Dolly Parton
Country Weekly
July 29, 1997
Her hometown charity programs show cihldren books and the wild life
By Nancy Brooks

Dolly Parton calls it the Imagination Library.  Kids think it's magic.

      A group of preschoolers sit cross-legged on a rug outside their daycare center near Gatlinburg, Tenn.  The Dollywood Imagination Express train is coming, and a special guest will read to them.
      That guest is Dolly herself, who's spending the weekend taking a look at programs her Dollywood Foundation created to help children in Dolly's native Sevier (pronounced severe) County.
      But as far as these 3- to 6-year-olds are concerned, Dolly's just a pretty lady, as bright and blonde and accessible as Sesame Street's Big Bird.  After she plops herself down on the train's reading stool, she and the kids are soon deep into "I Can Share."
      It's as if Dolly is telling the story, not reading it, and they are entranced.  Dolly's fame presents no barrier here:  She is simply a warm, animated presence reading in a sweet, child-like voice.
      "We started the Imagination Library because we felt it would be great to get children interested in reading when they are most impressionable," Dolly says later.  "So we give every child born in Sevier County a free book every month until they start kindergarten."
      Books were a luxury when Dolly was a child.  "We didn't have any, with the exception of the Bible and the Sears catalog," she says.  "I loved Bible stories, because my grandpa was a preacher and my mom was always reading the Bible.  But when I went to school I loved every book I ever touched.  I still read all the time.  I love the peace and quiet, I love the pages, I love to smell a book."
      After the story-telling is finished, Dolly joins children from Pi Beta Phi Elementary School at the entrance to the Great Smoky Mountains Park.  The kids an Dolly are blindfolded as a ranger leads them through a test of their senses.
      Although Dolly's the only one walking around on 5-inch orange slingbacks, she's every bit as enthusiastic as her young companions.  They stroke a fox fur, handle an animal bone, sniff homemade black walnut syrup and then guess at what they've experienced.
      Dolly scores well, failing only on the syrup.  "I thought it was chocolate," she says with a juicy giggle.
      The rest of the day is a blur of meeting new employees at her Dollywood theme park and at L'il Dolly's Dresses, her latest business venture on the Dollywood grounds.
      "We have our own factory, and everything is made here," she says, introducing her partners Don and Donna Hall.  "These people have been in business a long time, but everybody thought that it had to do with me anyhow — so we went into business together!"  She's not kidding; some of these employees are Dolly's aunts and cousins.

      During the weekend, Dolly delighted audiences by showing up onstage.  During one show, in which the cast usually does a medley of her tunes, Dolly waited backstage for her cue.
      "They finished all my songs, and the people who'd heard I was on the grounds thought, well, she'll come out now if she's coming," says Dolly, whose appearance in a silky white dress and silver platform pumps brought the enthusiastic crowd to its feet.  "Word of mouth gets around that if I'm in the park, I'm liable to show up anytime," she says with a flirty little grin.  "Which I am!"
      After the show, Dolly ducks into her Celebrity Theater dressing room with its deep blue carpeting and white furniture, its walls lined with every album she's ever cut.  She can still remember every detail of recording them, she says as she kicks off her shoes.  "Every single thing!" she crows.  "I can even smell the perfume I wore with those clothes."
      Each album tells a different story, she says, and that story adds up to her life.  Another album — and another chapter in that life — will soon join these, she adds.  "I'm writing songs right now, have been for several weeks.  I don't know yet what the album's going to be, don't even know what the theme is.  But I'm on a writing binge.  I'll write for two or three days without hardly sleeping or eating, take a nap, get up, make another pot of coffee and go again until I fall over.  I love that."