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Dolly's Dreams

Big prayers, big goals and a big heart have all played a role in her rise to superstardom, and the wisdom of Norman Vincent Peale helped, too!

By Dolly Parton, Nashville, Tennessee

As appeared in

Y’all might not know this about me, but I read everything I can get my hands on. Self-help books, novels, biographies, religion, best sellers, anything that helps me see what makes people tick. When a friend says, “You gotta read this, Dolly, it’s a great book,” I do. You never know how it might inspire you.

That’s what happened back when I was on Porter Wagoner’s show. One of the musicians, Buck Trent, gave me this book as a birthday present by a preacher I’d never heard of. He had a long name and preached at a big church in New York City. But he knew how to talk to a country girl like me, used to Scripture on Sundays.

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“Dream big, think big, pray big,” this preacher said. Lord, I thought, that’s just what I want to spend my life doing!

My earliest dreams were born in the foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains, just like I was. My mother was a big dreamer. She dreamed about having a houseful of kids, and talk about dreams come true, she had 12 of ’em!

Some of us might have seemed like nightmares at times, but she was great about not trying to mold us or shape us to be like anybody else. Mama wanted each of us to be who God made us. And boy, did he make me a dreamer!

I’d put a tin can on a stick for a microphone, jab one end into a crack in the porch of our cabin and sing a song that I’d made up.

All at once those weren’t our chickens listening to me out there in the yard. They were an audience full of people clapping and cheering. And that wasn’t a hand-me-down shift I was wearing; it was a silk dress aglitter with rhinestones.

Mama’s people were all musical. “Sing one of your songs,” she’d say, and I’d sing. My uncle Louis saw how serious I was about music, so he gave me a guitar, a baby Martin. Oh, I loved that guitar! I played it all the time.

I prayed my dreams. Lived and breathed ’em too. Maybe that’s why it never occurred to me they might not come true. The night I graduated from Sevier County High School, all the seniors got up and said what they wanted to do: go to college, get married, take a job in Knoxville (the closest city).

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I sat there in the fancy pink dress my aunt Estelle had bought for me and waited my turn. Then I stood up and announced, “I’m gonna move to Nashville and be a big star.”

Everybody laughed. I was so embarrassed. I couldn’t understand why they laughed. Years later I realized it was because they were embarrassed. They’d never known anybody who had the gall to dream that big and declare it out loud.

Dreams are never gonna come true if you don’t put wings on ’em. Not only wings–they need feet, hands, a brain. You’ve got to work really hard to make a dream come true.

That’s the difference between a wish and a dream. You can sit around and wish for good things to happen to you, but a dream is something you have to pursue, something you make happen.

Like all country kids I knew which bugs I could play with and which ones would sting. We’d put a string on June bugs and fly them like kites or put lightning bugs in a jar for a homemade flashlight (we released them later). But butterflies were the ones I loved most.

As a little bitty child, I’d get lost chasing them into the woods. Everybody hollered at me, but I didn’t care. I’m going to be like a butterfly, I decided. Spread my wings and fly.

You’ve got to be responsible for your dreams. You’ve got to take care of them the way you take care of your children, protect them, say no to people who want to remake them their own way.