my manager. I’ll stay as long as I want.”
Moments later, my entire family was standing next to me and my famous friend as her manager took the final photograph. Her delicate hand, tipped with long pink fingernails, took my copy of her autobiography. With a giggle, she added, “Let me go sit down in my van. Otherwise, my hair might start blowing in the wind and I won’t be able to run after it.” This joke about her wig struck me as a mark of complete confidence.
Once seated behind the dark-tinted windows, she carefully autographed the first page, “To Paul, Love Dolly Parton – 1995.” She thanked me, and then the van whisked her off around the corner.
She was gone. My dream had come true, and I would have that memory to treasure for the rest of my life. My family and I slowly embarked on the long walk past the empty, roped-off Dollywood gates to our car. Clutching the book tightly, set apart from the world if only for a second, I knew that I had accomplished my goal and I felt my mouth slowly grow into a wide, confident grin.
NOTE: You may remember Paul Richmond as an amazing Featured Artist here on the site. The main image for the story is Paul at 15 on that exciting day. When I asked him to write a story, he mentioned he might write one about meeting Dolly Parton. Just two days earlier was when Marquise and I filmed Jason Brantley’s Video Story, the one I posted this morning, which was also about meeting Dolly Parton. I thought it’d be fun to have a Dolly Day, or as Paul suggested, “I’m From Dollywood Day.” Hope y’all enjoyed it. Here are two paintings Paul did of Dolly as well as the full main image.